American fashion firm
Founded: in 1981 by Thomas Oatman (born 1953). Company History: Established as a vintage clothing trading company and opened first store on Greene Street, SoHo, New York; store moved to Spring Street, New York, 1986; company produced two collections per year; clothing sold to better department stores and specialty stores throughout the U.S., Europe, and Japan; began offering custom services, 1995; signed licensing agreement with Ingram Company, Inc., 1996; collaborated with Pinky Wolman to create Soup + Fish formalwear collection, 1997; designed restaurant uniforms for Jean Georges, 1997. Company Address: 93 Spring Street, New York, NY 10012, U.S.A.
On NEW REPUBLIC:
Shields, Jody, "Everything Old is New Again," in Vogue, April 1989.
"New York Collections," in DNR, 10 February 1995.
"New Republic's Bookish Look and Matsuda's Future Feature," in DNR, 6 March 1996.
Socha, Miles, "Sportscast," in DNR, 13 March 1996.
——, "New Republic," in DNR, 2 October 1996.
Matsumoto, Janice, "Uniform Elegance," in Restaurants & Institutions, 15 December 1997.
Long before the current vogue for retro fashion, New Republic— founded by Thomas Oatman—has kept alive the flame of American menswear design that burned bright from the 1930s through the 1960s. New Republic, however, is not about promoting any particular era. Oatman added a few different styles to the line's roster every season, changing only the fabrics and colors, and updating the sizing. What the company does manage is to always be in style, because the premise of New Republic is simply about good style.
Thomas Oatman has said: "The difference is that I'm downdating, not updating. I'm not interested in classics with a twist. I want to remain true to the real classics, not the modern knockoffs." New Republic's interpretations are exacting, dealing with more than just the images from those eras that other designers rely on. The company is able to appeal simultaneously to both an avant-garde audience as well as to a more conservative customer. Thus a 1950s Ivy League sack suit exists alongside a pair of 1960s plain-front pegged trousers. Fashion icons are, after all, in the eye of the beholder. New Republic manifests a postmodern sensibility, mixing clothes from different eras in their presentations, which, ultimately, only make fashion sense in an era that coincides with the end of the century.
Oatman is the utmost connoisseur of fine vintage men's clothing. As such, he designs by accessing the index cards in his memory. Every item in the collection can be placed in an elaborate mental stage set that recalls its glory days. And so, a belted leather jacket—as worn by Marlon Brando in the movie On the Waterfront — is endearingly called The Strikebreaker. A 1950s-inspired cabana shirt recalls one's parents' honeymoon photos in Havana.
New Republic weaves romantic dreams that span the decades: a khaki bellows-pocket jacket in Palm Beach cloth conjures up the image of a gentleman on safari in the 1930s. A linen-blend three-button plaid jacket with solid sleeves recalls the look that American soldiers sported when they returned from World War II.
During their leisure time, men in this period wore a pajama-collar rayon gabardine shirt with flap pockets—which happens to be New Republic's trademark, and one of its first styles. Then later, when those soldiers went on vacation, they would wear clamdiggers and cabana shirts at the shore—just like the ones New Republic designed in Creamsicle colors. The late 1950s and early 1960s are also alive and well at New Republic in a natural-shoulder three-button madras sport coat with a hooked center vent and full lap seaming that could have come straight out of Brooks Brothers or J. Press.
America's icons have been inextricably tied with Hollywood, for Hollywood has given us with countless images from which to draw. New Republic, for its part, supplied menswear with a treasure trove of refined American looks. The enduring attraction of New Republic's style has been simple class; as the Daily News Record (10 February 1995) concurred, commenting on a new collection, "New Republic, designed by Thomas Oatman, sent out its signature classics," albeit this time "with a decidedly dandy flavor."
New Republic took commitment to its clientéle a step further in 1995 when it began offering custom services out of its SoHo store. The practice was successful enough that the firm expanded its services the following year, around the same time New Republic inked a 10-year joint venture with Ingram Company Inc., a subsidiary of Network Corporation. The agreement concerned opening three freestanding boutiques in Japan to start, then to continue opening stores throughout Asia.
Oatman also segued into different facets of fashion, teaming up with Pinky Wolman for a rather unusual formalwear collection called Soup + Fish, and then designing uniforms for Jean Georges, a 1950s-styled restaurant. Janice Matsumoto, writing for Restaurants & Institutions (15 December 1997), described the uniforms, five black suits, as "ranging from boxy Nehru jackets for back waiters to eye-catching double-breasted jackets for captains." New Republic's elegant, classically tailored menswear—whether for uniforms, entertaining, or formal occasions—will never go out of style.
updated by Sydonie Benét