At the studio of Second/Layer in the Garment District of Downtown Los Angeles, a dream is being carefully curated and executed by a small group of friends. Epitomizing California Cool, Second/Layer combines relaxed classic west coast style with high-end Portuguese fabrics. With long time friends Josh Willis and Anthony de Padovane at the helm as co-designers and Jacob, Josh’s brother, coordinating the business side of the brand, this team is on a fast track to greatness. The trio simultaneously run Article Number, a high-end footwear line.
We spoke to Josh and Anthony about the meaning behind their romance-themed creations and the inspiration behind the ideal Second/Layer pachuco man.
Where in LA are you both from?
Josh Willis: I’m from the Riv, from east east—east east Riverside.
Anthony de Padovane: Same thing. Grew up in the IE [Inland Empire], moved to LA in 2002.
So how did the three of you come together to make these brands?
Willis: We’ve just been homies for a minute. We’ve been homies since probably like ’01 or ’02. We met right out of high school and we had the same mentor. We hung around the same shops, Blends and Carve in Costa Mesa. We were always doing our own thing, but we had the same aesthetics. I think the brands that we started with, we learned a lot from. We learned the business part of it and we learned what it takes to build and make a brand and design a collection—all the other shit you don’t see. When we left our jobs, [de Padovane] moved to Paris and we were here doing this creative agency, floating work back and forth through the agency, just doing freelance shit. We were like, “Dog, it’s time to come home.” It was winter time I think, right?
De Padovane: Yeah. It was cold as fuck and I was ready to make a move. You know, Paris is good for a couple weeks, maybe a month, but after that, pshh… You realize how special California is.
What was the creative agency?
Willis: We had an agency called Agency KA & Associates. We did work for a lot of people. Some people we can mention, some we can’t. It was a good experience.
In addition to that, what design experience do you both have?
De Padovane: I was at Stüssy for nine years, started right out of college, maybe a week after graduating college back in 2002. And at the same time, I was doing freelance for Nike and a bunch of other brands. I had this audio/visual band, did that for nine years and eventually got burned out on the whole situation. Putting in all this work…
Willis: …for somebody else.
How did the Stüssy gig come to you?
De Padovane: Actually I didn’t even apply for the job. I graduated and sent my portfolio to a homie—Andrew [Lee], he’s doing this brand called Invisible Man—and he was good friends with Paul Mittleman. They asked me to come in for an interview. Did that.
Willis: Bodied it.
De Padovane: Yeah, haha. So it just made sense.
What’s the significance of the name Second/Layer?
De Padovane: We tried to strip down the name to its essential form, because we feel this way it makes the name timeless.
Willis: Just like with design. When you’re designing something, you want to deconstruct it to its core and build from that. I think that was our experience in learning, the process. To make something timeless you need to deconstruct it to take it as far as it can go and take it from there.
De Padovane: I mean, second layer, it’s an extension of yourself. It’s your clothing. It your second you.
“Style is something that you arrive to. You just don’t show up.”
So with the aesthetic of Second/Layer in mind, a lot of brands are starting to adapt and shift towards the “new trend” of wider leg pants to emulate this classic west coast/skater aesthetic. How have you felt about this since that’s naturally something you’re a part of?
Willis: I think the authenticity of it is just what we stand for. Like you said, it’s just us. We grew up in this culture of surf, skate, street, gangster…whatever you wanna call it. All my friends and cousins are all gangsters. And the both of us, we really took inspiration from the guys my mom would call a “suavecito”—the dudes that looked good all the time but were still in the hood. [They] never really left, but they drove a cool car and always had clean clothes and always had girls—kind of in the mix but separated themselves and did their own thing.
De Padovane: It was important for us to keep that undertone of all this inspiration and not make it a literal thing. We’re inspired by all this stuff, but it’s not one thing that defines us.
Willis: Yeah, because we’re not a skate brand. We’re not a surf brand. We’re not a fuckin’ “gangster” brand.
De Padovane: We’re us. In the laidback, easy upbringing of California, but with an elevated aesthetic. We’re focused on quality and tailored garments.
Willis: That’s part of what our mentor kind of put us up on. He was introducing designers like Margiela and Rei Kawakubo—designers that were in the mid ’80s and early ’90s doing real design shit, being very avant-garde at the time. And bringing it to where we were at, at the time—Costa Mesa, Orange County. Fuck, this is in the early 2000s/late ’90s and people were looking at it like, What the fuck is this?
De Padovane: That was our education to high fashion or high quality garments and avant-garde concepts.
Willis: And mixing it with what we were already rockin: vintage Levi’s, Dickies, white tees… But saving all of our money for three months to buy a Margiela jacket at wholesale.
De Padovane: My fit was a white pocket tee, a chain, black Levi’s, and some Jack Parcells or Chucks. That’s all we wore.
I think that’s why the brand is so authentic, it’s just something you do. It’s not like you’re going for a certain look.
De Padovane: We’re not trying to conceptualize a theme every season
It’s a continuous extension of one romanticized concept.
Willis: Just like with anything else, especially with style, you can always tell. I guess now, they’re on the blogs or on Instagram, and they’re checking stuff out, then the next day they have a whole kit! Style isn’t that. It’s something that you arrive to. You just don’t show up. I think that’s something that we’ve always been aware of, to some extent. We’re just gonna do us. Style is something that we’re gonna attain over years of putting something together. Maybe in 10 years, because of where we’re at at this point in time, maybe we’ll be wearing skinny pants and long T-shirts. I don’t know! But I guarantee you, it’ll be something authentic. It’ll be something that we arrived to, not just we show up with.
What’s your creative process?
De Padovane: We usually start with materials, just to know what’s available. And a color pallet. Then we start developing. We have our proprietary blocks and then we go into first fit. Then at the end we go into the graphic language and tie it all back together.
Willis: And start tweaking things, getting more intricate with the way something fits. When you see us, it’s just a small team, so we got to do everything. So it’s not like every day in, day out we have an on-going mood board that stays up throughout the season.
De Padovane: I don’t think we’ve had a mood board in like…
De Padovane: We do our research for ourselves, but it’s not like we’re doing a mood board to define us.
How’s the reaction to the most recent collection been?
Willis: From what we hear, it’s good. We saw it for the first time all together in Paris when we put it up on the rack and we were super stoked. At the end of the day, I guess that’s all that matters.
As long as you all are satisfied, what more can you ask for?
Willis: Yeah, if we’re not doing it for ourselves, then who the fuck are we doing it for?
You aren’t working for anybody and no one else owns Second/Layer, so it’s a self-gratification thing.
Willis: Yeah, but luckily for us, I think that buyers are beginning to be aware of this aesthetic and aware that it’s very easy and “commercial” to some extent for them—a merchandiser, general merchandising manager, or divisional merchandising manager, or buyer even—to look at it and be like, “Damn, I can fit this in somewhere.” It makes sense next to Marni or Acne or Gosha. There’s multiple ways of perceiving the collection and we’re lucky right now to start merchandising their floors in a way that gives us an opportunity to be there.
How did the Harvey Nichols collection happen?
De Padovane: A homie.
Willis: Yeah, and it made sense. Darren [Skey, Harvey Nichols’s Head of Menswear] noticed something in us. And he noticed the aesthetic that we’re proposing. [Harvey Nichols] were just building out a new floor. I don’t know if we were in mind when they were initially doing it, but we sit there now and think that it’s gonna be something good for them. It’s one of the stores and he’s one of the buyer/merchandisers that gets the aesthetic, that gets that it can be commercialized.
De Padovane: The timing is finally right. Josh and I have always been a part of something where we’re too ahead of the time or the timing just wasn’t right for what we’re doing, but finally it makes sense.
Where do you think the new wave of menswear and American designers is going?
Willis: Fuck, I don’t know. Hopefully we’re blazing the trail. Hopefully it’s what we’re doing. But I think that there’s a lot of other propositions that are being commercialized right now that I think make sense as well, that are very viable for the marketplace. John Elliot, Amiri, even Fear of God—they all are doing their own thing and I think it’s good, especially for American designers, especially for designers in Los Angeles, to start getting play. Hopefully we can all sit together and give each other high fives while our shit sits together in Barney’s.
What can we expect next from Second/Layer?
De Padovane: We’re just gonna keep doing what we’re doing, keep evolving this idea of elevated essentials and wearable clothing for trying to get dudes laid.
Willis: Yeah! And I think the proposition is to have men start to be more interested in tamed, tailored garments, in garments that are, as we call it, tailored daily wear. Like a pair of trousers, but it’s not an Italian tailored trouser. Like Ant said, a girl’s gonna notice you. Instead of being in some basic shit, she’s gonna be like, “Oh shit…”
Willis: Yeah, exactly.
De Padovane: It’s like a mix of a wife beater, a nice pair of trousers, and some sneakers. [This is the exact outfit that de Padovane is wearing.]
Willis: Woah bro, get off yourself.
De Padovane: Aye, case and point right there.
Photos by Rob Patrick