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Highsnobiety Q&A December, 5 2012

A Conversation with Penfield’s CEO & Creative Director James Barshall

We recently had the pleasure of speaking with Penfield’s CEO and Creative Director James Barshall. Fresh off the heels of a collaboration with Barneys New York (pictured above), the Massachusetts-based brand is looking stronger than ever with 4 distinct collections for the most discerning sartorialists.

Over the course of a few questions we learned what makes Penfield’s offerings the perfect choice for both rural and urban wear among other unique insights. Take a look below for the full interview.

How did your collaboration with Barneys New York come about and how does the design process differ in a collaboration? 

Barneys wanted to do some unique takes on classic Penfield styles – they had some clear ideas on what they wanted and we worked closely with them to nail down the detail and make it happen. They definitely added their own distinct twist to the styles and it has been great to work with them on this.

The design process for a collaboration is very much starting with a ‘blank sheet’ approach and then doing whatever we can to come up with the finished garment, compromising as little as possible on the original vision. They are not easy things to get through as runs are small and there is a lot of investment of time and resources in making them happen, but we love to work on these and it’s great to get a fresh take and perspective on things.

What’s the purpose of having several different collections?

We have 4 different collections: 1975, Classic, Trailwear, and (breaking news) Blue Label.

These break the collections into very distinct looks and categories, as well as the type of store that they can be sold to.

Penfield’s clothes retain a rural look yet are popular amongst urban dwellers, why do you think that is? 

I think that’s part of what we build into our design process – we want our clothes to be able to be worn, look good, and be functional in the widest range of conditions, equally at home on the trail as on the streets.

What serves as inspiration from season to season?

We all spend a lot of time on the road which is always inspiring, seeing how people in different parts of the world put things together. There’s also a constant flow of ideas within the design team – we put together huge ideas/mood boards by season and then review them as we get close to the season we’re going to be working on and narrow it down to the components we think have the most interest.

Penfield is known for using classic materials like down and goose, how do you integrate newer technical fabric into the collections?

Working with down garments is highly specialized and complicated – even fabrics that may not appear to be technical may have a number of technical properties built into them in order to reconcile a traditional look with the performance that our customers expect.

What are the advantages and disadvantages between classic materials and newer ones?

Nobody has yet invented an insulation that can beat down for weight to warmth – it really is an incredible material to work with and there are so many variables to it. Down garments are expensive but you definitely get what you pay for.

The advantage of classic materials, like our 60/40 or 70/30, is that they look great, are highly durable, water and wind resistant, but they are not the lightest fabrics.

Some of the super-lightweight fabrics that are now available (and that you will see more of in the FW13 collection) can give you a jacket that will keep you warm and dry in the coldest conditions but can pack away to virtually nothing.

What can we look forward to from Penfield in the future?

Some exciting new developments in the pipeline – more technical fabrics and detail, a focus on lightweight insulation and layers, some beautiful prints on technical fabrics, vivid colors, an expanded accessories line…

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