Alex Calderwood’s Design Philosophy Hinges on Carefully Chosen Clutter

As the creative mind behind the growing Ace Hotel chain, Alex Calderwood has established himself as one of the country’s most innovative boutique hoteliers (he prefers “cultural engineer”). Though he presides over a growing empire, including Ace outposts in Seattle, Portland, Palm Springs, and New York, Calderwood credits his inventive design approach to creative collaborative efforts (Kaws, Roman & Williams) and an advantageous sense of naiveté. Fittingly, he has followed an untraditional career path over the years, from concert- and party-promoting in Seattle to dealing dead-stock vintage clothing to founding the marketing and graphic-design firm NeverStop. In 1992, he launched Rudy’s Barbershop, a throwback-hip men’s grooming shop in Seattle (a precursor to Freemans); the chain has since expanded to over a dozen locations throughout the West Coast. This spring, he’ll unveil the first Rudy’s in New York on the first floor of the Ace Hotel, along with new retail spaces for downtown-cool clothiers Opening Ceremony and Project No. 8 next week. We talked to Calderwood about vintage clothing, the art of clutter, and his upcoming foray into retail.

How did the partnership with Opening Ceremony and Project No. 8 come about?
We appreciated a sort of independent spirit and intuitive curatorial eye in each of them. Both have a really strong collaborative approach to what they do, which is the way we like to work.

The area around the new Ace Hotel [at West 29th Street and Broadway] isn’t necessarily known for high-end stores. Are the retail collaborations meant to lure the fashion set?
Ace is very sort of egalitarian; we like to think of ourselves as inclusive, not exclusive. But I think it’s more about the editorial point of view of Opening Ceremony and Project No. 8; I think they’ll be very complementary to each other and the neighborhood. In some respect, it’s sort of an underserved area.

How would you describe your design aesthetic?
I think if you look at all of the hotels, there is still a relatively clean aesthetic. It’s a little bit spare, in a sense, but there’s also well-edited, carefully chosen clutter.

Who are your favorite designers?
I’ve always been very inspired by Margiela, and I love A.P.C. There’s also a new line out of L.A. called Apolis Activism, which was started by three brothers. I really love what they’re doing — there’s a special energy behind it.

Where do you like to shop?
Stock Vintage in the East Village is really well edited. And I just heard about this soccer supply store up on East 90th Street that I’m dying to go to. I don’t play anymore, but I love the graphics of soccer. I find inspiration in a lot of different places.

How would you describe your personal style?
My personal style is pretty simple. I love jeans and dress shirts; it’s a really good feeling when you put on a crisp dress shirt. At this point in my life, I literally wear Levi’s every day, with minimal exceptions.

What trends are you appreciating right now?
The most interesting stuff is really the vintage downtown stuff. If I have to think of all my favorite things I wear over the years, it’s probably things I’ve found. And a lot of times the fabric quality is actually better than what you find today, like with vintage military wools.

What’s one item you’re saving to buy?
I’ve actually been spending a lot of time in Palm Springs recently, and there’s a really fantastic thrift scene out there. I have my eye on a table that I want to ship back to New York: It’s this really big, low table made of a piece of salvaged wood.

What should every guy have in his closet?
A good set of wingtips.

What’s something you never leave the house without?
Last time I was in New York, I bought a Matt Brown wallet at the Smile. I never used to carry a wallet, but now I use it every day.

Alex Calderwood’s Design Philosophy Hinges on Carefully Chosen Clutter