Rowing jackets is no longer a newcomer to the ready-to-wear menswear space. A brand founded by a writer, archaeologist and three-time member of the US Rowing Team, Jack Carlson, only five years old, but it quickly outgrew amateur broadcasting. Before, the brand really only sold rugby and t-shirts. Now it’s a bona fide behemoth with suits, outerwear, shoes, bespoke shirts, vintage watches and homewares, knitwear and even womenswear.
So how did the brand go from a humble upstart with a pop-up in Soho to a major player with investment from Capital of Winklevoss (yes what Winklevoss)? Carlson uses his historical knowledge to turn a classic on its head, making it more appealing to a wider audience. He almost single-handedly spurred the revival of the rugby shirt and was a driving force in bringing the prep teams back to glory – even if others have since carried the torch.
In fact, he no longer sees Rowing Blazers as a “prep” brand, even if that’s where its roots lie. With the brand’s Fall/Winter 2022 collection, Carlson is working to change the image of preppy pieces by incorporating references to sports, streetwear and pop culture. By using expressive patterns, interesting textures, and lots and lots of non-pastel colors, he makes it fun—and a truer expression of his own preferences than those of his past adopters.
To get a better understanding of what this collection means to him, as well as the broader menswear community, we caught up with Carlson to talk about what’s changed since 2017, what’s next, and what Rowing Blazers is if not a gear brand.
What does this collection represent for Rowing Blazers? Growing up? Coming out? Or is it more of the same?
This collection represents the next step in the evolution of Rowing Blazers, but also in some ways takes us back to our roots – for example, with a strong focus on tailored garments, which are now available ready-to-wear (instead of just-made-to-order) for the first time since 2020 year. I think this collection is coming of age in a way because it feels a little bit more grown up, a little bit more mature. We continue some of our long-standing partnerships — with Beaver, Sperry, Warm and wonderful, Giles and George — and making new ones — Hunter, ’47, J Stark, and a few more things launching later this year.
The basics are there too, including a rugby shirt as always. I remember when we first came out rugby shirts in 2017. Everyone told me they weren’t cool anymore. Even my own business partner! I’d like to think we’ve played a part in the revival of rugby, which of course every brand is doing now – although ours are still made in Europe on vintage knitting machines.
Is there a greater emphasis on your balance between British and American influences in this collection?
Our aesthetic has always been based on classic British and American aesthetics (with some Japanese influences as well). I think it just comes to the fore in this collection. I grew up on both sides of the Atlantic, living in London as a young child, then Boston in high school. As an adult, I lived in the UK for about six years before coming to New York. I’m an Anglophile and that’s part of the Rowing Blazers image. I think it’s really clear this season with knits, tweeds and tartans, but it always is.
Are textures and patterns the core of Rowing Blazers? Have they always been there? That means: loose corduroys, tweeds, tartans and colorful rugby stripes.
Yes! There are some patterns and fabrics that are quintessential rowing jackets. An ultra-wide cord is one of them. I hate corduroy when it’s too tight. When it’s nice and chunky and really, really soft like this, it’s wonderful. The Gun Check is another rowing jacket classic, along with the patchwork tweed, which takes hours upon hours to make from leftover fabric from tweed mills. For the first time in a couple of years, they are offered again in ready-to-wear suits for men and women.
Is this collection still available preferably preparation? Less? How would you describe the brand’s aesthetic now?
“Preparation” is such a complicated word. I think over the past few years we’ve really helped change the meaning and connotations of the word (for the better). I try to avoid those labels because a word like “preppy” means different things to different people.
Rowing Blazers is just an extension of me and a reflection of what I love. It really is that simple. I like classic British and American sportswear. I love bright colors. I like Corduroy, Tweed, Winnie the Pooh, Sonic the Hedgehog, Granny Sweaters, Boston Red Sox, Football Scarves, Rugby Shirts, Wellington Boots, Mesh Shorts… It’s hard to pin point because I have pretty eclectic taste.
How did the hats come about? Everyone does them. How are they different? Did you do the Yankees?
This ’47 is a Boston brand that has been near and dear to my heart for a long time (headquartered at Fenway Park no less). But you’re right, everyone makes their own version of a Yankees hat (and sometimes a Mets hat). I wanted less in-your-face branding, a combination of both classic and completely unexpected colors, a few more teams (go Sox!) and most importantly, the luxurious corduroy with loose fit we’re known for. I also wanted to make fasteners: like real retro fasteners. 47 was wonderful to work with. I’m big on corduroy and color and they nailed it.
How has the brand grown (or changed) since the early days? Does this collection represent that change/growth?
When we started we were very small and mostly just made blazers plus a few shirts and accessories. We gradually expanded, first with rugby shirts, then into briefs, jerseys, t-shirts and trainers, of course, outerwear. I always wanted and assumed that collaboration would be an important part of the brand, but you can’t start like that. But very soon after we launched, we were approached by J. Crew, then Sperry, Noah, Barbour, J. Press, NBA… and it was just like that.
It’s nice to continue working with the same partners, and it’s interesting to attract new ones. I think that was the time when people almost started looking at us as a streetwear brand because that’s where people go when they hear ‘collaboration’. Other people, I think, had a certain perception of us that we were going to be stuffy or pretentious because they just heard the name and didn’t really know what the brand was. But as we grew up and became more famous, I think it really allowed us to be more ourselves. We defy categories and we’re really unlike any other brand. We do things our way and I love it.
Fall-Winter ’22 rowing jacket collection