WORDS David Bentley PHOTOGRAPHY Tim Sugden
Brent Collier is effortlessly fashion-forward. His ongoing passion for high-end Italian wear commenced over 40 years ago in Southern California. From styling movie stars on Rodeo Drive, to introducing Italian streetwear to Portland and Seattle, he painstakingly selects the perfect blend of timeless Italian suits and distinctive, chic Italian casual wear. Brent takes great pride in how he presents himself and styles his clients, tailoring each item necessary for the perfect fit.
“I love nice things that are made well that someone cared about and crafted. I have the ability to look at my environment and tailor it for where I’m living.”
He strips himself down to the naked truth and is both passionate and revealing as he shares with me where he began, and how he loves the experience of humbly representing an image one can be proud to portray.
You say you naturally connect emotionally with clothing. How does that help you when merchandising someone?
I don’t know which came first, but I know that I always felt good when I was dressed at a top level. I made it a point somehow to have the experience of wearing great clothes. I loved the feeling I would get, and I wanted other people to feel that too.
What do you like best about what you do?
I like it all. Traveling, I like having ideas and seeing them created and come together, making people feel good about the ideas, supporting them.
Do you live your work?
Pretty much. I’m passionate. I go with what I’m passionate about. And then I have a better life. I want a good road, I go to Italy four times a year and I’m very modest about it, I stay in great AirBnBs, meet wonderful people. I’m just man amongst men, but that’s where I feel at home. I enjoy that experience. If that’s going to be my road of work, I like it.
Who is your Customer?
They’re all over the place man. But I think they all share an importance for their image. It isn’t just clothes. To me, image is earned, meaning they’re probably described by others as ‘great’, but they may not have the same description of themselves and seem to be humble when it comes to that. They have the natural cool factor. These guys are cool dudes, they’re heroes, they’re sportsman, they’re good fathers, they’re good in the community. My core customers are good people! They are into the daily life. The same daily life I’m into.
Who inspired you in the early years?
I got a job a job at Jonathan’s. Jonathon was really a Mentor to me. He gave me a chance early, when I was 20, 21. He took me to New York on a buying trip to a new show called ‘Designer Collected’, it was the first one. I still remember the feeling of walking by this one showroom and seeing this young guy, older than me, he was probably 26, sitting in his showroom by himself, there were other people going in and out; I almost felt bad. I walked in and he was cool, got up, shook my hand and was happy to just see someone in his showroom. What intrigued me was that he was young, and he was doing something. He had to get here somehow. Anyway, it ended up being Paul Smith. He’s huge. It was his first show; he stuck with it and look where he is today.
You quit drinking early on…did you drink to escape or just a way of calming yourself down? You do have a lot of energy.
I used alcohol like a medicine. I was shy and skinny and that led to insecurity. In the beginning it worked for everything, all the sudden I’m not shy, still skinny, but not shy. I felt more empowered; the walls came down, so then I thought it would work for everything, until it didn’t.
Alcohol seemed to take away your
To some degree. I remember always trying to please everybody hoping their reaction to me would define me; make myself feel better about myself, and it never would. I was letting the world define me rather than defining myself. At that point in my life it felt selfish and I wasn’t selfish. I’m naturally compassionate, caring and giving, and if I’m going to be the best I can be, I’m going to be the best at that. I can’t give what I don’t have. I can’t love someone authentically and receive love if I don’t love myself first. It’s all about the love. I just wanted love in my life. Whether it be people, places or things.
What brought you to Portland?
I needed a change of scenery. I was introduced to Mario by a girl who had worked with him and was working for us down in L.A. Jenny. I flew up to Portland and spent three days with Mario. He knew very well were I came from, so he let me know that if I wanted to make a move that he’d create a spot for me.
What made you want to start your own store in Portland?
I was working at Mario’s; I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a Tuesday night… I was having trouble with the manager. I felt like I was stepping on toes and being scolded because my sales weren’t big enough. Every time I tried to build my sales; I was pissing somebody off because they thought it was their customer. They weren’t recognizing that I was setting up their sales and making them more money. That same night, I start bawling my eyes out. At first, I didn’t even want to know why. Then I felt like I was screaming to the Gods. ‘God, just show me what to do, I’ll do it, I don’t care if I’m flipping hamburgers, just give me something!’ I cried myself to sleep and woke up the next morning. I felt a little better. Sometimes with crying; you feel better and you don’t even know why. And then it hit me. I knew what I needed to do. My best friend had been in wholesale; he had access and connections to the factories. I called him up and I bled to him as we often did in life and still do. He said, “You should try what I’m trying, you’re really good man.” So, I borrowed $5K from my grandfather to buy opening inventory and I started selling out of my house. On the weekends I would convert my living room into a store with racks and the few clothes that I had. Then I would drive up to Seattle and do a trunk show at my father’s salon. I’d also fly to L.A., call old clients, work with them and fly back.
Where did your showroom start?
I had a friend who had a showroom in Montgomery Park, and he let me use it for not much. So, I opened at Montgomery Park. I’d be open on the weekends because that’s when he didn’t need the showroom. I had some tasty stuff that no one else did.
Did you call it the Showroom right out of the gate?
I called it right out of the gate. I remember being in a New York showroom, my buddy’s showroom, and the girl would answer the phone, “Hello Showroom” and it just sounded cool! I called it ‘The Showroom’ and I rented a place downtown above where Mercantile is now, across the street from Riches. So, I got a second story that was like a showroom.
You went from there to above Riches?
Yes, but it was still The Showroom. We grew three times and I was there for 13 years. And then I went in the mall. I got a good deal right next to Saks and started calling it Collier. I started having higher end clothing, so I felt it was time to put my name on it.
What’s next for Collier?
I think the world is finding its way again, as far as like… ’do I shop online’? There are a lot of online companies jumping into the game with not much success. Everybody is trying to find ways to shop. The best way for me to shop or my guys is to be hands-on, work with me, work with my guys, let me bring stuff you can’t just go get. You need to try it on and if it doesn’t fit, you need to know that that size is there, not through the mail. We take you to an elevated point of trust. I need to work with people. For the most part guys need direction, and they like a good experience-at least a real one.
You just opened your store in Seattle?
Yes… Seattle’s a bigger game. There’s more possibility in Seattle. What I mean is that they wear the clothes a little more, the incomes are huge, not that they aren’t in Portland, just more of it. I’m right there by Amazon. So, my goal is to “Collierize” it. I have some great customers there already that spend big money.
How do you define the word “Collierize?”
If someone gets me and they like my style, my experience. I tell my guys, don’t do traditional stuff, you got to feel it. If something’s not right and it doesn’t look good, I don’t want cliché. It’s got to be right, to fit right, to look cool.
Where is your new Seattle location?
We’re at 601 Stuart Street, on the corner of Stuart and 6th Avenue.
Are you going to buy differently for that store versus your Portland location?
I think I eventually will. Right now, I’m doing the same. Out of the five or six categories here in Portland, I’m doing my best 3-4 there. Just cherry picking it. I think I will buy differently eventually; I came mid- season, so I had to work with what was in front of me. I want to go slower and get a feel for what it’s like, not guess what it’s like. I’ll tailor some things at a little higher level there. I might get into my own brands and my own line.
How much time will you be spending between Portland and Seattle?
I go two weeks there and one week here. Just keep rotating.
Do you like your life?
Yeah…for the most part. I like me, I’ll take that.