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Gert Barkovic had a very specific customer in mind when she started menswear collective Mutiny. He's the throwback silent, strong, sensitive type who appreciates that there is a story behind every item in the shop, whether it is Left Field denim produced on vintage shuttle looms or elegant, traditional pencils made in France.
And although the Mutiny aesthetic is very analog, Barkovic and Mutiny's success is growing online. What began in 2009 as a holiday installation at 14th Street's Redeem has blossomed into a website that reaches aesthetes across the globe, and a permanent collection at Redeem. Gert just moved into a studio space at 52 O Street Studios, where customers can shop Mutiny's collection by appointment, grab a cup of coffee or a beer, and hang out. We met her there to chat about how Mutiny got started, the imaginary dude behind Mutiny, and her very old-school style of marketing (it involves postcards).
Mutiny will be one of the vendors at this weekend's Thread event at Union Market, which kicks off on Friday at 1 p.m. and runs through Sunday, with a concert by D.C. natives The Walkmen on Saturday night. Gert is constructing an installation for Thread with evergreens and rustic wood, and beautiful complementary wrapping with brown paper, twine, and brass fobs. Before you chat with her at Thread and shop the collection of American-made and carefully crafted wares, learn more about Mutiny and find her gift picks after the jump.
How did Mutiny come to be?
I am a sculptor by trade, and I had this opportunity, a friend of mine [Lori Parkerson] owns a shop on 14th Street called Redeem. She's been a pioneer on 14th Street and is totally awesome. She gave me an opportunity to do something in the front of her store and so I thought about it and I had been collecting all these artifacts on road trips. Once they came together it really defined an individual. And it was truly masculine.
I went in and did this installation based on this individual that I've put together in my head through my travels and through collecting these artifacts. That's what we were founded on, the brooding man with the meaty intellect. All these kind of things were presented like a gallery or museum, like you were going through his things, only they were all for sale. What does he smell like? What does he like to read? Where does he like to go? What are his favorite pair of trousers?
All those things accumulate into this one vision and we did it over the holidays. There were vintage books and new books printed either in England or New York, all the old road maps were from motorcycle journeys in the 1920s and the 1930s. I had a run of black trousers that were from my friend Rob Magness from Grown and Sewn. I approached it like an artist, that this was just going to have great visual integrity and be this tactile experience and a little voyeuristic. That you got to visit someone's belongings when they weren't home. It was just really successful.
How has the website been going?
Fantastic. It's amazing how quickly you can have an international pull. People write us from Canada, and England, and France, and Tokyo. It's crazy to me. Because I am really an analog person, I like writing letters. I fought all the social media stuff, I didn't really want to do any of it.
Because it's kind of against Mutiny. The Mutiny man is really kind of an analog guy. He's the guy who still writes letters and keeps a journal. He's really tactile and really simple, kind of a stoic individual. For me, coming from an artistic standpoint, it kind of fought the integrity of the brand. So we did it, and I was like whoa, this is crazy. And then you become obsessed. You look at where they're coming from and how long they're spending on the site. It's totally insane and cool.
How do people from other countries find out about it?
I have no idea. Maybe it's because D.C. is such a transient community. When we go on a road trip, I have postcards made and I always drop them in the back of taxi cabs, in the plane seat pockets, in books and magazines wherever I go. I heard it's called street teaming, but it's my sneaky way of marketing. Every once in awhile I romanticize that was someone who found my postcard in a back of a cab and they checked us out that way.
The ideal man the brand is based on: is it someone in your life or a composite?
I think that it's probably a lot of men in my family. I think it's all of them melded together. They are outdoorsmen but they are philosophers. They are very genteel but poetic. They can go out and hunt, but they can sing to their lady at night. I come from an Irish background and that's part of their personality. And definitely my main squeeze too.
Where did you grow up?
Kind of all over. My dad was in the government. As small kids we grew up in Germany, but home base is really New York for us. That's where my mom is from and we put down roots growing up. We came down here when I was in high school. We thought this was going to be a tiny little stint and we'd run back to New York but it didn't happen. We're all here still, doing our thing. For me giving D.C. something I thought was missing is kind of the fire behind Mutiny. Doing something unique for the city and for the guys here.
Where do you find all the goods in the store? What drives you to carry what you stock?
There's a lot of personal attraction to what I find, like the papers and the apothecary definitely. I love material, I love workmanship, I love how things are constructed. That really steers me when I am finding new brands or finding brands that fit into the vision of what Mutiny is.
A lot of the brands that I work with are all very small independent designers that have a lot of integrity behind them. They really care about how things are made and where they are made and how many are made. It's not something you'll find in a lot of shops. Most of the guys we work with I see them as artisans as well, because there's such a trueness to their craft, and how they approach things, and how they care about fit and survival. As in how long their sweater is going to last. Will it be in that guy's closet 20 years from now, and he can pull it on and it's relevant and beautiful still? All those things are really important to me. They are all storytellers in their own right too, it's really important part of Mutiny.
Did you every think you would be running a shop?
No. It was all kind of a funny accident. It wasn't intentional. That being said, I did work in the retail industry in corporate for 15 years. So I came from that acumen, but it was never my intention to do this. It just happened. The impetus was that installation at Redeem and it snowballed.
Is there anything for women at all?
Do you ever think of doing that in the future?
We get that question a lot, I was just asked that question earlier today. There's two ways to answer that. One is, I said I would never do that. Mutiny is founded for the guys, because they are so underserved, especially here in D.C. and I felt like there wasn't anything special for guys that was earnest and true and really unique for them.
And there's so much of our stuff, like the artifacts and the apothecary that translates over to the feminine. There are a lot of girls who are attracted to what we do, so I don't feel like we've lost that. If I were to ever do it, I would probably be a small capsule, quietly done, but not in the foreseeable future. I like the masculine. I think we're going to stick with what we're doing and keep it really simple and strong.
Lightning round questions: Tequila or whiskey?
Whiskey! The next question should be bourbon or rye. I say rye.
8 a.m. or 8 p.m.
That's a hard one. I think 8 a.m. That's probably changed over the years.
Beach or mountains?
Favorite lunch spot?
Sandwich from Uncle Chip's in a park. That would be a favorite lunch.
Happy hour spot?
This is totally random but there is a bar inside the Jefferson Hotel called Quill. It's like art deco, 1930s, beautiful illuminated bar with a piano player. It's kind of stodgy, and kind of awesome and laid-back at the same time. I love going there, it's so remote, not a lot of people know about it. Good people-watching, and good drinks.
Mutiny gift ideas, along with a few items that will be at Thread this weekend:
- Left Field denim from New York's Christain McCann, $175
- Jante Law sweater with Italian wool, knit in France, $295
- Brooklyn-made The Hill-Side pocket square, $44
- Billy Kirk waxed canvas dopp kit, $154. Over the holidays, MUTINY is secretly placing
- Field Magnifer made in Waldorf, Maryland, $145
- Apolis market bag with D.C. insignia, available at Mutiny at Thread
- Clog National Mall journal, available at Mutiny at Thread