Words and Photos: Brandon Weight
With D.C. style comes an inherent love for all things Americana. Heritage brands, workwear, made-in-America all seem to fit perfectly in the nation’s capitol. For The Frye Company’s 150th anniversary, the brand’s creative director and master of leather Michael Petry re-imagined Frye staples with America’s history in mind. We sat down with him at the company’s new store in Georgetown (that has a soft opening today and a grand opening this Friday!) to discuss his work life, his inspiration, and what it’s like to design for a century and a half old company.
BYT: What’s a normal work day like for you?
Michael Petry: There’s never any normal days, and there’s never any days that are exactly the same. It’s a fast-paced job, especially now, because we’re in the middle of Fall in every different way. We’re in the middle of full fall design for fall ‘14, we’re in the process of finishing off the DC store, we’re in the process of finishing the Chicago store, celebrating our 150th anniversary, and we’re concepting a photo shoot right now. By and large, these things take up a majority of my day. Every single day I look at drawings from the men’s collections, women’s collections, or bags. That’s a primary function of the job. We’re a product-driven company, so we look at products every day of our lives. At some point that probably takes up 60 percent or more, but realistically 40 to 50 percent.
BYT: So you wish you had more time for inspiration?
MP: Always, always. I wish we had more time to shop the places I want to shop, travel the places I want to travel. Two weeks out, I get to spend a couple of days out of the office, but it’s fun. No two days are alike, and I think that’s what’s great about the job. I do a lot of talks for design communities and schools. I always say if you’re interested in something different every day, and a different challenge every day, and being inspired in a different way every day then this is the job for you. You don’t sit at your desk and type emails all day. You do that at night at home. [laughs]
BYT: That’s basically your “downtime” activity.
MP: Yeah! You just have to catch up. Just looked at them now and was like “Oh man…”
BYT: Well, where are you traveling to soon?
MP: I’ll be in Chicago, I’ll be in Boston, I’ll be in Italy, I’ll be in France, Minneapolis, Seattle, Birmingham, AL.
BYT: All across the map.
MP: You name it, it’s a strange season for travel, I’ll be all over the place. Arkansas, Mexico, we do those every season, four to six times a year.
BYT: To stores and production areas?
MP: A little bit of both. Production we do in the United States, Mexico, Spain. I’ll be in Italy and France for leather fairs. It’s really important that we take our time with leather selection, meet with the tanneries, and then I’ll be at some of our retailers for personal appearances to celebrate our 150th anniversary.
BYT: How interesting is it to see the sourcing for Frye?
MP: I think that’s the coolest part of the job, seeing the leathers, being inspired by leathers, doing the leather selection. Taking your two-dimensional drawing and making it turn into a three-dimensional object, and taking a tiny little swatch and making a vision with it, saying I know there’s a bigger story to it. We have a great base of tanneries, we work with only about 12 tanneries, and they become really good partners to us. So if we need to create something new, they’ll do some suggestions for us.
BYT: How is it managing the look for Frye’s 150th Anniversary collection?
MP: I think it’s great, it’s something celebrating America without being too kitschy. Clearly we wanted something with the flag to celebrate the brand being 150 years old. You look at the American flag for inspiration, but one of the things we looked at was the Jasper Johns paintings. You know, they were a celebration of the flag but at the same time there was some tonality to them and so much depth. When you look at them on the surface it might only be one color, but when you start to delve into it a little bit deeper, there might be four or five different colors within that painting, but then that value looks like one. That’s what we strive for in our flag collection, getting a brown-base flag kind of feeling, but it has a lot of depth and texture to it.
BYT: And that should be hugely popular in DC.
MP: That’s what we hope. It seems like it should fit here, it’s indigenous to the city.
The Frye Company is located at 1066 Wisconsin Ave. NW, with a soft opening today and a grand opening this Friday.