It can correctly be said of Original Penguin, as it has been said of others, that if it didn't exist, someone would have to invent it—even though some of the 15 most famous, most significant minutes in its history have been those immediately following its re-invention.
Original Penguin—a label commenced in the 1950s around a polo shirt designed for golf, with a pocket logo of the flightless bird—owes its current success to its re-discovery, and to its good bones; or, as they're known in the fashion world, archives. Purchased by Perry Ellis and re-launched three years ago, the label offers the type of dressy casual, slim-fit togs—with strategic stripes and argyles—that instantly evoke the Frank Sinatra Capitol years.
This continues to be a very good thing, as does the company's miserly strategy in doling out stores. The brand's third retail location in as many years opened recently at Fashion Island in Newport Beach (its others are in New York City and the South Beach area of Miami).
"In a way, I think California is our natural home," says president Chris Kolbe—echoing Sinatra's sentiments; the singer came to embody precisely the swingin' Palm Springs midcentury modern aesthete the haberdasher is chasing with its newest construct. "We try to build stores that are sort of the anti-Gap. They're not stamped out. If you didn't know you were walking up to Fashion Island, you'd think you were walking up to a California modern home."
Which, of course, would be home base for the company's trademark penguin-pocketed polos, snuggly sweaters, slender three-button suit coats, Gambino family-esque shirt-jackets (look it up) and sneakers you know you've seen somewhere before.
"In a lot of ways, our sensibility is very vintage-modern. We love the vintage aesthetic—furniture, architecture, clothing," Kolbe says, explaining why you may see furnishings in Newport courtesy of the Eames family. "But we love better fabrics, better cuts, interesting trims. Style is what we thrive on rather than disposable fashion. We don't want to be churn and burn every season."
Which is nice to hear: someone with a good line—and sense enough to stick to it.
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about upcoming performances, exhibitions, openings and special events happening in the Orange County art and theater scene.