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The Chosen Ones: An Interview with Alexander Drexler

The menswear maestro on designing the perfect shirt, the pleasures of iced tea, and the real story behind Gap Kids

Periel Aschenbrand
October 09, 2017
Juan Chami
Juan Chami
Juan Chami
Juan Chami

There has been much attention paid to the founder and creator of menswear line Alex Mill, Alexander Drexler. And expectations are high. GQ called his line “a favorite for guys,” The New York Times refered to him as “retail royalty” and The Cut has even asked whether his small business considers retail behemoth J. Crew a competitor.

Alex himself grew up in San Francisco, the son of industry icon Mickey Drexler—credited with the “meteoric rise of the Gap,” who also spent more than fifteen years as the CEO of J. Crew and director of Apple. And while the fashion industry is the last place he imagined himself, Alex Mill may well be the start of a mini empire in its own right. Headquartered in downtown New York, after only four years, they already sell to about fifty stores. I met with him to inquire about his obsession with the perfect shirt.

Periel Aschenbrand: You started this really, really well done line of men’s apparel that has kind of blown up. Is that accurate?

Alexander Drexler: We started Alex Mill, yes. But before that, you know, I did a number of things. I went to law school for a little while but I dropped out…

PA: Back up. You were born in NY.

AD: Yes, but I grew up in San Francisco. And I went to college in Connecticut and after college, I moved here. And then I sort of did different things, I had an internship at People Magazine

PA: Random.

AD: This was when I was like twenty two years old!

PA: Still. So you weren’t always interested in the garment industry?

AD: No. I wanted to be in the FBI or become a District Attorney.

PA: But obviously you grew up around this industry.

AD: I kind of realized it was in my blood, to a certain degree. I was sort of always interested in the production side of the business. I was especially interested in the manufacturing side of the business. Like, going to the factories, getting things made. Before Alex Mill, I worked for Andrew Rosen for about five years, who started Theory and he started a company called Gryphon and I was doing their production. Traveling to China, India, being in the factories. I worked for Steven Alan for a little while in the garment industry, clothing production, clothing manufacturing, so that was my angle.

PA: Did you grow up going to the factories?

AD: No, never. My dad was obviously involved in the GAP but he wasn’t also filling the role of production manager.

PA: Fair enough.

AD: It’s very interesting. It’s one thing to go to factories in midtown, but when you go to factories in India, it’s a whole other culture. Some of these factories are entire communities.

PA: Like five-year-olds making clothes?

AD: No. Never. I never saw that at any of the factories I ever worked for.

PA: I was kidding.

AD: There may be places where that happens, I just never saw it.

PA: Well, that’s very encouraging.

AD: Anyway, that interest sort of led me to Alex Mill. I wanted to make the perfect shirt. This idea that guys dress in a uniform, jeans, t shirt, shirt, sneakers… I wanted to really hone in on what guys want as their uniform. And I didn’t really feel that was being addressed.

PA: When did you start Alex Mill?

AD: In 2013. We started the business by wholesaling to Barney’s, Mr. Porter, Unionmade, Stag, the different key players, but as the business evolved, one thing that really took off was our tees. They became famous in a category of their own. So over the last couple of years, I would say we have really been shifting toward tees. And despite all the tees out there, it’s still really hard to find the perfect tee shirt for guys.

PA: And for girls too, for the record. In case you want to branch out. As someone with a tee shirt fetish, I can really attest to that. And I’m not the only one. Isaac Mizrahi told me he gets all of his tee shirts custom made! You should send him one.

AD: I’d be happy to. There’s so many things that go into making the perfect shirt—the wash, the fabric, the fit, you know. It’s like you’re cooking a stew and if one ingredient is off, then the whole thing is off. And that’s what I think is so interesting about clothing and manufacturing. If you make a shirt, if the thread color is not right, if the thread thickness is not right, if the tear label is too scratchy, if the fabric is perfect but the wash is wrong, one thing throws it off. Or it’s too tight, or it’s too loose. And then also, can you replicate it in large numbers. Like this restaurant, if the chef makes a meal, can he make the same meal day in and day out for hundreds of people?

PA: Speaking of this restaurant and not to change the subject, but that’s like your seventh ice tea.

AD: I drink copious amounts of ice tea. And the ice tea here isn’t bad.

PA: I guess if that’s the worst thing you’re doing to yourself, you’re probably in pretty good shape. Anyway, so you did it? You made the perfect tee shirt?

AD: I like to think so, but I’m never satisfied.

PA: Incidentally, I have a bone I may as well pick with you, since we’re here, which is that I can’t find the kids shirts anywhere!

AD: Those are vintage collector’s items. We stopped making them.

PA: Noooo.

AD: Yeah. The kids business is very challenging. They grow out of everthing very quickly and no one wants to spend any money. But actually, you know, GAP Kids was started because my dad couldn’t find clothes for me.

PA: NO WAY. Is that true!?

AD: Yeah.

PA: I love that so much. That’s quite an homage. And now you’re making the perfect tee shirt. At Alex Mill… Wait! What’s Mill!?

AD: Mill stands for quality. Like a fabric mill.

PA: Ah. The details. Speaking of details, what’s your favorite drink?

AD: Iced tea!

PA: Right! And how do you eat your eggs?

AD: Scrambled.

PA: How do you drink your coffee?

AD: I don’t drink coffee but I drink a lot of Diet Coke.

PA: What’s your favorite Jewish Holiday?

AD: Hanukkah.

PA: Did you have a bar mitzvah?

AD: Yes.

PA: What did you wear?

AD: A suit, I don’t remember.

PA: Surprising, coming from you. What shampoo do you use?

AD: Anything. I have no preference.

PA: Gefilte fish or lox?

AD: Lox. I don’t eat that much fish. I don’t love fish.

PA: Five things in your bag right now?

AD: Phone and my glasses because otherwise I can’t see. I don’t really carry that much with me.

PA: Favorite pair of shoes?

AD: Nike.

Periel Aschenbrand, a comedian at heart, is the author of On My Kneesand The Only Bush I Trust Is My Own.

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