Union Throws a Party in L.A., Paul Smith and Matt Smith Team Up for Campaign

Re-intro for Union: Union isn’t just a pioneering men’s and streetwear retail institution on La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles; it’s also a lifestyle brand.

That was the message Friday night when Chris Gibbs hosted a dinner party to celebrate the fall 2023 collection at a private residence in Baldwin Hills.

“Have you met Jamie?” Gibbs asked the dinner table.

Jamie Benson, that is, head designer for the unisex collection. “Our objective is to reintroduce Union,” said Benson, who’s been with the company full time for two years. The aim is to offer “a unique point of view,” focused on luxury-quality garments at an accessible price point. Produced in Japan and China, the collection is priced between $102 and $445.

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“It’s a value proposition,” explained Gibbs, who recently took on the role of creative director for the brand. “I don’t care how dope it is. I don’t want it to be insanely priced. And the value proposition on the knits is really good.”

Knits include the $198 Wheatley cardigan, inspired by Gibbs’ Canadian roots “with motifs pulled from his late grandmother’s old blankets.” There’s outerwear — the $445 Dunbar parka is influenced by the Swedish army snow jacket silhouette and made with jersey-like Japanese fabric — as well as trousers and denim.

“Grab something to wear,” Gibbs generously offered those feeling the chill as the sun set and temperature dropped on the hilltop. The dinner party was held in the open air overlooking L.A.

The setting was intentional; Baldwin Hills has been called the “Black Beverly Hills,” because of the prominent Black celebrities and cultural figures who have lived in the area over the years, including Lenny Kravitz (he grew up in Baldwin Vista in the house owned by his parents, actress Roxie Roker and TV producer Sy Kravitz), Debbie Allen, John Singleton, Ray Charles, Ike and Tina Turner.

The night’s menu, too, honored Black history.

“What I specialize in is Black food history,” said chef Martin Draluck of Black Pot Supper Club.

“James Hemings was really our first celebrity chef,” Draluck said, speaking about the Paris-trained chef born into slavery in Virginia, who worked for Thomas Jefferson at his Monticello estate for seven years, and helped popularize macaroni and cheese in the U.S.

The meal was paired with wine courtesy of Offhand Wine Bar in Santa Monica, owned by Teron Stevenson and Khalil Kinsey — longtime friends who connected Gibbs and Benson.

“It’s all family,” said Kinsey, joined by Gibbs’ wife Beth Birkett Gibbs, co-owner of Union and founder of women’s streetwear brand Bephies Beauty Supply; designer and Foot Locker women’s creative director Melody Ehsani; shoe designer Salehe Bembury; tattooist Dr. Woo; filmmaker Raj Debah; artist Arthur Jafa; Damian Bulluck of Fear of God, and Ronnie Singh of NBA 2K.

Draluck’s menu was also inspired by the recipes of Malinda Russell, a free Black woman from Tennessee who released “A Domestic Cookbook: Containing a Careful Selection of Useful Receipts for the Kitchen” in 1866.

“The only surviving copy is held at the University of Michigan,” Draluck said, serving fried shrimp and grits, pork roast, creamy rigatoni, buttered cabbage and “forcemeat” with onion gravy.

“It’s just meatball or sausage filling at its most basic iteration,” he explained of the latter — the first dish. “Enjoy.” — RYMA CHIKHOUNE

NYFW Connect: The Folklore Group, the software company behind the wholesale marketplace The Folklore Connect, will host its second physical showroom during New York Fashion Week.

The Folklore Connect enables retailers to discover and shop diverse and sustainable brands in global markets.

This follows on the heels of its February showroom that attracted nearly 1,000 buyers, editors and industry professionals.

The Folklore Connect NYFW Showroom, powered by Shopify, will run from Sept. 7 through Sept. 10 at 131 Greene Street in New York, Shopify New York’s two-story space in SoHo. The showroom will enable retailers, media, stylists and other industry professionals to book appointments to view the spring 2024 collections of 15 apparel and accessories brands from Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Colombia, London, New York, Atlanta and Toronto.

The brands featured include AAKS, Chee Lee, EDAS, Elexiay, Israella Kobla, Kadiju, Oríré, Rendoll, RP New York, Selfi, Shekudo, Tehjan Burnett, The Lulo Project, V. Bellan, and Wisdom Eyewear.

Amira Rasool, founder and chief executive officer of The Folklore Group, said, “Although b-to-b wholesale e-commerce technology is an essential part of the wholesale buying process, the physical and relationship element of buying are still major parts of the equation. Our platform was not set up to eliminate the need for human and physical interaction, rather it was set up to streamline these interactions and make the discovery and transaction part of wholesale buying simpler and quicker. We invite every opportunity to make the wholesale experience the best it can be for all of our users, and we find the in-person showrooms we host benefit both our brand and retail partners.”

Rasool was on WWD x FN x Beauty Inc’s 50 Women in Power list for 2022.

The Folklore Connect will be hosting a panel on the opening evening of Sept. 7 in the Shopify space that will showcase industry experts from brands and buyers to share insights for emerging brands embarking on their wholesale journey and how to notice and attract retailer interest. — LISA LOCKWOOD

The Smiths: It’s the season of the Smiths at Paul Smith, with British actor Matt Smith fronting the brand’s fall 2023 and spring 2024 campaigns.

In one of the shots, the brand’s founder, Paul Smith, is joined by the actor, both wearing black tailoring and posing candidly.

In the solo shots, Matt is wearing a black suit and tie with a crisp white shirt, sitting on a white stool; meanwhile in an up-close photograph, he’s weaning one of the brand’s knitwear pieces in its signature stripes.

matt smith Paul smith

The Smiths: Paul and Matt

Courtesy of Paul Smith

“I’m beyond excited to be working with Matt for the next two seasons — he’s the perfect fit for Paul Smith. He’s also one of those people who really embodies effortlessness, both in terms of his on-screen characters and his off-screen sense of style. And, of course, it doesn’t hurt that he looks excellent in a suit,” said Paul Smith in a statement. 

The “House of the Dragon” star made an appearance at the Paul Smith show in June when the Paris men’s spring 2024 shows were taking place.

Matt Smith for Paul Smith

Matt Smith for Paul Smith.

Courtesy of Paul Smith

“Paul Smith has provided classic, inventive and colorful tailoring for years. At its heart is the brilliant legend that is Paul Smith himself. To work with him and get to know him personally has been a complete honor,” said the actor.

“He continues to push boundaries in life and art making Paul Smith a consistently iconic British brand. Not to mention utterly stylish,” he added.

In June, the designer noted the success of his suits. He said “of course the suit is still vital, and very relevant; we sell a lot of them. In fact, we sold 20 in our shop on Saturday.” — HIKMAT MOHAMMED

SWEET DEAL: For a virtual K-pop artist, Apoki has scored some major artistic talent for her sixth single — artwork created by famed illustrator Yoshitaka Amano.


Apoki’s cover art for “Hold On,” an album that is due out this fall.

Photo Courtesy Sony Music Solutions

The just-released “Hold On” is the pastel-loving character’s sixth single and the first geared for Japanese-speaking fans, many of whom are among her 5 million-plus social media followers.

With a career that dates back to the ’60s, Amano is internationally known for his art, illustration and character design for such video game series as Final Fantasy, Vampire Hunter D, Gatchaman, and Casshern among many others. He created the three-dimensional Candy Girls specifically for this music video.

Working with Amano registered with Apoki, whose manager said via a Sony Music Solutions spokesperson, “Every artist on Earth loves his work and our desire connected us. It is such an honor to work with him.”

She has also scored support from the Japanese confectionary and ice cream company Lotte, which makes Watermelonbar ice pops that look like slim slices of rosy watermelon, meant to appeal to the culture of cuteness in Japan. The seedless pops are popular in Japan and South Korea.

The ice-pop maker got a freebie with the collaboration by not having to pay Apoki for the placement of Watermelonbar imagery in the new video, according to a Sony Music Solutions spokeswoman. However, discussions about influencer deals are underway for this fall’s release of her first album, titled “Space,” she said. Apoki has previously acted as an influencer for Casio’s G-Shock and Charles & Keith.

Amano is industrious as ever. In honor of the 10th anniversary of the game The Last of Us, the acclaimed artist has joined forces with Naughty Dog and video game art merchants Cook & Becker to create select art pieces and posters. Pre-orders for the limited-edition artwork are being accepted until Sept. 5. Amano also recently announced that he has dreamt up the cover art for the musician Yoshiki’s new album, “Requiem.”

Knowing that Japan is among the leading “mega markets of virtual artists in the world,” Apoki has dreamt of singing “an original Japanese original song since her debut,” the spokeswoman said. — ROSEMARY FEITELBERG

Going Wide: Darn Tough socks is expanding its reach — quite literally.

The Vermont-based brand, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, is launching a new division: Wide Open — the Wide Width Sock. The line, which will debut online in October, will offer socks designed to stretch to fit wide feet, ankles and calves.

The collection will launch with six models: no-show, quarter, mini crew, micro crew, crew and boot. They will feature unique colors and designs with sizes that will range from a women’s 4.5 to a men’s 14.5. Every pair will come with Darn Tough’s Unconditional Lifetime Guarantee and the pricing will be in line with Darn Tough’s current offering, which ranges in price from $15 for women’s no-shows, $17 for running socks and $22 for micro crews to $25 for midweight hiking socks and $33 for over-the-calf snowboard socks, according to the brand’s website. 

“Sock patterns and standards don’t exist for wide legs and feet, so we’re creating them,” said Ric Cabot, president and chief executive officer of Darn Tough. The brand’s innovation team worked on the development of the Wide Open collection for two years.

The collection will be sold on a new website, wideopensocks.com, that will launch Oct. 1 and be expanded to brick-and-mortar locations in July of 2024. Darn Tough socks are carried primarily at outdoor retailers around the country including REI and Paragon Sports. — JEAN E. PALMIERI

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