Thanks to dual hemispheres, it’s always winter somewhere in the world, and there will always be a need for duffle jackets and thermal gear. Responding to these needs since the turn of the 20th century—1904 to be exact—Spiewak has consistently reinvented themselves to keep up with the times. From developing work and military gear during WW1 to the world of street and sports fashion, the fourth generation heir to the Spiewak label, Roy Spiewak, is carrying on his family’s legacy and keeping the tradition of innovation alive. Format discusses Spiewak’s past, present, and future with marketing manager Renée Rapetti.

“Spiewak has always produced private label for many of the hottest brands including Supreme, Stussy, Barney’s NY, and Beams.”

Format: What is the story behind the Spiewak label?
Renée Rapetti: In 1904, Polish immigrant Isaac Spiewak founded I. Spiewak & Sons, Inc. in a one-room apartment in Brooklyn, NY, producing sheepskin vests by hand and selling them on the booming waterfronts to dockworkers.

World War I marked the start of the firm’s business as a military contractor, producing wool coats, jackets and naval breeches for the military. Spiewak introduced its first police jackets in 1923, outfitting the New York State mounted troopers. During World War II Spiewak supported the troops by delivering more than one million units of flight suits, bomber jackets, peacoats and other specialized gear to troops.

During the post-War boom, the company broadened its scope of operations. Veterans returning from overseas turned military looks like the bomber jacket and snorkel parka into consumer fashion, opening up a huge new consumer fashion market for the firm. In the uniform sector, Spiewak adapted its flight apparel to meet the needs of ground crews at American Airlines – and still produces their outerwear 50 years later. The company expanded its manufacturing capabilities with multiple factories across the country. Its Ruleville, Mississippi plant, which has just celebrated its 50th anniversary, continues to produce Spiewak’s outerwear to this day.

Over a century after it’s founding, I. Spiewak & Sons has grown into one of the premier names in uniform work wear. The authentic industrial line has been trusted by the soldiers of WWI and WWII and is currently being worn with pride by thousands of police, fire and EMS agencies around the globe. The authenticity and integrity of its designs has also earned Spiewak iconic status as a classic streetwear brand considered by many to be America’s best kept secret with a growing loyal following at cutting-edge boutiques and retailers across America and around the globe.

Format: Is there a story behind the Spiewak logo?
Rapetti: Isaac founded the company cutting and sewing sheep-skin vests. Putting as many over each arm as he could carry, he would walk down to the Redhook piers and sell them to the workers. The vests became renown for their quality and craftsmanship and his stock always quickly sold out. Some of the workers began to liken the coveted vests to the almost impossible to obtain Golden Fleece of Greek legend.

By the 1920’s, production had increased and included other outerwear items but the Golden Fleece moniker stuck and was put onto the labels of all jackets along with a picture of the flying ram with a golden fleece. Although the ram has had various humorous incarnations throughout the years in various advertisements, it has survived to the present day. The name Golden Fleece is now used in Japan on special edition garments as well as on a high end line in the States.


Format: After two world wars and a great depression, Spiewak has found its place in the street fashion market. How did this happen?
Rapetti: Fashion is a constant cycle of fleeting trends and broader movements that are chased by hundreds of brands that constantly come and go. Spiewak has survived precisely due to the fact that they don’t chase trends and instead focus on creating a “tradition of innovation.”

This innovation has been seen throughout the years. In the Great Depression, Spiewak invented new production techniques that cut costs so that a jacket at J.C. Penny’s could retail for under $1.00. Following WWII, Spiewak’s military surplus was sold to civilians as fashion. This innovation resurfaced through the iconic snorkel parka of the 1970’s. This was a WWI jacket that Spiewak manufactured (based on an Inuit parka) for the Air Force that was brought back into fashion throughout the 70’s, resurfacing in the past couple of years in Barney’s New York. The early 90’s saw our industrial parkas picked up by hip-hop artists like Biggie Smalls and Jay Z, reflecting the infancy of the commercialization of hip-hop into fashion. Their visibility, coupled with making outerwear for the Wu Tang Clan, started a boom in reflective striped industrial coats and titan cloth jackets that invaded high-end boutiques and trickled down through rave culture up until the mid-90’s.

Modern streetwear came out in the mid-90’s after the collapse of the dot-com era and reacted to this technical and rave-inspired outerwear market by going towards a grittier, NYC urban look that relied on a base of military and industrial design.

Spiewak, whose design hailed from NYC, fit the bill as iconic outerwear for the burgeoning hipster scene. Spiewak and Triple Five Soul will forever be linked to the beginning of the streetwear movement and the current evolution.


Format: Where do the current designers draw their inspiration? What are their influences?
Rapetti: Creative Director Dan Hendricks draws inspiration from two main sources: Spiewak’s century of outerwear production archive and his long background working with vintage clothing.

Dan reveals, “I started in this business in the 90’s as a vintage buyer and each spring I still go to some of the same mid-western rag houses and roll around in dirty clothes. It may just be a stitch technique, a collar shape, or a wool pattern, but the pieces that come out of these always add core elements to each line.”

This research is used to capture an authenticity that is vital to the Spiewak brand. Whether it is a B-15A flight jacket recreation or a women’s wool coat, each piece started with an idea of heritage and a purpose. Dan also articulates that, “movies fester around in the back of every American’s mind. Much of the styles Spiewak produces are a blend of uniform and tailored elements and sometimes I think I am trying to make Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver and Roger Thornhill from North By Northwest one man.”

Still, the core of Spiewak’s appeal remains their unrivalled American authenticity. Their collections highlight the values that keep Spiewak on the cutting edge, even at 104 years young.


Format: Please tell us about the Turn-Of-The-Century Series you released this year.
Rapetti: Golden Fleece by I. Spiewak and Sons represents over a century of outerwear manufacturing. The winter 2008 collection of Golden Fleece by I. Spiewak and Sons, Inc., is able to take the best elements of the uniform and fashion jackets produced under the Golden Fleece moniker of the 1920’s through the 1950’s to create a feeling of authentic luxury. These elements are pulled from garments and historical photographs housed in their own extensive archives that document a rich period that has become a staple of modern couture design.

Golden Fleece is a concise collection of ten limited edition pieces that feature cashmere blends, melton wool, and broken twill with details like buffalo horn and corozo nut buttons, and leather accents and reinforcements. Golden Fleece by I. Spiewak and Sons will be sold exclusively at better retailers with a price range of $250 to $500.

Format: Spiewak is best known for winter jackets and outwear. What other kinds of apparel does the brand do?
Rapetti: Spiewak’s Spring 2008 collection consists of fabrics that emphasize lightweight breathability. Military dress uniforms and motorcycle jacket elements are explored through tailored looks for both men and women styles.

Highlights include the Sullivan Rain Coat for women and the Croton Storm Jacket for men. Each jacket is constructed of waterproof breathable Tekora CL fabric and features taped seams with a hood. Another highlight is the tropical weight uniform topcoat produced in color-coated linen. Please find below the women’s Camden Coat as well as the Chester Jacket for men.

Format: Please tell us about some of Spiewak’s past collaborations. How did the Kid Robot collaboration come about?
Rapetti: Spiewak has always produced private label for many of the hottest brands including Supreme, Stussy, Barney’s NY, and Beams (Japan). The company has also collaborated with artists varying from Dalek, Jason Bass (JB Classics) to Karim Rashid. Most collaborations have been undertaken to benefit a cause or charity such as Rock the Vote (our auction was called Rock the Coat) and the Chicago Women’s Health Center.

The Spiewak and Kid Robot collaboration came out of a mutual agreement that it would be fun to combine sensibilities and expertise and see what could be made. The jackets combined Kid Rrobot’s playful irreverence with Spiewak’s tailoring and design sense. The M-43 Field Jacket was limited to 112 pieces and was quickly sold out.

More Info: http://www.spiewak.com/


Jesse Ship
I'm currently Managing Editor of this little web mag here.
Jesse Ship

Latest posts by Jesse Ship (see all)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>