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Interview with ’emptym’

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July 23, 2013 by Ville Raivio

‘I’m 39. This year, truly. After that, just like Jack Benny, it may be forever. I’m a professor. As an undergrad I studied international relations, did some philosophy and theology in Germany, and have a PhD. My family is fairly into aesthetics, but they definitely aren’t as interested in it as much as I am, except perhaps my sister and one brother, who’s an architect. My main interests outside of work and family are martial arts, motorcycling, the outdoors, and social justice issues in the broad sense.

There’s probably no such thing as timelessness in dress, but I think there are environmental, social, practical, and financial advantages to preferring things that won’t quickly go out of style. From as far back as I can remember, I’ve preferred things that are handmade and designed to last. For example, my dad used to travel for work and would bring back little presents for us kids. I always preferred things made of wood or metal to those made of plastic. For a while, I wanted to be a craftsman of some sort.

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My interest in clothing probably started when my mom and sister would take me with them when shopping, which didn’t really happen that often or for very long. But I can remember them asking each other and me for feedback on what they were thinking of buying. The earliest clothes I remember were things I had in kindergarten, like Wrangler jeans, Grapevines corduroys, a green track suit, and Oakland Raiders pyjamas, which I always wanted to wear under my normal clothes to school.

There are pictures of me in coat and tie as a kid, but the first time I can remember paying attention to that kind of dress was sometime in junior high, when my dad took me to buy shoes. He pointed out Florsheims and told me that he and my grandfathers on both sides wore them. I learned things from them by observation, of course, but they didn’t intentionally teach me much about dress, other than how to polish shoes or tie a tie.

When I was in high school, my sister gave me a year’s subscription to GQ and the book Personal Style, by James Wagenvoord. I read those pretty carefully but I didn’t buy any more material on style until I got Roetzel’s book in Germany several years later. I bought it mainly for a fun way to practice German, but I learned a lot about traditional men’s clothing from it too. That, plus living abroad there and in the Philippines, gave me a more international outlook.

So I’d say my style is pretty much a product of my family and background: my dad’s New England, LL Bean-influenced style, my mom’s Filipino/Spanish/Chinese heritage, some Southwestern cowboy/surfer/skater stuff from being raised in Nevada, and traditional East Coast stuff from college, grad school, and a few years working there. So I might wear a barong one day and cowboy boots with a tweed jacket the next. Generally, though, I try to dress fairly unobtrusively. For work I wear a moderately cut sport coat and tie. Casually, I tend to wear jeans and an old shirt or sweater. The items are typically plain, but they’ve been selected for fit, construction, and materials.

Instead of accumulating a lot of things, I prefer to have a relatively small amount of high-quality items that are versatile, durable, and practical. I hate waste, so before buying something, I’ll think for a long time, usually years, about what I want/need, its purpose, what type of materials and design would be best, and where to get it in a way that’s economical but also environmentally friendly and socially responsible. So almost all my stuff is from thrift stores or custom made. And for the past few years, I’ve made myself give something away if I get something new.

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For suits and sport coats, my favorite for the past few years has been W.W. Chan. I was fortunate enough to have spent a week or so in Hong Kong and got my first suit then. Their head cutter, Patrick Chu, and everyone else they have working for them is extremely competent and courteous. I’d like to find a local tailor, but I haven’t been able to find anyone as good as Chan for the money. If I had unlimited resources, I’d go to Chris Despos in Chicago. He’s a smart, kind man, who’s really dedicated to the pursuit of excellence.

Chan and Salvatore Ambrosi have made me pants that fit perfectly. Chan’s are machine-sewn and have the cleanest lines possible. Ambrosi’s have a little more shape to them and these little old-school details that make them works of art.  My favorite example is probably the button at the corner where the fly, the waistband and the other side of the pants meet. It faces the opposite direction of most buttons. At first I thought it was silly, but now I appreciate how it keeps the top of the fly closed. I should also mention Cornell’s in Manila who make very good clothes, particularly their pants.

I’ve tried several shirt-makers, but I like Luxire and CEGO best. Carl, the owner of CEGO is a lot of fun and knows his stuff. If I lived in New York, I’d buy a lot of shirts from him, partly just to hang out in his shop. Luxire is probably the most interesting company I use now. Ashish, the owner, is a family man, very smart, and committed to delivering top-quality products. Luxire’s branching out into other types of garments and will eventually to be able to make anything, even weave their own sweaters.  They already provide the best value for shirts and pants of anyone I know in the world. And they have total flexibility about details. I recommend their stuff to my friends.

For shoes, I’m fortunate enough to have a pair of custom boots made by D.W. Frommer II, who’s thought by many to be the world’s best cowboy boot maker. I’m visiting him in a couple months to have the fit assessed and order a new pair. The ones I have from him now are easily my favorites, what I’d wear if our place was on fire. They’re a good example of something I thought through for years, in this case over ten. I commute by motorcycle or bicycle and these are dressy enough for coat and tie, but high and strong enough to offer some protection in the rain or a fall, and even the materials they were made of (from Horween and Baker) are socially and environmentally friendly.

Again, if I had the resources, I’d love a pair of shoes by Perry Ercolino just outside of Philadelphia.

Interview_with_'emptym'_at_Keikari_dot_com3High shell cordovan chukkas by Frommer

For RTW, I really like Alfred Sargent, Rider Boots and Alden. I think I have more Alfred Sargent shoes than any other, partly because of their great, former manager, Chay Cooper. I worked with Chay on a few mto’s, one of which became a handgrade model that’s named after me. I wish Florsheim would make shoes to their old standards and in the US, particularly the Yuma/Langsford loafer.
Most of my ties and pocket squares were from thrift stores, but I have a few from internet favorites like Panta, Vanda, Howard Yount, Kent Wang, Hober, and Drake’s. I particularly like that Gerald and his wife make the Vanda ties.

For casual stuff, I like regular jeans from Levis or Taylor Stitch, Onno hemp t-shirts, and outdoors stuff from Patagonia, some of which I’ve owned for 20-something years.

I found Styleforum in 2006 when I moved (back) to DC and googled “alterations tailor, Washington DC.” A bunch of internet forums showed up on the first page. At the time, I thought I knew a lot about clothes, but the forums opened my eyes to many details about tradition and some of the world’s best craftsmen. At first, I preferred the London Lounge, since I thought it had the highest concentration of knowledge. But there was so much more activity on Styleforum and a broader range of discussion. The Current Events section has some really smart, informed guys participating: economists for different governments, a Bush speechwriter, professors of various fields. Before I became a moderator, the majority of my time was spent on CE. Now I barely have time for it.

I’m inspired by almost everything.  When I was a kid, I had one of those “oneness with a loving universe” moments. Since then I’ve usually been able, as the Jesuits say, to find God or infinite goodness in all things. Prayer helps to sustain that, as do friends and family, jogs along the bay, etc.

The forum influences my style a lot, but in particular, I’ve admired and been influenced by guys like itsstillmatt, Manton, T4phage, RJman, dopey, edmorel, Parker, Maomao, the Armoury guys, alden, A. Harris, Baron, Neofinitia, whoopee, and Tirailleur1.

The blogs/tumblers I visit most often are TheGiftsofLife, ASuitableWardrobe, DieWorkWearDie, ABitofColor, Voxsartoria, and TheHCC.

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I’m not sure I can define style, but if I had to try, I’d say it’s a lot like an Aristotelian virtue such as courage or moderation: Anyone can act virtuously by accident, but to do it consistently takes years of study and practice. And one only really has a virtue when one has developed a habit and thus can act with ease. It involves learning and applying general principals, but it’s more about becoming a certain kind of person, the kind who can assess the many different particularities of a concrete situation and make a good judgment of what’s best here and now, regardless of whether or not it follows tradition perfectly or is creative of tradition.

The fundamental thing I recommend is that people pay more attention to what they do and why they do it. We often follow swiftly-changing trends created by marketers trying to sell products and make profit. Change and money aren’t bad.  But I think we should ask ourselves a lot more questions about what we do than we usually do. Why do I want this? Is it just to fit in? Is it just to feel different? Is it because some celebrity (or WAYWRN star) endorsed it? Do I need it? Is there a better way I could spend my money? How was the item produced? Were the workers treated well? Was the environment?

Style, in my opinion, is an important part of life, but it should be viewed in light of the larger whole.’

http://www.styleforum.net/u/15964/emptym

Pictures: © ’emptym’


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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