In anticipation of the launch of Robert Geller’s new line, Gustav von Aschenbach, Vogue posed a simple question; “Who is Gustav von Aschenbach?” And a fair question it is. Though Robert Geller is a name known for his involvement at Cloak, and then his own eponymous line, little is known about the latest product of a decade-plus veteran of the industry. Geller himself called the brand “commercial”, but it is used in another sense than as a term of derision. Instead, for Geller, the idea of commerciality is accessibility, something which is often lost in contemporary runway fashion, both in price and aesthetic. The idea of commerciality is particularly important to Geller as he designs exclusively for men, an arena with less difference between high street and high fashion than womenswear historically has been.
Thomas Mann and Robert Geller
Thomas Mann’s novella Death in Venice is largely considered to be one of the 20th century’s finest works in the roman a clef style, and is frequently associated, alongside Mann himself, with modernism. The character in particular who Geller takes the name from, Gustav von Aschenbach, is the protagonist of Mann’s work, and has striking similarities with Geller himself. Aschenbach is introduced as such in the opening lines of the piece:
Gustav Aschenbach or von Aschenbach, as he had officially been known since his fiftieth birthday, set out alone from his residence in Munich's Prinzregentenstrasse on a spring afternoon in 19..—a year that for months had shown so ominous a countenance to our continent—with the intention of taking an extended walk. Overwrought from the difficult and dangerous labors of the late morning hours, labors demanding the utmost caution, prudence, tenacity, and precision of will […]
The portrayal of Aschenbach is immediately as one who takes their work rather seriously, perhaps even too seriously, given the ironic weight Mann places on Aschenbach’s career as a writer. It is also to set up further, and to contextualize the end of the story, where, in a fit of love, Aschenbach degrades himself in all manner of ways, particularly striking given his seriousness towards himself at his introduction. It’s with this that one needs consider Geller as a designer, ‘labors’ of design.
Geller is a German-born American, and has been working in fashion since 2001. A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, or, more famously known as RISD, Geller started his career after school working with Marc Jacobs. He would work on four different collections with Marc Jacobs before launching his first independent line alongside Alexandre Plokhov; Cloak. Cloak would go on to be critically lauded, winning the Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation Award in 2003, and would then be awarded a CFDA one year later in 2004. With winning the Ecco Domani Award, Geller solidified his talents amongst the likes of Zac Posen, Alexander Wang, and Rodarte. Geller would leave Cloak at what many consider to be it’s height in 2004, with the label closing three years later in 2007. In 2006, after a few years of absence from independent work, Geller launched a womenswear line; Harald. It was with the success of Harald that Geller re-established his name, and eventually secured backing for an eponymous line. That line, Robert Geller, launched in 2007, and has made Geller’s name individually in the industry.
Robert Geller has established himself as an industry leader in menswear, and menswear of a very specific vein. Geller is known for tailored basics, subtle graphic touches, and a sense of gravity when designing. There is none of the irony of Vetements or Scott’s Moschino in the work of Geller, who provides a welcome breath of minimalism and intricacy to his works. Geller is also known industry-wide for his fabric choices, including largely being sourced from Japan, a welcome origin, especially when even luxury brands are resorting to manufacturing in Moldova, Turkey, and China. It’s an image cultivated over his many years in the industry, and it is the construction of this image which provides us with a reason for Gustav von Aschenbach. Geller’s current theme is that of age, and nowhere is that more present or obvious than in his work on his newest creation. Gustav von Aschenbach (Both as per Mann and Geller) is a work of youthfulness. It approaches this in multiple ways. First and foremost, the brand is focused on a younger audience. It is at a lower price point than anything Geller has historically done, with the most expensive jackets only approaching $500, a far cry from the many thousands other brands often charge. It is also an aesthetic expression more youthful than Geller’s often more tailored and serious presentations, and, in that sense, a confrontation of the seriousness of fashion in a manner completely different than the much-less-subtle aforementioned examples of Moschino or Vetements.
Beyond the idea of youthfulness in fashion as a whole, there is a more personal side to the project for Geller, who recently took a break from New York Fashion Week after showing his tenth anniversary collection. The modern fashion industry is much more fleeting than that of decades past, with brands folding at record pace and creative directors being ushered out sooner than they're brought aboard. Geller, now 41, has a chance to reflect on his own age, as stated in an interview with Vogue:
“I turned 40 last year,” says Geller. “I am in that in-between age. I feel young, but people are saying, ‘Oh, you’re in the old guard now.’ It’s kind of funny. Gustav von Aschenbach is a reflection of how I want to dress now versus how I wanted to dress 10 years ago. It’s about comfort, ease, accessibility. I want this collection to hit a really broad spectrum of ages—from the grown-up man to the youthful, crossing that in-between.”
It is with this in mind that we really get a sense for both the name and the look of the brand. Where Mann's Gustav von Aschenbach chased a young Tadzio through Venice, confronting his own age, gravity, and sense of self, Geller's von Aschenbach deals with similar themes. Geller further opts to not present a runway for the brand, shirking one of fashion's most time-honoured and iconic traditions in favour of a much more stark, see-now, buy-now style.
Gustav von Aschenbach is shoppable at Common here.