Adam Kimmel’s Spring/Summer 2010 menswear collection centered one of the most visually—and emotionally—resonant images in American culture: the cowboy.
In Search of the “Marlboro Man”
When Kimmel went to New Mexico to research sites for his upcoming “cowboy” collection, one strong refrain among the cowboys he met was “Marlboro Man” and “Roy Rogers.” He knew he needed to work with the artist who had brought that iconography to life.
Inspired by the “Marlboro Man” imagery Krantz’s work, the American designer hired Krantz to work with him on recreating that classic iconography. The two went to Canyonlands National Park in Utah to shoot against a backdrop of desert, dramatic red and gold sunsets, and rock striations revealed by the force of the Colorado River.
Jim Krantz, who studied with Ansel Adams, is among the world’s premier interpreters of both the outsize, majestic fantasy and the grim stretches of lonely reality that together comprise our vision of the American West. Krantz’s photographs capture cowboys, herds of cattle, thundering horses veiled in pillars of white dust, and some of the most stunning landscapes in existence. These images have placed him in a class by himself as an art photographer who does notable commercial work.
Reshaping a Tradition
In shaping this collection, Kimmel put cowboy figures into a modern landscape, and modern silhouettes in the laid-back, luxe-minimalist style he’d already made famous.
One look featured a cream shawl-collar tux with cream pants, a necktie shirt, and a square accent scarf. In another, a round-collar shirt was layered under a summer bomber jacket in indigo blue and topped with dress pants. In still another, a button-collar shirt was paired with a fuller pant, and yet another look layered a reversible jean jacket over a shirt, playing with tones of sky, ochre, and malachite.
A reversible riding coat echoed multi-role garments from other Kimmel collections. Sweatpants and sweatshirts blended with more structured pieces. Bold red and white bands on some pieces and subtle star patterns sprinkled through the fabric of others offered hints of traditional imagery.
Adam Kimmel did what he loves to do with fashion: reconfigure classic themes from history based on the inspiration he finds in a fabric’s weave and drape. Through it all, his cult-status designs remain highly wearable, with clean lines and a relaxed but streamlined fit. His eye for detail leads him to work in unusual visual and tactile treats, like a pop of unexpected color in the piping or an unanticipated line in the shape of pockets.
He roughed up the clean-cut Roy Rogers look for this collection, bringing it more into line with the edgier, lonelier, more equivocal Marlboro Man. Here’s where heavier materials like corduroys and waterproof fabrics entered the equation. The idea was to bring something fresh and different to New York that would delight the connoisseurs while evoking multilayered cultural memories for everyone.
Kimmel’s fashion shoot featured real, working cowboys, and they put their seal of approval on the looks. It wasn’t the first time he’s drawn models from that culture. He promoted his 2009 Fall/Winter collection through director Meredith Danluck’s short film “The Cowboy in the Continental Suit.” The work featured Rocky McDonald, a noted rodeo cowboy, in a stunning series of action shots.
From Range to the Runway
Imagery of the cowboy has inspired designers since the rise in popularity of the cultural type in the 19th century. But this style language has been evolving all along, adding new words to its vocabulary and being reshaped by developments in technology and zeitgeist.
The first cowboy clothing, produced in the 18th century, was utilitarian: For sun protection, a wide-brimmed hat. For rough work, a pair of Levi Strauss denim pants. Boots that are sturdy and suitable for both walking and horseback riding. Hollywood refreshed the look during the heyday of Western movies in the mid-20th century, placing the roots of the cowboy style we know today.
Ralph Lauren was among the first major designers to send Western-style designs down the runway. The chic “frontier” look that became a staple of fashion owes an enormous debt to the ways in which he developed the theme. Among European designers, Moschino stands out for the brand’s reworking of “cowgirl” looks in the late 1990s. Madonna adopted and subverted similarly exaggerated Western and country music tropes in her stylings from the early 2000s. And Raf Simons also reworked Western themes when he designed for Calvin Klein.
Recent notable collections include Schiaparelli creative director Daniel Roseberry’s Texas-influenced tux for Fall 2022, and Balmain’s Fall 2021 heavy-fringe capsule wardrobe grounded in creative director Olivier Rousteing’s fascination with the 2021 movie The Harder They Fall.
Today, cowboy elements have become so integrated into streetwear and high fashion that we often take them for granted. Denim and plaid are established classics in both men’s and women’s wear; breast–pocketed western shirts can be dressed up or down; and cowboy-style boots, fringe jackets, and Stetson hats pair effortlessly with more traditionally urban silhouettes. Blue jeans have made it onto the shortlist of the world’s most fashionable influencers. And now, musical artists and other celebrities, like Beyoncé in her “Renaissance” video, keep modifying the look as part of a free-flowing glam-meets-Wild West on-duty or off-duty aesthetic.
The American West—that perennially haunting cultural landscape we think we know so much about, but which we are only just discovering. It might not be too much to say that everyone building their own style today owes something to its iconic themes.