Before there was such a thing as “athleisure,” before there was a Juicy Couture or a Splendid, there was Fitigues, a Chicago-based clothing brand started in 1988 by Steve and Andi Rosenstein.
“We were in our 20s when we started the business. It was the answer to cool gym clothes,” Steve Rosenstein says. “That was all we were trying to do back then.”
The Rosensteins—who are not fans of the term “athleisure”—were nonetheless ahead of the curve, and also among the first wholesalers to dive headlong into retail simultaneously. And it was their casual-chic aesthetic and visibility in both markets that cracked open the door to what has now became a massive shift in how we dress. Yes, leggings, we’re looking at you.
But by 2006, the pair was ready to hang up their design hats after selling to Chico’s and moving to Phoenix, Arizona, where—on a whim—they bought an abandoned 1928 warehouse in the Phoenix Warehouse District. Together they concocted their next venture: The Duce, a Prohibition-era concept much lauded by the media for its dynamic, cheeky mix of everything from eatery to boxing ring, bar, 1915 Chicago-inspired soda fountain, retail and event space.
But it was a chance visit at The Duce from a few Nordstrom employees that officially pulled the Rosensteins back into the fashion world as they launched their R&R Surplus clothing concept, which catapulted Andi back into designing and started a new design career for the couple’s son. Montage Magazine caught up with them after R&R Surplus launched its first West Coast outpost at Montage Laguna Beach.
Montage Magazine: When you started Fitigues, it truly was one of the first kids to that comfy-chic party. What made it a pioneering brand?
Andi Rosenstein: We were the only brand at the time that was doing gym-chic. You could wear it to the gym and wear it after the gym.
Steve Rosenstein: And even in the early days, we were expensive for sweats. We really had to do a sales pitch.
MM: So then how do you go from all of those years in fashion and manufacturing to a concept like The Duce?
AR: I stayed on for a year after the Chico’s purchase [of Fitigues]. But the day after we retired, we went for a walk with the dogs and I was like, ‘What are we going to do? This is all we know.’ We get back from our walk and someone had emailed Steve a picture of the warehouse [which would eventually become The Duce]. We hopped in the Jeep to go see it and the rest is history.
MM: R&R Surplus actually got its start at The Duce, right?
AR: We had 14,000 square feet to fill [at what would become The Duce]. We had food, and we had a farm stand filled with organic produce that the bartenders would walk over and use for their drinks. Then, we were at a tradeshow and we stumbled across this French military surplus vendor and we started to cut and re-sew the clothes, and that became [the first iteration of] R & R Surplus.
MM: So now you were back in retail?
AR: My mom actually started calling people on our old mailing list and saying, ‘They’re back!’
MM: That’s amazing. Go mom. So what does R&R stand for?
SR: We don’t really tell people. It’s: reclaimed, reissued, Rosenstein, rest and relaxation.
MM: But it sounds like you guys are hardly resting. How did you get pulled back into designing and manufacturing?
SR: R&R Surplus was originally just going to be a retail concept only operating out of The Duce. I was at The Duce bartending on a cold February back in 2011 and two girls walk in as I was making drinks. They were both from Nordstrom. The next Monday, the VP of women’s [apparel] called and said, ‘We need you to buy back Fitigues.’
AR: Steve said, ‘Grab your old Fitigues [pieces]. We’re going to Nordstrom.’ So I went into my closet and pulled all my favorite pieces. And now here we are.
MM: Fitigues was well known for the amazing hand of its fabrics. Have you carried that over into R&R today?
AR: We still actually work with our original fabric supplier for Fitigues. He knows our brand so well and today the fabrics are even more unbelievable and softer than ever.
MM: Did you ever imagine that you would be designing again?
AR: No. I was so revitalized by being out of fashion. I created the whole bar menu for The Duce and loved every minute and the creative juices were just flowing again.
MM: R&R appears to be a family business. Now your son, Luke, is involved as a model and designer?
AR: Yes. When he was a senior in high school, I begged him to be a fit model. He went into the bathroom, tried on the clothes and was like, ‘This is all wrong.’ And now he is 22 and designs all the menswear.
MM: What is the thing that surprises you the most about where you are now?
AR: We didn’t come up with a concept and find a location. It came to us. The [entertainment concept and clothing] all evolved and unfolded organically. We had no idea when we bought the building what we’d even put in it.
SR: And now we’re at Montage!
By Michelle Dalton Tyree
Feature Image: The R&R Surplus location at Montage Laguna Beach, Pacific Dream Photography