Since its conception in 2000, UNIS has developed into a mainstay of classic and understated design in the menswear scene. The label’s oxfords, chinos, t-shirts, and jackets – all produced and manufactured in New York and Los Angeles – have a simple yet sophisticated aesthetic. Eunice Lee, the founder, has maintained a perfect balance between a tailored, contemporary feel and subtle, timeless designs by drawing inspiration from vintage American casual wear. Her designs are modern and flattering while maintaining a utilitarian edge, which has given the label an enviable prestige among stylish men who value simplicity and quality.
Lee’s clothes are clothes to live in; they’re both well-made and sharp enough to beat up and wear in while maintaining a classic elegance. Both sensible and stylish, UNIS offer respite from the occasionally overblown aesthetic of current menswear offerings, allowing men to dress fashionably without being ostentatious.
The label’s NoLita flagship recently underwent an extensive expansion and redesign, resulting in a sleek, expansive store befitting the label’s look and popularity. We met with Eunice in her new shop to ask about her designs, philosophy, and upcoming offerings.
How do you think the brand has evolved since you founded it in 2000? Is there anything in particular you’ve tried to work towards, and do you have any future goals?
When I first opened in 2000, most of my line was made in China, and it was a lot bigger. I eventually moved my production to Italy, and it was there that I started to really grow and mature as a designer. Not only was I able to use beautiful fabrications, I also learned about only manufacturing what I really needed. So, by the time I finally moved my production to the states, my approach was much more focused and I began concentrating on only a few styles, and working hard to make them the best they could be. In the future, I want to maintain that philosophy, but, also add a bit more breadth to the collection. I’d love to do some additional tailored pieces, and I’ve been fitting the perfect jean for the last four months. They’re still a work in progress.
How do you feel about current menswear trends like the bold preppy styles or the more rugged, Americana-inspired workwear? Do they influence your designs at all?
Workwear, military and preppy styles have always influenced American menswear designers and they always will, myself included. My design philosophy has been pretty consistent: understated & cool. For as long as I’ve been doing this, I’ve been looking to vintage pieces for small and large details, but then updating the fit for today.
You sell some great products from other brands at UNIS, like grooming supplies from Blind Barber, shoes from Common Projects, and caps from Fair Ends. How do you decide which brands make the cut to sell alongside your own line?
It’s important for me that the non-Unis stuff sit well with our overall aesthetic. We do a lot of research, and 90% of the time, we know the designer/owner/creator of each of the products. I have a ton of respect for every single brand we’ve brought in. That’s why they’re there.
What can we expect from your fall ’13 collection? Do you have a favorite piece or pieces?
Lots of dark rich fall colors. We’re also working on a special collaboration this Fall and some more military inspired pieces. I’m really excited about the new fit of the shirts. I worked on it for MONTHS.
If you had to build one casual, everyday outfit from your collection that exemplifies your aesthetic, what would it consist of?
A pair of Navy Gio’s or Gio Skinny (depending on your body type). A Felix shirt and a military jacket.
You have the ability to design clothes that are subtle and understated in a very classic and beautiful way. There’s a fine line between subtlety and dryness; how do you navigate between the two?
I think it’s important that every customer be able to make a Unis piece their own. It should be the man who makes the garment, not the other way around. That, for me, is the greatest motivation to keep things understated. Plus, the more understated, the more timeless. I have customers who’ve been shopping at Unis for a decade now, and still have pieces from years and years ago, and (most of them) still look great.
You spend a lot of time in Los Angeles. How does it feel being bi-coastal? Are there any particular challenges or advantages it brings?
It’s been a little exhausting. I had two massive construction projects on both coasts, so it was an intense year. But, I’m now officially a United 1K member, which has all kinds of perks, so that helps.
Both cities are amazing, but the lifestyles are very different. In LA, my boyfriend and I keep things very low key. Lots of homecooked meals, nature hikes, etc. In NY, on the other hands, it’s all about getting shit done. Dinner plans every night, cabs to and from, and so on. I can’t say which I like more. But, I’m from New York, so it’s always going to be home.