Wythe: Tasteful and accessible Americana
Peter Middleton is an affable Texan with a real passion for fabrics. We talked previously for a PS piece on Navajo rugs, and also for an article about the design side of Ralph Lauren, where Peter (above, right) worked in fabric research.
But when we had dinner in New York recently, the subject was how his own brand - launched after leaving Ralph - has developed. Wythe had just opened its first store on the Lower East Side and suddenly the start-up was feeling rather bigger.
“It’s definitely more real now,” Peter says of Wythe, which started with a Kickstarter campaign for oxford shirts and is now in its fifth year. “There are more questions from the customers, more conversations in person.”
From my point of view, the store gave me more of an understanding of the Wythe products, having previously only seen things online and owned one piece (the Camp Friendly Pines overshirt).
Wythe wears its influences on its sleeve, with a pair of old cowboy boots hanging on the shop door and some of those Navajo rugs hanging around. Peter’s family are from Texas and the Adirondacks, and a love for those places runs through a lot of the clothing.
“It took me a while after leaving Ralph to feel confident in my own designs, that that background was relevant,” he says. “Bode was a big influence there, I like how every part of her brand is a different way to talk about her family lineage.
“At Ralph, by contrast, everything is from the outside - very little is from his own experience. I guess at Wythe I’ve found myself splitting the difference between the two, researching my family background but also bringing in influences from the time I’m interested in, like hunting or backcountry skiing.”
Peter didn’t have the easiest of starts. Although he had strong buyer reception for his first full collection in January 2020, that was swiftly shut down by Covid. Then as things started opening up in September 2021, his warehouse was flooded before stock could be shipped out. “So far, things with the store have been going more smoothly, but there’s always this lurking fear at the back of my mind.”
As a PS reader, one of the first things that will strike you if you visit the shop and begin trying clothing, is the difference between these pieces and the Japanese brands such as The Real McCoy’s we often cover.
Peter has a large archive and brings construction details from those vintage garments into his clothes, such as a particular trim, a stitch count, or the way a waistband is constructed.
But at the same time, he prefers clothes that have already been washed and softened, rather than selling a rawer product that will get there over time. “I have less patience for that kind of thing than I used to,” he says. “I’m 31 now. It feels like a long time to wait three years to get those jeans to wear I want them to be.”
The flannel shirts I recommended recently are a good example, with a softness you might not expect. And the cardigan and cord suit below are both surprisingly light.
Peter doesn’t necessarily want to go to some of the extremes of the Japanese repro brands either - which is reflected to an extent in his prices. “A lot of the modern buttons are stuck in even sizes - 24 ligne or 26 ligne - whereas the older pieces are often odd, like 25,” he says. “Often we’re not going to produce our own buttons for that small difference. Same goes for a zipper colour or doing the tape in cotton rather than a cotton/poly blend.”
That positions Wythe somewhere between those niche producers and mainstream America, whose products are generally pretty low quality and mass produced. Does he think that’s a sweet spot?
“It’s really hard to know to be honest - it depends how many normal guys out there care about the points we do,” he says. “I mean if you’re looking for a flannel shirt there are a million options out there, so that market’s well served.
“But I’d certainly rather find my own niche than try and compete with those Japanese brands. Like Orslow does a great OG107 trouser, and if I want one maybe I’ll go there - or we’ll recommend that to a customer. Same goes for some of the denim.”
My favourite pieces from Wythe tend to be the sturdier ones, like that jacquard overshirt I covered a couple of years ago, and the tweedy coats. But the Wythe range also stands out for me for its taste level, particularly the colour choices.
The biggest issue I have with flannel shirts from the repro brands is not that they’re too heavy or too expensive, but that the colours aren’t very flattering. I have some nice vintage examples (eg here) but even they are in quite stark colour combinations.
The Wythe ones are much more wearable, while still containing a lot of colour. The three pictured below, for instance, are nice despite the contrasting tones. Its something in the softness of the yellow, or the inclusion of brown rather than black.
That goes for other colour choices in the Wythe range too, such as this green collared sweatshirt. It’s not a colour I would have ever thought about, but it looked great when I tried it in person in New York.
“A lot of that comes from my time at Ralph Lauren,” says Peter. “If you look at the fabrics in a Ralph shop, 90% of those were custom developed. It’s not an option to just take something from stock - or if you do, it’s an inspiration which you then change and sample. Very few brands do that.”
A reader commented recently that the cuffs of the Wythe shirts are surprisingly large, and I’d echo that. I’d add that I found the chest pockets a little high on both the sweatshirts and the coats.
But I like the colour choice so much I’d likely get the sweatshirt anyway, and having seen everything in person, I’m much more interested to see what Peter and his team come up with in the future.
In the meantime, readers in New York are recommended to visit the store at 59 Orchard Street, and anyone that wants to learn more should look at the Editorials section of the Wythe site, as well as the product descriptions on each piece. There’s lots of detail there to get your teeth into.