9 November 2022

Forging a new path through America's multiplicitous sartorial history, Blackstock & Weber's Chris Echevarria is looking to create a new tradition in American design that honours the reality of the country's people.

BLACKSTOCK & WEBER'S NEW AMERICAN TRADITION with Chris Echevarria for END. x Blackstock & Weber "Blackjack" Ellis Penny Loafer
BLACKSTOCK & WEBER'S NEW AMERICAN TRADITION with Chris Echevarria for END. x Blackstock & Weber "Blackjack" Ellis Penny Loafer
The history of American clothing is a storied and complex one, with workwear, Americana, varsity, preppy and streetwear dotted throughout the past century as distinct waypoints – markers of change, adaptation and important cultural milestones.

Looking deeply into the sartorial history of America, Blackstock & Weber has positioned itself at the forefront of a new era of American fashion. A vanguard of what American style can be and can represent, the brand has cultivated a dedicated following in its relatively short lifespan for their myriad of takes on the iconic Penny Loafer shoe. Founded by Chris Echevarria in 2017, the New York City-based brand has taken the loafer as a steadfast symbol of American fashion and looks to recontextualise it within the contemporary fashion landscape – a totem of the country’s fashion history and a pillar on which a new tradition and future can be built.

Synecdochic for American style, Blackstock & Weber’s loafer is the starting point for the brand, but Echevarria’s scope and vision stretches further than the slip-on shoe. Building a vast network of personal influences, it’s clear that Blackstock & Weber is beginning their journey into creating a new world of American menswear that reflects on the past but looks to the future.

Sitting down with Chris Echevarria ahead of the launch of the END. x Blackstock & Weber "Blackjack" Ellis Loafer, we delve into his inspirations and interest in American style, the importance of self-determination and contemporary creative processes.

BLACKSTOCK & WEBER'S NEW AMERICAN TRADITION with Chris Echevarria for END. x Blackstock & Weber "Blackjack" Ellis Penny Loafer

Named after the street where you grew up, Blackstock & Weber seems like a deeply personal endeavour – how does the personal intertwine with the work you do?

In every aspect, really. The brand itself is a family affair. Some of the people that are closest to me work on Blackstock & Weber. There is in an exchange of ideas within this village of people that I have created, through friendships, family, and all of the experiences that I have had throughout my life so far. I’ve been lucky to have been able to create a good group and tribe of people around me. Blackstock & Weber is informed by all those conversations and experiences that I have with those people.

As somebody who has worked in the industry for a long time, it’s natural to look into your own network and see who would be good for certain roles. But what is really interesting is, as I’ve created this thing and as I’ve lived through it and seen where I need certain things, I’ve been able to not stretch too far to find the people who can fill the role in the optimal way. It’s very cool to be able to say that your friends or the people you have direct access to are some of the most talented people in the world. That might be because of the way we vibe together, or we understand things the same way, we speak the same language. I believe that the people that I have around me, as friends or to work with in whatever capacity are the best at what they do in the world.  

With personality sitting at the forefront of B&W, how do you balance your myriad of influences and inspirations?

Everything goes through the Chris filter, and the filter catches certain things or lets certain things go. When it lets certain things go, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it won’t come back around eventually, it’s just not there for the moment. One thing that the brand, as well as my creative process, is centred around, is just feeling something. I have to feel the thing before I can put in the time to flesh it out. It could start off as simple as a strawberry doughnut, and then strawberry doughnuts could go into a whole other realm of interpretation and understanding.

Do you find that those references are quite abstracted from the original reference point?

They can be, and I leave space for that. But they can also be dead on, straight away. What I try to do is mix something that is familiar, that might be an experience that I’ve had, from year 0 to 35, with something new that might be something that I’ve come into contact yesterday for example.

How quickly does the ideation process progress?

It could be instantaneous, or it could take years. I don’t put a timeline on it and I think that that would absolutely be the wrong way of going about, considering the way that I go about things. It’s like if you watch a golfer as they are going out to tee off, some people look at the flags or put their finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing, I do a lot of that myself. Just trying to figure out where the wind is going and whether or not it’s a good time, or which way I have to go. That’s what it’s mostly based on. I don’t think that there are ideas that weigh on me, and give me a sense of difficulty in regards to weaving them into the story. I think that when it's time, it's time. My heart and mind will let me know when that time is. It’s not helpful at all to try to force an idea, because then you become obsessed with one idea and that doesn’t allow the space for multiple. I thrive in a space of multiple, and when you try to wedge in an idea that isn’t necessarily hitting, especially from a standpoint of creative products, ultimately that’s your fault. I could wedge something in and it works really well, and that’s my glory because I did it well, but there are those times where it fucks up and you knew you shouldn’t have done it.

Creatives are connected to the world in a special way. Your job, for example, is to honour the communication between yourself and the universe, because there is a way that you can break that and lose the connection, and then you have nothing – which is what causes writers block. It’s because you didn’t honour that connection – you might’ve honoured the business, the obligation, the contract, but you didn’t honour yourself.

People don’t understand creativity – they understand the business of creativity – but they don’t understand the actual act of pulling something from the sky and making it into a tangible product. They don’t understand that process, they understand how to scale it once that process has happened, how to monetize it. Anybody can see a chair, for example, and try to sell that chair on Facebook marketplace or whatever. But they didn’t make the chair or figure out the way to make it. They didn’t get the idea for the chair because of an experience of sitting in a different chair that wasn’t the way they wanted it to be. Only some people see and go that far back in the process, but most people just see the thing and how they can sell it.

BLACKSTOCK & WEBER'S NEW AMERICAN TRADITION with Chris Echevarria for END. x Blackstock & Weber "Blackjack" Ellis Penny Loafer
"Since I’ve started the brand, there have been so many different versions of myself, and there are tonnes of differences that I can see in myself. As you grow, your responsibility is really to be able to see that change and act on that change and look out for what the next thing is."

You commented earlier that the brand has focussed on the loafer as an epitome of American style, something that is malleable – a symbol of what American menswear has been in the past, and how that impression can be changed in the present and the future. How does this changeable nature of American style influence your work?

As someone who has grown up living in the space where you consume most of those mid to luxury market American goods – my uncles and cousins, everyone, were big fans of Jordans, Nautica, Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren – we weren’t wealthy or rich people who wanted to splurge on European luxury goods. That was our luxury, seeing my cousins and uncles with these fly rugby tops and polo shirts, polo jeans. Every Christmas, one of the gifts I would get would be a new pair of Timberlands – all of these things were all American goods. You don’t realise it when you’re a kid, but as you grow up you realise that you were entrenched in American culture. As I continue to grow, I continue to entrench myself in that further, the learnings and understandings of what that is, what interests me about it, the craft, indulging in certain levels of taste from an American perspective, as well as a European and worldly perspective. Looking at things through a different sort of lens. All of that informed the choice to be like “hey, I’ve been through this for many years, it’s something that I’ve been entrenched in since I was a kid, this is something that really inspires me”. I went to school for design, and one of the things that I would always do is create things that are closer to the American aesthetic and the American market, and reinvent them, whether that be from a fabrication perspective or whatever. If you look at American style and the influences on American style, they’ve been the same for a very long time, but it has never been through the eyes of a person of colour. That’s something that is missing, that eye. As a person of colour, you see so many different avenues and ways that things can be worn or styled. Ralph Lauren, for example, was never worn in the hood in the way that it was originally intended to be worn on models in his own campaigns. Jordan sneakers were athletic shoes before we got a hold of them and made them into cultural staples. It’s all about seeing that there is this void in the American market, where the influences have always been the same, and changing them. The understanding that there is a different America or a different view of it that can be orated through different product, and the fact that we’re in a time in history that we’re due for a change and the world feels more receptive to change.

Blackstock & Weber has gone through a number of changes since you were established in 2017, growing from a one-man operation to a sizeable business with a diverse audience of customers. What have you learnt about yourself throughout the past five years that has directly impacted the way you create now?

I can’t create in the way that I need to create unless I honour myself. What it informs is that time that I need before I go in and design a collection, or I start to think about things in that manner. I’ll go somewhere super quiet, like the woods or the beach, or completely change where I’m at, go to Paris. Breathe in the city. Even though we are a New York City centred, Northeastern brand, I have to get out of what that is to really reconnect with myself.

Since I’ve started the brand, there have been so many different versions of myself, and there are tonnes of differences that I can see in myself. As you grow, your responsibility is really to be able to see that change and act on that change and look out for what the next thing is. There are people who live in the world, who don’t allow themselves the opportunity to change, because it's scary. Changing could mean the end of a relationship or a divorce, change can be uprooting yourself and moving to a city that is away from your family. Change can mean really and most importantly disconnecting yourself from the self that you’ve always known, which is scary because you don’t know who the other self is. What I like to allow space and time for in my life is that change. But I also allow that for the business. As important as it is to honour the past and what things have looked like historically, it's important to honour the future even though you may not know what it looks like. It’s hard to honour a thing that you don’t have an idea of. Every day, I wake up and just honour that fact that there is another version of me coming down the pipeline, and I’m just excited to meet that person and be the next version and show the world who that person is creatively and what that person has experienced and how I’ve reinterpreted it, distilled down those things into a collection of shoes, clothing, accessories – whatever it might be.

BLACKSTOCK & WEBER'S NEW AMERICAN TRADITION with Chris Echevarria for END. x Blackstock & Weber "Blackjack" Ellis Penny Loafer
BLACKSTOCK & WEBER'S NEW AMERICAN TRADITION with Chris Echevarria for END. x Blackstock & Weber "Blackjack" Ellis Penny Loafer

You have collaborated with END. on the upcoming Blackjack loafer, and you have collaborated with J. Crew and Throwing Fits on bespoke styles in recent years – what is it about collaboration that excites you?

The coolest thing is, is that I’ve been able to create this silhouette - a loafer - that a lot of people are very interested in and see it as this blank canvas that they can put their own spin on. That within itself, as a creative, seeing people being really receptive to this blank canvas, is amazing in its own right. Seeing people take that thing, recolour it, do a whole campaign on it and have it be their own thing is a testament to the design integrity of that loafer itself. It’s super energising because I spent a lot of time working on this shoe. I like to say that this brand, as it stands, is my life’s work, so having people be receptive to it and want to create their own spin on it is really exciting to me.  

You are clear about pulling from personal interests in your work, what was the inspiration behind the END. x Blackstock & Weber Loafer?

The collaboration is centred around casino life, and I wanted to create a shoe that reflected the two ways we collectively view that. One, where it is depressing because people are losing tonnes of money and engaging in this repetitive process that can turn out either really good or bad for them, and there is the second point of view, where culturally some of the most interesting and quirky people play these games. What I wanted to put together, especially through the campaign, is that there can be many personalities within one person, especially on the casino floor. Because that person, at one point, can be at their highest high, and then at their lowest low the next moment, but they are all still the same person engaging in the same activity, and it all depends on where they are in their life at that particular moment. You’re either at a place of extreme growth, or you’re learning, or you’re losing or winning or even just observing. The thing about life is being open to where you are at that time. A lot of people try to fight the current because that is what you’re taught to do, but sometimes you’ve got to let life kick your ass so that you learn a lesson and then you can move on from it and do better.

BLACKSTOCK & WEBER'S NEW AMERICAN TRADITION with Chris Echevarria for END. x Blackstock & Weber "Blackjack" Ellis Penny Loafer
BLACKSTOCK & WEBER'S NEW AMERICAN TRADITION with Chris Echevarria for END. x Blackstock & Weber "Blackjack" Ellis Penny Loafer
The END. x Blackstock & Weber "Blackjack" Ellis Penny Loafer launches online via END. Launches on 12th November.
writerChris Owen