BY Shana Braff
The nautical fashion trend is widely believed to have royal origins, beginning with Queen Victoria, who in 1846 commissioned a child’s sailor’s uniform for her 4-year-old son, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, from wear in public. The royal garment was an identical replica of naval uniforms of that time and was later captured forever in a painting by preeminent portrait painter Franz Winterhalter. This helped spark a fashion craze, which made nautical-inspired clothing fashionable for high-ranking women and men as well as children. In 1858, the French Navy included the Breton shirt as a uniform, and in 1917 French fashion icon Coco Chanel released her own take on these nautical stripes, which quickly became a preppy, yet slightly edgy, dress staple. worn by legendary stars such as Audrey Hepburn and James Dean – and the rest, as they say, is history.
The timeless, casual elegance evoked by nautical clothing is chicer today than ever and is enjoying a resurgence as many people tire of the poor quality “fast fashion” and hip looks that are around today and missing tomorrow.
This philosophy is evident in the collaboration between longtime friends, who have known each other since childhood, James Acierno and John Troha, who in 2013 founded Old Soldier to pay homage to the maritime history of their hometown of Sayville. . It is normal that the mark bears the name of the boat of the father of Acierno. South Shore’s Old Soldier creates nautical-themed clothing and accessories that are both fashionable and functional for the sailing lifestyle. Their in-house designed items are printed locally to maintain their authentic vision and high quality standards.
The business partners, who now reside in the Bayport-Blue Point area, both have professional jobs and consider Old Soldier a “passion project.” However, this labor of love is gaining momentum in the fashion industry. They recently collaborated with J. Crew, the brand synonymous with more affordable classic pieces. This joint venture featured a collection of items inspired by the two brands’ New York history, and their items are featured on both the J. Crew website and Instagram. Additionally, the duo put together a “Long Island Guide” for J. Crew, featuring some of Long Island natives’ favorite local restaurants and beaches on the South Shore that are recommended for tourists coming to the area.
“We both grew up skateboarding; many of our friends were surfers. [We did] snowboarding in the winter, and we loved it all,” said Acierno. “We wore those kind of brands, but one thing we also did, especially when the weather was nice, was boating, going to the beach, all that stuff, and we didn’t really see a brand like that, which represented this kind of lifestyle, at least as we wanted to represent it.
He explained where the initial spark of inspiration first appeared in sporty young men, with a penchant for sport and an eye for style. The friends began to perceive a shortage in the market of a clothing and lifestyle brand compatible with sailors on the south shore of Long Island.
A penchant for a seafaring lifestyle and a respect for the lineage from which this culture derives, is in Acierno’s blood.
“My dad is actually in the vintage boat business,” he said. “The name Old Soldier comes from his antique boat which was built in 1946 on the Harlem River in New York, and so as we got older we realized there were a lot of cool things, as far as antiques and l maritime history, and how it relates to New York, so we started to incorporate some of that into the brand as well.
Growing up they also shared an interest in doing things and that, combined with their appreciation of the past, evolved into what Old Soldier stands for today.
“We kind of wanted to make clothes for the boat and the beach that we wanted to wear, and we saw that there was kind of a gap that nobody was making that stuff. So, we thought we might as well do it,” Troha said. “We kind of started DIY, and that’s been the brand philosophy all along.”
A salient aspect that sets Old Soldier apart from some other similar brands, for whom the maritime aesthetic is just a pose, is that it is both substance and style, and the nautical theme is more than superficial.
“It’s a real way of life. We’re not one of those brands that think, “Let’s drop an anchor on a hat or a shirt, and call it nautical,” explained Acierno. “No, we actually pass on a lot of authentic nautical and maritime history in our products.”
The practical clothing designer explained how, for example, the shirts they made for J. Crew feature a lifeline that says “Seaport 1989” on it.
“It’s not just something we came out of nowhere; it was the first J. Crew store that opened in South Street, Seaport, New York, in 1989, so it’s kind of a commentary on that history,” he said, evoking the thought that underpins every piece designed by Old Soldier.
Acierno and Troha leave no doubt that for them a nautical aesthetic is the outward representation of an inner worldview and historical understanding. For example, another recent design from the brand features the classic image of a man at the helm of a speedboat.
“It’s Gar Wood, and then he lists some of his records,” Acierno explained. “He was the first person to reach, and then exceed, 100 miles per hour on the water. The famous speedboat racer is someone only a true sailing enthusiast would probably know today, even if he was a well-known racer in the early 1920s.”
Although a local brand, they have an international distribution and are doing particularly well in Japan and Thailand, where the classic American style is thriving.
As for what the future holds for the brand with historic cachet, Acierno said, “This release of J.Crew has been a really big boost for us, in terms of growing the business… So we definitely looking to grow and collaborate with other brands and companies, and people who we believe have a similar vision.
The brains behind Old Soldier have also taken their passion for history and applied it to buying and selling antiques and recycling vintage shirts. “To bring things back to life, so to speak,” Acierno explained.
In keeping with the utilitarian aspect of Old Soldier, these items are not just collectibles, but are meant to be portable.
“If you go to our website, you’ll see we have some older items for sale that we just thought were really cool and could use another life, basically,” Troha said.
Also, in line with functional items for the nautical lifestyle, they just released a new bag with J.Crew, which will also be on the Old Soldier site in a few weeks. It’s a large beach tote, with several pockets inside for storage, and the whole space of the tote is made of a unique nylon, which is waterproof.
“So just that kind of stuff that we unfortunately learned the hard way,” Troha explained. “We had a lot of bags where we were like, we need a waterproof bag.”
“That’s a big reason why we definitely see success in our business,” Acierno said of the brand’s authentic immersion in the lifestyle it represents. Old Soldier represents classic and utilitarian pieces. “Things that look good now, but will look just as good in five or 10 years. So we design with a future mindset. It’s a look as timeless as the sea. It’s almost a future-vintage type vibe.
To see the full range of apparel and accessories, or to purchase a usable piece of maritime history, go to oldsoldier.net, jcrew.com or check them out on Instagram @oldsoldier.