Calderwood’s Clairvoyance

One of Alex Calderwood’s great gifts was his ability to see into the cultural future. From his perch in Seattle, he spied several big ideas well before anyone else.

Calderwood’s Clairvoyance
Ace Hotel Lobby

Sourcing Vintage Denim

Photo by James Leynse, Corbis

The big idea: Sell superpremium jeans that help define the wearer’s identity
Signature look: Urban lumberjack
When Calderwood got there: Mid-1980s
When everyone else caught up: 2006, at the peak of the “Americana” movement
What happened next: Calderwood moved on to bigger projects
Superfans: Japanese shop owners interested in reproducing classic American style
High-profile collaborators: None
Eventual market opportunity: Premium denim is a $2.2 billion-a-year global business
Words of praise:
“This started with just a few people in the States. Most of them were Japanese. No one outside of vintage clothing or vintage shops was doing anything like this.”
Kiya Babzani, cofounder, Self Edge denim boutique


Photo by Sunny Miller, Corbis

Rudy’s barbershop

The big idea: Revive the old-school barber experience–shave, haircut, banter–for the young
Signature look: Mod update of the 1950s greaser
When Calderwood got there: 1992
When everyone else caught up: 2005, in the thick of Queer Eye and metrosexual mania
What happened next: Expanded to 16 locations in Seattle; Portland, Oregon; New York; and Los Angeles
Superfans: Macklemore, Eddie Vedder, Kristen Stewart
High-profile collaborators: Shepard Fairey, Eric Elms, KAWS
Eventual market opportunity: In the U.S., men’s grooming products alone make up a $3 billion industry
Words of praise:
“To see him leverage the culture of the barbershop as a conduit for other ideas, for things more than haircuts, gave us inspiration to take on that culture.”
Jeff Laub, cofounder, The Blind Barber

Photo by Anthony Behar, Sipa USA, AP Images


The big idea: A creative agency that crafts experiences rather than traditional ads
Signature look: Bike tied to a no parking sign with a prominent company logo and URL
When Calderwood got there: 1996
When everyone else caught up: 2010, with “viral campaigns” and “activations”
What happened next: Sold to marketing conglomerate CHR Group in 2013
Superfans: Target, Uniqlo, Microsoft
High-profile collaborators: Duck Duck Collective, Janelle Monae, FIFA
Eventual market opportunity: Experiential marketing is a $1.2 billion industry in the U.S.
Words of praise:
“What Alex did is defy the mechanics of marketing learned by rote and past case studies. He protected something endangered today: creativity in an age where ideas are judged by data alone.”
John Jay, partner, Wieden+Kennedy

Ace Hotels

The big idea: Rocker-chic boutique hospitality for the creative class
Signature look: Beds on reclaimed pallets; turntables and guitars in guest rooms
When Calderwood got there: 1999
When everyone else caught up: 2009, when the recession made fancy passé
What happened next: Expanded to seven locations around the world, including London and Panama City
Superfans: Quentin Tarantino, Kirsten Dunst, Harry Styles
High-profile collaborators: Stumptown coffee, Opening Ceremony, Universal Design Studio, Roman and Williams
Eventual market opportunity: Boutique hotels are a $6 billion industry in the U.S.
Words of praise:
“Alex, more than anyone I can think of, really connected with contemporary culture. His sensibility was the only one in the hotel business that was truly cool.”
Sean MacPherson, founder Jane Hotel