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Homespun by Way of Peru

Mon, 06/26/2023 - 16:03
Matthew Frisbie in his newly-opened East Hampton outpost of Leonard Frisbie, an independent menswear brand that offers affordable, good quality, and timeless threads made in Peru.
Melissa Lynch

Directions to the Leonard Frisbie menswear store in East Hampton: Park the car behind Sant Ambroeus and walk onto Newtown Lane. Take a left and stroll past Balenciaga and Zegna on your left, Tod's luxury loafers and Brunello Cucinelli on the right. Keep going past the house of Chanel on the left, Gucci on the right, and Aerin Lauder's twee home goods store, also on the right. 

When you hit Prada on your left, turn right, cross Newtown Lane, and carry on down Main Street, past the Louis Vuitton megastore on the corner, the now-defunct Audemars Piguet Swiss watchmakers on your left, and Ralph Lauren just about everywhere. 

You're almost there, so keep going past Manolo Blahnik on the left and Valentino on your right. Finally, at Bonne Nuit (where a Jane Austen-ish nightie costs $438), hang a right onto the pretty walkway where a row of small, white-washed shops are squirreled away across an ivy-covered garden, the perfect place to sit and ponder: Where in East Hampton can you shop without coughing up four figures? 

Leonard Frisbie, across from the garden, sandwiched between the ever-bustling Tutto Caffe and Jennifer Miller, would be a good place to start. Any subtly fashion-forward man-around-the East-End might already be familiar with the brand; the first store opened in Sag Harbor three years ago, and the East Hampton outpost followed this Memorial Day weekend. It has some of the coolest offerings for guys -- but also a distinct gender neutral appeal -- with only a couple of items over $200. 

"The clothes are very casual but they can also be dressed up," said Matthew Frisbie, the Sag Harbor-born, man bun-sporting proprietor of the stores, who grew up spending his summers in that Frisbie house in Amagansett, the one designed by Andrew Geller and immortalized in the television series "The Affair." It was his grandfather Leonard Frisbie who commissioned the house and after whom the menswear brand is named. 

"I think that Leonard Frisbie encompasses the feeling of the brand better than Matthew Frisbie," he explained, when asked why he didn't choose an eponymous label. "Plus, those summers at the beach house really shaped my style, who I am, and my fashion sense."

Which is?

"The pieces walk the line between loungewear and more formal clothing, timeless stuff that's usable season after season. Neutral colors and comfortable takes on classic styles."

Cotton is his primary fabric, sourced and manufactured in Peru, where Mr. Frisbie, 42, lived for over a decade. He uses Pima and Tanguis cotton, both regarded by many as the finest cotton in the world, highly prized for softness, exceptional durability, and a resistance to pilling and shrinking. 

To add even more good vibes to his collection of everyday fits, Mr. Frisbie works only with reputable factories and mills in Lima, the Peruvian capital, that provide ethical working conditions. "Many provide child care, which is huge," he said. "Workers get paid for 14 months a year and have health benefits. There's no child labor, obviously. It's generally a more relaxed culture in Peru."

An avid surfer, Mr. Frisbie landed in Peru in 2002, chasing the country's legendary point breaks that produce endless left-hand waves, which, he said, suits his goofy stance (the less common right foot in front, left at the back). "I spent a lot of time in the water," he said with a smile. It wasn't until 2007, when his then-girlfriend, Monica Russo of East Hampton, whom he met in middle school, joined him in Peru, that he knew he had to get more serious with his life. 

So, the couple moved to Lima and worked with small manufacturing outfits to launch a handbag brand -- Mondrina -- made by artisans using ethically sourced materials such as fish leather. He also started a T-shirt line, which he successfully sold to retail outlets like Steven Alan, Roberta Freymann, LOLA New York, Scoop, and Barney's.

"The business really picked up when we moved back to the East End in 2013," he explained. By then, the couple were married and had a young daughter, whose schooling informed their decision to return home. "If we stayed in Peru, they have the opposite seasons, so we'd never get to enjoy our summers here," he said, smiling wryly once more. 

Today, the handbag and T-shirt manufacturing business is winding down as Leonard Frisbie amps up. (He has plans for womenswear and possibly a store in New York City. "Slowly, in a sustainable way. I don't want to grow too soon, too fast," he said.) His wife, Monica, is more involved in the operations, while Mr. Frisbie designs all his clothes, continually searching for new ways to spin a classic design, like blending alpaca wool, another Peruvian staple, with cotton for fall and winter pieces. 

"I also have pants for winter that are like a chino but made out of sweatpants fabric. So, it feels like you're wearing sweats but it looks like you're wearing a trouser." He even took the humble buttoned-down shirt and crafted it using a knitted cotton so that it's as soft as a T-shirt.

Leonard Frisbie prices remain well within the sensible range. T-Shirts are from $58 to $78; shirts and pants range from $158 to $200; polo shirts between $98 and $128. "The lower end of the high-end market," he said.

With his think-y menswear brand that's an independent family-run business, thoughtfully produced and designed to avoid the vagaries of fashion, Mr. Frisbie has cleverly tapped into that market which is all but ignored by high-priced designer labels: intelligent, affordable, good quality, and timeless threads.

Now, to get back to your car . . .

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