June 6, 2013 by Ville Raivio
‘I’m 36 years old and I teach History to 13 year olds…yes, I am slightly off balanced! But I do come from a family of educators and creators and I feel both have helped me to become the man, teacher and creator that I am today. I have a Master’s Degree in Secondary Education and a Bachelor’s Degree in History from Hofstra University on Long Island, just outside of New York City. I grew up going to Catholic School within the city and eventually made my way to Hofstra after a couple of years “finding myself” in my late teens. Even though my parents were both educators, I came from a fairly solid blue collar family. My grandparents both sweat and toiled to earn the livings they did and they fought through intense prejudice being Catholics and being Southern Italians in the United States and that clearly impacted my mind when I was growing up.
College, although a must for me in my parents’ eyes, didn’t seem so necessary to me as I saw that my grandparents worked hard and succeeded in life without a college degree. So after High School I entered the “work force,” working a retail job at a video store before eventually becoming a cleaner at a local school. This experience taught me just how valuable an education was, and even though as a 19-year-old, I was making more money than most of my friends, I was sweating and working through nasty stuff to get it. I realized what my grandfathers went through and realized that if I threw the opportunity that they worked so hard for away, I would be dishonoring all they sacrificed. Needless to say, I enrolled in college and eventually was inducted into the National Historians Honor Society during my junior year at Hofstra. It was one of the last times I got to see my grandmother, and I remember seeing how proud she was of me, especially knowing how much their generation sacrificed for mine.
My wife and two children are my world. My daughter turns 5 at the end of June. Her name is Breuckelen Viviana, named after our home and my aforementioned grandmother and my son, Hudson Antonio, also named after part of our great city and my grandfather (a former cement worker, truck driver, and Second WW hero) will be 4 in September. My wife Courtney enables me to be the best man, father and person that I can be. She is always there at my side in everything I do, and the same holds true for Yellow Hook. As well as my partner in life, she is a partner at work…not only in the school we both teach at (where we met 10 years ago) but as the co-owner of Yellow Hook Neckties. My daughter and I enjoy wearing the same bright orange pants once in a while and my son is a huge Nike-o-phile, like I am. My daughter is also very scent oriented…she helps me every morning pick out the right cologne for the occasion as we leave the door together. She has learned to associate certain scents with certain days of the week, and soon she’ll be able to distinguish that some of the scents go for more casual wear (jeans) and others more formal wear (jacket and tie). It’s pretty exciting to think that she’s into this and also that my son will be able to share this passion with me one day if he so chooses.
[As for my family’s reactions to my style,] honestly, my mother was embarrassed. I’m not quite sure why, but when I first told her about being in Esquire and asked her to share with her friends she laughed me off. She did, however, come around, and I’m not surprised she did. My parents’ entire house (a two family 2500 square foot house at that) is basically her storage closet, which also stores my dad. Ha, he really isn’t into clothes too much but always dressed for his job as lead administrator and headmaster of a prestigious all girls Catholic High School on Staten Island. He was always a big fan of colorful, loud, borderline ugly ties. I guess I share that with him, not in my choice of neckwear, but I feel some of the more conservative dressers on the Interwebs see my style as a bit to eccentric and mish mashed, but I suppose that’s my personality. I’m not what a lot of people expect. I’m 35, an educator, a father, a husband, a big brother, and an eldest son, but more than anything I’m Peter Pan. I’m a big kid. It helps being silly when you’re trying to get 14-year-olds to remember why Reconstruction in the American South after the Civil War has left a lasting impact on our nation, and on race relations for much of our lifetimes. That part of my personality, and my father’s, I guess, shines through when we splash boldness in our attire.
Ignoring fashion is a mistake. Especially if you’re a flamboyant/silly character like I think I am. But you always have to let the classics ground you. Simply walking into a Madison Avenue boutique and picking out an entire wardrobe based on labels isn’t fun, and it isn’t creative. It’s boring, just like wearing a classic navy suit, with a light blue shirt and soporific tie is. And it is boring. I can’t stand the same things over and over again in any aspect of my life, whether it’s my hair, my facial hair, my footwear, or even my choice of extra curricular activity. But, just like its always important to be in shape, no matter how you choose to get there, it’s always important to know what the rules are and break them very selectively based on the trends that permeate the runways of Europe and the streets of Brooklyn. And plenty of style, my style, comes from the latter. I chat with my students on a daily basis on the latest drops from Nike, and why the newest Air Jordan that they’re cutting school (with their parents, I might add) for are worth it or not.
But back to the original question, when I really started getting serious, exploring bespoke and spending more than $500 on a pair of shoes was after I was married. On our honeymoon my wife and I went to a beach resort in South Carolina, which we return to almost every summer with our entire family now, and there were more than a few pictures of me shirtless at the pool, or of the two of us. She was gorgeous, slim, smiling and then there was me. Tubby, to say the least. I was 210 pounds and at 5’9” I looked like a barrel of a young man, 10 years older than I really was. So I decided to get serious about my diet and exercise routine. I almost immediately noticed that clothing looked immensely better on me as a slender man, and began buying more and more quality pieces. Over the next few years I bulked up lifting weights at the gym, which only increased my drop in chest size to waist and made me look even stronger as a well-dressed man. So I suppose this was the moment for me when I really became interested in what was good, rather than what GQ and Esquire said was good, which sometimes is the case, but not always.
Practice makes perfect. Much of what I’ve learned about menswear was from actually going out, shopping, creating and reading. When I first started getting into it I was a shop-a-holic. A couple of huge credit card bills later I learned what I liked, what was worth it for me, what fit well and what was just a waste. I’d be lying if I said GQ, Esquire and Details, the three main men’s style rags here in the States, didn’t play a role. They did, and they still do. I still keep all three coming to my home every month, even if it’s just to laugh at. They are a good place to start for someone just setting out on the journey. Most of my knowledge, however, has come from places online like Styleforum.net, Ask Andy, Keikari, PutThisOn and a plethora of other blogs, commercial and non-commercial.
The #menswear bloggers really play such an important role in helping young men get started in this wonderful hobby of ours. So often the internet is where people go to take solace in their hidden passions, on so many levels, and it really has freed our minds as a people. Just look at the Middle East and the Revolutions that have taken place there in the last few years to bring Democracy to places where I’d never thought it would exist in my lifetime. That’s all thanks to the Internet. Even movements within Democratic nations are fostered by the Internet and help keep our governments on their toes and acting in the interests of their people. If the Internet can work for such high stakes issues, why not for something as superficial as style as well. Because let’s face it, as great as we all may look, or think we look, we are no better than the person on the inside that we take to bed each evening…ourselves.
I would describe my style as very “Brooklyn”. Brooklyn, my home, is such a wonderful place, full of diversity in population as well as diversity in its history. We’ve been through, and gone through, so much as Brooklynites and New Yorkers in the past 100 years and I feel like how I dress reflects the way my borough has evolved over the course of its history. I have no issue combining tough workwear elements like jeans and boots with fine, tailored bespoke clothing. I feel it represents what Brooklyn has always represented…the whole picture coming together through very different parts.
It’s one of the inspirations for my tie collection at Yellow Hook. I love using tough tweeds and combining them with the delicate hands of our makers into a wonderfully crafted-by-hand piece that’s tough as nails. Just like Brooklyn, it has an element of luxury, like the multi-million dollar brownstones, as well as the toughness and grit of a hardworking class that is still evident in the blue collar neighborhoods like Bensonhurst, Flatbush, and my home, Bay Ridge. Yellow Hook, in fact, was the original name for Bay Ridge and was only changed in the mid 1800s when Yellow Hookers began to fear people would stay away from their beautiful village for fear of associating it with the Yellow Fever outbreaks of the time. Located atop a bluff (ridge) overlooking New York Bay, the name seemed to fit just right as the ever-evolving enclave grew from a sleepy country escape to the bustling hub it is today.
Aside from Yellow Hook, where a lot of my discretionary funds are headed these days, my favorite RTW shop, and pretty much where I exclusively drop my coin now, is Epaulet NY. I feel like they bridge the “trendy young man” look and “classic style” better than anyone else out there at the moment. Plus, they’re a local business with a shop right here in Brooklyn as well as NYC’s Lower East Side. They’re not afraid to try new things and set the tone when it comes to the latest in classic men’s gear, they have all of their stuff Made in the USA or Europe and they price their wares fairly. I especially love some of their bolder trousers and shirts, which I’ve become pretty addicted to. It’s nice to know I can go somewhere local, run by great folks, who get me and my style. They are very Brooklyn.
Yellow Hook was actually born from the creative juices of my wife and I. One evening as we were coming home from a BBQ we were discussing how we felt we needed an outlet for our creativity as our teaching profession has been becoming more and more creatively restrictive. She can sew, and I felt I had a great eye for fabrics, so we started by making a few ties right here in our small two-bedroom apartment. Those first few ties, some of which I still wear often, some that became part of our first release, took an exorbitant amount of time (about 8 hours each from start to finish) and with two little kids on top of a day job, we realized we needed to hire some folks who were just as skilled, just as passionate, but with a bit more time and experience. Guess what.
We found them in a heartbeat, and right in our neighborhood in Brooklyn. We are quite happy with how things are moving so far, and we’re not looking to grow exponentially. I want to keep Yellow Hook small batch, like a good bourbon. I want it to remain ENTIRELY handcrafted. Today, the tag “hand made” gets thrown around like a football at a Bar-B-Que, when in reality the garments are really machine made but it’s those machines that are operated by hand, or a certain percentage of the garment is “made by hand”. We don’t abide by that. To us, Hand Made should mean from start to finish. Cut, sew, stitch, label…EVERYTHING.
That’s what a Yellow Hook is. No part of our ties ever sees anything but a hand and a needle. And we’re damn proud of that. I think our customers are also. Most of our business is from repeat buyers, and to me that’s the biggest compliment a designer and a maker can get. No “thank you” is better than a customer coming back for more. It tells us that the customer is happy and they trust us to provide the same great product again, at a fair price. Some of our customers are extremely passionate about our ties, and we love it. Even I make sure to keep one of each of the ties we make, because, well, I’m our first customer. A tie doesn’t get through to our site unless it gets in my closet.
Again, the biggest joy I get out of YH is the fact that our integrity is second to none. We don’t use machines. We make ties the same way my ancestors did when they immigrated to Brooklyn from San Fele, Basilicata, in the 1880s when they set up shop here in Brooklyn as custom tailors. We do things the old-fashioned way, slowly and one at a time. You’ll never see us in a department store, and we’re being VERY selective with the boutiques we’re offering our goods to. We simply cannot produce more than 150 neckties a year and keep the quality and workmanship at the level we demand, so we simply won’t. Everything we sell comes straight through my hands and into yours, along with a personalized handwritten note. In a time where automated responses are the norm, we want customers to have that old timey feeling when they buy one of our ties, even if its over the internet, and we feel the small touches like the handwritten thank you for every order, and the fact that either my wife or I literally pack up your tie in our apartment, means something.
Pictured: vintage fabric from 1937 for YHN’s special orders, on offer this August
We set ourselves apart by delivering the kind of service and quality that could only be found a hundred years ago. Even at fine bespoke houses, the garments get sent into the back to be worked on by a staff. Your Yellow Hook Necktie starts in the same person’s hands it finishes in. It never touches a machine, and the time taken to craft, truly craft, our ties in something that I’m confident NO OTHER tiemaker in the world can replicate. Once you hit a certain number of sales, a normal apparel company will look to grow, and get bigger and bigger and bigger. We want to keep our ethos solid. Even if we do grow to a larger business one day, you can bet we will do it on our terms, and not sacrifice what makes a Yellow Hook special to make more Yellow Hooks. Each tie we make, and sell, is a labor of love, by artisans who do this because they love it, not because it pays the rent. That’s something that no other tie maker out there can claim, I’m confident in that, and that shows in the product we craft and our customers remind us of that everytime they re-up and order again.
I’ve always been interested in football and hockey, and have played throughout my adult years at various amateur levels in both sports. I follow SSC Napoli, in the Serie A, my hometown club, and Manchester City in the Barclay’s Premier League. Following these two teams is always filled, and has always been filled with lots of ups and downs…so it really is a rollercoaster ride. As far as the NHL, I grew up a fan of the New York Rangers, going to games with my father, who had a season ticket. But now with the Islanders moving to Brooklyn in 2015, I’ll be jumping ship to follow my hometown team playing right in my backyard. I’m glad to know that my kids will have a team playing right here that they can follow and feel some sort of real connection with. Any team that plays in Brooklyn gets that, and it’s truly special.
Lately though, a real passion of mine has been enjoying good whiskey. My wife and I have amassed a very nice collection since we started drinking it about a year ago. Two or three drinks is a nice way to end the day. We particularly enjoy Islay Single Malt Scotches (Laphroaig and Ardbeg in particular) and Kentucky Bourbons. It’s such a treat acquire new tastes with every sip and it’s truly a wonderful hobby.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about style since I started, it is that it’s ok to push the envelope. Don’t be afraid to try something new, something different. And don’t let the same circle of friends you grew up with dictate how you should dress, and in the broader sense, feel. Dress how you like, and try different things. Eventually, you’ll figure out what works and what doesn’t, and you never really are a failure in this game. It’s always that one person who pushes the envelope when a trend or style catches on and if you think about that, without those trailblazers, we’d still be dressing in the regalia of history. After all, the necktie wasn’t always popular. It was only when the French, who brought it back from their battles centuries ago while fighting alongside the necktied Croats, did the kerchief become a part of a man’s daily get up. And although 90% of men don’t wear a tie now, maybe you could be the one to change minds in your office, or classroom, and be remembered as the trend setter, and hopefully it will be a Yellow hook that sets it!’
Pictures: © the Rossicone family