Freemans Sporting Club began as an on-demand wardrobe for Taavo Somer, 35, a cool Manhattan restaurateur, and his friends. In 2004 the architect and former party promoter opened Freemans, a wildly successful watering hole on the city's Lower East Side that serves American comfort food in a setting inspired by early-American taverns.
"People on the Lower East Side want to be who they are," Somer says. "They don't look to ads to buy into. They create their own persona. It's like Joseph Beuys' hat or Warhol's wig. Freemans is an expression of that."
Having briefly designed screen-printed T-shirts to help support his New York City lifestyle, Somer found renewed fashion inspiration in his quirky eatery. "I wanted the same comfort-food feeling that I got from the restaurant to be in my clothes," he says.
Somer had a few things made for himselfsuits, pants, vests. His buddies, who converged at the restaurant's clubby office to play pool, wanted the same things. "We called it Freemans Sporting Club because that's what we called each other," Somer says. The label officially started in 2006, and is sold only in Somer's small haberdashery and barbershop near the restaurant.
Relying on a neutral palette of browns and grays and deadstock tweeds sourced from English mills, Somer pairs gentleman-farmer tailored clothing with slightly rumpled cotton shirts or polos. Made-to-order suits are 30% of Freemans' business.
The entire collection is made in America in union shops, an ethic Somer believes his generation shares. "Growing up with punk and grunge, everything was about selling out vs. being real," he says. "I think about that a lot."