Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Dirty Dozen: Q&A w/ The Hill-Side.

I met Emil and Sandy Corsillo, brothers, founders of The Hill-side and proprietors of Hickoree's Hard Goods, a year or so ago. I was told about the Hill-side by Ryan Huber of Context Clothing. I posted about them. Emil gave me a call. We all met up at the ACE after some thing one night. Became fast friends. So I thought, a year since first discovering the Hill-side, I would pay a visit, take the chance to catch up with them, see what's new and what's to come. Twelve Questions. Twelve answers. The Dirty Dozen.

Q: 'Sup? What're you guys doing right now?

We're stuck here typing answers to your Dirty Baker's Dozen, though we'd much rather be at the bar downstairs.

Q: Let's start with this, what's an average day like for you guys? You have The Hill-Side and Hickoree's under one roof (a relatively new roof at that, we'll get to that). Give us an idea of what running the two looks like on any given day? How do you split up the duties?

Sandy: An average day begins with the two of us talking about how much shit there is to get done and ends with us frustrated that we didn't get enough done. In terms of roles, Emil does about 90% of the work and then I take credit for 50% of the outcome! To be honest, splitting up duties is a really important and challenging part of running the business that I didn't expect would be as difficult as it is. Figuring out who is better at various types of tasks and actually transitioning from one of us handling certain things to the other taking over, that's been tough. We're working to get better at this.

Emil: The two businesses/brands complement each other in many ways, and it's been a lot of fun and very educational doing both of them simultaneously. It's also a crazy amount of work, and we're always feeling like we're falling behind on things. There are times when it feels like Hickoree's is a distraction from The Hill-Side and vice versa. Hopefully it won't always be like this. Also there's just a lot of immediate, unglamorous work that some days can feel like it gets in the way of higher level things. That's the work that can be hardest to divvy up, because we both feel like we have more important things we could be doing . . . but I think that just comes with the territory when you start something from scratch like this.

Q: You guys just moved, from Bushwick (my old stomping grounds as well) to the South Side. Nice big space, good light. How has the move affected your living and working?

Sandy: The biggest change is proximity to Manhattan and the presentable-ness of our new space. We can actually have people come to our office for meetings, and we feel good about it.

Emil: It's an obvious thing to say, but the space you work in has profound effects on how you work. We feel more serious, more confident, and much more legit in this new place. It still isn't completely set up the way we want it to be, but we're very happy with the new digs. The big challenge that we still have to face is related to living and working in one space. It's really difficult to make boundaries between home and work, and to be diligent about enforcing them.

Q: There's a bar (a good one) called Gordon Bennett in the ground floor space of your building. Just to what extent has that affected productivity? Can you write off your bar tabs? (note to self: ask accountant re:this)

Sandy: The best part about the bar downstairs is they have 2 for 1 whiskey shots before 10AM on weekdays.

Emil: We are in the process of installing a dumb waiter so we can have beers sent up to us from the bar mechanically. Then there really won't be any reason to leave the office.

Q: You work with your friend Hisashi in Japan. How does that work? In terms of fabrics or sales. You sell overseas. What's the reception of The Hill-Side been like in relation to here in the US?

Sandy: Our friend Hisashi is awesome, and has been an indispensable part of The Hill-Side from the beginning. He found our amazing textile mill, and manages the relationship with them. He also made our very first sale, to United Arrows, and he continues to kick ass at selling and representing the brand in Japan. In terms of international reception to the brand, we don't experience it as directly as we do with US shops, so we're extremely lucky to have really close friends looking after The Hill-Side in the UK, Europe, and Japan.

Emil: Hisashi is an old friend of mine from college and grad school, and both Sandy and I have been roommates with him at one point or another. He's been a hero to The Hill-Side from day one, and now he is a partner in the business. Another person who's helped us immensely is our dear friend Cathal McAteer, who runs the brand Folk. He has been a mentor since we first started thinking about making ties, and his advice and guidance have been invaluable. Cathal also took us on in his London showroom -- Macandi -- at a very early stage, and they have done an amazing job with our stuff in the UK and Europe. As Sandy said, it feels so good to be able to hand over our brand to such capable, trusted friends. And the fact that we get to work and collaborate with our best friends makes all of this stuff that much more fun.

Q: On that topic, The Hill-Side really seemed to take off pretty fast and furiously, and in fact our first conversation was in regards to that. It really seemed like you guys hit something at the right time. Were you at all prepared for how big the response was and how quickly it came?

Emil: To date every aspect of The Hill-Side's development has exceeded our expectations. When we first started making these ties we thought we might sell a few of them to very niche shops, mostly denim-centric places. It's not like we invented anything really new, but it does feel surprising that our stuff has been as widely accepted and appreciated as it has. The whole thing has kept us so busy that we haven't really had time to look up from what we're doing long enough to take it all in. Now the challenge is to keep up the momentum, but also to manage our growth and expansion so that the brand doesn't burn out. We need to continue to innovate and keep people excited about our products. This comes in to play in so many ways, from hunting for new fabrics, to introducing new designs, to how we photograph and style the products, to seeking out collaborators, to the shops we choose to partner with.

Sandy: It's actually a pretty common story for a brand to make a ton of sales early on and then just not deliver, or deliver two months late, or screw things up in some other way. All along my biggest concern about growing fast and furiously, as you put it, was making sure we fulfilled our obligation to all our accounts to deliver the highest quality product on time. After getting through our first season without any major missteps, we have now turned our attention to perfecting the product. I'm still focused a lot on it. Quality and consistency, balanced with innovation, will hopefully allow us to keep the wind in our sails for a while.

Q: How would you describe the ethos of The Hill-Side and how does it differ, if at all, from that of Hickoree's?

The two are quite aligned in their taste and mission. We aim to satisfy customers who love shops like Hickoree's when we are designing new products for The Hill-Side, and we look for brands like The Hill-Side when seeking to expand the Hickoree's product offering. The Hill-Side ethos is about valuing craftsmanship, honesty of materials, and provenance. We feel that these traits, along with a good aesthetic sense, are the ingredients to creating objects that people will be proud to own. Approaching the maker-seller relationship from the other direction, Hickoree's Hard Goods is a place you can go to find objects that share these values.

Q: We've talked in the past about how you guys want The Hill-Side to have standard pieces -- certain styles of the ties, scarves, handkerchiefs that are present in the collection year after year. But season to season, how's the decision making go for what Spring, for example, will look like aside from those carry-overs? So much editing, right? There must be some trouble narrowing down what's going to be produced from what won't?

From the time we started to think of The Hill-Side as a real thing, with seasonal collections and all that stuff, we decided that there would need to be certain pieces that never leave the range. This is how my favorite brands are structured. They work on a foundation of "classics" that are always available and seem like they've always existed. We aren't totally comfortable working within the two-season fashion calendar, mostly because we don't want to be a brand that throws everything out twice a year and starts from scratch based on completely new inspiration. You will always be able to find our indigo, black, and red (plum violet) chambray ties, and the hemp/cotton denim tie is here to stay. Same goes for the khaki chino tie and the basic chambray handkerchiefs.

Once these standard pieces are in place, it makes us much more confident when it comes time to play around. We know we can do crazy stuff and the staple pieces will still be there to keep the collection grounded, but we also have those staple pieces looking over our shoulder to make sure we don't do anything too far fetched. We are extremely fortunate to have access to so much inspiring fabric, and designing a new collection often feels like being a kid in a candy shop. So yes it really comes down to editing, and if the editing process is difficult it's a really nice problem to have.

Q: On that topic, let's get into the present collection. Talk about some of the fabrics we're looking at for SS10. What's new? What's got you stoked?

For spring/summer 2010, our second season, we have introduced several new fabrics to complement the pieces that we carried over from SS09. We have two new colors of our standard chambray, one is a natural unbleached white with green selvedge line and the other is a heavy stonewashed version of our basic indigo chambray, which yields a really pretty pale blue color. There are two lightweight cotton chambrays, which weigh in at 3.5 ounces. One is a standard indigo / white weave and the other has indigo yarns in both directions, giving it a solid, deep, intense indigo color. We've added a black selvedge chino to complement the khaki and army green versions of the same fabric that we carried over from SS09. There are two new camo-print twills, one of which is a very abstract pattern based on Switzerland military camouflage and one that's from a Danish army pattern. We've added two different indigo & white hickory stripe chambrays. There is an un-dyed organic cotton "colorgrown" canvas, which has a really nice greenish tan color that comes from this particular strain of cotton's natural hue. And finally there are the "covert" chambrays, which might be our favorites. These are made by a similar process as weaving a heather grey t-shirt, where white and colored yarns are twisted before being woven in one direction of the fabric, so sometimes the white shows on the surface and sometimes the color shows, giving the fabric an irregular, "speckled" or "salt & pepper" texture. All of these new fabrics are produced in Kojima, Japan by some of the best textile artisans in the world.

Q: You've started getting into some really different fabrics. This past F/W, you did a series of really nice Limited Edition wool ties, and you've shown me some really kind of "un-Hill-Side" type fabrics you've got laying around, meaning fabrics that move away from selvedge and chino and wax cotton. Is there a conscious thing happening with that? Were there some fabrics you used for SS10 that you felt this about?

Our first two collections have been very focused on tough cotton fabrics like chambray, duck cloth, twill, denim, and waxed canvas -- all fabrics that feel a bit different for neckwear because of the way they harken to utilitarian clothing. The lightweight chambrays this season feel a tiny bit different for us, just because they are more delicate. In the near future you will start to see us branching out and trying new things, having a bit more fun. It's not going to be so singularly about chambray and selvedge fabrics, though that stuff will still stick around. For example, we just shipped a special edition batch of Aloha print ties to United Arrows in Japan. We will be releasing some for the US soon as well, just in time for the warm weather.

Q: Have you started getting things sorted for next season yet? Ideas, fabric ranges, etc. Without giving too much away, what might we expect from The Hill-Side in the coming year?

We've got some really nice fabric coming for AW10, including a couple gorgeous and unusual wool tweeds, a really luxurious plaid flannel, and a few other unique fabrics that I don't want to give away just yet. Also the covert chambrays will play a bigger role in the AW10 collection than they did in SS10. We're also contemplating a small "holiday" collection that will be comprised of new fabrics, all classically appropriate for the cold weather. Finally, we're just starting to work on SS11, and it's looking extremely promising. We've been hooked up with a couple new mills in Japan, and the swatches they've been sending us are mind-blowing!

(Ed Note: On top of all that, Stanley&Sons will be making a few bags and aprons special for the Hill-side. Folk SS10 will be available on Hickoree's as well as a whole new lot of vintage pieces, shirting by Lee Harkness, Wolverine 1000 miles boots, hand dyed tees by Shabd...)

Q: Have you guys ever looked on Google Analytics at whether there's a spike in sales just before Father's Day?

Emil: We haven't even been around long enough for that. But we will keep a close eye on Google Analytics as The Hill-Side's first Father's Day rolls around this year. I'm not sure how many fathers are into our stuff (yet), but it would be cool if we became one of those brands that does like 70% of its sales in the couple weeks leading up to Father's Day, like all those electric shaver ads you see exclusively in the beginning of June.

Sandy: I'm not even going to dignify that question with a response.

Q: What have I left out? Anything? Any parting words? Are we going downstairs for beers now? It's work-related.

Emil: Meet us downstairs dude! The Hill-Side's bar tab is calling your name!

Sandy: More like Secret Farts.

(Ed. Note: Rolling my eyes.)

*Thanks to Emil and Sandy for allowing me to intrude, take pictures, ask questions and run up a sizable tab downstairs at Gordon Bennett.
I'm good for it, swear.

the Hill-side

Hickoree's Hard Goods


Ryan E. Plett said...

Secret Farts.... awesome

Michael M. said...

Is the natural pocket square with the turquoise selvage released anywhere yet?

Mitch Frank said...

Good show, good show. I think this brand is about as inspiring as it gets. American ingenuity et al.

Marcel said...

Great interview James.
Really enjoyed it.
Keep this coming!

Unknown said...

James, nice piece. I just now read the entire post. Very happy for the Corsillo brothers. Can't wait for the Hill-Side + Context Father's day special.

Sokiente said...

Who makes that blue jacket that the model in the light brown shirt is wearing (looks like the same jacket James is wearing here