A New Day for Duck HeadJuly 7, 2014
It was 1978 when the first pair of Duck Head chinos hit shelves at the campus store at the University of Mississippi, igniting a trend that would last for the next fifteen years. The khakis—complete with their iconic yellow logo—became part of the Southern frat boy uniform in the eighties, alongside popped collars and braided belts. But the company’s history actually goes back much further, almost 150 years in fact. And now, Duck Head is returning with a renewed focus on its Southern roots.
Brothers George and Joe O’Bryan, two Confederate soldiers recently returned home to Nashville from the battlefield, founded the brand in 1865. Used army tents were everywhere, and the brothers decided to recycle the surplus canvas into a line of work wear, including the overalls that were Duck Head’s specialty until World War II, when the company began manufacturing uniforms for the U.S. military.
Following the chino craze, though, all production was moved overseas, a cost-cutting measure that didn’t pay off, and over the last decade or so, Duck Head faded into the shadows. That is until it was bought by Greensboro, North Carolina–based Prospect Brands, led by former Ralph Lauren executive Tom Nolan. “People want to purchase clothes that are the real McCoy,” Nolan says. “There aren’t many of those around anymore. Duck Head turns one hundred and fifty years old next year. It’s one of the most authentic American brands out there.”
Today marks the launch of the new Duck Head’s first line, designed by another Ralph Lauren veteran, Dallas native Spencer Bass. The O’Bryan chino, named after the company’s founders, is made using the same comfortable canvas popular thirty years ago, minus the pleats and with a new logo taken from Duck Head’s earliest days. The brand is also introducing the Nashville short, as well as the Traveller, a cotton polo named after Robert E. Lee’s much-loved horse. To honor the company’s beginnings, a pair of overalls is in the works for fall, and a line of women’s wear in the coming years. The best part? Nolan has returned all manufacturing to the South. “We can’t tell the story about the Civil War, the O’Bryan brothers, Nashville, and not make it here,” he says. “It’s part of who we are.”
For a list of retailers, or to purchase online, go to duckhead.com.