In Conversation With Matt Baldwin

Matt Baldwin is the undisputed king of the Kansas City style scene. But this summer, his status on the national sartorial stage was cemented as he became one of 10 finalists for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund’s annual prize. The winner, whose predecessors include the likes of Alexander Wang and Prabal Gurung, will be named on November 2 following a series of design challenges and will tFA_mattbaldwinake home $400,000—as well as priceless mentorships by top-tier designers and fashion executives.

Before next month’s announcement, we caught up with Baldwin to talk about the nomination and what he’s doing to win it all.

It’s been a big couple of months for you—you were named a finalist for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund (CVFF) and, to top it off, Esquire put you on their list of the top men’s designers in the world. How does it feel?

Incredibly surreal. Esquire was such an honor to be considered as one who they believe will dress American men for the future. We have never been busier with the CVFF design challenges, photo shoots for Vogue, building a team, and launching SS/16 men’s and women’s collection in New York. ‘Exciting’ and ‘hustling’ are two words that embody this moment.

You were in New York when you got the news that you’d been named a CVFF finalist; what was your immediate reaction?

I was smiling ear to ear.  Overwhelming joy.  It is one of the biggest honors in the industry to be selected by the fashion industry leaders as the future emerging talent in American fashion design.

How did your wife and partner Emily react? Do the kids get what a big deal this is?

Em was with me at the Bowery when Vogue called; they filmed it and it will air when the docu-series launches in the spring. The kids totally get it, and they have been cast to be in the November [Vogue] issue with me and a few other celebrity muses of the brand. We head out to New York with them for the shoot this Saturday, and they’re stoked to say the least.

You are the only non-New-York-based finalist; what does that distinction mean to you personally?

This means so much to me on a lot of levels. I was just accepted into CFDA membership this year, which puts me as the only member in Kansas. And now I am the only commuter amongst the finalists this year, which is so cool. You don’t have to live in New York City to be relevant. I’m context for emerging talent in fashion that technology and an airplane make traditional fly-over states a thing of the past.

What does the nomination mean for the Baldwin brand?

The nomination for the brand elevates our story under the microscope of fashion. All eyes are on this group every year. If I were to win, the $400,000 would be great for the growing company as we are scaling the growth of the brand, but it’s truly the mentorship and connectivity to the most influential people in the fashion industry that will be the true award. As president of the CFDA, Steven Kolb, said on his recent visit to K.C., ‘Regardless if you win, you have just won the golden ticket to the fashion industry.’ I loved the Wonka reference.

What was it like meeting Vogue editor Anna Wintour?

Anna was great. Her first words to me were, ‘So, you’re the one from Kansas.’ And I said ‘Yes, I am.’ She is a very lovely and intentional woman. I’m excited to get to know her more. Calvin Klein was another highlight. His work relationship with the architect John Pawson has always inspired me. His first words of advice: ‘On a thousand mile journey you have to take the first step.’ It profoundly contextualized the road for the journey I have embarked on over the last 18 years.

Several past CFDA winners were in attendance at a cocktail party celebrating the announcement back in July. Did any of them offer you any advice?

The room was filled with fashion’s past, present and future. They all said get ready, it’s going to be a lot of work, and it will be a time in your life that you will never forget. Get ready to grow. And they were right.

How do you think you stack up against the nine other finalists?

There isn’t any crossover this year in brand aesthetic. Everyone has a distinct point of view. All of the brands are emerging designers. It has been such a pleasure to get to know them and their individual points of view.

Between now and November, you’ll participate in several challenges and stage a big runway show at the Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood. What have you done so far?

I’ve gone through three challenges as of now. An initial brand presentation of my work, a Kate Spade marketing challenge, and I’m finishing up my look for a Fossil design challenge right now.

What’s next?

I have two weeks to produce a top-to-bottom look for a major cultural event in the U.S. this fall.  Details are under wraps for now. We head to Los Angeles in late October for the Instagram challenge and the final runway show at the Chateau Marmont. 

What can you tell us about the collection you’ll show in L.A?

It’s a men’s and women’s ready-to-wear collection that embodies the “Grit and Grace” of the Baldwin brand that I always design from. It’s a mix of denim and tailored clothing with a sophisticated casual identity. I’m obsessed with the notion of timeless style. Style comes from your heart and mind.

Looks from the Baldwin men’s spring ‘16 collection