Saturday, December 19, 2015

In Review: Alex Mill - Welcome to the Dark Side





I was reminded of Alex Drexler, founder of NYC-based clothing company Alex Mill, while watching Star Wars Episode V the other night (I'd highly recommend checking out the Despecialized versions). The fate of the entire galaxy hung in the balance as Vader tried to turn young Skywalker to the dark side. You know...just like Alex Drexler.

Alex Drexler grew up, like many other little kids, wanting to be something like an FBI agent. He went on to study law and worked in advertising before he left to develop the Alex Mill label with designer Alex Casertano in 2013. Now only a few short years later, they're carried in stores such as Unionmade, Barneys, and Mr. Porter, among many others. That could be the general story line of a lot of successful guys in the menswear business were it not for Drexler's pedigree. If the name Drexler sounds familiar, it's because it is - his father is the Mickey Drexler. Gap resurrection Mickey Drexler. J. Crew juggernaut Mickey Drexler. Darth Vader Mickey Drexler.  You know...minus the evil and the horrific prequels. You'll have to forgive the analogies - with Star Wars coming out my mind has been a bit preoccupied.

I discovered Alex Mill last year after I picked up one of their slub cotton long sleeve t-shirts on sale and it quickly turned into one of my favorite basics. I have to admit I didn't know much about the brand at the time and I kind of forgot about it until Aliotsy from ThisFits asked me recently what I thought of the brand. Wouldn't you know it, a ton of Alex Mill stuff went on sale at C21 a few weeks ago for insane prices. Long story short, I left with almost everything they had. It's great stuff.

Go grab a donut or something - I've got plenty to talk about. If you didn't have a donut on hand and now you're hungry, that's my bad.


Materials and Construction



Multi-check Sport Shirt and Twill Slub Sack Jacket



Alex Mill makes classic, casual Americana with a special emphasis on fabrics, materials, and construction. One of the first noticeable departures from more mainstream retailers would be the subtle emphasis on detailing. The brand uses buttons made of various mediums - wood, shell and mother of pearl, Corozo nut, horn, etc. On the oxford, for example, the shirt is finished with shell buttons, except for one cats eye collar button and the two darker cats eye buttons on the left cuff. It may sound like a lot on paper, but in real life I didn't even notice some of that until I was writing this. That's exactly how I like my details: I know about them, though no one else may unless they take a good look. Still, you'd be forgiven if you just don't want that sort of thing on your clothes. It's a fine line between the interesting and the gimmicky, and one that could easily be argued on both sides.

Oxford Sport Shirt
The second thing to note is the fabric. Fabric quality is one of the hardest things to translate into a picture online. There's no way to substitute actually feeling a product in hand, and some brands' clothes look so much worse up close and in person than on websites. So given that it's so hard to capture the real "soul" of a fabric sometimes, you'll have to believe me when I tell you that the fabrics are one of the true fortes of the brand. Alex Mill prefers textiles with a bit of texture to them (as do I), like their slubby fabrics (irregular width threads or yarns), brushed flannels, and Donegal wool. They actually custom develop all of the fabrics they use, and the different pieces also feature different and slightly unusual construction details throughout. As you'll see below, the shirts are not made on a common template either - each different model has a slightly different pattern.

Wool Donegal Sweater
Starting off, the Donegal sweater is a great basic medium weight crew neck 100% wool sweater with softly curved raglan sleeves and the classic multi-colored Donegal fleck. However, the sweater takes a bit of a back seat to the other items, in my opinion, which is saying a lot because I love Donegal.

The fabric on the slub oxford sport shirts is soft to the touch, with just enough texture to make it interesting up close but not obnoxiously obvious or in your face. The necks feature reinforced zig-zag stitching, the back is constructed with small side pleats, and the cuffs are slightly shirred (tiny little folds similar to pleating where the sleeve attaches to the cuff). This particular model also has vertically stitched lines on the right side placket called Trapunta or Trapunto stitching, most commonly found on quilting.

Oxford Sport Shirt: Placket Stitching Detail
The cuffs on this model and the chambray chore shirt below are also slightly curved to finish in a wider width at the buttoning side, with the far side stitching curving off the cuff side. The sides of all the shirts are also gusseted as well for further durability, and the sleeves on all the shirts are made in two sections, with a larger piece of fabric making up the majority of the sleeve barrel and another long tapered section on the inferior posterior side serving to gradually narrow the sleeve towards the cuff.


Chambray Chore Shirt: Cuff Construction



Inner Cuff Detail
I also picked up a couple of chambray chore shirts featuring mitered pockets and a good amount of nep peeking out of the heavier plain weave cotton chambray ("nep" refers to a weave where the ends of cotton threads protrude from the face of the fabric, resulting in random tiny white spots). The cuffs are single pleated, buttons are ivory-toned (my guess is Corozo as well) and the backs are flat with a locker loop. The inside of the cuffs also have reinforced stitching lines similar to the lines on a trench coat belt, and the shirt sleeve sections are two-needle chain-stitched together (picture the hem stitching on your jeans). There's a contrast interior collar as well of slightly softer herringbone cotton where the neck contacts the collar.

Chambray Chore Shirt in Blue

Multi-Check Shirt Collar Detail

Chain-Stitched Placket and Panel Reinforcement
The multi-check shirt and black reverse windowpane are built most similarly to shirts in mainstream retailers, though the sleeves feature the same tapering construction as above and there still are subtle details to discover upon closer inspection. The cuffs here are built in constant width and most lines are single stitched, though the plackets are chain stitched and the chest pockets have a reinforced interior panel stitched in - a feature not found on the other garments.


Twill Slub Sack Jacket

The last piece I initially bought is a khaki "twill slub sack jacket", which actually has so little slub that you could easily miss it, honestly. It's a standard cotton twill, cut with a notch lapel, single wood button functioning cuffs, a two-button closure, patch pockets, welt chest pocket, and false keyhole lapel detail. The exterior of the collar stand is stitched with the similar parallel reinforced stitching as the chore shirt cuffs, and the jacket is constructed with felled seams (again looking at your jeans, think of the side seams), which further adds to the rugged casual nature of the garment.

Cuff, Button, and Chest Detail

That was going to be it, honestly, but after my initial haul I liked the clothes so much I ordered the indigo-dyed French cotton terry loopback pullover during the 50% off Barneyswarehouse sale a few days ago ("loopback" is a term referring to the looped appearance on the underside of fabric traditionally used for sweatshirts). The sweatshirt is designed with a ribbed shawl collar and cuffs, nautical brown buttons, a welted front kangaroo pocket, and a single box-pleated chest pocket. The deep indigo fabric is wonderful, and I have to admit I love the design.

French Terry Indigo Mechanic's Sweater

Chest, Cuff, and Collar Detail

As you can see, for a couple of relatively nondescript shirts, a sweatshirt, and a jacket, there's a wealth of thought that went into the design of each piece. To be honest, when I first glanced at one of the shirts, my first impression was that there wasn't anything particularly remarkable about the construction to note. I was very wrong. It's kinda like when you have this girl you like initially, but as time goes on you discover a lot more about her to love than you first noticed...did I just make this weird?

Sizing and Fit


Grey Chambray Chore, Blue Slub Oxford Sport, Reverse Windowpane

For reference, I'm about 6', ~155 lbs and I normally wear a slim small in J. Crew, Banana Republic (tailored slim fit), Bonobos, etc. for comparison. I took a small in all the Alex Mill items, which all fit similarly enough to lump together here (though with slight differences - just not enough to comment at length about). The shirts fit fairly slim in the chest and a touch more full in the back. My only complaint with the fit is that the collar size on the oxfords specifically are ever-so-slightly tight buttoned up.

Blue Chambray Chore, Multi-Check, White Slub Oxford Sport


The sweatshirt and sweater also both fit slim in the body, and cut a nice modern silhouette without hugging or pulling on my frame.

Wool Donegal Sweater, Twill Slub Sack Jacket, Mechanic's Sweater
For reference I usually wear a 36R-38R in Suitsupply, Ludlow, or Eidos Napoli etc.Alex Mill sizes the twill sack jacket in XS/S/M/etc. rather than numerically, with the S translating into what many would call a 36R today, if not a little short in the tail. The button stance is on the higher side and it's a length I wouldn't tolerate for a more formal jacket, but the design works very well for more casual outfits.

With all of the pieces being pretty cohesive as a collection, they can be worn almost interchangeably very easily.

Impressions and Value




Drexler describes the brand as a collection based on the "modern man's uniform." Though I think men these days are much too diverse to be pegged into a single category, in my experience Alex Mill produce great products aimed at a target audience not looking for anything avant-garde or particularly flashy, instead focusing on thoughtful refinement of classic garments. They do this very well, and are easily a step above most mainstream stores in overall quality.


The merits of a brand are only once side of the coin, however. In judging value, I generally look at materials, construction, design, and fit against the purchase price. At MSRP, Alex Mill charges in the realm of mid to upper $100's for shirting and around $300s for jackets and outerwear. Those prices are obviously higher than most mainstream retailers, and considering the above I think a fair price - though a price I am not usually willing to pay personally. That's also about what Todd Snyder (also formerly of Gap, J. Crew) charges for his namesake brand, though you can find both on deep sale if you look scour the net looking for deals.

Even if you don't, the good news is I do, so here's the info: Century 21 stores are still physically carrying Alex Mill, and at an average cost of $25-30/shirt, $40 for the sweater, and $55 for the jacket. That's a ludicrous cut from MSRP, and one that squares them off in price against other brands that have no business being in the same conversation (such as Alex Drexler's father's company). Unfortunately, C21 removed their Alex Mill stock from their online storefront and currently are only carrying stock in physical locations as far as I know. However, Barneyswarehouse carries Alex Mill, and often has extra 30-50% off sales and free standard shipping, which drops the price into a very enticing price bracket as well. I paid $39 for the indigo mechanic's pullover there and would do it again in a heartbeat. Unionmade also stocks Alex Mill, and a couple times a year runs one of the best (and most hectic) sales on the interwebs, so that's something to keep in your back pocket until the timing is right.

At the end of the day, I'd recommend taking a closer look at Alex Mill the next time you run across some items. It would seem Alex Drexler is a bit of a retail Jedi, like his father before him. From the excellent products to the deserved success the brand is already enjoying, it's clear that his label has the design chops to have come leaps and bounds in just a short amount of time.

Things I Liked


Quality fabrics
Well-considered details
Thoughtful construction

Things I Didn't Like


The increase in overall quality is matched by an appropriate increase in MSRP
Sometimes you don't want different buttons on your clothes




4 comments:

  1. I don't get this brand. The materials may be great but there is absolutely nothing at all special about their designs. If I'm going to pay nearly $200 for an oxford shirt--and I will and I have--then it had better be something both unique and timeless. While I may not be able to get the quality of material at Marshalls, I could easily get the same designs. No thank you, Alex Mill. There are so many better options.

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    1. Hey Kevin - thanks for your thoughts. I'd agree that their design doesn't push many boundaries aside from their materials, though I could find that "fault" with most companies making more classic style menswear. They fall a little on the more modern fitting Billy Reid type of thing to me, which is fine, though far from inspirational. My price limit for Alex Mill is something like <$50 for most shirting, which you can get several times a year. At that price there aren't many in their league, from what I've seen.

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  2. Awesome post!I don't get this brand. The materials may be great but there is absolutely nothing at all special about their designs.
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    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, I get that criticism, though when I think about value in a designer I tend to separate the metrics into a materials/construction standpoint and then a design standpoint. There are plenty of brands out there, and in particular menswear brands, that make fairly traditional clothing but the price is all in the material/construction. Conversely, a lot of what we consider higher level designers focus almost entirely on form, drape, and aesthetic while using only passable/inferior materials/construction. There's value in both (and ideally you can have both at once).

      I'd say there are plenty of guys out there that aren't looking for something special in design. I actually find that most brands that want to do something "special" make their products worse for it, like those stupid Bonobos pocket linings. It's a lot harder to wander off the beaten path in a way that actually works. But there's also nothing wrong with the beaten path when it's done well.

      In any case, thanks for your thoughts, and I hear ya.

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