Avant’s First E-Book
A new special edition of Avant magazine is just released. It’s the first e-book by the publisher, Eric Maggiori. For this special edition, he teamed-up with vintage denim expert Ricci Lau, better known as @denim_seeker on Instagram.
Time to sit down with Eric again to have a chat about this new exciting project themed: ‘Untold stories of rare workwear brands’.
LJ: You new book is themed ‘Untold stories of rare workwear brands’. Where is this book about, like what is the content, what can we expect?
EM: This book tells the story of 20 American workwear brands, brands that are not well known at all. When we think of workwear, we often think of Levi’s, Lee, Carhartt…We really wanted to get away from that, because the history of the United States is built on a set of brands, all over the country. So it was time to rehabilitate these forgotten brands, which have dressed thousands of workers all over the years. We have chosen 20 of them, and the reader will be able to dive into the journey of these companies and their founders.
LJ: How did you came up with the idea to use this topic? Was this something you already had in mind for a while?
EM: As a collector of American workwear, I feel it is essential to know the history of the brands in my collection. It would seem absurd to me to post a Klemm jacket on Instagram, for example, but to know absolutely nothing about this brand or the person who created it. It would be like hanging a painting in your living room without knowing the name of the painter. In the first issues of AVANT, I told the story of Stifel & Sons, Underhill, Stronghold…These brand stories are the articles I’m most excited about. So I thought I’d do a separate book dedicated to that. And here it is.
LJ: You made this book together with Ricci Lau, a well known person within the community that loves to dive into old brands, how long did you worked together on this project?
EM: Ricci and I share a passion for history and vintage clothing. I interviewed him for the 4th issue of AVANT. A few months ago, I saw that he was posting on Instagram little stories about unknown, or forgotten, brands. It was pretty short, but it highlighted a brand that only a few collectors knew about. I messaged him and said, “I’m researching unknown brands on my end, you’re researching unknown brands on your end…Why don’t we join forces and make a book about it?” As simple as that.
LJ: How did you managed the tasks with Ricci, where there specific brands that he was more interested in for example? Maybe you can share a bit of how you worked together?
EM: Initially, we compiled a list of about 300 brands. The initial idea was to do 100, so 50 each. Obviously, we quickly realized that to make 100 brands, it would take about 3 or 4 years of research, so we reduced it to 20. I chose 10, he chose 10, depending on our preferences. We each did research on our own brands, and we consulted each other when we were stuck on something, when something seemed illogical to us for example. And above all, we knew how to use our complementary strengths. I am a journalist, so my strength is writing. Ricci is a professor, he is very strong in research. Therefore, he did a lot of in-depth research, I checked the information he found, then I wrote the texts, and finally Ricci read the texts and validated them. In the end, we found a perfect balance.
LJ: Was it easy to get all the information together of the brands as almost most of them don’t exist anymore nowadays? Did you also had help from sources or people?
EM: No, it was really hard. We were really starting from scratch for each brand. Sometimes we just had a brand name. At best, we had the brand name and the company name. From there, you have to act like an investigator. You have to go digging on the Internet, in the online library archives, in the newspaper archives. The United States has an incredible collection of digitized period newspapers. You can read newspapers from the 1800s, region by region, it’s pretty crazy. After that, you have to be able to put all the information together, and that’s hard too. And the protagonists of the time didn’t really help us: more than a century ago, it was very common for someone to be called Robert, his son Robert and his grandson Robert. Sometimes you’d find that a guy named John Townsend founded a company in 1865, and in 1950 John Townsend is still president (laughs). In fact, it’s his descendant, but they have the same name, it drives you crazy (laughs). We also contacted sometimes the historians of the cities concerned, the museums, but the have little information too.
LJ: It’s the first e-book release of Avant after the successful print editions, why did you choose to launch it as an e-book?
EM: For several reasons. The subject, Untold stories of Rare Workwear brand, is extremely niche. American workwear is already a niche subject, so here we touch a niche subject within a niche subject. We can’t reach a large audience with such a subject, we know that, we wrote this book mainly out of pure passion and to share this passion with people as passionate as us.
To print a book, in 2022, it’s a huge cost. Like, really hug. The price of paper had already increased with the pandemic, but now it has literally exploded since the beginning of the war in Ukraine. Since the subject is niché, we would have had to make a smaller print run, with a huge selling price for the customer. This was not what we wanted.
The e-book was an ideal alternative: no printing costs, no shipping costs, you have it immediately on your phone or computer. Of course, it doesn’t replace the beautiful object that is AVANT, if that unique smell of paper. But it is part of this approach to create an extremely complete library on the history of clothing. There will be books, there will be e-books, and the two put together will help build up your absolute knowledge.
LJ: In the book are 20 rare and small (denim) workwear brands highlighted. Is there one specific brand that stands out for you, and why?
EM: I would say that there is one that particularly touched me. It is Klemm, because I own a Klemm x Stifel jacket. I researched this brand, and the fondeur, C.W. Klemm, was a German immigrant who came to Bloomington, Illinois, and opened his store on a snowstorm day. He cleared the walkway in front of his store himself to greet his first customers. The buttons of this brand are specific: it is a star surrounded by a moon. I spent hours looking for the meaning, but the information was impossible to find . And then, a few days before the e-book came out, I received a message on Instagram from a woman who told me that she was C.W. Klemm’s great, great, great granddaughter! So we got to talking, and I ended up asking her if she knew what the buttons meant. And she knew the answer ! « The night he arrived in Bloomington by train for the first time, my ancestor looked up to the sky. The sky was filled with thousands of stars, and he said he had never seen so many in his life. He saw it as a sign from heaven that Bloomington was the place for him to settle. And so when he created his brand, he took the symbol of the moon and stars. » I was able to put that in the book at the last minute, I was so happy (laughs).
LJ: What can we expect in the future, a next edition of an e-book? A follow-up with more stories of rare brands? Or do you have ideas to make a print edition of this topic in the future?
EM: For now, I’m going to focus on my next two books: AVANT 5, An Anthology of Western Wear, and an entire book dedicated to the Stifel brand. The first will be released in March 2023, the second probably in September 2023. But in parallel, Ricci and I continue to explore unknown brands. As soon as we’ve written 20 more, we’ll release a second volume, obviously. And then, who knows, maybe when we finally have 100, we’ll compile all our stories into a real book. But for now, that’s not in the cards.
LJ: How can people order the e-book?
EM: On the AVANT website: theavantmag.com. You click on the link, and 30 seconds later, you can read it! Great, isn’t it?