Emilie Hawtin Is A Master of the White Suit
A conversation with the founder of Clementina
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If you spend enough time scrolling through Instagram, you hopefully can tell between the standard, boring influencer content, and the real stuff. For every five accounts featuring some overly stylized, too perfect, filtered to the uncanny valley and back person standing on a beach with some “Live. Laugh. Love” type comment, you get a person like Emilie Hawtin. I don’t recall the first time I came across her account or her work, but the way she captures moments and inspirations is similar to my pal Chris Wallace. She has a great eye for the beautiful things and moments that the rest of us might overlook, and I’m guessing that helped her in her past life as an editorial director. An editor’s job is taking something somebody else wrote, reworking it until they decide it’s right, and then they say when it’s ready for the rest of the world to read. An eye for detail is also crucial when designing and tailoring for the atelier she started in 2021, Clementina.
What Emilie is doing with Clementina is interesting to me because for the first time, the tired “Is the suit dead” conversation that has been going on for years has some reason for existing. We’re still seeing if people will go back to the office, and even if they do, the amount of people who have forsaken the blazer for a Patagonia vest with the company logo is troubling. But Emilie’s suits don’t seem destined for a boardroom. That’s not to say some high-powered CEO wouldn’t don one to a meeting, but Clementina effortlessly recalls when people wore suits…all the time. And even though the “People used to dress better back in the day” conversation is another one that has been beaten to death, there is plenty of merit to it and it’s why we’re caught up in a neverending retro cycle. And while Clementina suits do look like they could be seen on people in any number of midcentury French or Italian films in the Criterion collection, there’s nothing cheesy or retro about Emilie’s work. Timeless, yes—but with a modern eye. She’s making suits and shirts for people who want to have fun in what they’re wearing.
That, and she’s only making stuff for women. “The tailoring world is already designed for men! I’m trying to open that up to women a bit more,” she tells me. And she’s right. But I also think there’s plenty that we can all learn from Emilie, Clementina, and her philosophies behind dressing. Also, I should mention that Emilie is doing a short residency at frequent collaborator J. Mueser’s Christopher Street shop today (Dec. 1st) and tomorrow (Dec. 2nd).
Can we run through your resume real quick? I don’t usually do that, but I think it’s interesting to show how you’ve been putting in the time and effort to understand the world you work in.
I was recently editorial director at J.Crew, focused on men’s. I handled the ‘real people’ campaigns and stories, like Eric Ripert harvesting oysters. I really enjoy finding unique people with great style and featuring them in a natural way. I worked with The Sartorialist in my early twenties. That was an exciting time for style, and my first experience with Pitti Uomo and going to all of the fashion shows. It was interesting to build something digital before social media, during a more analog time. I worked for Andy Spade when they were starting Sleepy Jones, which was a master's degree. Andy had the funniest ideas, and all of them worked. We would be hosting 24-hour sleepovers at Lafayette House with Glenn O’Brien, I’d be running around the garment district getting pajamas made and trying to figure out how to tie a mattress to the roof of a 2002 BMW (with people sleeping in it) to drive around the Bowery. It was tasteful chaos, everyone dressed like they were in prep school but did the craziest things.
Where are you from originally? Like "native of..."
I’m from New Jersey. Yes, near Bruce Springsteen.
You've done a great job making yourself the ambassador for the white sport coat, so can you please be the final word on the whole white after Labor Day thing? I feel like that's just some old American nonsense we need to get rid of but I defer to you.
I wear white year-round, especially white jeans—like most middle-aged Italian men. They probably think about clothes more than any of us, so I look to them for a lot of things. If they’re good with winter whites, I am too. If they don’t eat winter gelato, I don’t either.
If you love to wear something, like suede shoes or velvet slippers in the summer, or linen when it’s colder, hopefully you can wear that in a convincing way and then it’s fine year-round. White jeans have never let me down, and with white linen you just have to dive into the deep end.
Can you tell me about your journey towards the white jacket? There was one photo you posted where you're in a white linen suit and I remember seeing it and thinking you have to be comfortable with white to pull off so much of it so well. Like if I tried it, I'd look like Mr. Clean.
The first suit J.Mueser made for me years ago was in white linen. I didn’t know it would become a uniform for me. I thought it would be elegant for the summer, but when I put it on I didn’t take it off. The more it wore in and didn’t worry about wrinkles or stains or anything, the better it was. I think when you just really wear your clothes and don’t obsess over it, they sort of mold to you—they look and feel natural in a way that can’t be achieved by wearing them occasionally. I had already been obsessed with white jeans. I bought the remaining stock of one Polo style they stopped making so I have a bunch of the same pair that I carefully clean in my bathtub every week. It’s kind of this weird ceremony but I know I won’t find them again and have to take care of them. It makes you appreciate things more. But there’s something about the white linen that feels celebratory, a little bold and empowering, and it’s way easier to wear than I expected. It can’t be too clean and tidy, it needs to have character. If you’re trying to avoid Mr Clean vibes, I could see you in a DB jacket.
If somebody is curious but maybe doesn't have a lot of imagination, how do you explain your brand?
I created Clementina to open up the tailoring and the menswear world to more women. I’ve always worn men’s clothes, but when I made suits with J.Mueser atelier and wore them everywhere for years, I realized how much easier it made my life. I was working in menswear for a long time, going to Pitti Uomo, meeting fabric mills, seeing all of these classic, quality clothes and shoes, handmade things—they’re really all designed for men.
Most of the women I know want those things too, and to make a few tailored pieces that serve as a personal uniform. So with Clementina, I collaborate with different men’s ateliers and brands to design a capsule collection with them for women. That way, a woman can first even understand that she can go to a tailor, know where to go, and have a starting point of what to make. They don’t need to know all of the language, and can point to a flap pocket and just say “I want that, not that”. Eventually, they’ll learn the language, have lasting clothes, and feel empowered to make exactly what they want instead of buying a bunch of so-so things. I want to encourage people to buy less but better, and I think when anyone has something well-made, that’s made for them by someone they know, in a style they love, they don’t need to consume a lot. The interesting thing is, while making a suit or trousers is an investment, it actually doesn’t cost any more than what a woman finds on net-a-porter. And it actually fits!
I could spend all day every day in ateliers and looking at fabrics. I love to watch tailors at work. Any craftspeople, really. It’s so beautiful. I’m not a tailor, which is why I love to collaborate with them--I’m fluent in clothes, and I understand women. I’ve been exposed to a lot and want to share that with other people who appreciate it too.
I've seen a few places pop up in your journeys, and Italy especially looks like it plays a special part. I think we've sort of lost how much a place can influence looks thanks to Instagram being one big fit pic lookbook, so I was wondering when you travel, either somewhere new or somewhere you've been to before, how does location influence your personal style and also what you do with Clementina?
You ask really good questions. I love to travel, of course most people do. I think connecting with older cultures makes me appreciate craftsmanship a lot more. I stay at a friend’s house in Italy sometimes, it’s in this tiny medieval hamlet, everyone there is old, it’s a moastic place. You can feel the history in the stones, and you want to wear natural fabrics, well-made linen clothes, and tailored things. It feels respectful, and you realize clothes embody places like this. I would feel crazy putting on a sweatshirt in a place like that, even though it’s a modest country village. I think you want to pay homage to where you’re traveling without looking like you’re in a costume. I love the ease of Italian and French style, the quality of their clothes and the self possessed nature of how they wear them. If someone is at ease, they can wear something daring and look great. I visit ateliers and flea markets, the fabric you find there, the construction, it’s an art I don’t find in the US. But it’s also found in the restaurants, the farmers markets—the way of life makes you want to dress beautifully, eat beautifully, and live a certain way. I think Instagram can magnify performative areas of our lives, and that includes dressing. The most stylish people I spend time with in Europe dress simply and for themselves, they wear great fabrics and look elegant. They’re unfussy and go on with their day. It’s their state of being.
You’ve written about uniform dressing before and I was thinking about some of my best-dressed friends have maybe five shirts, four pairs of trousers, and three different pairs of shoes but they're so good at mixing them up and it sort of blends into a uniform look. How did you personally land on your uniform look?
Sometimes it can even be a happy accident. That first white linen suit that I got from Jake at J.Mueser as a present before Pitti Uomo, I didn’t realize it would become my uniform. But I wore it everyday on the trip and it felt so liberating. I just dove in. Coming to a uniform can happen with trial and error, but I think when you’re at ease with yourself it’s easy to identify when something really suits you. If I’m lacking inspiration, I mix linen suits up with velvet slippers in different colors, silk scarves and bandanas, a variety of shirts with big collars—many stolen from David’s closet. But knowing what you’ll wear every day makes everything so much easier, and if you’re in a suit you feel appropriate everywhere.
You've been concentrating on Clementina full-time since 2021. What do you think when you close your eyes and see the future of this whole thing?
I want to be the Laura Ashley of white linen jackets. Ha! Kidding. I love helping women learn about tailoring and menswear, and I love craftspeople. I’m working on collaborations with Speciale in London, Le Tre Sarte in Rome, and a lot of our friends. I’ve always dreamed of having a shop, but I need to be outside all the time—so if you spot any outdoor retail shops let me know! Hopefully that’s somewhere between the North Fork and Venice. I’m still consulting with a lot of brands, and I really enjoy that.