Vintage Materials Inspire Topsham Designer Phinney Baxter White

With a new shop and some high-profile partnerships, a scion of Governor Percival Baxter goes all in on his passion for vintage-style outerwear.

Phinney Baxter White standing outside Pejepscot Purchase in Topsham, Maine
Designer, nostalgist, and shopkeeper Phinney Baxter White, in front of his Topsham store.
By Adrienne Perron
Photos by Jamie Mercurio
From our October 2023 issue

The Filson x Governor Baxter Reversible Vest costs $495, looks like something Kevin Costner might wear on Yellowstone, and — on my 5-foot-3 frame, anyway — is shockingly heavy. When I try one on at Pejepscot Purchase, Topsham’s pleasantly cluttered nostalgic-outerwear emporium, it’s like sliding into my burliest winter coat: the vest feels as sturdy as armor, as comforting as a weighted blanket.

Phinney Baxter White, who designed the vest and runs the shop, is the great-great-grandnephew of Percival Baxter, Maine’s governor from 1921 to 1925 and an avid outdoorsman who spent more than 30 years acquiring and donating the Katahdin highlands now protected as Baxter State Park. When White launched a side hustle, back in 2012, designing rugged, outdoor-friendly dog beds, he named his brand after the uncle he idolizes (who loved his Irish setters). Today, Governor Baxter turns out small runs of outdoor apparel and other goods inspired by the American-made outerwear the 57-year-old White remembers growing up with — particularly old-school L.L.Bean goods. Pejepscot Purchase, which he opened last year, is filled with packs, jackets, pocket knives, and other “sturdy goods” — some that White has designed, much that he’s collected — that wouldn’t look out of place in one of L.L.’s earliest catalogs. “I look in antique stores and at vintage clothing for inspiration,” he says. “I grew up around these things, and they have the aesthetic that I want to be associated with.”

White’s latest collaborative Filson vest. “It’s rugged outerwear, but it has rustic elegance,” he says. “My products are engineered for the elements and to be durable but also cool looking and stylish in their own way.”

Of late, White has been collaborating with Seattle-based Filson, maker, for more than a century, of famously durable workwear for miners, loggers, and ranchers — and, more recently, the style-conscious urbanites who enjoy dressing like them. White’s done two vests with the heritage brand, which started out selling his Governor Baxter dog beds. The most recent was a run of 50 zippered, reversible vests, with pockets on both sides, sewed by a Maine sailmaker. One side is made with Filson’s waterproof waxed canvas (hence the heft), the other with White’s signature material: World War II–era military blankets, which he sources from flea markets and online sellers, giving all of his Governor Baxter vests both warmth and historic character. 

“There’s an element of mystery to each blanket,” he says. “Was this blanket in Europe? Or the Pacific theater?” All but one of the Filson x Governor Baxter Reversible Vests sold within 24 hours. White kept one for display in his shop; as of this writing, the Filson website touts a single vest still in stock (size small, in teal).

Gear and trinkets at Pejepscot Purchase look like they were salvaged from one of Percival Baxter’s mid-century Katahdin trips.

Governor Baxter products don’t come cheap — a dog bed costs $500, an external-frame pack with vintage-blanket tarpaulin sets you back $975 —  but then neither do the materials White uses: waxed-cotton canvas, fluffy kapok fill, organic silk. Other than thread he uses to stitch things together (made partly with polyester), he relies only on all-natural fabrics. “Cotton and wool are the original performance fabrics,” he says. “All this extra synthetic stuff companies use is overkill.” 

Since hanging his shingle at Pejepscot Purchase, White’s left a full-time job in retail design. He’s focusing these days on custom vest orders, refining his mitten pattern, and a jacket design he has percolating. He’d love to do another collab with Filson. But whatever his next project, he says, what won’t change is his commitment to a throwback aesthetic and time-tested materials. “I think they’re the future,” he says.

May 2024, Down East Magazine

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