Spencer Antle, The Escape Artist
Island Company's enigmatic creative director, Spencer Antle, showcases his beyond-the- rack collections perfect for a great Caribbean escape.
Words by Juliet Austin. Photography by Spencer Antle.
Metaphysical poet, John Donne, wrote, "No man is an island," yet with his enviable devil-may-care attitude tempered by a beguiling island-boy charm, "islomaniac" Spencer Antle is just that. Island Company’s enigmatic front man, designer, photographer and copywriter, he is a modern-day Prospero – an intrepid seeker and visionary, orchestrating every aspect of a diverse lifestyle brand that bottles and sells resort apparel along with a philosophy of escapism. Encapsulated in its most famous T-shirt mantra, found emblazoned across the chests of celebrities like the great ‘JD’ himself (that is Johnny Depp to the likes of you and me), he incites: ‘Quit your job, buy a ticket, get a tan, fall in love, never return.’
True to form, Antle lives the kind of life that would make most green with envy: cavorting with teeny-weeny bikiniclad models on sun-kissed beaches by day and imbibing 151-proof rum in all manner of exotic jet-set locations by night. Add to that a fondness for extreme sports, including riding the waves in his two-seater Super Drifter seaplane and barefoot dirt biking on rain-drenched tropical mountaintops, annual sales in the millions and an office playground in West Palm Beach where, “yesterday an entire cheerleading squad was in trying on our latest beachwear collection.” I know… it is hard not to hate the man. Yet, perhaps most lip curling of all is the discovery that Spencer Antle is not the megalomaniac control freak that you might expect. He is actually a really nice guy who lives passionately, works hard and dreams big.
Not surprisingly, Island Company’s genesis possesses a somewhat mythical quality. The story goes that, whilst on a Caribbean holiday in 2002, Antle’s then girlfriend failed to find a bikini to grab her fancy. So, Antle did what any gallant boyfriend would do: raised $60,000 by hook and by crook, designed thirteen bikinis and went around selling them from the boot of his car. And it is perhaps this ‘not-offthe- rack’ quality that serves as the perfect metaphor for Antle’s genius.
A former Hollywood television commercial director with no background in design, he eschewed the paradigm of other businesses labouring under the recession and, now sans girlfriend, officially launched Island Company. Articulating his vision through trademark classic lines, simple elegance and cool pastel hues, Antle’s collections immediately evoked strong emotional responses from shoppers. His designs beckoned them to buy into the fantasy of Caribbean escapism; as if by donning très chic white linen or dreamy tropical prints, they too could – for one glorious moment – leave the drudgery of everyday life and drift away into barefoot bliss or rum bum oblivion, complete with retro ‘Johnny Prepp’ sunglasses, Islander tanning lotion and a Palm Leaf Tote to carry the champagne for sundowners on the beach. Two hundred and fifty plus wholesale accounts at every high-end Caribbean resort you care to mention and six retail stores later, one man’s call to ‘Escape. Travel. Live.’ appears to resonate with a generation ready to embrace the freedom and faraway fantasy at the heart of quintessential Caribbean living.
“I’m no soothsayer,” Antle declares. “Island Company doesn’t follow runway trends or have any connection with the fashion world. We don’t sell clothes; we show them. We are 100% about lifestyle – the clothes are simply a by-product of that lifestyle.” It is this power of suggestion – this idea that by donning a tropical uniform, you will be welcomed into the fold of a community of escapists, clothed in a cloak of possibility to go through the looking glass into Island Company’s theatre of the Caribbean. “If clothes are the single-most representation of who we are in this film called life, wearing them is an act of transcendence, enabling people to be who they are, unabashedly.” Dress the part, he seems to be saying, and, through our words, our look, our style will emanate, Antle declares, “a challenge to the status quo.”
Trusting instinct alone, Antle never once considered failure an option. As he puts it, “So, my fall back is becoming a dive instructor in Tahiti… either way, I win.” The son of a naval officer who later graduated top of his class at Harvard Business School, he was born in Hawaii and spent his childhood moving around England and the US. Describing himself as genetically predisposed to live the life of a drunken poet – a sort of modernday Hemmingway, there is an endearing earnestness about Antle that speaks of a desire to live authentically in the search for meaning. Describing his business model and employee training process as less ‘officer and a gentleman’ and more Navy SEAL, Antle’s rock ‘n’ rule philosophy is driven by a life or death passion. Quoting a line from an Oliver Stone movie, he expounds: “I always hit the throttle and give it all she’s got. Life is a game of inches. We fight and claw for every inch. Because the guy who’s willing to die in a fight, is the one who will win. That’s what living is. Fighting for those inches.”
With this desire to push towards the edge, life with Antle is rarely dull. “Most people,” he philosophises by way of explanation, “are fish. They swim in a school because that’s what keeps the sharks distracted. Looking the same in a group, hiding amongst the homogeny of society –
I don’t subscribe to that.” Nothing could be plainer. With plans to shoot a series of “ethereal, exotic” television advertisements in the Caribbean, to set up a record company, publish a coffee table book and direct a feature film, adding to his portfolio of screenplays and documentaries, Antle succeeds wildly at being neither conformist nor rebel, simply an explorer finding his own unique path. “I can’t stop creating,” he laughs. “I chase what’s in front of me. Tomorrow, for example, I have a photo shoot with one of the cheerleaders that came into the office. She looked like she had potential to model. So we just bring her in and get shooting.” Given to fly, his zeal for life supersedes esoteric rhetoric. It is infectious, inspiring every one of us to show up for our own lives. To quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” Safe to say, Spencer Antle has been there, done that and got the T-shirt.
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