GQ: Todd Snyder Shares the Secrets to His Success

At Pitti Uomo, the Iowan with a $100 million menswear business returns to the runway for the first time in four years.

By Samuel Hine / Link to article

On Tuesday evening in Florence, Italy, Todd Snyder held the first fashion show for his namesake brand since 2020, and first ever outside of New York. As a menswear mainstay, Snyder is right at home at Pitti Uomo, the historic trade show sponsoring the night’s event. But he’s a bit of an anomaly on the European runway circuit, which opened on Tuesday with Snyder’s Fall-Winter 2024 collection.

For one, self-described haberdashers are about as common on the runways these days as canes and top hats. His brand is only available in America, at least until later this year. He is from Iowa, and his urbane outfit of a black T-shirt and jeans can’t mask some of his hokey dad energy, such as when, an hour before showtime, he described the impending production in charmingly agrarian terms.

“This just feeds the whole ecosystem” of the brand, he said, looking around backstage at a platoon of slouchy young models getting hair touch-ups. “It really waters it. It becomes the sun, it becomes the rain, it becomes the fertilizer, it becomes everything.”

I had asked him why do a runway show at all, given that he does big business selling clothes to guys who know more about Bonobos than Balenciaga. Still, even though you wouldn’t have been able to tell, the middle-aged J. Crew and Ralph Lauren alum is arguably the most important American designer in Europe this season not named Rick Owens or Pharrell.

To be fair, there’s not a ton of competition in that category these days. But Snyder is immensely influential in his own low-key way. Ten years ago, he was manning a booth at the Pitti Uomo fair, wholesaling his burgeoning line of suits and shirts to other shops. In the years since, he’s opened 15 stores, sold the line to American Eagle (2015), and blown past $100 million in annual sales.

What sets his brand apart from the hundreds of others at Pitti Uomo is Snyder’s unmatched sense of how to introduce his customer to new ideas. “I spend a lot of time in the store, and you see guys in there and it’s just like, the thrill of the hunt,” said Jim Moore, Todd Snyder’s go-to stylist (and GQ’s creative-director-at-large). “Todd loves that experience. You go in for a gray suit and walk out with a green shearling.”

It’s a subtle move, one that Snyder honed while at J. Crew in the late-aughts where he presided over the introduction of the slim Ludlow suit and the opening of the Liquor Store, a multi-brand boutique for high-end menswear disguised as a J. Crew shop. (Todd Snyder took over the Liquor Shop’s Tribeca storefront when J. Crew moved out in 2019.) He designs familiar pieces in unexpected ways—he rightly takes credit for the resurgence of the Gurkha short—and combines them so that the unexpectedness suddenly feels essential. The move is so subtle, in fact, that it leaves the customer feeling like taking a style risk was their idea, even though Snyder had been laying the groundwork all along.

He describes his process in simpler terms. “You want to know my secret of success?” asked Snyder about an hour to showtime. (I did.) “I always try to think, what would be in my grandpa’s closet, and then how do I make it cool today?”

“This is a great example.” Snyder grabs a heavy leather car coat off a clothing rack. “If I did this in wool, you’d be like, That’s so boring. But doing it in this rugged freaking stiff-ass leather and then pairing it like this—” He grabs a tube-neck cable-knit sweater and knee-length wool shorts that will be worn under the jacket. A whole bunch of classic things, remade for today. He called the collection The Modernist. “It’s a state of mind and how I think about design, whether it’s designing a beautiful house, whether it’s designing a beautiful car, whether it’s a beautiful dish, art, music,” he said. “When I design, it’s usually a culmination of all those things that I’m inspired by.” His moodboard stood by, covered in touchpoints of a tasteful Modernist lifestyle: a vintage green Porsche 911, a Unimatic dive watch, a boxy modern house, chunky Prada loafers, and vintage Giorgio Armani runway looks from the ’80s. He’s open about his references—to a point. “Erm, that probably shouldn’t be up there,” he said, folding up an Armani printout.

Snyder says all of the runway collection will be sold in his stores, and he’s clearly thinking of exactly how each piece will play commercially six-ish months from now. “There are some that are super fashion forward, and there are some that are more traditional,” said Snyder of his customers. He admits the show might be catering more to the fashion forward side of the spectrum. “I have a pragmatic approach when I design, but I also know I need to be a little bit more out there, especially during a fashion show. It’s more important to push forward than to be like, Oh, what would my customer buy? It’s more, How can I inspire my customer?

Earlier that day, I hit the Pitti Uomo fair, where 832 brands were selling their suits and shirts and belts and ties and shoes. As the Todd Snyder show got underway, it struck me what the Iowan has really figured out. What brought him from a small Pitti booth to a $100 million business and headlining slot. At risk of being reductive, Pitti and the wider menswear world is generally aimed at guys who want to look cool for other clothing nerds. Todd Snyder, on the other hand, is for guys who want to look cool on first dates. You could call it midwestern pragmatism or commercial savvy, but it’s clearly working.

“His confidence just keeps building,” said Moore. “And I think he passes that confidence onto the consumer.”

This fall, here’s a selection of how Todd Snyder’s Romeos will be pulling up to the bar: In a dove gray sweater vest worn with languid suiting trousers. A pleasantly round velvet suit and a plain white T-shirt. A rayon camp shirt—Snyder sells a ton of what he calls “cabana sets”—printed with a Van Gogh still life in collaboration with the Met. A teal cardigan over creamy velvet pants, like he’s Jeremy Allen White. A satin overshirt with anything (there were many throughout the show). A Glen plaid blazer, an oversized contrast-collar banker shirt, wide-leg blue jeans, and chunky loafers. “This one’s very elegant, he looks like some French cool-kid taking whatever is in his dad’s closet but making it feel like weekend attire,” said Snyder.

The collection was a clear step forward, squarely in the modern-classic menswear vocabulary Snyder has been rebuilding for years. But there was a surprising first act of the show, when Snyder unveiled Woolrich Black Label, a new collection he’s designing for the Italian-owned heritage outdoor brand. “My big thing for Woolrich was taking this brand that’s been around almost 200 years—a lot of it’s a reinvention, but also an invention, because there’s a lot of things that you would think, Oh, they should be known for that.” Now, Snyder is hoping they’ll be known for things like ankle-grazing sleeping bag coats, GORP-y parachute pants, and duck boots wrapped in high-tech rubber soles.

Todd Snyder’s menswear ecosystem, already strong, just grew even bigger.