Yesterday Frank Muytjens, head designer of menswear at J. Crew, came to San Francisco and we met up down at Sam's Grill for lunch. Though mass-market menswear isn't exactly Dwell's standard design fare, I was curious to hear what Muytjens makes of the contemporary design scene, what keeps him inspired, and how a Dutch clothing designer came to helm an American brand mired in decades of East Coast prep.
Naturally the Dutch punch well above their weight in graphic, industrial, and architectural design, but tell me about the current day fashion scene. There's really not much that excites me right now in the Netherlands. I worked there before I came to the US in the 90s, but now it's a lot of geary kind of clothes. Technical, functional stuff with lots of pockets. Like North Face or Patagonia, but more European. Everyone bikes everywhere so there's the casual sportswear stuff is pretty prominent.Do you like that look?I used to. But now I don't like it as much.You must go in for Dutch industrial design though.Of course. I love Gispen and the great bent metal chairs they made in the 40s and 50s. Any of the newer stuff? Droog? Marcel Wanders?You know, I have a lot of friends who work at the school in Eindhoven, but now I really only like older things, stuff with a patina, vintage stuff. That's mostly what you see in my house. Though there is a lot in interior design that inspires what I do for J Crew: mixing textures, colors, even odd stuff like awnings can be great.So what are you into right now? What inspires you, what do you like?It's all the same, and all intertwined. What I like and what I can use in my work are all the same, no borders. I really like the magazine Fantastic Man--that's Dutch!--and lots of music like Morrissey, Echo and the Bunnymen, the Smiths. That's the stuff I grew up on so I always come back to it. I'd like to paint more than I do now, and photography has always got my attention. I love Ellsworth Kelly, Brancusi.Do you take much inspiration from architecture?Yes. I love Lautner and so much of that mid-century modernism. I did a tour of Palm Springs once and I adored the Kaufmann House and the Raymond Lowey house by Albert Frey. I love how they're just plopped out there in the middle of the desert. You can almost see the rattlesnakes slither past. Also the lobby of the Empire State Building in New York. Is that cliched?Not at all. I love the Golden Gate Bridge. I expect loads of Parisians love the Eiffel Tower. Oh in Paris I really like Jean Nouvel's Institut du Monde Arabe.How did a Dutch guy wind up leading the design team for such an American line of clothes?My art school collection was really steeped in Americana. I had just come back from my first trip to the US and I was blown away by the Gold Rush, Dorthea Lange's photos, the Empire State Building. I loved it. So I worked in Amsterdam for a while but always felt New York calling me. So I came, and got a job at Polo, which was really perfect for what I like. Now I'm at J Crew, which is great too.