meet the supreme designer quietly shaking up nyc menswear

Proper Gang's ring leader, Max Vanderwoude Gross, tells us about joining Supreme’s team.

by Emily Manning
31 August 2015, 5:30pm

Back in February, we profiled the 10 emerging designers making waves in New York's design scene. One of those designers was Max Vanderwoude Gross, the 28-year-old Maryland native behind menswear brand Proper Gang. Since 2012, Max has been steadily crafting his own language -- ever-so-slightly shaking up classic codes by thoughtfully injecting a fresh, young perspective (think pique polos with transparent mesh paneling or boxy, cropped tailored trousers). Proper Gang's pieces are clean and casual, but never short on character. So when we heard Max had been tapped, very quietly, as Supreme's newest designer, it made perfect sense. Both brands don't shout, they speak for themselves. We caught up with Max to let him do the talking.

Tell us about Proper Gang's upcoming season. What's the general mood or direction?
Generally speaking, our approach to each season doesn't change drastically. We look to stay rooted in our belief system and, at the same time, push things forward within the world we are working on building.

Silhouette is such a strong aspect of Proper Gang's DNA. When the brand launched, those shapes were streamlined and slightly cropped. How has it evolved?
While a cropped pant has become a staple of ours, overall, we work to have the clothes fit well. It's like how we approach fabric: we go with what feels right for each individual style. Some things we don't want to see fitted so we make the style a bit loose. We work on creating a piece that feels authentic, relevant and interesting without being overly designed.

Proper Gang launched about three years back. How do you feel contemporary menswear has changed since then?
It's a cliche, but Proper Gang was started partly to make clothes we wanted to wear and couldn't find. In general, the menswear market has become much more saturated, which I guess is a good thing for the consumer because now they have more options. I can get pretty critical about it all, but I won't.

You don't come from a design background. How do you feel that's shaped your approach?
I don't have a fashion design background, but I have studied other areas of design. I've always been an observer and something of an outsider. Also, not being a great technician in a specific craft has forced me over time to develop an eye for, very simply put, what is good and what isn't. It has become an instinct. What I'm working on now has come to be in an organic way. It all feels very natural and not forced, which is how I approach design.

How did you become involved with Supreme?
An early supporter of Proper Gang made an introduction.

Do your responsibilities at Supreme differ greatly from what your role at Proper Gang entails?
My responsibilities don't vary too much, but I get to focus more at Supreme -- at Proper Gang, I wear many hats.

Graphics aren't featured heavily in Proper Gang's designs, although they play an important role in many of Supreme's. Have you given any thought to how you'll approach graphics moving forward?
Early on, we didn't use graphics mainly as a reaction to seeing too much of that done poorly. Since then, graphics have found a place in the line that feels authentic to us. If you follow what we do, you will begin to see our approach.

Collaboration is also an important element of Supreme's oeuvre. If you could work with anyone, who would it be?
Dreams do come true, so no comment.

Although there are European elements discernable in Proper Gang's designs, both it and Supreme feel distinctly New York. What is it about this city that inspires you?
New York is where I live; it's where my family is from -- all the way back to when they immigrated here through through Ellis Island in the late 1800s. So its history is part of my history. The artists, the bums, the youth, the defiant, the fringe, the hustle, the culture, the summers, the winters, the characters who have called it home. There is a rich past and there are some refreshing movements happening now. I could write an essay on it. But ultimately, you either get it or you don't -- and I like that.

What are your hopes for the future?
I hope to achieve a vacation soon.


Text Emily Manning
Photography Jerome Corpuz
Grooming Dana Boyer

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