From walking into the Operations boutique in the Meat Packing District in Manhattan and taking a glance around, one might mistake this season’s “turn-of-the-century motor touring theme” for safari chic. The clean construction and classic designs give the clothes an Out of Africa feel, as they could easily be found packed into a vintage trunk for a weekend adventure.
Typical Operations pieces include unexpected detailing, leather bomber jackets with neon orange pockets, and blue cotton button downs with neon green stitching. Taking a glimpse at the three owners’ sitting in the Persian rug and antique globe-filled shop, its clear that Matteo Gottardi, Michael Leen, and Hamid Johannes Mahmood are outfitted in their own creations.
Over the last four years, the company has evolved from a uniform import business to an upscale line of men and women’s clothing. Exporting to Canada, Europe and Japan, Operations has a celebrity fan base that includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Jessica Alba, Alicia Keys and Jeremy Piven. Authentic global work-wear inspirations gives the pieces the kind of rugged utility found on English waiter’s jackets to Russian army coats. “There is something functional and honest about our designs,” says Gottardi, the head designer behind the three-man team. “There are no frivolous additions. Each piece was created for a reason and has a story.”
The idea for Operations began on a trip to Stockholm where Leen and Gottardi noticed the clean lines and design of Scandinavian uniforms. Gottardi, who always dreamed of being a designer, traveled the world collecting samples—;from janitor jumpsuits to British aviator jackets—;and used the uniforms as blueprints for his collection. “I wanted clothes that served a purpose. I wasn’t reinventing the wheel. An aviator jacket, or a waiters coat with a small pocket inside, it’s functional and cool. But we’re not putting the pocket there to be cool; that was the original design.”
Ironically, their first original piece was for women. They designed a women’s trench coat, put it in the window “and we started selling 10 a day! It kept us in business for months.” Today the women’s line outsells the menswear.
Operations is also now in its third season of collaborating with Levi Strauss, creating a limited edition capsule collection of fly fishing vests, professor blazers, rider vests, and woodsman jackets. They incorporate luxurious fabrics ranging from fine Italian wool tweed and melton, to Japanese twill and cotton moleskin, and all are finished with the signature Operations color detailing.
A huge part of Operations’ business is that all the clothes are made in New York City’s struggling garment district. Mahmood oversees the production and is proud to be one of the few brands still producing full lines of clothes in the city. “It was a steep learning curve for us to go from importing to actually creating,” says Mahmood. “We really relied on these tailors. Now they are part of our creative process.”
“This industry is an art and a science,” says Leen, who now heads up the business side of the brand. The three men all have MBA’s, but surprisingly none have design credentials, but somehow they have come upon a formula that works. Their loyal following includes local New Yorkers and foreign tourists who now flock to the SoHo store.
The brand is now looking to open a European showroom where they can show off their Made-in-the-USA label. “It’s expensive but worth it,” says Gottardi who mentions that every week another factory closes in Manhattan’s garment district. “That Made in New York label adds to the garment. In this economy people don’t want Rolexes, they want an authentic product.”
SoHo Store: 60 Mercer Street, 212-334-3950
Meatpacking Store: 50 Ninth Avenue, 212-924-1971