On Tuesday, we attended a conversation between Band of Outsiders creative director Scott Sternberg and journalist Kevin West, author of Saving the Season: A Cook’s Guide to Home Canning, Pickling, and Preserving at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. The longtime friends were slated to discuss “the surprising overlap between fashion and food". We're still not exactly sure how the two feel about that subject, but after spending an hour being charmed by their stories of leaving their initial careers to follow their passions--and why they both love to work in LA--we decided it doesn’t really matter.
West wrote for W Magazine for 13 years, and said “unhappiness” led him to leave his career to start the food/recipe/photo blog Saving the Season in 2009. Sternberg started his career as an agent at Creative Artists Agency, and knew almost immediately it wasn’t for him, launching Band of Outsiders in 2004. Sternberg left CAA with two credit cards and some savings: “I said, ‘Poof. I’m a fashion designer.’ That’s all it takes. Well, that’s all that it takes to start.”
Sternberg’s background as an agent probably gives him an edge in the marketing department--and helped him wrangle all the amazing celebrities in his ad campaigns, most recently featuring Frank Ocean and Greta Gerwig. Sternberg sheepishly told the story of how Michelle Williams, who famously shot for the Boy for Band of Outsiders campaigns in 2008 and again in 2012, approached him at a party and said she met her best friend because of the brand's peacoat and offered to work with the brand. As Sternberg explained, there is a reason a movie star is a movie star and “a picture of someone who has that sort of power” can make an image that much more compelling.
West and Sternberg both say a large part of their freedom to be creative comes from living in LA’s sprawl. West wrote the recipes and shot the images for his book in a large house on Laurel Canyon and could not imagine putting together the lavish culinary images in a cramped New York kitchen. Sternberg agrees LA’s ample space is integral to his ability to create and says he considers trips to New York “extended panic attacks.”
After the talk, we sat down with Sternberg to talk about his own upcoming book, Band of Outsider’s newest campaign, and not being taken seriously as a designer because he's based in LA.
There have been rumors that you will be publishing your own book based on your amazing Band of Outsiders polaroids. Should we be reserving shelf space? Scott Sternberg: I’m talking with a couple publishers right now, but I want it to be a really special book, so I’m not really in a rush.
Is the plan to release the book in conjunction with the brand’s 10-year anniversary next year? It would be nice if it came out then, but one of the publishers I’m talking to isn’t such a fast guy, so we’ll kind of have to see. We do plan to do an exhibition of the polaroids once we start with the 10 year stuff. We want to show the originals in frames in different places in Paris, New York, and LA.
[West] was discussing how Saving the Season is more than just a recipe book, but it tells stories that involve larger cultural issues. It made me think of your Frank Ocean campaign and its theme of protest. When we were casting that look book, which is essentially our campaign, the instinct was to shoot a musician. When we showed in Paris, it was all about the soundtrack. It was Bob Dylan and that whole counterculture era of musicians and how they dressed. It felt like a place to start for the campaign. When we were brainstorming names, it wasn’t necessarily that we thought, let’s do Frank because he’s a musician who ties to those ideas, but there was some sort of connection.
Everything has to have some sort of grounding to what we do. Even internally, it has to connect with how we see things. From how a blazer turns out to who we’re shooting—like who we just shot for the women’s line. It wasn’t a decision like, ‘let’s shoot the most famous person in the world.’ But it was the perfect person for this collection
Who did you shoot? I can’t tell you that yet. Although I feel like [Fashionista is] who we should tell when we do reveal it. We agree. You said earlier that after your ‘Poof, I’m a designer,’ proclamation, you didn’t necessarily feel like a fashion designer. You must feel like a designer now? Oh absolutely. But when you’re doing menswear in LA, which is how I started, you’re really just making menswear. You aren’t making runway clothes. It’s really hard to think of that as fashion design. I was in this famous showroom then. Alex Wang had his first line of sweaters there at the time. Phillip Lim also started 3.1 there at that time. I was able to see Alex and Phillip, two great examples, who basically came out of the womb sketching. Alex is a genius—I swear he would sketch his collections in a weekend. I was sort of looking at that and thinking, ‘I am not that.’ But then with the way the brand has developed, you have to say, ‘I’m a fashion designer now, because if I don’t make these clothes interesting enough, I’m out.’
Do you ever feel you have been taken less seriously because you are based in LA? We are in a nice place we have created for ourselves [in LA]. It is a relatively quiet place compared to some of our peers. There’s a whole generation of really talented people right now who just shot up. I really do feel that at the end of the day, if your product is great, your product is great. But as far as how you might be received in the beginning, a lot of the buzz you get is kind of based on how many pictures of you there are out there. I didn’t go to parties in New York all the time because I’m not there and I don’t like going to parties that much. So to that extent, sure I might have suffered a bit in the beginning. Otherwise, I think we’ve just been so focused on the line. I think in the States at least, people saw the men’s line, and Boy, and then Girl, and this evolution, and we have generally been pretty understood. I’m sure there is a contingency in fashion who just dismiss us as a J.Crew or just these preppy clothes, but you know, we’ll get them soon enough.