December 17, 2020 by Ville Raivio
VR: Your age and occupation?
AZ: 36. I am currently working as a freelance consultant, helping my clients to (hopefully) improve their communications. This means basic work from writing compelling texts and speeches to more elaborated strategic advice and campaigning concepts.
A thing of beauty is a joy forever: Vintage Barbour jacket paired with wool tie and tweed cap
VR: Your educational background?
AZ: I hold a master’s in political sciences with minors in cultural anthropology and public law. I graduated from the University of Kiel in Northern Germany, which is also my hometown. I spent some time abroad in Göteborg at the School for Global Studies and in Stockholm, working for an intergovernmental organization. I have also been to China to explore the country and Chinese culture. After more than seven years in Berlin, I am now living in the most British of all German cities, Hamburg.
VR: Have you any children or spouse (and how do they relate to your clothing enthusiasm)?
AZ: No kids, no wife. Or is it no wife, no kids?
A proper country wardrobe would be incomplete without animal print ties
VR: …and your parents and siblings’ reactions back when you became interested in clothes?
AZ: “Let him do his stuff…”
VR: What other hobbies or passions do you have besides apparel?
AZ: I am a passionate road cyclist, runner, coffee drinker, whisky tippler (Scotch, mostly), book collector, munro bagger (far too many still on the bucket list).
VR: How did you first become interested in style, and when did you turn your eyes towards more classic pieces? Why these instead of fast fashion?
AZ: My interest in style and clothing emerged while working in a menswear shop during my university time. I sold shirts and ties, but mostly the stuff you can buy on the high street. This was also my first encounter with the fashion business and the fast fashion concept. I saw the overproduction, masses of shirts and ties that likely would never be sold. That really makes you reflect on all things fashion, especially the economic power of the retailers and brands involved in the whole process from production to selling clothes. Fashion retailers are large enterprises, they need to pay their employees, they need to serve their customers and they need to keep their shareholders happy. That’s ok.
Style-defining for a preppy look: bright colours, button-down oxford shirts and bows
However, it always about the how. And this is something we can influence since the most powerful part in the value chain is: us. It’s fundamental how we as consumers act. We all should ask ourselves: How can I contribute to change the world for a better? Can I refine my consumption patterns, for instance shop local or buy less? In the end, we have the choice. It is completely up to each one of us to take the simple decision: to buy or not to buy.
Surprisingly, I try not to follow (fast) fashion trends. Most of the pieces I wear are pre-owned and come from thrift stores, eBay or platforms like Vulpilist. I love browsing vintage stores and the excitement of discovering new old things with a certain history, always hoping that the catch is as thrilling as the chase. In this context, sustainability is truly an important aspect for me. I always try to buy items that have the potential to last forever. The poem Endymion from the remarkable John Keats opens like this: “A thing of beauty is a joy forever: Its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness […]”. These lines are brilliant and sum up my admittedly romantic connection to fashion and dressing. I’d rather save my money and buy a thing of beauty than a cheap piece that is ephemeral. Beauty, as Keats suggests, stays forever. It never fades away. That’s true. If I look at my well-worn Chrysalis tweed shooting coat (even after years it looks like coming right out of the factory), my twenty years old Barbour jacket or my Tricker’s penny loafers, the beauty even increases with the time passing. Give them some love, tenderness, Burgol shoe polish and a proper re-waxing, and they will keep you happy forever.
Barbour jackets are pretty versatile garments and can also be worn rather casually
VR: How have you gathered your knowledge of dressing up — from books, in-house apprenticeship or somewhere else?
AZ: Most of my knowledge and inspiration comes from books. I always loved to approach fashion and dressing from different perspectives: culturally and historically, politically and obviously literally. I have always been curious: Why are people dressing like this today and why did people dress like that yesterday? What are the societal mechanisms of fashion, how does fashion evolve and develop?
Many people think fashion is trivial and academia has discredited fashion as a superficial and shallow subject for far too long (and sometimes still does). However, from a sociological and anthropological point of view, fashion is a social product. There is culture, there is meaning and there is communication. Fashion can only emerge in reciprocal interactions between individuals or social groups. Looking at the past three centuries, fashion had a massive impact on social, cultural, and aesthetic modernisation. Trying to understand these transformative processes of social negotiation and mediation can be very informative and , yes, also entertaining.
The most fascinating of all cloth: Harris Tweed
VR: What’s your definition of style?
AZ: Well, it is difficult to define style in absolute terms. Style is used in so many ways by so many different disciplines, it seems rather resistant to any rigid definition. However, when trying to pin down what style is, I would say it’s a continuation, a cultural manifestation of a specific way of dressing. Style has a different quality in terms of time and space compared to fashion which can pop up instantly. Style is something that evolves over a long period of time and persists, aiming to create a kind of uniformity, something that one would say is permanently “typical” for a certain way of dressing. Take Preppy for instance. The sportive, relaxed and elegant collegiate look has evolved over decades. Today, most of us would refer to khakis, Weejuns and Shetland jumpers knotted over the shoulders as typically “preppy style”. Specific items have become an emblematic representation of the preppy concept and are understood by those who use them and share a common understanding of the vestimentary and rhetoric codes. But not necessarily all people understand them. And that is the great fashion and style conundrum. Why is something perceived a style?
In this context, I like the metaphor to treat style and fashion as (social) hieroglyphs. Just as hieroglyphs, styles and related clothes or adornments carry an enormous amount of information. They hide and reveal social status at the same time. They are inclusive and exclusive. They represent our definitions and expectations of the world. Deciphering these hieroglyphs and unravelling the conundrum is a pretty fascinating thing.
Source of inspiration and sartorial wisdom: Books on style, fashion and tailoring
VR: How would you describe your style?
AZ: The fictional James Herriot occasionally meeting Bertie Wooster for a drink or two. At times, especially when it’s dark and cold outside and both guys are tipsy already, Captain Archibald Haddock is knocking on the door with a bottle of Scotch in his hands (cask strength, for sure).
VR: Who or what inspires you in life?
AZ: Style-wise, the Instagram accounts of Bobby Waterhouse, Fabio Trombini , Tintinfellow and Zehbucow are great sources of inspiration for me. No one can wear tennis socks as smartly and elegantly as Bobby (not to mention his double-breasted outfits), indulging in the “memoirs_of_fabio” is the sweetest kind of escapism, Tintinfellow is as much entertaining as it is instructive when it comes to Britishness and gardening, and Stefanie impresses through sartorial creativity and very unique vintage dresses.
The truly British heritage of the preppy style is obvious: Shetland vest with fair isle pattern and Barbour jacket
VR: Finally, looking through your IG-account, your look seems very English. What do you view as the cornerstones of a nice British country style?
AZ: A proper (British) country wardrobe should definitely include Scottish tweeds. For me, there’s hardly any cloth compared to tweed. I actually love every aspect of the fabric’s production. It begins with the fact that clò-mòr (the Gaelic name which means the big cloth) must be hand-woven by the islanders at their homes in the Outer Hebrides, finished in the Outer Hebrides, and made from pure virgin wool dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides. Harris Tweed is thus the epitome of sustainability and craftsmanship. And the only textile in the world that is entirely handmade and has its own parliamentarian act. How cool is that?
There are only few (if any at all) fabrics that are as versatile as tweed. Classic checks, herringbones, windowpanes, houndstooth, dogtooth, gun checks, Prince of Wales checks – you name it! And the distinctive texture and the feel of the cloth. It can be rough and tough, soft and gentle, colourful, dull, thick, thin, the variety of colors and patterns is endless. Tweed allows much flexibility.
And what’s most fascinating about tweed is that the cloth is imbued with something very personal and enchanting: There is a story inherent in every yarn. When wearing tweed, you can see the weaver in his shed pedalling the loom, you can hear the rhythmic rattling and clacking of the old machines, you can see the spectacular sandy beaches and the rugged coastlines of the Hebrides, the mossy greens, the rusty browns and earthy yellows of the island’s landscape, you can feel the cloth finished to perfection in the mill. Tweed is literally woven into the DNA and the identity of the islands. Tweed, in short, is magic.
Now you just need to throw on your old, shabby Barbour Beaufort jacket and the Plus Fours from Campbell’s of Beauly, put your wellies on (don’t forget the shooting socks with garter ties, even if you don’t go hunting this really adds some field sports flavour to the dress), keep your head warm with a proper tweed cap and off to the estate it goes.