Paragon Sports, the storied New York City sportswear retailer nestled on the corner of 18th Street and Broadway since 1908, certainly lives up to its quality-minded namesake. After all, the venerable shop has been the go-to destination for the city’s most stylish denizens from all walks of life for more than a century. No period represented this cross-section quite like the ’90s, when Paragon became a spot for the rich to get fitted for skis in the winter, well-known fashion editors and designers to restring their tennis rackets in the summer, and where kids whose sense of style exceeded their budgets could try to shoplift a covetable Marmot Mammoth Parka — better known as the infamous Biggie jacket.
This particular era is what inspired menswear designer Angelo Urrutia, whose personal sense of style often toes between the extremes of old-money and new school. Take, for example, a cozy overcoat accessorized with a Chanel brooch from his wife on the lapel, worn over Levi’s jeans with a cut-off, frayed hem, a heather gray sweatshirt, New Balance orthopedic sneakers, and an officially licensed US Navy trucker hat, a gift from a friend in the service. His long, usually braided beard finishes off the look, both inimitable and interesting.
Urrutia spent many years at Nepenthes, where he worked mostly with designer Daiki Suzuki at the cult independent menswear label Engineered Garments. Urrutia isn’t really a “title” person, but it’s evident he wore many hats — from helping direct the label’s seasonal campaigns, to working with footwear collaborations ranging from adidas, Vans, and New Balance. For a time, he also designed Nepenthes’ small in-house label, called “Nepenthes NY.”
These were the times that really showed Urrutia’s potential as a designer in his own right. Memorable items include ostentatious button-down shirts using all-over print fabrics like a galactic spacescape, Western snap-button shirts rendered in the kind of nylon mesh you’d usually see on standard issue basketball jerseys, and quilted flannel shirts with mother-of-pearl buttons and a thick jersey hood — like something you’d find in Kmart, but made with considerably better materials.
“I feel like people should just enjoy clothes for what they are. It’s just garments to put on your back to protect you from the elements,” says Urrutia about the duality of his designs. “But ultimately, it kind of is communication — what you want to say about yourself, what you want people to know about you or not know about you.”
Despite constant encouragement from Suzuki to step out into his own and make his own line, Urrutia delayed taking the leap for a few years. He dabbled a bit in making his own clothing — producing samples like wide-wale corduroy trousers with a broad, cropped silhouette — but finally feels ready to debut a line of his own.
4SDesigns (a play on “four seasons” that nods to the inherent functionality of the garments) is Urrutia’s new label that was launched at two small events — one at Paris Fashion Week, and one small soirée in New York City held at The Distinguished Wakamba Cocktail Lounge, an ironically divey bar in the Garment District that also functioned as a watering hole for Urrutia when he worked at Nepenthes’ offices nearby.
The inaugural 4SDesigns Fall/Winter 2020 collection feels unmistakably Urrutia to those who’ve known him over the years. He has a reputation as your favorite fashion insider’s favorite fashion insider — the notoriously self-effacing designer has long preferred to remain behind the scenes but is becoming more comfortable with the notion that he’s the best representation of his own label.
Urrutia’s personal style channels the mix-and-match playfulness of Ralph Lauren’s Americana hodgepodge with the casual elegance of Italian menswear in its heyday, like when Giorgio Armani dominated the ’80s menswear runways. The first collection includes items like trousers inspired by boiler suits cut in half, blazers that look like they’ve been fused together with a waistcoat, and even a hoodie-crewneck hybrid culled from, of all things, an outfit Eddie Murphy wore in Boomerang.
“You can’t take yourself seriously. I feel like so many men today are trapped in this idea that they can’t wear certain things,” says Urrutia. He cites an example of a diehard Rick Owens fan who only wears head-to-toe dark designer jawns — a fashion prison of his own making. “But for me? I wear my Rick Owens with Sperry Top-Siders, and I don’t care.”
Almost all of the new collection is made in Bologna, Italy, home to Urrutia’s partner in this new venture and a locale that gives him access to the high-quality Italian fabrics and next-level manufacturing Urrutia wants to bring out in his clothing. There’s also a dose of the designer’s offbeat humor woven into key pieces, such as a sweater featuring a jacquard-size tag knitted into it, resembling a sticker you’d find in a suburban big box retailer or mom-and-pop outfitter. The sole collaboration is a New Era fitted cap done in a stark black colorway; its only detail is the embroidered size sticker on the brim, a nod to the trend of keeping the sticker on your cap.
“As a kid wearing the New Era fitted, I would cover my sticker if it started to rain,” recalls Urrutia. “For me, the sticker was everything. I know some people care.” It ties into his philosophy about design so ingeniously functional that it’s meant to be taken for granted. An example he references is the popular Chanel No. 5 perfume bottle, whose magnetic cap is designed in such a way that the house’s signature crossed Cs always face the owner.
It’s that kind of thinking that informs items like nylon vests with magnetic strap closures, or a $2,000 trench coat made from custom waterproof nylon and an extremely warm 800-down fill. If the next ice age should be upon us, this is the jacket you’d flex in. All of Urrutia’s coats feature a set-in sleeve at the front and a raglan sleeve at the back to promote movement, which means that, in addition to making life a bit more tedious for the craftsmen making his garments, you can comfortably raise your arms without worrying about messing up the fit of the coat.
These are the details Urrutia can go on about for hours. There are plenty of designers who know a lot about clothing manufacturing, but there aren’t nearly as many who care as deeply as Urrutia does. Listening to him talk about the craftsmanship that goes into his gear is like listening to a hip-hop nerd dissect each and every part of a beat that slaps. He’d much rather discuss the process than the business side, as his debut collection will be a pricey one. But despite thousand-dollar coats and using a lot of the same fabrics as labels like Ermenegildo Zegna, he’s hesitant to place 4SDesigns in the realm of cigar-smoking, brown liquor-sipping menswear robber barons whose cars cost as much as a house.
“You just made me think of something that I’ve been trying to phrase this whole time I’ve been introducing my collection,” says Urrutia. “I really hate the word luxury. If it’s precious, like a ‘luxury item,’ you don’t want to ruin it,” he continues. Clearly, a 4SDesigns piece isn’t meant to be appreciated on a hanger, but on the body and in the elements. Only then do the design secrets of menswear’s behind-the-scenes mastermind start to reveal themselves. “Life’s too short to put something on a shelf. I want to enjoy it, you know? I want to fuck it up.”