Most people travel to explore new cultures, foreign cuisine or sightsee. But you’ll find Kerry O’Brien, Commando CEO, Founder and Designer, racking up frequent flier miles mostly to experience and discover fabrics all over the globe. Commando has become the in-the-know label for its justifiably named “butter” fabric, faux leather and neoprene, and now people in the Big Apple have the chance to experience that in person at Commando’s first pop-up shop in New York City.
“We are coming up on our 20th anniversary and the Commando brand has never been stronger,” O’Brien says. “The growth of our digital business in recent years has enabled us to get closer to our customer than we have ever been and it’s accelerated our learning curve. The evolution of our ready to wear line was born out of desire from our customers for more from the brand. Experimenting with a physical store where she can touch and feel the product will continue those learnings, not only informing our DTC channel but also strengthening our wholesale partners’ Commando businesses. Greene Street will inform so much of our future products and experiences. We’ve been slow and exacting in our growth, never compromising.”
Located in the heart of SoHo at 75 Greene Street and now open through December, O’Brien was adamant that New York City be home to the first pop-up. “Both my family and our Commando headquarters reside in Vermont, but New York City feeds my creativity and I love the energy and badass attitude that it has,” she says. “There is nothing like it. We’ve been patient and discerning waiting for the right location. This temporary pop-up location in Soho became available and we seized the opportunity. We found it a bit uncanny how it checked so many of our must-have boxes. Residential in feel, ample story telling space, a separate room to tell the closet story and well… it’s Greene Street!” It’s also a full circle moment, as the pop-up is just blocks from where O’Brien started Commando nearly 20 years ago.
The retail space is Commando brought to life. A welcome room shows off their range of underwear. The entry to the store is adorned with mini disco balls, a nod to O’Brien’s personal disco ball and reputation of being the one to get the party started, as well as the brand’s “cheeky, never take yourself too seriously ethos,” as O’Brien describes it. The 2,200-square-foot space is meant to evoke a personal closet, the store looks and feels like a dream walk-in closet. “The layout of the Soho pop-up is an experience through her top drawer and her closet in its entirety,” O’Brien says. “The store features a welcoming front room that highlights Commando’s obsession with fabric and fit through various storytelling moments. I believe if getting dressed isn’t fun, you’re not doing it right. Which is why the heart of the store is designed to be ‘the ultimate closet,’ a place to play and experiment, from your first layer to your last.”
The concept of “the ultimate closet” is built into Commando’s DNA. “I launched the brand based on what was missing in my top drawer/closet and have continued to expand the brand based on just that,” O’Brien says. “I’ve always wanted the opportunity to open my own closet to the Commando customer. And here, in ‘the ultimate closet,’ she can experience just that: all of my favorite things that I’ve fallen in love with since founding the brand. I wear-test every single product we produce; if I don’t like it, it’s not Commando and will not be in my closet. Imagine opening your closet and loving everything in it? That’s our mission, no compromise.”
Prior to launching Commando, O’Brien had no experience in the fashion world—and she believes that has given her an advantage. She began her career in financial public relations at Edelman, achieving tremendous success as the youngest VP ever at 25 years old. But she believes in starting new chapters in life, so the day after 9/11, she quit her job in 2001. In 2012 she was inducted into the CFDA. A lot happened in between.
“I have always had a love for fashion; however, I definitely had my thoughts on how the industry was failing women, starting with her underwear,” O’Brien says. “I knew I wanted to address this. I wanted her to be comfortable with no compromise. Options for women were one of three choices, all with compromise: A man’s view of sexy, definitely uncomfortable; controlled shapewear suggesting you must change your form; and ‘comfortable,’ i.e. granny panties. In other words, if a woman wants to be comfortable it was assumed she didn’t care what she looked like. I saw an opportunity to fill the white space in women’s top drawers.”
Due to popular demand, Commando expanded into ready to wear, but they never lost their fabric first philosophy. “Our design ethos is how does it feel, how does it fit and only then, how does it look—in that order,” O’Brien says. “If you do not feel good, you do not look good. This is a unique approach in our industry. Why would you ever want to be uncomfortable? We work with only luxury technical fabrics that make you look and feel great and that you forget you’re even wearing. We like to say we don’t choose fabrics, we anoint them. When I discover a new fabric, we use it across as many styles and silhouettes as possible. Along with fabric, ingenuity sets us apart. I launched Commando with the first-ever seamless, raw-cut, elastic and trim-free thong, still one of our most beloved and best-selling styles to this day.”
O’Brien considers herself a problem solver, which explains why Commando holds two design patents: one in hosiery and one in slips. “Our slip line is designed with weights sewn in to keep them down,” O’Brien says. “Slips are one of the most misunderstood items in a women’s closet; they extend the life of a garment and everything drapes better when you are wearing a slip. Our slips are often worn as a dress or skirt; I love seeing how our customers style our pieces. Our hosiery patent features our proprietary waistband which is a classic microfiber fabric stitched onto the hosiery making it comfortable, dig-free and long-lasting. This was a labor of love for me having worn ‘pantyhose’ for so long, I could not wait to throw them away when I left my corporate job swearing I would never wear them again. Now I love them!”
Commando also has a strong presence in the fashion scene, as they’ve been worn on hundreds of runways over the years during New York Fashion Week as well as red carpets. The brand has become a go-to for fashion stylists. This fall Commando launched denim, after O’Brien spent years hunting for the perfect denim fabric.
Ultimately, O’Brien hopes the Commando New York City pop-up serves as a way for people to get to play with the garments in person and reach a new crowd. “This store is the purest expression of the brand, a unique opportunity to experiment,” she says. “I want women to experience firsthand the passion we have for fabric, the obsession we have for fit and our dedication to creating pieces that she can rely on for comfort and confidence to be her badass self. Imagine opening up your closet and loving everything in it. That’s what we want to create because you should only wear what you love. We are also excited to learn by speaking directly to our customers. Nothing replaces spending time with a woman in the fitting room.”