Monday, December 5, 2016

No Holds Barred: Looking for one good man

by Blair Sabol

I was looking for one good man. And I don’t mean to know, or to date or to marry.  I mean one good man to look at in decent clothes!

30 years ago I could walk up Park Avenue and see great looking guys in great suits, terrific haircuts, carrying stunning briefcases. It was all vintage “Mad Men,” but it looked good.
I was recently in New York City for 5 days. Okay. Kiss that all goodbye. Time to move on ... but to what? Distressed jeans? Puffer jackets? Terrible sneakers and giant backpacks (for women as well, but now men look worse)? And forget the man buns, or even Men’s Wearhouse boxy bomber jackets. And let's get past fat men (boys?) in Thom Browne “Pee Wee Herman” short tight suits.

One night I attended the theatre and every man looked like he was a Boot Camp instructor in Camouflage stretch gear. Really?  Then I went to a Steely Dan concert, and the audience was filled with guys in giant “untuckit” shirts and sloppy jeans. 
This is how people dress when going to the theater ... or going anywhere for that matter.
I was even surprised that the actual Steely Dan backup band and lead guitarist Walter Becker were also in giant t-shirts and saggy denims all looking like meatballs! (Donald Fagen, on the other hand, looked cool but he always does) I get that they are men “of a certain age” and yes, Jerry Garcia and The Grateful Dead never dressed better than their “come-as-you-are” audience, BUT ... concert tickets are now $300 to $600 apiece. Where’s the respect for your audience, at least show up in clothes that fit!

I understand we are in a “Mark Zuckerberg” age where hoodies and baggy shorts are the look for Silicon Valley CEO’s.  But honestly – is it really “cool” or simply “lazy” to look so lousy.  Does it really show stylistic edginess or simply self-contempt?
After a week of seeing “bad men” (not “Mad Men”) looking awful on New York City's streets I started to get depressed. I don’t follow menswear magazines and never care about Men’s Fashion weeks (who honestly does?), but it shouldn’t be that complicated. I did hear about the London iconic Drakes For Men opening a pop up store till January at 120 Prince Street in Soho. I had to go just to give me hope.  Drakes is actually known for their whimsical silk patterned ties ($165) and pocket squares ($60) and giant wool/silk blend scarves ($250).

When I arrived, three millennial guys were buying wool scarves and some silk shirts ($175).  The store setup was very small and appealing but they had little stock outside of the ties, a tweed jacket, and wool cardigans. But it was clearly all delightful to see “classics done with a twist” as described by 24-year-old sales guy Alexander Winchell (literally out of central casting dressed in his Drakes English garb and slight British accent).  Drakes is also carried online and in Barneys but this quick visit to the sample store allowed me a visual beauty rest from the reality of street slobbery!
Sales Associate Alexander Winchell costumed by Drakes.
Sales assistant Matthew Woodruff straightening ties at Drakes.
Drakes notorious silk ties and pocket squares.
Drakes shirt and silk tie.
Drakes Jacket and Cardigan.
Drakes pocket square in Drakes tweed jacket.
Famous Drakes wool scarf and silk ties.
More Drakes ties.
Famous Drakes scarves.
I shared my tale of bad men’s clothes woes at dinner one night with renowned photographer Harry Benson who is a terrific dresser (and who just turned 87 years old). Harry and I worked together on Vogue assignments 40 years ago. I was impressed then with his attention to personal style. He always wore a Saville Row tweed jacket and a silk pocket square.  He said, “It was always important to me to dress well and play the part.  It was about my self-respect.  Also, I got better pictures when I looked good.  People reacted better to me.”

He also always wears Guerlain’s Vetiver (now I do too). While Harry wore his best, most of the other photographers of his day donned their dirty Hunting World safari jackets, baggy jeans and cowboy boots. Different shots for different shooters. No matter what Harry was and still is considered a class act!
Me and Harry "modeling" over lunch.
But the person who really helped me get through my shock and awe of today's male visuals was style writer George Hahn.  I started reading George’s blog (georgehahn.com) in July when he posted a column called “Leaving New York.”  It was his story of having lived in the city for over 22 years “surviving as a Swiss army knife” being a hair salon receptionist, actor, waiter, model, voice over, website designer — you name it, and finally realizing he could no longer make it financially.  It was such a popular piece it went viral and everyone I know read it and thought George nailed it.  Not only the description of what NYC has become in 2016, but of his heartbreak and courageous decision to leave it all.
George Hahn — Men's observer/blogger extraordinaire — at my hotel dressed in a black Suit Supply suit, white shirt, tie and brogues. 
But what does exiting Manhattan have to do with style?  Actually, Everything.

Because George “covered the Waterfront” in NYC (he even appeared in “Sex in the City” as a stripping boyfriend of Miranda), he has seen it all and done it all and worn it all.

He came to NYC in 1994 after graduating Boston College and his rent for a shared apartment in the Upper West Side was $380. Today he pays $2,300 for a Hells Kitchen studio for him and his two rescue dogs Smokey and Lenore. He runs a tight life, but his blog (started in 2008 as a tech/iPhone info site and then he went mostly menswear style in 2010) gets 50,000 page viewers a month.
George even looks good on a bike.
I immediately got hooked on his philosophy of “a boring guy who blows $4500 on a suit and $1500 on a pair of shoes, $10,000 on a watch and is still boring. He’s just a boring guy in a $16,000 outfit. Congratulations.”

He describes himself in his blog banner as a “self made thousandaire in hot pursuit of sartorial stealth and effective living. If you don’t enjoy the site – it’s his fault.”

One of George's favorite touches: a scarlet bemberg lining.
These Chippewa General Utility Service Boots are winter weather essentials for George and "one of the best nvestments I ever made."
For that winter glare, you'll find George wearing Ray-Ban Aviators. "You can't mess with the original."
So George shares his experience of finding a great $760 suit, a great pair of $80 wingtips and a $98 watch with his avid followers.  His site is not the typical product driven exercise in self-promotion and narcissism.  It’s George’s adventures in looking good for less (and please, no second hand or vintage stores for him).  He’s not only into menswear but also music and movie reviews and great editorials on “Life” (His Arnold Palmer obituary was stellar).  He has all the wisdom of a Tim Gunn teacher but he is younger and grittier.

I insisted on meeting Hahn in person while I was in NYC after 6 months of reading him daily.  He arrived to my hotel for a drink in a torrential rainstorm dressed in a great black raincoat, a black Suit Supply suit, white shirt, tie and brogues.  This was no “dandy” or “tricked out” appearance.  He was James Bond cool – and as naturally handsome as all of his website photos.

He immediately assured me “Look, it's not just about what you wear – it is everything you are.  One can be born with or one can learn it.  But it can’t be bought.  I do not own one designer label.  Not one! ... the tease is you gotta have the Tom Ford suit – if it's killing you financially – don’t do it.”

Immediately he agreed with the current slobism of menswear.  Go read his essay on his blog “While our Sense of Occasion goes on Life Support.”

At a recent theatre performance he was the only one in the audience wearing a suit.  “Everyone else looked like they were at a Yankee game.  It’s about the comfort of blending in and I’m over that.”

Hahn is 46 and continues to shop for timeless, trend-proof clothing.  He loves Sean Connery as James Bond, Steve McQueen in the Thomas Crown Affair and Liev Shreiber as Ray Donovan.  He even posted the current 82-year-old Leonard Cohen looking elegant in his black suit.

When I raved to him about what a great and helpful style maven he has become via his blog, podcasts and Instagrams — he merely waved me on — “I’m not a stylist, or an expert — I’m just an interested observer of life and I am constantly learning and desperately want to share.  I guess I’m just a passionately informed amateur.”
Steve McQueen in "The Thomas Crown Affair" (1968).
Cary Grant (wearing Kilgour) in "North by Northwest" (1959).
Marcello Mastroianni in New York City.
Sean Connery in "Dr. No" (1962).
So here’s what I learned from his video posts; how to shave better with a simple straight razor, how to best shine and store your good shoes, how to restore a desk lamp he found on the street and how to wash his favorite Levi’s 501 jeans in the bathtub to give it that perfect shrunken fit.  He is his own best model and he is extremely tough and honest in his explanations and evaluations.  He is the best “Consumer Reports” and his dogs often get in on the act.

Hahn’s greatest summation (much like Harry Benson) to me about dressing well was “As my father taught me, I learned to dress out of respect for the people, places, and things I am seeing.  No one really does or cares about that today.  Plus, I notice when I do dress well, I get better tables, faster service, and nice complements.  But most of all I do it because it is who I want to be. I want to be my fucking best!”
"There is a lot of good stuff for too much money, and there is a lot of bad stuff for too much money. There is also a lot of bad stuff for not too much money, but then there is the good stuff for not too much money."
So now, Hahn is actually breaking up with is 22-year-long relationship with NYC and moving on. “Surviving in NYC is like pining for the affection of an indifferent lover who doesn’t care if I spend the night or go home.”  You must read his current “So Long, New York” posting. It says it all about living and breathing and dressing for any city!

George is going to continue his online magazine in his move back to his hometown of Cleveland!  Yes, Cleveland (you don’t need to live in NYC anymore to be “current.”) Personally I think Cleveland is about to become the next big city – remember it’s “Hot in Cleveland” – and it just got hotter with Hahn in town.