The most interesting part of my job is the people I’m lucky enough to work with, though I find I often get to know those folks in a bit of a vacuum. As a photographer, you spend a day with someone and you quickly figure out their quirks. You get pieces of their stories. You condense your own into bits you’re willing to share, and then you go on your separate ways. Sometimes they become best friends, and sometimes you never see them again. It’s a beautiful thing.
I met Chris Echevarria last year photographing him for J. Crew. He launched a collaborative shoe with them under his brand’s guidance, direction and product. That brand is Blackstock & Weber, named for the road his grandmother lived on, and the one he grew up on. We got to know each other briefly, but since it was no more than a few hours, we went our separate ways. We have a good deal of mutual friends in the industry, which in and of itself speaks volumes for me. A year later, I was excited to trail Chris for a day in his life as founder of a brand with an upward trajectory. We talked a good deal on the record (and even more off the record). He was open and honest throughout the day. Chris is a passionate man with a lot to say, and thusly, the conversation begins in medias res because I wasn’t ready for his first nugget.
Chris Echevarria: I get in my car or an Uber and I’ll go to the Hamptons or the Catskills, or I’ll go to the airport and I’ll go to the Delta counter and ask, “Where’s your next flight? Somewhere sunny.” I just try to be as spontaneous with things when those moments hit. But also, it’s just a necessity.
Esquire: Have you developed that habit as you’ve gotten older and busier?
CE: I grew up as an only child. I didn’t have siblings until I was 15 years old. I’m 34 and my siblings are turning 20. So it’s sort of like a peace-creating mechanism for myself. As a kid, just being able to get away and go to your room or go out and kind of be on your own. That was my escape.
Esquire: Your most recent editorial was shot in Puerto Rico, but not with a traditional model. Why shoot a chef instead?
CE: I mean, regular models are too much. Too polished, too much money for something I’m not even really looking for. I would rather work with people that I know and fuck with than try to get some douche from an agency.
Esquire: So you’re shooting a chef because that’s the guy you see in your loafers instead of the polished agency model. How does that relate to the brand?
CE: The brand is all very close to home. JC, the model, is one of my close friends and I really only work with the people that I would sit down to dinner with. As the brand gets larger I don’t want that to change. The factor of comfort and the ability to operate in the way that you want and need to in order to get the product that you desire is more important to me than trying to get some status model. As brands grow and companies release more products…Especially Apple, right? They have the money and the time to be able to do things in the way that they absolutely want to, every single time. There’s no gap on perfection when you have unlimited money and unlimited time because everybody is waiting for your products anyway. So when it comes, they’ll be there. They’re not fucking going anywhere. And if the gap between perfection is a hundred million dollars, then Apple will spend it, because they’ve got it. It’s a place that creatives of every kind aim to be in.
Esquire: Do you see anyone close to that in fashion or footwear?
CE: On the larger commercial scale, Ralph [Lauren]. On a smaller niche scale, Real McCoy’s. They don’t skimp on quality at all. Everything that I’ve gotten from them has been one of my favorite pieces in my wardrobe. You can feel the intention in everything that they do. And that shit is priceless. Their stuff might be a little bit expensive, but whatever. It is what it is ‘cause it’s good.
Esquire: You can charge what you want when you make good product. It will sell.
CE: That’s the thing. I consider my shoe a steal because of the quality and materials we use, and our manufacturing processes. I’m not super set up for some crazy margin, especially when I sell it to another store. But it’s the loafer that I wanted to make. And it’s the loafer that I felt was missing from the market. It was never just a product just to be a product. I wasn’t going to put out anything that wasn’t a hundred percent what I wanted.
Esquire: We’re at the auto spa. Why this specific auto spa for a car wash?
CE: Because they’re the best. This is a hand wash; takes about an hour. They probably do the most thorough job in the industry. I think this is the place that most people who have cars in the fashion industry, they come here really. Kerby from Pyer Moss recommended it to me. And I’ve been coming here ever since.
Esquire: How often do you come?
CE: Once a week. Haircut, car wash, massage. Every week.
Esquire: What does being in a car mean to you?
CE: It’s a place where you can think and get away from what the city is and listen to whatever music you want to listen to and not be affected by what’s going on outside; everything that’s inside of the car is under your control. It’s just a controlled environment.
Esquire: Is there anything about cars that relates to Blackstock & Weber?
CE:I think cars, food, honestly any general thing that you can think of can relate to Blackstock & Weber. We’re not just the company that makes loafers. The loafers are all influenced by different things that happen in my life. The product that we have coming down the line is all influenced by different things that I’ve seen in my life or have interacted with in my life. I hate the term lifestyle brand, but you know.
Esquire: Why do you hate that term?
CE: It’s very vague, for a lack of a better word. It is a lifestyle brand but I think that we are this all encompassing thing. You wouldn’t call Supreme a lifestyle brand. I think it’s skate brand that just kind of touches on different aspects of one’s life.
Off the record Chris and I briefly discuss the rise of direct to consumer and the weaknesses we see in the unintended homogeneity of branding.
CE: We solely exist on the internet. Everybody’s so skeptical about what they buy on the internet that nobody wants to try your stuff. Then you have people that do try your products and they’re like, “holy shit, this is the best thing that I’ve ever purchased on the internet.”
Esquire: Do you have anything in place to help with that hurdle that people might have to get over to buy online in the first place?
CE: Just get them or don’t. Like I said, I’m not building in some crazy margin on my product. I’m literally trying to get people the best product that they can get for the best price that I can potentially offer. And price isn’t even necessarily really something that I focus my brand on. This is how much it costs. Either you want it or you don’t, either you’re going to buy it or you’re not. But what I am super conscious of is what materials go into my product, and how we make our product; what it looks and feels like when it gets to your door. That’s what I invest my time in. And I’m so confident that when you get something from me, whether it’s the shoes or something else down the line, it’s going to be one of the best things that you’ve gotten off of the internet from somebody that you don’t know shit about. I’m just trying to change people’s minds in a lot of ways.
Esquire: Tell me about working for yourself.
CE: It’s the greatest thing in the world, dude. You can create your own destiny. You can change the lives of the people around you. My best friend works for me; changed his life. I bought my mom a house recently; gave her the keys on Mother’s Day. The things that you can do with this are limitless. It’s all about how far you want to take it. And you just don’t get that opportunity working for somebody else.
Esquire: We’re about to have lunch at Rubirosa. Why?
CE: My boy Julio manages the joint here. He always hooks it up; makes sure I try out some new wines that they have on the menu. And it’s always good to see friends in the middle of your day.
Esquire: How does food fit in to Blackstock & Weber?
CE: B&W is just a manifestation of all the experiences that I get to have in my life. Food is a big part of that. I really like to try new restaurants. I like to go to different places, different countries, and try different cuisines. And through those experiences I’ve kind of developed my own sense of taste and palette. I love to discover things through that lens.
Esquire: Run me back through your work history on the record.
CE: Started at J. Crew, then worked as a trend forecaster, then worked on the relaunch of Stone Island with one of my best friends. And then I started this.
Esquire: What do you look for in a new garment for yourself personally?
CE: Construction. I’m a trained tailor. I went to school for menswear design. I look at clothes in a different way than most people. I look at how it was made. I can see the way that people go about things to cheapen garments, whether that be from the actual construction of the garment or the fabrications. I’m a very tactile person. I love to touch things.
Esquire: When you started your brand, how did you think about how you would sell it online? What are some things you did to convey how special your shoes are, or how properly constructed they are?
CE: I didn’t really think about it. If you know, you know what you’re looking at. If you do some research about me, I’m not just some dude that popped out of nowhere. There’s cachet to me and all the things that I’ve done. Do a quick Google, which is what I would prefer people do. Go there, go through it and get an understanding of what it is that you’re buying and who you’re buying it from. That’s really the only reason that I do as much press as I do. I want people to be able to get an introduction to me if they can’t speak to me. There’s a lot of brands out there that are just clothes for dudes. I never wanted to be the shoes for dudes guy, you know?
Esquire: Where are we headed to now?
CE: We’re going to the magazine spot. Coming up in design school I couldn’t afford tickets to go anywhere. Like Italy or Japan or anywhere like that. One of my OGs taught me, if you can’t afford a ticket, you can buy a $12 magazine. Through these magazines I get a lot of inspiration. I get to see the world in literally a couple hours just through reading different publications from different regions.
Esquire: Which magazine store do you go to?
CE: It’s like a newsstand. I don’t even know what it’s called. It’s literally just on the corner, and they have all of the fashion magazines that come out monthly. I have to order a lot of my favorites online. Not a lot of places that really get the shit that I want. I really like this one called Cluel. I also really like L’etiquette. I like Popeye.
Esquire: Penny loafers have been around for almost a century. Why did you decide to join the conversation and what makes Blackstock & Weber’s offerings different from what’s already out there?
CE: There hadn’t been any excitement in the category for a long time. You had the same blacks and browns. There had been no update to the shape and there had been no update to the way it was contextualized, worn, and shown in catalogs. I saw that there was a way to show the world like how I wear it because it’s different than how it’s typically seen. The other part of it was I knew that there was space to be able to construct it better. From a design perspective and from a construction and crafting perspective, I knew that there was room for me to create a little bit of a different product and something a new generation of guys could get into.
Esquire: What’s your creative process like?
CE: Generally it’s feelings based. There are a lot of things that I see in the market and there’s a lot of things that I experienced just being me. A lot of times I’ll take cues from in my life or things that I’ve seen in magazines, things that I’m curious about that I just haven’t seen on a shoe like this before. We did a safari loafer, which is like a direct homage to the Nike Air Max 1 when they do safari packs. It can come from anywhere. I can see a color on a screen and be like,” oh, that color would be sick on a shoe.”
Esquire: When did you move into the space that we’re in currently, and how do you think this space has played a role in the growth of your brand?
CE: About three months ago. It’s played a huge role. I didn’t have a studio or an office before this, so all of my employees are then at my house. Now we have a space where I can separate work from home.
Esquire: Anything about the location that’s special?
CE: I care that it’s in the Navy yard because it’s close to my house. I also like the fact that we got the last corner unit in the Navy yard. We’re surrounded by windows. We have good light in here. I love a lot of light. I love a lot of fresh air. All the things in here are very uniquely me.
Esquire: How’d you go about decorating in here and treat this like a second home?
CE: As you can see I have Herman Miller chairs in here and my homies from USM hooked it up. Got a little USM coat rack over there. And my desk is USM. Even the dog bed over there is USM. It’s very design-forward and I wanted it to be as comfortable as my crib.
Esquire: What does your dog mean to you?
CE: Everything. The world. She’s the best. She has given me a new perspective on life because I’ve never taken care of a living thing like this on my own. She’s given me a certain level of compassion. When you have a dog like this, she’s super active and always wants to play.
Esquire: Why did you choose a French bulldog?
CE: I just kept seeing them on my Instagram. I was just like, “fuck, I need a French bulldog.” And literally when I got her, I did not expect to come home with a dog that day. I’d gone to a museum, and there is a pet shop close by. I’ll go to the pet shop and see and pet dogs and go home. I had never walked away with a dog. But I saw her and she was the cutest dog ever. I said to myself, “all right, I’ll get a dog today.” She just was everything that I wanted in a dog.
Esquire: We’ve just arrived at Bernie’s in Greenpoint. Is this restaurant significant to you or your brand?
CE: Absolutely. I eat dinner here at least once or twice a week.
Esquire: If you had to pick a final meal, what would it be?
CE: Final meal… damn, this is tough. It would start with that Caesar salad from Rubirosa. It would move into a veggie pizza from Giuseppina’s. And then last dessert would be the banana cream pie from Pies and Thighs.
Esquire: What role does friendship play in your life, and how has that shaped Blackstock and Weber?
CE: Friendship is the most important thing to me. As you can see throughout my day, I interact with my closest friends, whether that’s at lunch, or at the car wash, or at dinner, I always get to interact with people that I’m fortunate enough to call friends. Luckily, I have a network of friends that I trust implicitly and they always give me the lowdown, you know, the real deal. They tell me if something is good or bad when I’m on the fence about it, especially when I’m wondering if something is as good as I think it is. I always bring it to my people first. Family and friends and the way that shows itself through the collections, through the way we do things, and through the lookbooks is everything. Without friends that are close enough to call family, I don’t think that Blackstock and Weber would be a thing.
This story was created as part of Future Rising, in partnership with Lexus. Future Rising is a series running across Hearst Magazines to celebrate the profound impact of Black culture on American life, while making space for some of the most diverse voices of our time. Go to oprahdaily.com/futurerising for the complete portfolio.