With DeVotchKa blasting in the background, it was hard to hear Sebastian Dollinger, conducting this interview from the studio in Sweden where he designs the world-renowned Eton shirt collection. “Yes, I design to music; it’s a big part of my life,” he confides. “I’m a DJ and a drummer when I’m not designing shirts…”

He came to designing Eton shirts in a roundabout way: since his father, Jan Borghardt, has worked for the company since 1981, it was the last thing he’d planned to do. “My dad is from Holland; he met my mom on a sailing trip to Sweden, fell in love and needed a job. He started in the Eton stockroom and is now number two at the company. I was born in ’83. I was a wild kid who got kicked out of school and took various jobs pumping gas and waiting tables. But when I ultimately took a stockroom job, I made sure it was the cleanest stockroom in the universe. My dad taught me to take pride in my work, whatever it is…”

After serving in the army for a year, Dollinger reluctantly took a job in the Eton stockroom, then gradually worked his way up. “I took the long road at Eton, determined to prove myself without favoritism. (Editor’s note: Since his dad has a different last name, few people were aware of the relationship.) I went from the stockroom to a London-based position to a sales job, where I increased volume in my Swedish accounts by 800 percent. At that point, I felt vindicated and was excited to move to a design job.”

Explaining the success of Eton, Dollinger sums it up simply: “We don’t take shortcuts; we spend on quality. We use the best French and Italian mills for our fabrics. We’ve developed a special finishing process that takes four-and-a-half weeks extra but adds luster and life to the shirts.” Other success secrets: a sophisticated use of color, pattern and detailing so the shirts are interesting but not over-the-top. “Balance is important,” says Dollinger, who also paints. “There’s a way to combine elements so it’s not screaming or in your face.”

Finally, there’s the fit factor: Eton shirts come in three different fits so that they feel custom-made. “Eton isn’t just another global brand with extensive marketing; it’s quality in every way. Plus we’re one of very few companies to specialize in shirts.”

When he’s not designing, Dollinger is out and about. “My body clock is reversed: I work late and come alive even later. I never watch TV; I’m out doing things. In addition to music (these days he’s listening to Joy Division, Demolition, The Black Keys, Muddy Waters) and design, I love writing (poetry, song lyrics), and also cosmology. I was always that strange little boy who studied the stars every night…”

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