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Interview with Christian Chensvold

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April 2, 2013 by Ville Raivio

VR: Your age and occupation?

CC: I’m 43 and a freelance writer.

VR: Your educational background?

CC: Alas, my education is not in line with my IQ. I suppose I’m a classic underachiever. The primary distinction of my alma mater is its close proximity to Disneyland. I did, however, attend on a fencing scholarship and trained under a Hall of Fame coach, and was the conference champion my senior year. After graduation I spent the summer in a French intensive at Cal Berkeley, then enrolled in the master’s program in Comparative Literature at San Francisco State. But after one semester I was bored, disillusioned with academia, and restless to move on.

VR: How did you first become interested in clothing, and when did you turn your eyes towards classic style? Why classics instead of fashion?

CC: I was definitely born with the gene for enjoying clothes and was sensitive to which items felt right on me even as a young boy. In my senior year of high school I saw several films that made a big impression on me, including “Wall Street” and “The Untouchables,” and I started buying fashion magazines and Flusser’s “Clothes And The Man.” By the time I left high school I was already deeply interested in tailored clothing and taking most of my style cues from the past.

VR: How have you gathered your knowledge of clothing– from books, in-house training, workshops or somewhere else?

CC: That first interest was sparked 25 years ago, and I’ve never stopped being interested in clothes. Since about 2004 I’ve been writing about style and the apparel industry for a wide range of trade and consumer publications.

VR: A career in menswear journalism is a rare thing. How were you lead to this path?

CC: Certainly not the direct route. I became interested in the history of dandyism while in college, and some of my first articles were dandy-related. But in my ’20s I mostly was a general features writer, and also worked at a couple of business and finance magazines. After moving from San Francisco to Los Angeles that business experience enabled me to start taking assignments from an apparel industry trade newspaper, which led to other work writing about menswear and related lifestyle topics.

Most of the media outlets are very trend-driven, however, and I’m not a fashion guy. The Rake has enabled me to do articles and essays that are more tied to the social history of clothing, or even what you might call style theory, and those have been more enjoyable.

VR: How would you describe your own dress?

CC: I’ve had certain preferences since the very beginning, but there’s certainly been a lot of change over the years, the curse of those with dynamic personalities and wide-ranging tastes. So my dress is always evolving, though within more fixed parameters lately.

I started out a kind of Anglophile traditionalist, then had to get a lot of other experimentation out of my system. I’ve returned to that taste for classic dress, though with a much more American bent. In the Ivy League Look I found a genre of clothing that is fairly fixed, which perhaps appeals to my sense of order. But it’s also flexible enough to appeal to all the sides of my personality. It can be cool, elegant, sporty, conservative. I also strongly identify with the approach of being relatively dressed up with casual attire and relatively dressed down with formal attire.

I’ve never been a retro-eccentric vintage wearer, though I’ve always taken my inspiration from the past. These days I’m playing with this kind of “beatnik chic” idea, which basically comes down to wearing my Ivy gear with, say, a black corduroy cap, black cable-knit cashmere sweater, and black penny loafers. But ask me next year and I’ll likely be working a different vibe.

VR: Which tailors/RTW makers do you favour?

CC: I have some made-to-measure items from H. Freeman, and the rest comes from the usual suspects in the trad genre: Ralph Lauren, Brooks Brothers, J. Press, O’Connell’s and various others.

VR: You’ve set up several interesting sites. How did they come about and how have these been received? Any ventures ahead my readers should know about?

CC: With Dandyism.net and Ivy-Style.com I took two topics that had great interest for me and rich histories — two centuries for dandyism and one for the Ivy League Look — and combined the presentation of historical documents with dashes of my own personality. It’s a combination I think really works, and I’m not sure there’s another topic out there that would provide the same opportunity.

It started in 2004 when I had a number of writings on dandyism that were lying about, some published and some not, and was aware that there was not a proper central resource for dandyism on the Internet. I began thinking about starting a website that I originally envisioned as a scholarly resource that would primarily be a kind of bibliography. But then I became aware of the rise of blogs, which was happening at the same time, and once I banged out the first couple of posts that combined a sort of personal narrative along with news geared towards a reader with an interest in dandyism, a seemingly endless creative vista opened up.

I think the flexibility that the blog format provides, along with the combination of working a narrow beat for a niche audience while providing personal commentary, is the perfect venue for my particular temperament and talents.

VR: Ivy-style, the exhibition and its accompanying book seem like the perfect success story. Please describe how they came to be.

CC: I was very glad that my website and its posts from many contributing writers provided the chief inspiration for the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, and was pleased to have them use my Q&A with Richard Press in the accompanying book.

VR: What other hobbies or passions do you have besides clothing and writing?

CC: I’ve played many sports in my life, and taken on other pursuits such as swing and ballroom dancing, billiards, chess, and so forth. I’m always up for learning something new. These days I’m playing a lot of tennis and piano, and am deeply obsessed with golf, which I consider the most difficult activity mankind has ever created.

VR: Over the years you must have learned quite a bit about apparel. Is there something you wish more men would know?

CC: I don’t particularly care about what other men know or don’t know. I’m not a style evangelist, though some of my busywork involves educational pieces that point out the traditions of menswear or make style suggestions. Over the past couple of years I’ve realized I have almost no interest in what other men are wearing, how much they spent or where they got their clothes, or if they take a medal and knock me off the podium. Since moving to New York I’ve really enjoyed the company of the friends and colleagues I have in menswear, but let’s just say when talking shop with them I lost all compulsion to evaluate what they’re wearing and whether or not I approve. Let others do what they want; the only person whose clothes I’m interested in are my own.

VR: Many of my readers are young or have only recently opted for a more formal style. What tips would you give to those who have only recently become interested in more or less tailored clothing? This is an extremely useful chance to have a lasting effect on many young men.

CC: Looking back on my more impoverished and less enlightened youth, I’d say I made sacrifices in the fit department in the interest of having something I liked or could afford.

Today I’d say quality is less of a concern and would advise a young man to devote his resources to tailoring alterations and to choose his items carefully in regards to fit, and to not be overly concerned with quality, which he can become a connoisseur of later when it’s not so financially punitive. If you’re young and healthy and charismatic and radiant with life’s possibilities, you’ll probably make a great impression in just about anything you wear as long as they fit you.

Pictures: © The Rake, Free&Easy

http://www.ivy-style.com/

http://www.dandyism.net/


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"If John Bull turns around to look at you, you are not well dressed; but either too stiff, too tight, or too fashionable".
~ Beau Brummell