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You know those girls with the endless collections of rad vintage T-shirts they scooped up from oh, just the Rose Bowl flea market, or from their used-to-be-a-model mom? We’ve always wondered how the hell they had that kind of luck, since all the vintage tees we see these days tend to be a) underwhelming, or b) the same price as our entire shopping cart at Zara.
Designer Lisa Mayock hit a similar point of frustration a few years ago. An avid T-shirt lover, she wanted to find a contemporary version with the same supersoft feel as the ones that had been through the wash a hundred times, but what she found skewed either too streetwear or too pop-culture kitsch. There was nothing with quite the right arty bent—cool typography, clever phrases, sophisticated designs—at a price point that didn’t make her balk. And thus, the idea for Monogram was born.
Launched today by Mayock and her husband, fellow designer Jeff Halmos, the direct-to-consumer brand offers covetable T-shirts and sweatshirts emblazoned with art-inspired graphics—the word Nudes, for instance, atop abstract blobs of peach and pink, or Matisse-like blue legs beside the phrase Are You a Real Man? The initial batch includes 27 graphics and seven styles, and prices run less than $100 for sweatshirts and less than $70 for T-shirts.
Also notable is how the pieces are styled—which is to say, with barely a hint of denim. “When we were conceptualizing the brand, we noticed that the way that people style graphic T-shirts and sweatshirts is almost exclusively with jeans, which is an obvious go-to because jeans and T-shirts are classic,” says Halmos. “But we feel like there’s a lot of other ways to style them, so on our site, we actually styled everything without jeans.” Instead, they paired them with pencil skirts, metallic palazzo pants, overalls, and high-waist trousers, with the effect of making the staple pieces suddenly seem fresh again.
That the styling is so on point should come as no surprise to fashion fans that remember the couple’s earlier ventures: Mayock launched her first line, the now-defunct Vena Cava, in 2003 while still in her senior year at Parsons, and built it into a mid-aughts fashion darling with fans such as Kirsten Dunst and Natalie Portman, while Halmos cofounded Trovata and Shipley & Halmos, both of which earned industry plaudits at their height.
The plan, however, was never to work together. “We kind of resisted the idea because obviously we have a lot of other things going on together, and that was something that we always thought that we wanted to keep separate,” says Mayock, who just last week gave birth to their second child. “But we came up with the concept and both really loved it so much and thought it was a really great idea and a real hole in the market.”
The goal, they say, was to blend modern fit and vintage feel, which meant developing their own fabrics and wash treatments in a mill in Los Angeles, and learning about knits after several combined decades of experience with primarily woven, tailored garments. Mayock spent most of her time on the product side—working with the aforementioned mill and their factory, also in L.A.—while Halmos tackles more of the business and marketing side. They work on the graphics together, sourcing ideas from a “library of references” and consulting on which typefaces and designs would work for the brand.
“I think that that’s one thing that when you’re working with your spouse—you kind of know what the other person’s strengths are and weaknesses are, so we had a pretty clear understanding of our skill sets from the beginning,” says Halmos.
One element that’s new for both of them will be the immediate customer feedback available with a direct-to-consumer model. While with wholesale they had to wait a full season before seeing what sold and what didn’t—”and even then you wouldn’t know what people or how many people or where the feedback was coming from,” says Mayock—now, they can see what consumers are snapping up in real time and plan their design and production accordingly.
For their part, they aren’t afraid to play favorites—Mayock loves the paper-thin trompe l’oeil pin tee, while Halmos is partial to the bullshit shirt—and naturally, neither are we. Scroll down for our top picks: