For a few seasons now, Duckie Brown’s Steven Cox and Daniel Silver have been selling their collection exclusively by appointment from their studio in the West Village. The prospect of “By Appointment Only” may have once been a symbol of gatekeeping and exclusivity, but here it’s more akin to being welcomed into someone’s house for a home-cooked meal (indeed their studio used to be their apartment before they decamped to Brooklyn). Further distancing their modus operandi from a stuffy luxury environment are the videos they post on their Instagram account, where Cox tries on clothes while he and Silver chat about the fits and the colors or whatever else comes to mind. They invite viewers to DM them to ask questions or make an appointment to see the clothes in person.
Do not be fooled by their irreverent attitude, however, the clothes they make are serious in their approach to cut, fit, and fabric, even when the result is a pair of teeny running shorts in French lace (or silk, or a delightfully sheer cotton voile), or a “high waisted tight” that can be pulled all the way above your head, as seen in the first look of the collection. The first few looks, in fact, are variations on a body-conscious sporty silhouette all in black: a maxi-length t-shirt, a little tank, leggings, long tubes of fabric that can be used as arm warmers or leg warmers, a perfectly boxy swim brief. The Duckies do not believe in lofty inspirations. They have been doing this for over 20 years and their inspiration is simply… themselves. “Twice a week we do Gyrotronics with a German ballet dancer who’s very strict called Wilma,” Cox explained. He shows me a picture of himself laying on a mat in a pilates pose, then a simplified drawing of lines made with a thick black marker that is in fact a sketch for the spandex pieces. “We worked with Daniel Storto — I’ve known him since I was 19 — and he’s a glove designer that lives up in Gloversville, where all the gloves used to be made. He fashioned all those pieces, he’s an amazing talent,” Cox said. A pink silk organza bomber jacket worn with wide-leg, bright fuschia trousers had its roots on a version they’d made in raw denim years ago that he’d recently come across while rummaging through his closet. (“I don’t know where this comes from, but I needed a pink flower at the end [of the collection],” Cox said.) He was also excited to note he randomly found pale pink snaps at a store in midtown that perfectly matched the jacket and didn’t have to special-order them.
It’s little details like those that make their clothes so special, beyond the fact that they are simply gorgeous and desirable. A pair of trousers with a sort of wrap-style waistband in a lilac silk — which they’ve washed — gets paired with a crombie jacket done in silk organza which has been dip-dyed in tea. “It’s such a classic English [silhouette], but it completely collapses [in the fabric],” Cox explained. “It’s so wrong, but so right.” Following that “so wrong but so right” energy, they also made skin-tight versions of the Crombie jacket in wool jersey, and spandex fabric “from Spandex House on 37th Street.” Similarly, their signature pair of trousers with a 48” inch waist meant to be folded over, gathered, or otherwise adjusted for the wearer’s preferred fit come from the pants worn by “Sal,” the accountant of an old shirt manufacturer they used to work with in Greenpoint. While showing me a jacket made with the “lining fabric” on the outside, Cox said they used to get the fabric from “a guy on Delancey Street.” It’s a fabulous piece.
We know that clothing is an intimate form of self-expression, it is personal, and as time passes, the clothes in our closet become entangled with the stories of the things that we have lived. There is a sense then, that at Duckie Brown, Cox and Silver are imbuing the clothes with their own stories before they even make it to their customers’ closets. They produce in very small quantities — 10 of these shirts, three of these jackets — and after spending an hour at their studio one gets a sense that they’ve figured out the exact way to exist in the world with purpose and joy. “We’ve been together for 30 years,” Silver explained. “And I think the key is to pivot. We are trying to break out of the loop all the time. There is an arc to everything that we do, and some people are okay with doing it for the long haul. And others like us [are thinking], ‘Let’s go over here. Let’s pivot. Let’s dream a slightly new dream.’” Their clothes let others dream new dreams too.