The best labor is always the labor of love, and I'm sure no designer knows this better than Chris Isenberg of No Mas. The journalist turned sportswear designer stuck with what he knew when he started the label back in 2004. Creating items that are neither trend fad, nor trend driven, he has been able to parlay his passion for sports into a label that knows no age or season.
But don't be confused; although the brand is stocked by stores notorious for carrying some of the biggest names in streetwear, not by any means does the label fall into that category. He doesn’t ‘do’ streetwear. Actually, its quite the opposite, the Oxford graduate tells me of his line, whose very marketable nostalgia keeps orders pouring in from boutiques like Bodega, and The Reed Space.
When Chris left the magazine world in 2002, not being able to find an outlet for his tone, and the subject matter that appealed most to him. It wouldn't be until 2003 when he found a new medium with which to tell his stories:
"During that time, I found this old picture of Muhammad Ali when he was Cassius Clay,right before the Sonny Liston fight in 1964. He was wearing this t-shirt that had this script "Cassius Clay" on it that I just felt was so cool, and I thought it was so much a part of this amazing moment-- and then, the name was so charged. So, I felt like it was really a part of the story, and I just wanted to have one of those shirts for myself to wear."
So, he enlisted the help of a graphic designer friend, who then reproduced the design for he and a few friends to wear. Says Chris, "It was really clear from the response, (walking around the street) that people wanted it." This was when it dawned on him that in his mind, he had stored a wealth knowledge of sports history, and that through his line he could connect in a special way to the legions of other sports fanatics out there. No Mas is not about mass appeal or marketing ploys. The colors, typography and graphics he chooses have more to do with the look of the decade, and making sure the essence of that moment in history is captured in the garment. For the Fall 2008 collection, Chris chose to let the wind take him in a slightly different direction, citing influences from the '20s, '30s, and '40s:
"When you take script from the '20s, some kind of hand-drawn font that was on a book cover, (and you try to translate that) its not really 'gonna go with super-pop, 80s, kind of colors. And I think that the stuff if more tonal; its more stripped down, its simpler. As I said, I don't ever consider myself to be a 'streetwear designer.' You know, that label (that sometimes) they put on a brand because of the stores they sell in. I think streetwear, a lot of times, the way they give value to the customer is by giving them the most color that they possibly can; the most 'color', the most 'different females' they possibly can. I wouldn't wear stuff like that. And then (stores like) Dr. Jay's knock them off; it gets clowned... I definitely did not set out to make clowned... I definitely did not set out to make streetwear. I'm not a purchaser of 'quote, unquote' streetwear. I'm not from the street."
But most importantly, its a label without age demographics. "We have sixty-year-old dudes who buy all the stuff on our site," he says of the line's widespread appeal. Continues Chris, "the age spectrum runs the gamut." Which makes sense when you consider all of the events in sports history that the label touches on. The brand's slogan is the thrill of victory and the ecstasy of defeat, which is exactly what it's all about; No Mas is about the rich history of sports, and the amazing stories that follow. "If I had to try and make something that I didn't like, I would leave making clothing. If it's not interesting to me on that level, I wouldn't want to do it."