It's fair to say that Mike Rubin has answered that great challenge posed by Picasso—"to remain an artist once one grows up"—and he's done it with style. Co-founder and creative director for the men's fashion line Krammer & Stoudt, Mike draws from a lifetime of influences that began when he was a child—from the custom car paint shops his mother used to take him to his aunt's passion for collecting Indonesian art and her large record collection. When he was ten-years-old, he started drawing and buying records. At 13, he bought a record player with his Bar Mitzvah money and the money he made from selling his art. From that point on, the influence of art, pop-culture and rock and roll would take him from LA to San Francisco, ultimately landing him New York City where he would launch his own label and appear in New York Men's Week's prestigious Men's Day Presentation. In this interview, we ask Mike about his childhood, early influences, and where his label is heading to next.
I'm always trying to toe the line between something classic or vintage with a modern twist. All the while trying to incorporate my life experiences and influential memories while keeping one eye on the fashion world.
Can you tell us a little about your background before starting Krammer & Stoudt?
I was born in Southgate, a suburb of Los Angeles near Downey, in 1958. My mother was a German immigrant and my father was a Dutch immigrant. I lived with my grandparents and aunts and uncles until I was 5, then my mom and I moved to Orange County. I attended Edison High School in the 70's in Huntington Beach and became interested in art and surfing. After high school I started working in surfboard factories airbrushing boards. I started surfing in contests but became disillusioned by the commercialization of the industry. At that time I was looking for something else to become involved with and I became interested in the Orange County punk rock scene which revolved around venues like the Cuckoos Nest, Safari Sams and the Doll Hut. I started a band that played for a couple of years and after the band I was in broke up, I moved north to go to the San Francisco Art Institute in the mid 1980's. I studied sculpture, painting, performance and video art. Vito Acconci, Chris Burden and the German artists like Joseph Beuys made an impression on me and how I thought about art. In San Francisco I did scenic art for Berkeley Repertory Theater and the San Francisco Opera House to make some extra money while I was in school. After that I took some time off from school and became part of the IATSE union in Los Angeles where I painted sets for television. I went back to school in the late 80's and early 90's to finish my Bachelors Degree in Fine Arts at Cal Arts. At the time I attended Cal Arts I worked part time at the Disneyland Entertainment Art Department for the theme park in Anaheim doing sculpture and painting. Its there that I had a desire to learn how to sew from a girl that worked in our department who made costumes
When did you become interested in men’s fashion and when did you know you wanted to start your own label?
I was doing a lot of decorative interior painting work in Palm Desert after leaving Disney. I would stay there all week and come home on the weekends. It was boring in the evenings when I wasn't working. So I started going to the outlet mall where they had Gucci and Versace stores with all the really weird stuff that nobody bought, and that was when I really started looking at clothing. I took a break from my job and spent 2 months in Florence w Courtenay. We took nightly window shopping strolls to look at the Italian fashions. It was at that time that I decided to quit doing the kind of work I was presently doing and thought about doing a clothing line. When we got back to California, I had a friend in Orange County who introduced me to the father of the Ralph Lauren's in-store tailor. He made my first suits. My wife had also done some catalog photography for a small factory in SoCal so we asked them to make some things for us. Occasionally I would help my wife style some of her photo shoots for aspiring male models.
What’s the inspiration behind the brand and your collection?
I'm always trying to toe the line between something classic or vintage with a modern twist. All the while trying to incorporate my life experiences and influential memories while keeping one eye on the fashion world. I have also always been fascinated by sub cultures which seem to leak into whatever it is that I do.
I built a studio off the grid just before we started the brand and it has served as a place for me to go to before beginning the creative process for the next season.
What’s the design/creative process like?
Collecting things. Notes and photographs from my phone. Investigative drawings. Music. Attitudes. Old Art School memories. Artists I've been interested in. Fabrics.
Give us a typical day in the life of Mike Rubin.
Coffee. Cigar. Organize my day. Listen to music. Eat well. Arrange how to get things done in the garment district in New York without having to go there if possible. Do some drawing. Give the cats some attention.
I know you spend time in Taos whenever you can. I believe you have a house there. What is it about Taos that you’re drawn to.
I built a studio off the grid just before we started the brand and it has served as a place for me to go to before beginning the creative process for the next season. My wife introduced me to the Southwest because she is from Dallas. It's the only place I know of that doesn't have a Starbucks. It was not a part of the United States until 1912. It's a place where artists came from New York city in the early 1900's for a breath of fresh air. It still has a feeling of the wild west. Amazing skies.
What’s next for Krammer & Stoudt?
We are participating in Liberty Fairs Born In The USA show at Pitti Uomo in Italy June 14-17. The Spring/Summer 2017 collection presentation will be shown at Mens Day in New York City on July 11, and we’ll be at Liberty Fairs in the Freedom Hall in NY,which is happening at the same time, July 10-12.
Finally, an interview with Mike Rubin wouldn’t be complete without a discussion of cigars. What are you smoking these days and where’s your favorite place to smoke?
Most recently I'm smoking the Blind Mans Bluff by Caldwell and La Imperiosa by Crowned Heads. Smoking outside now that the weather has warmed up. I go to the Nat Sherman townhouse almost daily, and I meet up with old friends from OK Cigars in Soho on the stoop where the shop used to be during warm weather months. Until the new tenants kick us off the stoop.