How Jack Carlson’s background inspired rowing blazer looks
It is not uncommon for a designer to draw inspiration from their own experiences and tastes when it comes to the types of clothing they produce. It’s rare to find someone with such a unique background as Rowing Blazers founder Jack Carlson. It’s even truer to see how that unique life translates into a look that has caught the eye of some of the world’s biggest fashion brands, celebrities and sports clubs.
For those unfamiliar, the New York-based company Rowing Blazers makes blazers. But it also produces outerwear, t-shirts, bottoms, polo shirts and more.
The original style caught the attention of Saturday Night Live‘s Pete Davidson, the United States Rowing Team, the United States Men’s and Women’s National Teams, the NBA, Sperry and (yes) Babar the Elephant, among others.
It’s an eclectic grouping, that’s for sure. But the leads come from an eclectic background, poured into an unlikely collection of tastes and experiences, many of which emanate directly from Carlson.
Which begs the question: what did Jack Carlson go through and do to create a line of clothing that appeals to preppy rowers, rugby and NBA sports fans, 80s and 90s retro fiends and… archaeologists?
Jack Carlson started in Beantown
Size matters, but not always as you might think. Like many kids growing up in the Boston area, Jack Carlson was a huge baseball fan. But he was not a very big child either.
“I grew up playing baseball, but a bunch of my friends used to row and they needed a coxswain,” he says. “I was a little guy, and they asked me if I wanted to join the team. I did and really enjoyed it. Was right there with all my friends.
For the uninitiated, the coxswain of a rowing team is the person who directs and directs the other members to work in unison. They can easily be found as the only person facing the other direction in the boat and are generally small in stature (the lower weight allows rowers to move their craft faster).
Jack Carlson was good at it. After participating in sports in high school and then at Georgetown during his undergraduate studies, Carlson was able to pursue his higher education at Oxford.
Carlson made the US national team in 2011, although the team didn’t perform as well as hoped.
It took Carlson three years to get back on the team, and after competing for the United States in 2014, he decided to hang up and continue studying…archaeology.
“I basically retired from the sport after the 2014 World Championships,” Carlson said. “I went back to Oxford. I have completed my doctorate. I came back to the States, taught Latin and coached rowing at a boarding school in Massachusetts.
Carlson says he got a call from a former coach who asked if he wanted to try for a medal in the men’s lightweight eight (no men over 159.8 pounds are allowed) at the World Championships. rowing world 2015.
Carlson and Team USA competed in France that year and won bronze.
When it was the end of Carlson rowing careerthe sport had a profound impact on his future professional projects.
“When I was in high school, we went racing at an event called the Henley Royal Regatta in England, which is a big rowing event,” says Carlson. “It’s similar to Wimbledon, but for rowing.”
Also similar to Wimbledon, there is a fashion component to the event.
“We got knocked out in the first round, and that gave me plenty of time to hang out in the spectator area,” Carlson said. “In the spectator area at Henley, everyone must wear their club blazer. These are striped blazers, blazers in bright colors, with contrasting borders. They have emblems on the pockets. There are all kinds of traditions, rituals and myths about the blazer in every rowing club.
Carlson says the traditions, pageantry and dedication to the blazer had a big impact on him.
“I was just fascinated. I’ve always been interested in clothing, and it brought together my interest in clothing with my interest in, of course, the sport of rowing,” says Carlson. chat with lots of other competitors and spectators and hear some of those stories. I thought, “Someone should actually write a book about this. It would be interesting.
Jack Carlson actually wrote a book about it
Seven years after his time at Henley, and while still studying archeology at Oxford, Carlson decided he should be the person to write a book about it. He titled it Rowing Blazers.
“That’s what I did. It was my side project for a few years,” Carlson explains. “I would just go when I had a few weeks off there, a few weeks off here. I was just going to these different rowing clubs, whether it was in the Netherlands, Australia or South Africa. Everywhere. I would just go to these rowing clubs with a photographer. We were shooting at some of the rowers wearing their blazers. Often they were world champions, Olympians or world record holders.
Carlson finished the book, thinking it would be a “passionate project” that would resonate with the niche community of international competitive rowing.
But interest in the looks shown in the book was not limited to the rowing ensemble.
“Ralph Lauren actually picked up the book and hosted a series of launch and book launch events,” Carlson says. “I worked closely with the Ralph Lauren team. It was my first taste of the industry, not just writing about clothing, but working with a company, a big company in the industry. It gave me the idea to create my own brand.
Indiana Jones and… the Temple of Cool Clothes
Although Carlson readily admits that his time on the rowing circuit was the main driver of the looks that Rowing Blazers releases, there were other influences as well.
One of them was… Indiana Jones.
“He’s got so much style,” says Jack Carlson. “That’s how all, I think, of my generation who studied archeology went into it; they just watched Indiana Jones when they were kids.
Initially seeking a master’s degree in archeology through a two-year program at Oxford, Carlson received a Clarendon scholarship to stay on and complete a doctorate.
So what does this have to do with clothes if not the fact that the Indiana Jones character is an undeniable fashion icon?
A little, in fact.
As Carlson said, “Archaeology is the study of material culture”.
Maybe people think of dusty bones and buried treasure, but it’s more than that.
“A lot of what I do is study vintage clothing, study fabrics and construction techniques and so on,” says Jack Carlson. “I think that has influenced a lot what I do with the brand.”
Go retro, style rowing blazers
Retro, well done, doesn’t really go out of fashion. Bell-bottoms, popularized in the late 1960s, saw a renaissance in the mid-1990s. TV shows like Stranger Things cater to mid-1980s nostalgia, even though it was first released in the mid-2010s.
But the key is to get it right. In the 1980s, for example, people rolled up their jeans instead of rocking bell bottoms. Timing is everything.
This makes Carlson’s early 1980s to early 2000s influences a perfect nostalgic cultural period for the 2020s.
“I think a lot of what we do draws inspiration from that period,” says Carlson. “It’s inspired by the things I grew up with. I think we’re obviously not the only brand to draw inspiration from this period, but I think we’re among the most consistent brands in our desire to draw inspiration from this era.
Rowing Blazers is a collaborative business by design. And it allows Carlson to not only reinvent the looks he loved growing up, but also to work with some of those companies.
“Also one of the most fun things has been collaborating with brands I grew up with, like Fila and Lands’ End,” he says. “You just have to dig into the Fila archives and look at all these amazing things, like ski gear from the late 80s and early 90s.”
Brands like Fila are making a bit of a comeback lately, thanks in large part to the injection of modern style companies like Rowing Blazers.
“There’s so much cool stuff,” says Jack Carlson. “I don’t want to say it’s underrated, but I think there’s so much that’s untapped. One of the things I love about Rowing Blazers is having the opportunity to go down those rabbit holes. Taking inspiration from something that some people might know and know is cool, but we can also show a whole new audience something that they might have forgotten or maybe didn’t realize existed. . That’s a big part of the fun for me.
With Carlson’s eclectic background driving the design, Rowing Blazers has certainly put forth a collection of yarns that defies conventional categorization.
And that’s where Carlson wants it.
The company presents its product as “irreverent”, which could be an understatement.
Go around Row Blazers’ websiteone is seemingly transported to a place where one can choose “adult clothes” (like a blazer or a traditional sweater) and then do with them what most clothes aren’t: fun.
The jerseys run the gamut, from the traditional black jersey with an oversized NBA logo on the front, to the cashmere sweater featuring the soothing presence of the kids’ beloved character, Babar the Elephant.
Women’s bottoms include fleece joggers inspired by Fila color patterns from the early 1990s, as well as white ski pants with a vertical spelling of “Babar” in bright red lettering.
Carlson loves the fun of his clothes that most others don’t.
“I think what I wanted to do was take those classics and combine that classic aesthetic with a sense of irreverence, with a sense of being a little subversive, of being a little ironic,” he says.
As well as being fun, Carlson hopes his take on niche fashion, like what’s worn at traditional rowing and rugby clubs, will allow more people to experience styles on their terms. As long as it’s not in a mall.
“We wanted to bring in some of the ideas and philosophies of the streetwear world, which means doing frequent collaborations and doing regular product drops instead of just doing big seasonal collections,” he says. “Being primarily direct to consumers, as opposed to having a big wholesale network, or being in malls, or having big flagship stores all over the world.”
Like Rowing Blazers keep growing both as a company and as a creative leader in fashion, you can bet Carlson’s unique perspective will continue to lead him in a direction that’s the road less travelled.