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Grey New York Grey New England

by Kathryn Boughton

Milan, New York and—Washington CT? The bucolic New England town, with its fields and forests seems a far cry from the urban sophistication of those megapolises, but the connection is real. For Grey New York Grey New England, a new leather collection for men, is firmly rooted in all three locations.

While the line is handcrafted in Milan it is inspired by Kneen’s own lifestyle, living between a New York loft in the heart of Manhattan and a colonial farmhouse in Washington. With Kneen now living full-time in Washington, his international start-up is headquartered in that rural enclave.

The luxury line has its own direct-to-customer online store—it will not be presented permanently in an upscale New York City outlet until next year—but it will soon be on view in a pop-up store near Kneen’s local address. He will debut his collection of leather bags, small leather goods and leather sneakers at Privet Lives, an adjunct of Privet House, 13 East Shore Road, New Preston.

The show opens Saturday, September 16th, and will continue through the end of October.

“The fact that Simon Kneen now has his headquarters in Washington is part of what is so thrilling about this,” said Privet House co-owner Suzanne Cassano. “The collection is online now, but this will be its debut in a retail setting.”

She added that in addition to the pop-up shop, Kneen will be designing some “bullet-proof” canvas bags with leather handles and bottoms and palladium metalwork exclusively for Privet House.

“For Privet House, it was love at first sight,” she said. “We fell hook, line and sinker for this luxury lifestyle brand and its dedication to great design and incomparable quality.”

The line fits perfectly with the concept Cassano and her partner, Richard Lambertson, had when they opened Privet Lives, an adjunct to their lifestyle shop, Privet House. “When we opened it, our goal was to host brands, designers and artisans who produced things not readily available in this area. We are always looking for something highly covetable but not generally distributed here. The pop-up shops last a month to two months.”

The Grey New York Grey New England brand name reflects the dual urban experience and a more relaxed out-of-town feeling enjoyed by so many of Western Connecticut second-home owners. The New York portion of the collection is slicker, with smooth German calf and palladium metalwork, while the New England offerings are softer, offered in natural tones and supple pebble-grain leather. Prices start at $45 for bags and $490 for smaller leather goods. At the upper end of the line is a custom crocodile backpack at $22,000.

“I am not saying it (the line of leather goods) is cheap,” said Cassano, “but compared to Hermes’ $75,000 crocodile handbag, it’s a steal.”

Kneen, who was formerly creative director at Banana Republic and who spent many years at the head of luxury brands in Europe, got to know the world of Italian leather craft intimately during his 35 year career and he turned to one particular factory in Milan when setting up his new venture. The 30-piece line includes small leather items such as wallets, passport cases, key chains, duffels, totes, briefcases, backpacks and even sneakers. “Leather sneakers are the fastest growing style,” said Cassano, “especially for men.”

“Design should always have an experimental side,” Kneen said in a statement, “whether using new techniques or technologies. I love to push the boundaries of how to make something simple into something extraordinary.”

In a 2013 piece in People magazine, he wrote, “I believe that that the road toward something really good, or dare I say great, is that all design – not just fashion design – is well beyond creativity and innovation, art and culture and doing all-nighters to get your project done on time. I really believe that you have to give generously through your design the very best of what you can invent. You have to believe that everything you do is going to make the world – maybe in some very small way – a better place to be.”

Privet House is open Wednesdays through Mondays, 11AM to 5:30PM; 860-868-1800.