The Wild American West, home of the rugged cowboy, serves as the landscape for the first full scale collection by NY designer, Nicholas Raefski. Go West Young Boy and Become a Man is “a modish take on the American Cowboy” and mirrors Raefski’s personal growth as both man and designer. The Spring/Summer 2022 collection has direct references to the West with a Colt 45 T-Shirt and a scarf inspired by Clint Eastwood’s poncho in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. While also including more subtle nods to the genre in the materials, cut and construction of the garments. The Cowboy is captured as a hero able to persevere in difficult conditions and venture off the beaten path to fill a greater purpose. It’s a character that Raefski sees as an inspiration and an opportunity to express a new take on masculinity through fashion. Through this collection and his work, Nicholas Raefski aims to tell powerful stories, and aspires to make a positive impact on his community.
With male mental health still a hugely stigmatized topic, how do you hope the figure of a cowboy can embody the idea of breaking away and filling a greater purpose and help those who feel lost?
During childhood, a lot of children look at cowboys as heroes. Cowboys are rugged, tough, and stoic. The way that cowboys pushed forward through difficult conditions holds some parallels to current day mental health issues. You need a certain degree of mental fortitude to ask for help, and that is a huge barrier for many people, including myself. While cowboys may be seen as hard men of sorts, they use everything accessible to them to accomplish their goals and missions. Every year the resources for help with mental health issues get better, and while we still have a long way to go I think there is something to be said about not being too proud or too afraid to reach out for help.
You’ve just graduated from Fordham University with a bachelor’s in Economics and a Masters in Media Management. Without a formal education in fashion, what made you decide to make the change and divert your career path?
I’ve always been passionate about fashion, and garment production is something that has interested me for a while. I started out at Wake Forest University on a track to become an investment banker. After two years there, I decided I didn’t want to do that anymore and moved back to New York and started at Fordham. Around that time I knew making clothing was something I wanted to do long term, and I got more serious about it. I stuck with my economics major to open doors and become well-versed in the ways of thinking that economics teaches. Most people who study economics don’t become economists – they use it for something else, and that’s what I’m doing with my degree.
You state that your passions are cinema and the outdoors. For you, what are the films that defined your interest in reincarnating the modern cowboy?
Clint Eastwood’s character in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly is a classic figure who stands out to me. People like John Wayne also serve as inspirations. But I was really inspired by Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals while making this collection. The cowboy is just one facet of this and comes in many forms. Masculinity is often tied to being a rugged outdoorsman, but I think it goes way beyond that and can take many different forms. This collection serves as a break from that idea – cowboys and outdoorsmen are a big inspiration for the collection but many of the pieces I’ve made for it are a fresh take on these ideas.
Can you tell us more about the fine details included in the collection that reference films, motifs and characters across the history of the cowboy?
I think these references are most evident in the oversized scarf which is a draw from Clint Eastwood’s poncho in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. We also made a tee shirt with Eastwood’s face on it so that one is pretty straightforward. The collection as a whole attempts to take feelings from the past and wrap them around present day ideas.
Which piece from your collection best embodies the modish and modern American Cowboy?
I would say the down goose jacket embodies the modern cowboy as it is simple and functional. I also think the rustic orange color fits really well with the theme; I’m super happy with how that one turned out. The knitwear pieces and the CARD-igan are big ones for these themes as well. When I picture a cowboy I picture a man wearing many different layers that all serve a purpose, and these pieces work really well in this aspect. The CARD-igan especially stands out for me because it pulls from the idea of cowboys playing cards as a way of socializing and filling time between exploits.
You shy away from traditional silhouettes and instead design with novel and experimental cuts. How do you want men to feel when wearing your clothes?
Put simply, I want everyone who wears my clothing to feel confident and comfortable. The intersection of these two aspects is what makes good clothing good – whether it is a staple or a statement piece in someone’s wardrobe. I truly think this collection has something for everyone, as there are so many different styles and cuts that can work in many different situations.
What was your biggest fear when going out and starting your own line?
My biggest fear was going out and starting everything over again. I ran a streetwear company for a few years before this, and the idea of starting from scratch in building a business was daunting. I ran the previous company with a couple friends, and while I have an incredible support team working with me on this label, I’m ultimately the one who has to make all the decisions now. There’s always that fear that you’re making the wrong decision, but I’m lucky to have a crew that holds me accountable and points me in the right direction when I’m feeling lost.
Choosing to start your brand in the post Covid fashion world, what has been your biggest challenge?
I really thrive on having in-person events. Without the ability to do that this past year has made things challenging as I’ve had to change things up a bit. Personal connection is huge for me, and that has been made difficult with everything being virtual. I’ve done my best to keep my social media and online content relevant and relatable, and while I’m getting better at that I’m really hoping we’re on our way back to being able to hold more in-person events soon.
As he builds and creates his own path, Nicolas Raefski knows that the man he wants to become already exists – he does not need to find that person, just grow into him.