Donrad Duncan Opened Up About His Approach To Creating Next-Level Luxury

In order for a painter to delve into abstracts, they must first develop a foundation in form and perspective. Fashion is no different. Designer and EFM (Engineered for Motion) founder Donrad Duncan was born into a family of tailors in Jamaica. A relic of British colonial rule, tailors are common on the island. It wasn’t until he left Jamaica that he saw tailoring was more than a trade—it was an art. And he excelled at it. Mastering the basics is key in almost every creative endeavor.

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Today, Duncan’s progressive line of menswear is lauded for its precise lines and user-focused, modern American design. There’s an insistence on comfort and utility, yet an unyielding dedication to luxury. Duncan’s approach uses abstract design thinking, balanced with the hands-on, tactile practicality of a master garment-maker. We caught up with him in the run up to New York Fashion Week: Men’s to learn more about his philosophy and what’s driving change in the industry.

Courtesy of Donrad Duncan
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Donrad Duncan: I’m doing a fitting and trying to get all of our Autumn/Winter ’16 out of the way for shipping. Then, I’ll delve into preparing for our presentation at men’s fashion week. This is the first time we’re doing a runway show; we’ve always just done a standing presentation. It will be very energizing. I’m looking forward to it.

“We are much more conscious of health, how we present ourselves, and how we go about our day-to-day lives. So EFM embodies the modern lifestyle.”

Let’s go back to the beginning. You’ve worked in design for over 15 years. Do you remember your first project?

Yes. My first project was for myself. I had a military shirt that I didn’t really care much for; I wanted a bomber jacket instead. So I reconstructed the shirt and modified it to become a jacket, sort of a blouson. During that period I was a tailor—tailor in training I should say—so this was one of the pieces I worked on.

Did working as a tailor lead you to fashion?

Being a tailor was something I liked, but I never really equated it to fashion. I grew up in a family of tailors in the West Indies. It’s like learning to paint or learning to draw—it’s somewhat second nature. I didn’t really put much of a value on it until I moved to the United States in 1980. I was like, “Oh, wow. I have this skill, and it’s pretty valuable!”

In New York, I went to Parsons School of Design. I was already experienced in garment construction, so school was more about understanding color experiences and working with various textures. I had the opportunity to travel to Italy and that is what sealed it for me.

Courtesy of EFM

The industry has changed so much since then.

It’s changed in quite a few ways: manufacturing, production techniques, technology in fabrication, the advent of shopping online, social media. And how we shop is a direct result of how the industry has progressed.

Now when we go out to shop, we want to be able to have an experience. We don’t just go out to shop anymore, there has to be something to encourage us to leave and go out. We want to indulge in some sort of experience.

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What experience do you aim to create with your line EFM?

EFM is a lifestyle developed based on how men are shopping today—the lifestyle we are living. What is happening today? We are much more conscious of health, how we present ourselves, and how we go about our day-to-day lives. So EFM embodies the modern lifestyle. We want to do more with less. We want to remain active throughout the day, and we want to remain comfortable throughout it all.

“Luxury today is comfort.”

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This idea of versatility in luxury apparel, is it a uniquely American desire?

I think an American sensibility when it comes to apparel is all about function. It’s about having something that is very simple, but at the same time you want to be able to make a statement without screaming. That active functionality, the ability to do more with less, is very in-line with the American mindset.

Courtesy of EFM

Conceptually, luxury has changed in recent years. How do you define luxury today?

Luxury today is comfort. When we talk about a comfort factor: It’s easy to wear, easy to move in. The objective is to create things from an artistic point of view and let them become practical for the everyday user.

Courtesy of EFM

Athletics play a key role in the identity of EFM. Where do you draw the line between menswear and sportswear?

My aim is always to create elegant, tailored garments. From there I can let it become extremely practical and more sports functional.

Are you an athlete yourself?

I used to be an athlete [laughs]. I’m very active, but I don’t participate in a particular sport. I ride my bike, I run, I do martial arts. Health is very important to me and it adds a certain discipline to my day.

Where does your inspiration come from outside of fashion and sports?

Everything—sound, texture, structure, people. It’s important to remain open and absorb what’s around you.

Courtesy of EFM

How do you approach a new line?

My creative process never shuts off. It’s always in motion, always changing. It happens at a subconscious level. I usually start at the very basic level of materials and colors and then put it into practicality.

Beyond your busy days and weeks ahead, what’s next?

There’s a lot I’d like to indulge in, but the focus right now is to develop a progressive and exciting Autumn/Winter ’17. We’re working on sculpting the collection. We’ll be starting with the very basic part of it: textures, colors, and how we project that going forward.

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