An Interview with J.Robie

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June 17, 2020 by Ville Raivio

VR: Your age and occupation?

JR: First, thank you, Ville, for reaching out and asking me to do this interview for Keikari.  Your content has always been first rate and I’m honored to be included.  That being said, your standards might be slipping having me here ;).  I’m joking, of course.  Just hoping to bring some levity to otherwise dark times.  I’m writing this in late March in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.  I have to say, it’s difficult to sit down and write, so I’ll do my best to be as candid as possible.

So, right out of the gate with the age question.  I hate to say it, but I’m 45 years old.  Somehow it hurts writing that.  For the past 25 or so years, I’ve been a Creative/Art Director specializing in packaging and branding.  I began my career in the hair care industry, but for the past 15 years I’ve worked for a large consumer goods manufacturer.  In my time, I’ve played a lot of different roles on both the marketing and creative side.  I’ve helped launch countless new products and brands, most of which are still around today.  Surprisingly, this profession is somewhat of a far cry from where I started.  In my late teens and early 20s, I was a Hairdresser, Competitor, Educator and “Platform Artist” (which is a fancy term for doing hair on stage for an audience).  I also spent a lot of time doing hair for print publications, mostly in beauty and fashion.  In retrospect, I took every opportunity to get out from “behind the chair” and be more creative.  I also had a desire to grow, acquire new skills and utilize as many talents as possible.  It’s interesting when I think about where my life has taken me and how all these experiences have shaped the way I think about things.

VR: Your educational background?

JR: I attended public school, but had many extra-curricular activities as a child.  I studied music, dance, theater and whatever else I had somehow been inspired to learn.  In my teens, I attended the Orange County High School of the Arts (OCHSA), focusing on Commercial Dance and Musical Theater.  I had a passion for the arts, but by the time I was ready to graduate, I knew it wasn’t something I wanted to pursue as a career.  I did, however, learn a great deal and these passions helped me become the person I am today.

As a dancer, I learned about movement and got to know my body.  It also taught me discipline, patience, endurance, and never to give up.  Dance is interesting in that it uses so many human qualities in tandem.  Aside from the music and choreography, a dancer uses their body and mind to express emotion through each movement.  At all times completely aware of the way they look to the world.  And when it comes to clothes, a dancer learns how clothes accentuate movement.

As an actor, I learned to inhabit a character.  I became a student of people.  To be more aware of myself and others in an effort to understand the feelings and motivations that drive us; and most importantly how to look at things from a different point of view.  I practiced how to feel and react thoughtfully through a different lens.  I also learned how important clothes can be; and letting them become part of your character.  The way you wear them says a lot about who you are and how you’re feeling.

During high school I also had a great passion for beauty and style.  I was a choreographer for various hair care companies and met some truly inspiring and artistic personalities.  I was exposed to a new world of artistry and craftsmanship.  After graduating, I went to beauty school for hairdressing with the intent of doing hair for fashion, film or television.  I did end up doing a lot of print work; working with some very talented photographers, fashion stylists, makeup artists and models.  I learned more about photography, fashion, clothes, styling and beauty.  I was able to develop an eye for what looks good, not so good, or just out of place.  Through working alongside so many talented individuals, I learned more and more about their crafts and I was able to grow to see more than just the hair.

My time as a hairdresser taught me so many things about design and aesthetics.  Also about finding inspiration and developing new ideas.  I remember in an interview, with Vidal Sassoon, he said that hairdressing is a unique art form in that you’re working on something living…it’s a sculpture that changes and grows.  Unlike other art forms, like painting or sculpture, you can’t always change it or adapt it after it’s complete.  Hairdressing as an art is never complete.  Since your subject is a living individual, there are many opportunities to change or evolve.  I suppose the same could be said about the way we dress ourselves.  There are so many opportunities to try new things; and improve or evolve the way we look.

So, you may be wondering, how did all this lead to my current profession?  As I continued my career in hairdressing, I took a position with a large hair care company and entered corporate life…eventually becoming Creative Director for a couple different companies.  I’ve learned much along the way, but I think all my experiences have given me a unique perspective and a more thoughtful approach to design and branding.

All that being said, I’m still learning something new everyday which helps to inform the way I live and work.

VR: Have you any children or spouse (and how do they relate to your style obsession)?

JR: I’m married, with two “kids”…Tobie is a terrier and Penelope is a kitten; they are both adopted.  The kids don’t care what I’m wearing, but my wife gets a kick out of my sartorial adventures; and even follows me on Instagram.  She enjoys seeing how I put together an outfit and likes to brag to her friends and co-workers that I’m the best-dressed, most stylish husband.  That, and she knows it makes me happy.  We actually have a lot in common when it comes to style obsessions.  We both can be found in the closet obsessing over jewelry (her) and socks (me).  We love to get dressed and go out whether it’s for drinks, dinner, travel, or just for the hell of it.  We’ve been friends for most of our lives.  We met at the auditions for the high school of the arts.  We were partnered up for “across the floor” routines and have been together ever since.  I’m very fortunate to be married to the love of my life, best friend, partner in crime and the most thoughtful, genuine person I’ve ever met.

VR: …and your parents’ and siblings’ reactions when your style journey began?

JR: My parents are very supportive and I think proud of the way I present myself to the public.  My style journey began at an early age.  My father worked in the Men’s department for J.C. Penney when I was a boy.  He always wore a suit or sport coat to work, of course.  And, I’d always have dress clothes.  I’m an only child, so they’d take me everywhere; recitals, plays, musicals, church, fine dining, etc.  In a way, they encouraged me to dress for the occasion.  So much so, that I wore a three-piece suit to my first day of elementary school.  My parents (who protested to abolishing public school dress codes in the ’60s) tried to talk me out of it, but I wanted to make a good impression.  I guess you could say this was my entry into being overdressed in California.

Since then, they’ve seen my style change in a variety of ways.  Everyone in my family always looked great, but over the years the expectations of dressing for the occasion have been lessened.  Several years ago, I started making a conscious effort to wear tailored clothing more frequently.  It was a gradual process, starting with dressing to go out more.  I’d be better dressed at dinner, better dressed for drinks, better dressed on vacation, and eventually better dressed at work.  As years have gone by, I’ve noticed my family has been dressing better as well.

VR: What other hobbies or passions do you have besides apparel?

JR: My wife and I share a passion for wine, food and travel…and we’ve met many lifelong friends through these adventures.  It’s definitely this passion that drives us to work so hard.  I also do some graphics work on the side for a few winemaker friends and we blend our own wine every year.  We love to cook and host dinner parties, always with a theme and always include cocktail/wine parings.  I also enjoy bread making quite a lot.  My sourdough starter is named “Yeastie Boys”.  It’s is sort of like a pet, so I probably should have included it along with Penelope and Tobie.  I pretty much only listen to jazz and standards.  I love movies, everything from blockbusters to classics.

I could go on and on, but I’ll leave it here.  Ever since I was a child, I’ve always been interested in learning new things.  I tend to take very deep dives into anything I find interesting or challenging.  I enjoy the process of learning, practicing and personal achievement.

VR: How did you first become interested in clothing, and when did you turn your eyes towards the tailored look?

JR: I’ve always be interested in clothing.  I’ve always had a wardrobe which would include a good amount of classic menswear.  It’s evolved over time, but I still wear things I bought 20 or 30 years ago.  I think I’ve always gravitated toward tailored clothing.  I’m definitely a product of watching too many old movies as a child.  I grew up watching a lot of old Hollywood musicals and movies on television.  I do have to say that I got a lot more serious about it in my late 30s, it has continued to today.

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

JR: I think it’s mostly been through osmosis.  Growing up watching film and television.  Photos, people on the street.  Ever since I was  a boy, I’d take notice of people who looked elegant or stylish.  I’d try to understand what was it about their look that I liked.  Was it the cloth?  Was it just the way they carried themselves?  Was it their smile?  In the same interview with Vidal Sassoon I mentioned earlier, talking to hairdressers he said, you have to have an antenna.  Use it to pick up everything you see and take note of things that strike a cord.  Someday you’ll draw on that to inspire a new idea.

I’d say most of my knowledge has just been gathered through a lifetime of experience.  In my teens to early 30s, I’d look at a lot of fashion and beauty magazines, both women’s and men’s.   As I got more serious about classic menswear, I started doing more research.  I joined the various forum communities such as Ask Andy, StyleForum and London Lounge.  I started reading menswear blogs and love reading copies of old Apparel Arts and Esquire issues.  I think my biggest influence has been Yukio Akamine.  His writings and photos, and now YouTube videos, illustrate a very thoughtful, classic approach to menswear.

I also think a lot of what I know has just been through experimentation.  It’s been trial and error…and again, taking note of what I like; or don’t like, and thinking about how to improve it.

VR: How would you describe your style?

JR: I’m not sure I have a truly defined style.  I tend to dress in a thematic way.  I’m always trying to create a story with clothing.  It could be a story about the weather, season, destination, occasion, time period, color, or I’m just playing a character.  I suppose you could say my style is classic Hollywood, but I’m not sure I exactly fit that mold all the time.  I think my style is a reflection of who I am; and who I aspire to be.  I try to style my clothes in a way that not only looks good, but makes me feel good…which might be even more important.

VR: Do you have a particular style or philosophy of cut behind your commissions?

JR: I don’t think I’ve settled on a particular style or cut in tailoring.  I have an appreciation for many styles and think it’s just a matter of figuring out what would make them work for me.  I think my tastes right now gravitate to American and Italian tailoring.  I love casual suiting…and being in Southern California, summer cloths are ideal for most of the year.  I need to feel comfortable in my clothes, and beyond the cloth, fit is the upmost consideration for being comfortable.  I think the most important thing to learn is how things should fit and look their best on you.  I think balance is key.  I’m short and slender, so I need things to fit close to my frame, but also elongate and segment my body vertically.  I’ve found higher waisted trousers make my lower body appear longer as well as a very tapered leg opening, +/-18,75 cm, to be exact.  Jacket length has been less of a problem, but I have noticed that if I get a longer jacket, I prefer a slightly wider leg opening on the trousers.  It’s literally a balancing act.  I think you have to experiment and learn what’s best for you.

VR: Who or what inspires you?

JR: I’m inspired by everything, anything that can be gleamed using our five senses.  On some level, I’m constantly paying attention to what I see in the world.  Consciously or unconsciously, I’m picking up on things that will later become inspiration for something down the line.  You never really know where inspiration will come from, so you always have to be open to it.  To me, that’s how you become creative; and develop your personal style.  I have accumulated a lot of inspiration to draw upon, and in many areas.  In the moments when I’m creating something new, a brand; or an outfit for the day,  I’m opening up that toolbox of inspiration and allowing it to inform the end result.

As mentioned, in recent years my biggest inspiration has been Mr. Yukio Akamine.  There are many, but I think one of the main reasons I’m attracted to Akamine’s style is that his inspiration has also been largely gained from the cinema.  Akamine’s style and playfulness with menswear is truly inspired.  I don’t remember where I first saw one of his photos, but I think it was one of Scott Schuman’s [from The Sartorialist].  I remember thinking, this is what I need to strive for.  Akamine’s photos, blog posts, and now YouTube videos have educated me in ways that I’m still discovering.  There are so many facets to his style it’s hard not to learn something new.  Most of my “aha” moments lead directly to something I gleamed from him.  By the way, I don’t read or speak Japanese.  I was so committed to gaining the knowledge he was offering, I read all his posts using google translate.  It was worth it.

VR: What’s your definition of style?

JR: I think style is a blend of being introspective, creative and confident.  It’s about learning who you are and creatively expressing that to the outside world in all ways of manner and dress; and, above all, loving yourself.

VR: Finally, the US (and California especially) is known for casual dressing. What kind of reactions does your style raise from time to time?

JR: Nowadays, I feel there always has to be something that divides us.  A two camp mentality.  In this instance, one is either overdressed or underdressed; depending on your point of view.  Some may desire to switch camps, others are adamant and think you should join theirs.  That being said, California is pretty diverse.  I think most people don’t give what I’m wearing a second thought.  Some people do take notice and though I don’t get many comments, the ones I do are very complimentary.  In some ways, I think I’m just adding to the diversity…something you don’t see everyday, and a reminder of how relaxed our culture has become.

https://www.instagram.com/j.robie/

Photos: the Robie archives


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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