“It’s not a concept if it’s a lifestyle.” For Spencer Antle (right), founder and creative director of Island Company, that isn’t so much a motto as it is a fact. Antle, the creative mind behind the clothing/lifestyle brand, lives the vibe Island Company instills: exotic, airy, liberated.
For 10 years, Island Company has been steeped in Caribbean colors, bold Polynesian patterns and the light airiness of Arabian linen. The clothing line is about that lifestyle, imbuing a sense of worldliness, a well-traveled casualness only achievable through a three-week jaunt with a single carry-on bag. It’s the way Antle lives his life, and it’s carried through to the brand’s lines, each designed in-house, from the patterns on the fabric, to the cut of the jib. It’s a process inspired through life and the functionality of being casually comfortable.
Island Company, now rooted in five locations, including the Third Street South store in Naples, all started with a single bikini. On the eve of a Caribbean holiday Antle’s then-girlfriend could not find a suitable bikini. On a lark, Antle, who was working as a television commercial director and screenplay writer, got down to business and designed a few on spec. What came from this impromptu design session was Island Company’s first line of 13 bikinis. Things took off, and with a bit of hard work, the brand has evolved into a lifestyle, selling the ideal Antle sought in his tropical travels through T-shirts, tumblers and key chains. The “Quit Your Job | Buy a Ticket | Get a Tan | Fall in Love | Never Return” mantra was never about the clothes but the experience.
“We’re selling escapism,” Antle says over cocktails, which speaks to another point of the Island Company experience: a different philosophy on retail.
“There is not really a lot of experience in retail,” Antle says. “When you walk into a place, it’s like, ‘Everything is on sale. Buy this.’ Here, it’s, ‘Come in and hang out. Don’t worry about buying anything.’ But customers do anyway.”
Island Company has grown since those first years. Antle’s past experiences as a director, pilot, screenplay writer and world traveler all play a part in the direction of the brand, and his current gig is as creative director. He spends his free time now as a music producer and an advertising consultant. Island Company has branched out as well, growing from a swimsuit line to include a women’s resort collection, a men’s collection, a line of eyewear designed completely in-house and handcrafted in Italy, a collection of beach accessories, flip-flops and even a line of sun-care products, because Antle was “sick of Hawaiian Tropic, so we made our own.” But Antle and crew are the last to rest on their laurels. Island Company is in a state of constant expansion, almost to a point of exhaustion.
“We are growing so fast, we’re just trying to figure out how to make it happen,” Antle says.
He’s also working on a rum recipe, looking to broaden the beauty/bath line beyond sun care and eyeing an expanded run of eyewear—all of this on top of the latest fashion collection expected to hit stores in October.
“It’s just a constant state of doing,” Antle says. “I am definitely on my own path here, not trying to compete with anyone, just trying to get [things] done.”
Following is our conversation with Antle on what’s next.
What was the direction of the latest collection?
I wanted it to be a little more airy, free and light. Kind of easy. I guess that’s where my head wants to be right now—and probably everyone else’s, too. … Going into this year, everyone is trying to figure out, color-wise, how to relax. So something softer, lighter and airy in terms of color and fabric.
What about inspiration?
I’m not traveling that much for fun, so the inspiration is just guttural, coming out of instinct: What [am I] feeling like? What’s going on?
Before I was doing this, I was writing screenplays about the Caribbean and about the people going to the tropics, existing in that mind-set. [The inspiration for Island Company] is not a trait or a gimmick. It’s not a concept. It’s my personality.
[Design inspiration] was always about exotic locales, exotic people and interesting stuff. So some of it comes from whatever interests me at that moment. It’s not like it’s going to be some “Great Gatsby” theme this year or any of that. It can literally be: I’m tired and need a vacation, so what can that mean? What do I want to see? Light pastels and girls wearing a lot of white. Flowy stuff. That kind of vibe.
More with Antle on Page 2
What were some of your early influences?
It was weird, [but] one of the first things to influence me when I was in high school was the old Banana Republic store, when they were safari-themed stores in the [early] ’80s. You’d walk in and they would have this huge elephant there and crates full of clothes or a Jeep. … When you walked in, it was an environment.
This was before it was bought out by the Gap, … when this husband and wife [Mel and Patricia Ziegler] owned it. One was a travel writer and the other an illustrator. They would travel to Zimbabwe, buy all these extra shirts from the Army, take out the tags and put in the Banana Republic thing. It was this “found fashion” thing for travelers and mercenaries. That’s what made it cool.
As the creative director, you’re taking on many different roles. How do you keep it all straight?
It is not really being creative 95 percent of the time; it’s 5 percent being creative and 95 percent creatively managing the problems. Something always goes wrong, so it’s [figuring out] what do you want to do about this when it does.
It’s a constant state of just doing it. It’s controlled chaos. I don’t know how it works, but it’s successful. Now it’s just about getting people around me to help support and make sure I am not killing myself. We seem much bigger than [Island Company] actually is; it’s really just a lot of people doing 10 different things at once. It works, I don’t know how.
Where the next stop in your travels?
The South Pacific intrigues me, though I have not been there yet. We want to open a store in Australia. Hong Kong blew us away. Bangkok and Thailand are sick. There is so much cool stuff going on over there.
I was never interested in the East at all, but then I went and Hong Kong. … It is so upscale, so clean; it’s like New York meets South Beach because it has this warm temperature.
What else is next for Island Company?
We’re working on a shoe line and bath and beauty—expanding on the sun-care line. We are expanding the eyewear. … Everyone wants the Quit Your Job thing, so we are expanding that. We are also doing more content stuff on the website. We’re trying to grow the company one evolution at a time.