"Growing up, my parents let me make my own mistakes," Kyle Studstill tells me between sips of beer in Carroll Gardens. It's a freedom that surely served him well, empowering him to get involved in a wide variety of endeavors: Advertising, trendspotting, consulting, and—oh yeah —military intelligence analysis. But his newest venture, Composure, might just be his most personal.
Borne from a desire to produce something more tangible, Composure is a fashion brand centered around richly patterned silk and wool scarves, all handmade on New York's Lower East Side. "I wanted to do something that was just what it is," he says, explaining that his experiences demystifying data to tell stories were gratifying but ultimately a bit abstract. "A scarf is just a scarf."
Of course, there's more to it than that. For Studstill, it's also about asking what the well lived life looks like. As we finish our drinks, he tells me that Composure is, in part, a way to explore that question. "I'm trying to find the answer for myself and trying to build a community around it."
Here's what he brought to show us:
The Standby – rOtring 600/0.7mm mechanical pencil
"There are a couple of really nice things about it. There's a certain weight to it that makes you feel like it's been designed by an engineer who really cares about the way people really experience a thing. It feels like there's been a lot of care put into how it's been designed. Everyone has their own version of what feels nice to them. This happens to feel very nice to me.
"It's my primary sketching tool. When I was a kid, I never considered myself as able to draw. It's taken me a long time—it's really only in the last few years where I've developed a certain confidence around, "You know what? It doesn't have to be perfect. It can just be a sketch." I picked up this pencil and all of a sudden, I was able to do sketches the way I thought I should have been able to if I was a real 'illustrator.'
"I often carry smaller notebooks for when I find myself thinking about different kinds of ideas, whether it's a product I want to design or an initiative I'm thinking about. For example, if a friend has approached me about collaborating on an event, I'll use it to sketch out pieces of what that event could look like. I draw these charts and graphs. It's really a go-to tool for me to articulate abstract thoughts."
The Specialist – Antique Detailing Scissors
"The detailing scissors are my way to make the slightest adjustments on things that probably nobody notices—but it's precisely that I don't want them to notice. I want to feel like I'm putting the right amount of care into something. One of the most important ways I can show the person who wears the scarf that I care about their experience is to pay attention to the details.
"These were gifted to me by my girlfriend, who is one of the reasons I picked up a sewing machine after years of not using one. I have a very arts-and-crafts kind of mother. I was in front of a sewing machine a lot when I was a kid and, for any number of reasons, I just didn't continue with it. Over time, I was talking about the fact that I used to do that—that I used to make stuff—and so, a few years ago, my girlfriend got me a sewing machine. As I continued talking these kinds of things, like craft and detail, she found these really beautiful scissors. I don't know much about the story except that they're antique and they're beautiful and I've really enjoyed them. They're the thing I pull out to make sure everything is on point and there's something really nice to me about that."
The Sentimental Favorite – Nessa Scarf
"This is what I call the Nessa scarf, but really the reason why it's a sentimental favorite is because the fabric that I use is this purple floral print that was actually the first fabric I ran into where I was like, "I should make a scarf out of that." This is years and years ago, when I first got to the city. I had no idea I was going to build something like Composure at the time. I don't even know what drew me into the fabric store, but I went in. It's on the Lower East Side, just south of Stanton. The guy there has incredible stories of growing up in the former Soviet Bloc. He's just a really awesome guy to have built a relationship with. I still get fabric from there.
"Back then, I was just new to the city and I even took a photo of this fabric, which was on this reel that he had and now I can look back on Facebook and see this photo from five years ago where I said "I'm going to make a scarf out of that someday." Once I started thinking about Composure and centering it around scarves, I figured I'd go back and find the fabric. The guy still had it. It ended up being the first scarf I really made so, to this day, I still keep it around. This one here, I've never sold. You can tell it's the very first scarf because the fabric is actually inside out. I actually fucked it up.
"Each scarf that I have in the collection is made with these people in my life in mind, who embody virtues or inner perspective that I've found help us find the vision that lets us do our best work. The Nessa scarf has really come to —I don't know the right word. I've never said it out loud.—I attribute it to my friend Lisa who was a very strong inspiration for me even coming to a point where I could say, "Oh, I should make scarves." She represents a kind of humility to me. It's become one of my favorites in the whole collection."