The phrase ‘they don’t make things like they used to’ is most commonly associated with folks who have lived far longer than three decades. It’s surprising then, that it was this mantra that inspired a creative venture between two twenty-something brothers, who aimed to evoke nostalgia for vintage and uncommon goods that hark back to an era when things were built to last. Through their Brooklyn-based store Hickoree’s, Emil and Sandy Corsillo purvey a hand-curated selection of goods, from fashion to slingshots. And huddled amongst the motley array is their own accessories brand inspired by vintage American workwear, The Hill-side.
When you grow up in close proximity to New York City, chances are you’ll eventually find its mysterious magnetism hard to resist. Spending their formative years in a small town in Connecticut, 45 minutes away from New York City, it was only a matter time before brothers Emil and Sandy Corsillo set off for the metropolis in search of their destinies.
Sandy was the first to pack his bags, moving to New York in 2002 to study screenwriting at Manhattan’s Hunter College and to chase his dream of being a filmmaker. Emil followed in 2004, after studying fine art, to pursue a career as a painter and immerse himself in the creative milieu of the Brooklyn art world. But after a few years spent getting to know the sometimes-harsh intricacies of the cutthroat industry, Emil began to suspect that it perhaps wasn’t for him after all. “When I finally got to Brooklyn and started meeting people in the art world, I saw what it takes to become successful,“ he says. “That kind of made me start to move away from it all.”
At the same time, Sandy had been experiencing similar disillusion in pursuit of his filmmaking career. After university, he had taken a job working in accounting for a friend’s finance company, which inadvertently equipped him with the skills – such as web development and database management – essential to running a business. Eventually he began toying with the inklings of a concept for an online store and, when he was finally ready to bring it into fruition, he asked Emil to join him.
Labelled Hickoree’s Hard Goods, the concept was intended to evoke nostalgia for well-made uncommon goods and vintage items, and to be a clever mix of old and new. “For years, one of our main hobbies was shopping for clothes and things like selvage denim,” Sandy explains. “So the idea for Hickoree’s was to bring together a lot of brands we liked that weren’t always available but were really popular. And then we wanted to create our own stuff and mix it in with those brands so that it would gain legitimacy through proximity.”
Sandy asked Emil to come up with an idea for a product range that they could sell in the Hickoree’s online store. The result was The Hill-side – a collection of ties, bandanas, scarves and handkerchiefs, which took its name from the street the boys grew up on in Connecticut. “My inspiration for The Hill-side came from my collection of old clothing and old American workwear,” Emil explains. “I was working in graphic design and art direction at the time and so I was particularly interested in the labels and tags of old clothing and the way their logos were designed and the weird brand names that they had. They all, in a vague way, were very evocative of a certain time period.”
Contrary to the usual process of starting a clothing line, Emil reveals that he had designed the logo and packaging for The Hill-side long before they had completed most of the first collection for the brand. But the aesthetic of the label, Sandy adds, was equally as important as the product. “The packaging and branding were very central and critical to the whole thing,” he says. “When we got the prototypes of the products back and put the cardboard belly band with the logo around it, that was when we started to get really excited that the idea was going to work.”
Debuting with the launch of the Hickoree’s site in 2009, the first collection of The Hill-side stayed very true to the nostalgic Americana roots that had inspired its inception, consisting of neckwear made from workwear fabrics like selvage chambray, army twill and denim.
The brand’s aesthetic has since evolved, with the boys conscious not to stay tied to the concept in such a literal sense. But a nod to its vintage American roots remains forever present. “The ‘made in the USA’ thing was very important to us with The Hill-side,” Sandy says. “But now it’s just about what is exciting us at the time.”
Similarly, when they first launched the online Hickoree’s store, the brothers were adamant about featuring products made in the USA, with only a few exceptions. As the store grew, they began to be more flexible but remained committed to finding old products made in the USA that people would be surprised to discover were still being produced.
“We started out with our focus being America, but we’ve realised what is now important to us is just a good story and something that resonates with us,” Sandy says. “We emphasise the word ‘nostalgia’ a lot,” Emil adds. “And there were items that we were selling really early on at Hickoree’s that came from our childhood – things like astronaut ice-cream and an old-fashioned slingshot.”
The duo opened a bricks-and-mortar incarnation of Hickoree’s in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in 2011 and these days the revenue that comes from their two brands is quite evenly matched. “Our hope is that Hickoree’s is able to grow at a faster pace than The Hill-side so that we can also do other brands and projects and have a platform for that,” Sandy adds.
The brothers have already expanded their reaches through curated collaborations with similar-minded brands (such as US-based shoe brand Rancourt & Co. and clothing label Gitman Bros. Vintage) under the moniker The Hill-side & Co. “The idea was for a few of the brands that we stock at Hickoree’s to take The Hill-side fabrics and make products that we would sell,” Emil explains. “And then it just ballooned into 60-something products with 20 different brands. We love the idea of getting brands that we love to make special things just for Hickoree’s.”
As their own two brands grew rapidly, Sandy reveals that it was a particular challenge to relinquish some of the control. “The Hill-side and the design of Hickoree’s came from a really personal place, all done by Emil,” he says. “The Hill-side concept came from scratch out of his head and he designed it and put it all together. But as the business grows, you have to give up a level of control and, rather than doing everything, you have to allow people to have input. I think that’s what keeps some businesses small.”
Emil agrees. “It’s challenging, but it’s also the most rewarding thing, being able to empower people to do stuff that I used to have a hard time letting go of.”
He has recently found time to return to his love of painting, which he finds far more peaceful without the pressure of turning it into a career. Sandy, on the other hand, finds his peace with a golf club in hand. But the two agree on the wisdom they would share with those looking to follow a similar path: “Believe in something and stay true to it – and get your accounting right.”