INTERVIEW: Michael Stars co-founder Suzanne Lerner
Nothing represents carefree, relaxed summer beach style better than a simple cotton tee. Easygoing and appropriate for any occasion, it can be slipped over a swimsuit post ocean dip or paired with jeans and a blazer for a dressed-up casual. The versatility is what inspired Michael Stars co-founder Suzanne Lerner to debut this summer’s Vintage Tee Collection. The line is an ode to the iconic bold graphic tees that surged the brand to popularity 35 years ago and is influenced by her and Michael’s travels throughout the summers of the '80s. From the staple L’Tee Originale to designs featuring the world’s best beach destinations from Bali and Brasília to Mykonos, the collection captures the feeling of carefree sun-soaked days spent with only a swimsuit and a beach bag (and of course, your vintage tee).
In the theme of travel, Michael Stars decided to take the collection mobile—food truck style. In the form of a big blue truck dubbed the “Tee Tour,” the collection traveled along the Southern California coast this summer, bringing a vintage closet essentially to your doorstep. Serving up a menu of four tee styles along with merch (caps, notebooks, water bottles, and more), the truck was guaranteed to satisfy the cravings of any vintage lover, from day-one Michael Stars fans to a new youthful audience. I chatted with Suzanne herself at the Tee Tour’s last stop in Montecito, regarding all things Michael Stars, vintage, and big blue truck.
Suzanne, then and now
What inspired you to launch a vintage collection this summer, and how does it emphasize the stylistic vision of Michael Stars?
This year marks our 35th anniversary as a brand, so in celebration, we brought back the tees that started it all. The collection emphasizes our stylistic vision in that while the graphics are bright and bold, the design is true to what Michael Stars is known for: casual, high-quality one-sized tees that last for years and years.
What was the inspiration behind the "Tee Tour"…Why a traveling truck across California?
After a year of lockdown, we wanted to reconnect with our community and take the tees out on the road to the cities and streets that inspired them. Offering a mobile store that allowed consumers to see the product in-person, and familiarize themselves with the heritage and story behind them was something we thought would be impactful. Additionally, the big blue truck was a fun branding moment to follow around LA!
How have your travels influenced the designs and destinations chosen for each T-shirt?
Each of the designs has special meaning, whether the destination, the year noted within the artwork, or the illustration itself. One of our most popular styles is ‘Mykonos,’ which coincidentally has the most significance to me…Michael and I shared a home there and I still return to it each year. The design is a reflection of my memories of hanging out on the beach with salty, wet hair just luxuriating in the beautiful Greek sun—carefree. The 1987 seen on the artwork represents the first year Michael and I travelled to Mykonos together.
Vintage Tee Collection at Angel Montecito
How did you come to choose Santa Barbara as a stop on the tour?
We have an incredible relationship with our retail accounts Wendy Foster and Angel who both carried these original tees back in the late ‘80s and ‘90s! Being able to do an activation with them celebrating the tees’ relaunch was special. Working with our wholesale accounts on events and co-branded moments is something I am looking to do more of in the future.
You mentioned your company's dedication to racial and gender equality. Can you expand on this?
10% of all sales from Vintage supports the Michael Stars Foundation in continuing to fund grassroots organizations fighting for an equal world. For over 15 years, the Michael Stars Foundation has given millions of dollars to grassroots organizations that support gender & racial equality, work to end gender-based violence, provide mentorship for the marginalized, and advocate for women of color. You can learn more about all that we do on michaelstars.com/pages/foundation and on suzannelerner.com
What's your most popular design from the collection?
Our most popular designs are: Mykonos, L’Tee Originale, and Malibu.
How are you planning to move forward with the vintage collection in the future?
We have plans to release smaller limited-run styles (sweatpants, hoodies, etc.) via drops on our website, as well as continue to do brand activations and partnerships. We recently did a successful Vintage retail pop-up at the Surf Lodge in Montauk, NY and we’ll be building out a strategy and mini collection to support more co-branded moments like that.
Michael Stars is proudly carried at local Santa Barbara shops including Angel and Wendy Foster in Montecito. You can shop the Michael Stars Vintage Tee collection at michaelstars.com.