In Discussion With: Carlos Quirarte and Matt Kliegman of The Smile
3x1 is a brand defined just as much by our unparalleled commitment to making the finest jeans in the world, one pair at a time, as we are by the community of people who wear them. Who are these people? They are our friends, collaborators, and partners. They are inventors, entrepreneurs, artists, and teachers... It is here, within the Atelier Journal series "In Discussion With...," that we highlight who these people are and the tether that ties them together which ultimately is authenticity, passion and an appreciation for the best of what life has to offer - and, of course, their collective love of jeans by 3x1. We hope you enjoy their stories.
We arrive at The Smile Bond Street on a Thursday midday. The front outdoor tables bedecked with strung lights and rustic chairs are hard to resist considering the 78-degree temperature and cartoonishly blue sky. Inside a contingent of Smile-goers are seated including a table of stylish women discussing a presentation over poke bowls, James Franco and a friend near an unlit fireplace, and of course, Matt Kliegman and Carlos Quirarte–The Smile's co-founders. Carlos shows up first in a vintage Camel logo t-shirt and ponytail. He offers us iced coffees and we chat about jet lag and our shared (former) fear of flying. Matt enters unbuttoned flannel and tee, overgrown beard (his joke not ours), and black 3x1 jeans. Carlos is also in 3x1 but not because we bribed either of them to but because the two are, as they put it, "14 months a year denim guys."
If you've yet to visit The Smile we suggest you make a plan to. The two founded the spot in 2009 and it's now collectively regarded as a downtown institution. They've also introduced other locations in nearby SoHo as well as Dumbo and a recently-opened Smile to Go cafe in the Freehand Hotel. The menu, curated by Executive Chef Melia Marden, is Mediterranean-inspired and available for all three meals of the day. It’s the kind of reliable place that’s simultaneously a go-to and back-up for when you want a solid meal with spot-on ambiance.
We make our way down a flight of stairs and into the basement for the interview. A less buttoned-up room but pleasantly familial. Our seat is an oversized leather armchair with an unapologetic rip on the cushion. Kliegman and Quirarte pull up two less comfortable seats and we speak softly while a small handful of Smile employees work and come in and out to nibble off a large plate with fresh avocado salad.
"I think it’s people being able to eat, collaborate and speak freely," Quirarte says about the restaurant's community. "I think we’ve created a place where people can feel safe. I feel like you go to a lot of places and you’re looking over your shoulder seeing who’s listening to your conversation [laughs] this isn’t a place where you have to do that. You’re amongst your peers."
Kliegman agrees. "Carlos just got back from LA which is a city that—because of the size and the sprawl—it is hard to meet people and you are physically isolated from your friends. Nonetheless, people in New York can still feel lonely, so it’s critical to find places that are accessible, comfortable, and familiar. That is very much the ethos we try to create."
The Smile isn't the only location the two have collaborated on. They're also behind Old Rose at The Jane Hotel, Public Arts at Ian Schrager's Public Hotel and the now-closed Westway (R.I.P to the best strip-club-turned-nightlife joint the city ever knew). It's fair to argue the two are ingrained, and in part, responsible for New York's downtown zeitgeist.
"We read somewhere that the two of you know what the people want. What do the people want?" They don’t love this question. They don’t love it because as objectively cool as these two are they’re also humble and share an egalitarian spirit that is refreshing and rare in the industry. For example, when asked when they made it in New York the two (predictably) responded “always a work in progress” and “we made it in New York!?”
Quirarte sits smiling for a minute trying to sort out his words.
"I don't know what the people want," Kliegman quips.
"I think there are always some things that people want. Familiarity, consistency. When they come back somewhere they want it to be the way it was when they left it," Quirarte finally says. "We’re not big trend chasers we do what we like and I think as long as we stay true to that ultimately other people appreciate it. We don’t know what people want we just know what we want."
“I think the one thing that people do desire is authenticity," Kliegman chimes in. "That’s something I feel certain most people desire and appreciate."
The Smile is an authentic, consistent, familiar place. The building dates back to the 1830s and the restaurant's architecture and decor feel intimate and welcoming. And, as serendipity would have it, it was also the home of Chef Marden’s father who lived and painted in an upstairs studio in the 1960s. She tells us this from across the room behind her laptop only after we bring up an old New Yorker review that mentions this coincidence.
When The Smile first opened they had a tattoo parlor in the basement, three-quarters of the ground floor was retail space selling clothes, art, and the like by friends and acquaintances and the rest was a cafe. "We wanted to have something to talk about," Quirarte says. "...We just did all these things in a way that started conversations and built a community. It’s critical. At the beginning of anything, your only real customers are your friends [laughs] so it definitely helped."
Fast forward almost a decade and Kliegman and Quirarte are opening Public Arts with a buzzworthy performance by none other than Patti Smith. "There are few people that are more reflective of downtown New York than Patti," Kliegman says. "We wanted to do Public Arts with different types of artistic programming and she is someone who is a poet, an author, a singer, a guitarist. She is the quadruple threat and that’s what we wanted to start doing.”
“Even though she’s a Detroiter, she really does embody New York. It was just nice to see a wide range of people there; everybody knows her. Everyone is aware of her,” Quirarte adds.
The venue has seen a slew of curated performances including Christine and the Queens, Middle Kids, Francis and the Lights, and Grizzly Bear.
Amidst opening nightclubs, running multiple restaurants, and maintaining personal lives (Kliegman and his wife have a 13-month old son and Quirarte and his wife are expecting a girl in early fall) the two are strapped for downtime—or time in general, for that matter.
“Being on call 24/7 and having a fire to put out every day,” Kliegman responds when asked what the hardest aspect of his job is.
“Having to turn it on even when you don’t want to,” Quirarte adds.
You wouldn't guess any of this by their appearances. Though laid-back, they both have a casual cool aesthetic that comes from having a look and really sticking with it (Quirarte wears 3x1's M4 and Kliegman goes with the lower-rise M5 because he “likes to show as much of [his] midriff as possible”). As previously mentioned, the two are in jeans year round.
“You will not see Carlos and I in shorts. If you see Carlos in shorts, please tell me,” Kliegman jokes.
“If I’m in shorts I’m on vacation somewhere far away,” Quirarte says with a smile. “I like the idea that I buy one pair of jeans at the beginning of the year and that’s what I wear every day.”
Thankfully, per Quirarte's suggestion, we did have the time to do an abbreviated version of “Vogue’s thing" with a few rapid fire questions and answers. This suggestion came by way of Quirarte performing a supermodel strut across the office floor, demonstrating how best to do the 73 Questions format (his recent favorites include Giselle Bündchen and Donatella Versace). See below.
Best season in New York...
How do you commute...
Best rooftop in the city...
CQ: The Freehand
Where to escape New York for the weekend...
Restaurant you hope never closes...
Favorite building in New York...
MK: Bayard-Condict Building on Bleecker
CQ: The Jane Hotel
Most underrated item on The Smile's menu...
MK: Granola and yogurt
CQ: Garlic rice with shrimp at Smile To Go
Show you're binging on...
CQ: Peaky Blinders is crack
How many years until you're officially a New Yorker...
MK: I heard 7
CQ: I heard 10
Best party you've ever attended...
CQ: [Edited for rapid fire length]
Follow The Smile @thesmilenyc
Words by Nicole Kliest