As legend has it, Zanerobe began as a bet between friends Leith Testoni and Jonathan Yeo over whether Testoni could design a better shirt than the so-called “hideous” one the two spotted on a stranger. Over a decade later, Zanerobe is now a leading outpost of menswear in Australia, looking to move past safe heritage designs and push towards new silhouettes and fabrics. We recently spoke with Testoni about the evolution of Zanerobe (named for Testoni’s desire to be called Zane as a kid, and Yeo’s re-imagining of the French word “garden robe”) from friendly wager, to a full fledged team of designers and employees, what inspires them outside of the fashion world, and what’s next for the brand as Australia prepares for summer. We’re also excited to welcome five new arrivals from Zanerobe, now available in stores and online.

Shop Zanerobe at OAK.

OAK: Your brand started as bet between you and Jono, and took off from there. Is there still a competitive nature in your working relationship and branding? 
LEITH TESTONI: Ha – no not really. Our team is a big wolf pack. We have some super talented designers on our team and our office is a pretty cohesive environment. We are more challenging each other to mix things up, take some risks and change the status-quo rather than competing with each other internally. It’s an exciting process.

OAK: At what point did you realize that this was all more than just a bet over a few beers, or rather that you had started something that was making an impact in fashion?
LT: We have always focused on designing things that we want to wear and that ethos stays true today. It is exciting that more people are starting to share this vision and aesthetic. We don’t really see ourselves as having an impact on fashion or get too involved in our impact on the market. We are more focused on improving, doing things we enjoy and making product that we want to wear everyday.

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 9.49.38 AMZanerobe ‘Das Buro’ track short in charcoal.

OAK: Outside of fashion, what elements (music, art, film etc.) are important influences to Zanerobe? How are these incorporated in your designs?
LT: Music – House music mainly. We are lucky in that we are supported by Pioneer in both Australia and the USA with full CDJ-2000 decks and festival grade speaker systems. Most of our staff are DJs, either in their own bedroom or some of them work nights and weekends at venues. I’m not sure how much effect this has on our designs. It makes us happy and that’s always good in inspiring a creative work environment.

OAK: What drew you to the name Zane as a kid? If you had to choose any other name to have now, what would it be?
LT: Good question – got me. I don’t have anything profound to support my desire. Let’s leave it a mystery.

OAK: In our interview with TBA shoes (based in Portland, OR) we asked them what a TBA movie would look like from plot, to who would star. Interestingly enough, their film was set in the coastal cities of Australia. What about Zanerobe: The Movie? Would your film take place in the Pacific Northwest of the US? Who would be in it?
LT: It’s funny how the grass is always greener on the other side. I don’t argue with your theory – my movie would probably be in British Columbia, Canada in the remote wilderness with some caribou, wild bears, Travis Rice and a really angry Christian Bale…

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 9.49.12 AMZanerobe ‘Munk’ elastic waist pant in indigo.

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 9.48.45 AMZanerobe ‘Sureshot’ elastic waist pant in camo.

OAK: And the film’s soundtrack?
LT: I’m torn here – much like my own musical tastes, [something] between a dark Nick Cave score to an amine edge and DANCE house DJ set….

OAK: While our summer in the US is about halfway done, the spring and summer down under is about to begin. What are you looking forward to most about the season? 
LT: Some of the new shorting silhouettes are definitely what myself and the team are excited about. I’m liking the slightly larger/boxier shape in shorting with a subtly longer front and back rise. It’s a super relaxed and comfortable aesthetic but has a little more of a forward fashion look. We are running some really cool fabrications in these fits, from high stretch cotton drills, to denim look fleece.

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 9.50.23 AMZanerobe ‘Sureshot’ elastic waist short in tan floral.

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 9.49.58 AMZanerobe ‘Sureshot’ elastic waist short in camo.

OAK: What’s one trend in menswear you’d like to see more of in 2013-14? What trend needs to die off?
LT: I’m a big fan of innovation in menswear. I totally understand the whole heritage vibe and I really love some of the heritage brands, I just feel like there is room for a little more innovation in fabrications and silhouettes. It seems to be a default position for new brands at the moment, particularly in the US, where brands try to “out-heritage” each other. Some of the results are really beautiful with unparalleled craftsmanship, but it’s very safe design. I like a few more risks being taken.

OAK: Menswear has come a long way in recent years from a time when it seemed like an afterthought for designers, to now where envelopes are being pushed and menswear is becoming a major focus for a lot of brands. What are your thoughts on the evolution of menswear, and where does Zanerobe fit into that storyline?
LT: Many brands are now exclusively focused on menswear and for good reason. I feel like menswear needs a different mindset to womenswear to retain authenticity and remain relevant. Trends that work in womenswear don’t necessarily translate to menswear and vice versa. We as a brand have evolved significantly over the past 1–2 years as guys are taking more risks than ever before which is an exciting time for designing menswear. I’m not quite sure where we fit into the storyline but I feel like we are an honest reflection of what guys are wearing on the east coast of Australia at the moment. The Australian market is one of the fastest evolving menswear markets in the world. We previously took a lot of input and influence from international markets but our more recent collections have focused back to our roots in Sydney.