Safa Taghizadeh and Christopher Reynolds, the designers behind the new men’s wear label Cobra, prefer a bare-bones approach to fashion. The brand has no presence on social media, and their first lookbook — which stars the Italian indie actor Cosme Castro — includes unglamorous behind-the-scenes images rather than anything posed or polished. And despite an accomplished résumé that, between them, includes stints at Adam Kimmel, Alexander Wang and A.P.C, the “about” section of Cobra’s website is just an embedded YouTube playlist featuring the Stone Roses and Raekwon. “It felt most natural to explain ourselves through our influences instead of with words,” Taghizadeh said. “We’re not into this idea that you’re pushing an idea more than a product,” added Reynolds.
Indeed, their less-is-more ideology is more pragmatic than enigmatic. Cobra’s debut collection, which launched last month, comprises 33 button-down dress shirts — nothing more, nothing less. The shirts, which come in an array of dusty colourways and high-end fabrics and sell for about US$300 to US$500 each, are all fitted in the same loose, casual silhouette that wouldn’t look out of place on unbuttoned tough guys like Viggo Mortensen or Jim Jarmusch. “Going out on your own, you quickly find out the amount of work it takes to make one item well,” Taghizadeh said. “We want to be able to provide something that a guy can come back to every single time without having to think about it because he knows the shirt fits.”
In many ways, Reynolds, 29, a Kansas native with long messy hair who has a degree in finance, and Taghizadeh, 32, an ex-skateboarder from Melbourne, Australia, with a cleaner, more polished look, embody the yin-and-yang formula behind their brand. Standing in Taghizadeh’s cramped Chinatown apartment as the sounds of the experimental musician Nicolas Jaar played softly in the background, the duo spoke animatedly about the variations of their signature shirt: There are multicoloured silk pyjama tops, double-buttoned oxfords and a thrift-store-style Western shirt in buttery red leather that goes for US$1,198. “Personally, I would wear a cowboy shirt under a suit. I’m that guy,” Reynolds said.
They explained that “cobra,” from their label’s moniker, “was used as an adjective to describe a mind-set” during the initial days of the brand’s development. “We’ve developed a bit of an esoteric language being together,” Taghizadeh said. After he introduced Reynolds to Nick Cave’s art-rock oeuvre, the singer became their unofficial muse. “Nick Cave has a real Australian cowboy aesthetic that feels very Kansas to me,” Reynolds said. “Music is essential to our creative process,” he added, “strictly because it brings us together.”
Beer has also served as the occasional creative spark. “We probably came up with three or four of our main ideas sitting in a pub after five or six Guinnesses one night,” Taghizadeh said. “We were thinking about the old polka-dot shirts Bob Dylan or Ringo Starr used to wear. We thought, ‘Let’s not make it polka dots, but let’s turn it into another motif entirely.’” It was during that initial meet-up that the duo first imagined the custom florals, monochrome cobweb patterns and race-car-flame stripes that are now standouts of the brand.
The pair’s commitment to details (in May, Reynolds is moving to Milan for two months to complete work on the brand’s labels and hangtags) is what allows the collection’s more outlandish prints to not feel garish or overly fashionable. Their approach seems to be paying off: Opening Ceremony, the Swedish boutique Très Bien and Ssense, the trendsetting e-commerce site from Montreal, have signed on to carry Cobra. But for now, the project remains personal. “We’re designing for this ideal guy we want to be and who our friends want to be,” Taghizadeh said. Reynolds jumped in: “But I want my dad to wear some of these things, too,” he said. “And he will.”
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