Photos by Larry Hirshowitz

“We try to take a culture and make it a clash of cultures. You know, take a kid from California who’s shipped to a boarding school in the Northeast and thrown into the old-money lifestyle. Or for ‘Blue Collar Caribbean,’ our story was based on a native who grew up working in the cane fields but got a summer job on a yacht, with all the amenities that go with it. Our story is always kind of about taking two things that don’t mix and putting them together.”

John Whitledge isn’t talking about a production company’s latest feature or a plot for a novel. He and partners Josia Lamberto-Egan, Jeff Halmos and Sam Shipley are storytellers of a sort, but their medium is clothes. “We always create design around story,” adds Halmos.

Three years ago, the foursome launched their menswear line Trovata — an Italian term that means “good idea” or “found” — with a Pop Western theme. “We did everything from suede shorts designed after a pair of chaps to board shorts with holsters on the side.” The debut collection shipped from Whitledge’s dorm room while he was still a student at Claremont.

The Trovata look is that of an Ivy Leaguer who can’t be bothered to sit through a lecture; he’d rather ditch and catch some waves. Bright-colored corduroy blazers are lined in sun-bleached fabrics, well-worn hoodies are adorned with aristocratic buttoned pockets, preppy polos are screen-printed with punk insignias, and oxford shirts have floral-print details that bloom when the cuffs are rolled up. This is elegance worn with a youthful attitude and plenty of confidence by the likes of David Beckham, Orlando Bloom, Luke Wilson and indie-rock darlings the Shins.

 (top): John Whitledge wears a poplin
'Libertad' shirt and 'Trader' corduroy
pants. (bottom): Jeff Halmos is in a
cashmere 'Paramour' V-neck sweater
and vintage pants.
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Whitledge and Lamberto-Egan met at Claremont, while Whitledge and Halmos are childhood friends from Florida. Halmos and Shipley both attended the University of Colorado at Boulder, and it was during a trip Halmos made to visit his pal Whitledge in Southern California that the idea for a clothing line began being bandied about. After graduation, a mutual love of surfing landed the four in Newport Beach, while their similar aesthetic evolved into the design collective Trovata, which received the 2005 Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation award for menswear — a $25,000 grant to assist up-and-coming designers in showcasing their collections during New York fashion week. Not bad for four guys without formal fashion training or experience.

“We started designing by screen-printing, mixing in the vintage twists we all grew up wearing. From there, we’ve just been learning as we go,” Halmos says. “We sit around a table, throw out ideas, and usually laugh a lot. It’s pretty much a group effort. From there, John is in charge of creating the line list and basic fabrics. Sam is in charge of all design, including sketches, illustrations, details, technical drawings, and graphics for the brand. Josia’s job is to take the line list, sketches and fabric/trim choices and present them to our manufacturers to get them sampled. I do the least design out of anyone, primarily contributing feedback from all our reps, accounts and customers around the world.”

Trovata has expanded to include women’s wear, a range of twill pants and soft cotton tees that fuse New England embroideries with the Orange County palette. The first run hit stores this spring, and it’s good news not only for the girls. The gents on their arms no longer have to worry about items being pilfered from their closets.

Trovata is available at Barneys New York, 9570 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills,
(310) 276-4400; Steinberg & Sons, 4712 Franklin Ave., Los Feliz, (323) 660-0294;
and Apt. Number 9, 225 26th St., Santa Monica, (310) 394-9440; or

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