For many fashion writers, there is often this reverence for menswear brands which seem to have a sort of je ne sais quoi to them. There’s a mythology behind brands like Ralph Lauren and, more recently, Rowing Blazers. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what makes some brands accelerate to the iconic status while others just exist in the purgatory that is e-commerce.
For me, I believe the secret to some brands’ success over others isn’t measured in metrics like sales or Instagram followers, but in a holistic approach to creating an immersive experience for its audience from the moment one is introduced to the brand to when one hits “Add to Cart”. It’s a three-fold approach that some founders just inherently understand. For longevity, a brand needs: engaging branding, quality clothing, and immersive storytelling.
At Klein’s Journal, we are constantly looking for brands that fit this discerning criteria. From emerging designers to old favourites, it’s hard to pin down when a brand has it – but it’s easy to spot when they do. One such example is Samuel Zelig, an LA-based clothing brand which has taken inspiration in everything from French playing cards to 1990 CD album art to the European Grand Tour of yesteryear to build a contemporary menswear brand that’s focused on storytelling in everything they produce.
I first heard of Samuel Zelig through Pittsburgh menswear shop, Vestis. It was a red jumper with the words SYCAMORE CYCLING CLUB emblazoned across the front. Intrigued, I have since followed the trajectory of the brand, eagerly anticipating the latest drops to see where Samuel Zelig would take inspiration from next.
In fact, I was able to catch up with the founders of Samuel Zelig, Dylan Lubell and Jonathan Levite, days before their Spring 2023 release entitled S.Z. Deli.
To understand the brand now, one must go back to the CV’s of both Lubell and Levite. Prior to beginning their own brand, both founders had an orientation of sorts within the high-end menswear space. They met while working for another designer, which gave them a crash course in understanding the intricacies that go into developing one’s own brand, including working with dye houses, negotiating with factories, and hands-on experience with the garments themselves. Even on a deeper level, Levite and Lubell developed an innate understanding of the qualities of being stewards to a brand by honoring its heritage, while pushing it forward.
It was in 2020 that Lubell and Levite went from coworkers to co-founders and formed Samuel Zelig (the name is a combination of both Dylan and Jonathan’s middle names). With Jonathan’s background in fashion design from Otis College of Art and Design and Dylan’s eye, their skill sets have since complemented each other to form what we now know as Samuel Zelig.
Samuel Zelig is a brand of contractions. It mixes old and new, contemporary and vintage, high and low. Both Lubell and Levite contribute to the designs, filling in the gaps where one or the other leaves off to create wholly bespoke illustrations which are never too polished. Instead, the result of both their distinct artistic talents creates a palimpsest of sorts – a layering of inspiration and styles whereby the end result is something new entirely.
The creative process doesn’t begin with any one idea, but instead a general theme or concept creeps into Levite or Lubell’s mind, which in turn dictates the artistic inspiration. While everything from deli counters to ballerinas have served as inspiration for the brand, the conceptualization and storytelling is decidedly within the American tradition. Both Lubell and Levite iterate again and again that their aesthetic is defined by the personalization details found in vintage menswear. Sewn-on patches from the Vietnam War, embroidered name tags on workwear garments, and even obvious mending from an unskilled soldier may have caught the eye of the founders. Nothing, they say, is off limits.
The result is a fully formed story that uses visual semiotics in unique and often contrasting ways. From their Cycling Club jumper mentioned above to their array of collage-style hoodies and pants, Samuel Zelig threads a hodge-podge collection of motifs, block letters, invented characters, and an assortment of doodles which, when viewed as one piece, narrate a story. It’s this mixture of thematic inspiration which feels like two parts Wes Anderson and one part cave paintings that is hard to pin down, but makes every piece covetable.
With the release of S.Z. Deli, we’re seeing an expansion on a theme of Samuel Zelig: a conceptual understanding of something prosaic or quotidian, expanded into an entirely new world where the small details shade this world into a fully three dimensional place. In this world, Jacques is there and Big Mike, too. I can have my choice of a reuben or a bologna sandwich for lunch. And in this world, I’m invited to sit down with a cup of coffee and chat with Dina for a bit. I put two dollars down on the table and tip my hat to Francis out the door.
While Samuel Zelig doesn’t strictly follow a seasonal schedule, both Jonathan and Dylan teased regular drops coming throughout the year. Klein’s can only imagine what’s to come next and have our credit cards at the ready to max out when the next drop is announced.
Until then, stay up to date by visiting Samuel Zelig at samuelzelig.com or on Instagram @samuelzelig.