A Conversation With Brian Kaminer, Design Director for U.S. Polo Assn.

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Kaminer-Post.jpgAs the global design director for the U.S. Polo Assn. brand, Brian Kaminer is responsible for both the design and brand direction at all of the company's international licensees. During his 38-year career, Kaminer has held product development and senior merchandising roles for a number of internationally-recognized apparel brands, including Land's End, Nautica, Williams Sonoma, and Tommy Hilfiger. Here, Kaminer discusses how his stores are stocked with real polo equipment, memorabilia, and images from actual polo matches; how the globalization of the apparel industry will continue to challenge the design world; and why he gets so excited about social media that he has to set limits for himself.

What do you say when people ask you, "What do you do?"

I create and develop unique experiences for consumers around the world. From product design to material selection to advertising to the scent of the retail store, my job is to make sure that the consumer connects with the brand through everything they come into contact with.

As global design director for the U.S. Polo Assn. brand, I'm constantly thinking through how to share the experience of a polo match with my consumer. The sport of polo has been around for thousands of years and the U.S. Polo Assn. brand is -- I hope -- an embodiment of that heritage, not just a fashion brand. Our stores feature real polo equipment, memorabilia, and images from actual polo matches; the people that appear on our website and in our campaigns are actual polo players. Everything we do and say must reflect the core values of the sport. I also see our brand an ambassador of the American lifestyle and based on the growth of our brand I think that's been embraced around the world -- we've seen tremendous growth in China and other markets outside the U.S.

I've had the privilege of working with global brands like Tommy Hilfiger, Williams-Sonoma, Inc., Land's End, Nautica, and now with U.S. Polo Assn. The one thing I've found in common is that it's all about having a vision. With some imagination and some time I can create anything.

What new idea or innovation is having the most significant impact on the design world?

The computer has had a tremendous impact on what I do. It used to be everything had to be done by hand and I often found myself constantly traveling around the world to oversee production. Using a computer I'm better able to communicate my designs and ensure that the final product is exactly as I envisioned. Not that I don't love seeing my international colleagues, but now I'm actually troubleshooting design problems in real time. I often use a webcam to talk with colleagues on the other side of the world about our products. We can actually hold designs up to the camera, look at new fabrics and designs together, and brainstorm solutions to any problems we encounter. Computers and technology have really revolutionized the development of products.

What's something that most people just don't understand about your field?

It's not easy to create a great product. What sometimes looks very simple is extremely difficult to execute well. Developing great product is like cooking, you taste and add ingredients until it's just the way you want it. The first sample is just the beginning of the design process.

What's an emerging trend that you think will shake up the design world?

The globalization of the apparel industry will continue to challenge the design world. As U.S. brands increasingly target global markets, the product that that we develop will have to change to adapt at other taste levels and values. For example, in the U.S. we have trouble selling products made of wool where elsewhere it's a staple in a Fall assortment. One of the things I try to do with the U.S. Polo Assn. brand is to create product to appeal to a wide audience that still maintains the look and feel of our brand and the American lifestyle.

What's a design trend that you wish would go away?

Polyester wicking fabrics. Enough said. Good quality cotton always looks and performs better.

What's an idea you became fascinated with but that ended up taking you off track?

New technology always gets me really excited. Recently, I've been excited about social media, but learned that I have to set limits for myself. Social media is a great way to break down barriers and stay in touch, but too much media coming at me tends to throw me off. I don't want to say that I'm ADD, I'm just creative. I sometimes have to say, "I'm not going to open any email, I'm not going to respond to Skype, I'm not going to look at Twitter." There just has to be time when I can step back and think.

Who are three people you'd put in the design-world Hall of Fame?

My mother, because she understood and created apparel that made women happy. Jony Ive from Apple. No explaination needed. Also, Tom Ford for taking the time to create simple yet great things.

What other field or occupation did you consider going into?

It's always been apparel, I love everything about it.

What website or app most helps you do your job on a daily basis?

Google is incredible, I couldn't live without it. Where once I spent hours in the library now the world is at my fingertips. I also like the The Sartorialist blog.

What song's been stuck in your head lately?

This tends to change on an hourly basis. I hear a song and then that song is stuck in my head until I see another. This morning, I heard "Love the Way You Lie," by Eminem & Rihanna, so that's what's stuck in my head now.

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Nicholas Jackson is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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