I was recently having a conversation with a fashion industry colleague whose day to day work involves the intense scrutiny of factory samples, fabrics, patterns and finishes. It was thus no surprise given her background that she shares my tortuous inability to settle when it comes to clothing.
We both agreed that if we couldn't get what we wanted: the perfect cut, a great fabric, the right design details and level of quality—if the stars didn't align essentially—then we didn't want to buy anything at all. Even if that meant walking around in our old and increasingly haggard wardrobe.* Now I know that I'm not alone among menswear fans, in my narrow obsession with getting "that piece" but, it's a stronger urge for me than most.
This obsession with getting it right goes a way to explaining why I'm inordinately fond of the brand UNIS. The eponymous (sort of) label of New York-based designer Eunice Lee, is infused with exactly the kind of perfectionism that people like me, and my colleague, drool over.
The label recently celebrated its 16th year, and I caught on to them as they had begun to gather attention from the likes of GQ who in 2010 named Lee one of America's best menswear designers.
The story then was the beautifully made heavy twill chino known as the Gio. This was theUnis product! A European style tailored pant in a slim cut, denim-esque twill fabric. These perfect trousers were produced like clockwork. Every season, in a stunning array of garment dyed colours the Gio would appear. My French blue and coffee brown pairs had a prized place in my closet. Friends and family had to be recruited to pick them up on holiday—Unis has no European stockists.
On the surface, what Unis does is deceptively simple: a few fits of trouser, some tees, shirts and knits and a rare piece of outerwear but that is the point. The label is all about doing something and doing it right. Great design, great fabric, great finish. If it was good, if customers brought it, then UNIS was keeping it—season to season. It's for this reason that trousers their most classic colours (navy, tan) never go on sale. As the designer said herself in an interview with GQ in 2014:
“Instead of designing full collections, I realized that the more narrow my approach to menswear was, the more successful I became. So I had to really believe in the clean and modern basics, which define Unis. Some people get bummed that my store's so simple and basic, but there's no confusion about what you're supposed to buy: the chinos and tees. It's a very selected assortment.”
This slow, product-led approach meant that when the brand's 15th-anniversary lookbook came round there were no bizarre sartorial skeletons in the closet. The pieces that had worked so well 5, 10 or 15 years earlier still looked superb and functioned as a unit, an expression of the brand's low-key luxury aesthetic.
At this point, you might be asking yourself, what's the catch? why isn't everyone raving about this brand? Well, perfectionism isn't cheap, and on the surface, paying $200-350 a pop for a pair of cotton trousers is hard to sell. Anyone who's encountered the product knows what that money is buying you but it's not the sort of thing to set the internet on fire. This was discussed in detail with the designer in an interview with industry newsletter Leanluxe.
This was especially true for the last few years when the brand seemed content to produce a few new washes of the Gio, surrounded by a tastefully chosen selection of knitwear and accessories. Luckily for those of us who have kept the faith, the anniversary of the brand has seen a flurry (by UNIS's glacial standards) of new designs—work coats, field jackets, overshirts, new trouser fits—in beautiful fabrics, with those just right details we expect.
We obsessives can be reminded of Aesop's fable. That the tortoise can, on occassion, through steady progress best even the swiftest hare.