Aiming to be all-American

Fashion: Charming and sophisticated, Matt Nye has trained with such fashion masters as Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein, yet retains his modest Midwestern appeal.

April 16, 2000|By Tamara Ikenberg | Tamara Ikenberg,Sun Staff

NEW YORK -- Don't hate fashion designer Matt Nye because he's beautiful, or because he's the companion of media maverick Jann Wenner, or because he's traveled through Europe in five-star style with former boss Ralph Lauren.

"Yes, good looks, youth, a level of notoriety, can open doors. For whatever reason people may be curious about me," says Nye, 34, while lounging in his Upper West Side studio. "What you choose to do with those opportunities once they're created is up to you. In the end, it's your work that's going to speak louder than who you're with or what you look like."

But you can't quite ignore Matt Nye's looks. He appears to have won the genetic jackpot. His chunky ivory turtleneck sweater sets off his dreamy sea-green eyes and longish sandy blond hair. Every time he moves or changes his expression, he looks as if he's posing, albeit naturally, for a GQ profile.

Observe Nye with hand gently propping up chin, Nye knitting his brow, Nye unleashing a wide, spontaneous smile.

The former assistant to Carolina Herrera, Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein started his own line in 1998. He designs a modern,luxurious classics-based collection for men and women. His line is less flashy than his biography.

Brian Boye, fashion director at Daily News Record, a New York menswear publication, says Nye's clothes are a reflection of the man himself. "They're sexy. They're cute. They don't scream at you," says Boye. "He's talking to the young millionaire who does a lot of traveling."

Nye walked away with the Perry Ellis Award for menswear in June of last year, and until now, he has run his company himself, with the help of two assistants. He recently signed Stephen Fairchild, of the Fairchild publishing and fashion dynasty, as a partner.

With his line being sold at such stores as Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale's, Nye's fashion future looks promising.

And he knows what he wants that future to look like. "If I mention the name Randolph Duke to you, what do you think of?" he asks enthusiastically. "You think sexy, you think skin-revealing."

"If I say Badgley Mischka?" he asks. "It's all evening and it's beading."

"We're trying to create that identity. That DNA," he says. "What is Matt Nye going to be about? So far, it's about American. It's sportswear, it's outerwear, it's great sweaters and knits," he says. "There's a niche that has yet to be filled that Perry Ellis left wide open, of a through and through American designer, which is what I want to become known as."

His assistants are working quietly and diligently at their PCs and answering oft-ringing phones. The space, with cheerful yellow walls, is clean and well organized, with mini-displays of Nye merchandise smartly set out on shelves. A rolling rack of Nye originals forms a makeshift wall between the work space and Nye's "bedroom" on the top floor of an upscale townhouse he is reportedly sharing with Wenner, the publisher of Rolling Stone magazine.

Nye's link to Wenner was garnering him New York tabloid notoriety before he started his own line. Boye says various critics suspected industry favoritism, insinuating that his powerful partner had somehow been responsible for Nye's success.

"It's stupidity," says Stefani Greenfield, co-owner of Scoop, a New York boutique carrying Nye's clothing. "Why try and hurt someone?"

When Wenner is mentioned, Nye wordlessly gives off the air that his business is his business, both personal and professional.

The topic shifts back to clothing. More specifically, Nye's trendy trademark item: the red cross sweater.

The solid red, white and blue sweaters with big crosses emblazoned across the chest are folded neatly on a long table.

They have been spotted on high-profile stars from Courtney Cox on a recent episode of "Friends," to teen trendsetters 'N Sync and Brandy.

Entertainment royalty and Nye buddies Yoko Ono and Bettidler have also been seen traversing New York in his subdued statements.

Pretty slick work for someone who grew up in Saginaw, Michigan, which Nye freely admits wasn't exactly fashion central. At 13, he was first introduced to couture when some wealthy relatives gave him a hand-me-down camel Pierre Cardin suit to wear for a wedding.

"I actually liked it," he says with a playful smile.

Nye, the son of a tool factory manager and registered nurse, is the youngest of ten siblings. Learning the art of gracefully sharing the spotlight and ingratiating himself to the right people may be ingrained. But Nye insists his ability to work a room is "nothing you can develop. It's either there or it isn't."

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