“People used to say to me ‘You should never buy for yourself’ when buying for a retailer. That’s bullshit. If I’m not interested in something, then why would I think anyone else is going to be? If I don’t want to wear it, why would I put my name on it?”
Call him the Godfather. For more than 30 years, menswear maestro Nick Wooster has been using his influence as buyer for brands such as Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus, his time with Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Thom Browne to bring street-style into the mainstream. So what does the heavily inked statesman of style predict is next for menswear? Is the three-piece suit in anyone’s future or is comfort now permanently on the best-dressed list? ICON sits down with the self-described “free agent” who says a smart T-shirt, a simple colour palette and plenty of attitude is all any man needs to make the right aesthetic statement, and why he’s more than happy to leave the Bieber styling to the likes of, well, Bieber …
Marne Schwartz (MS): What’s it like to be a free agent in Trump’s America?
Nick Wooster (NW): “Every citizen of the world has to on some cellular level be terrified about what’s going on. It’s outside of anything reasonable. Two sides could sit together and respect the process. Now this has gone away. I worry economically the cards are all about to fall and there won’t be projects in the future.”
MS: And there’s no weight in your experience as a consultant? A CV that will always keep you in business …?
NW: “There are only a few things that I know … one of them is menswear. That’s where the experience thing does matter, and while I get everything is rapidly changing, there are still some things that are undeniable, such as the role of the adult.”
MS: The adult?
NW: “There will always be a job for an adult, like older people or someone with experience because at the end of the day, we do need newness, innovation and creativity and that’s the role of youth to bring that. In storytelling, you don’t tell the punchline first; there is a way to set something up and deliver it. Generally speaking, that’s the part that maybe youth doesn’t have — that ability to sort of tailor the message with a focus. Maybe it’s the role of the adult to help them do that.”
Roberto Malizia (RM): How did you personally learn to tailor the message properly?
NW: “When I was a buyer at Barneys in the ’80s or Bergdorf Goodmans in the early ’90s, I couldn’t afford the things I was buying for the stores, but I wanted them and I knew other people who thought like me would want them too. I know I am an authentic, real customer. People used to say to me ‘You should never buy for yourself’. That’s bullshit. If I’m not interested in something, then why would I think anyone else is going to be? If I don’t want to wear it, why would I put my name on it?”
RM: Being male, is it easier to buy for men than it is to buy for women?
NW: “Men fundamentally behave different to women. They will, you know sort of think I bought that two years ago and wonder if they can get it again. Even I think that way, like ‘Oh fuck, I wish I could get such and such’. In a certain way menswear operates in this cycle. That’s why you see things over and over again; that’s why the bomber jacket from last year is going to be good next year and the year after that. Guys are not as likely to throw it away and there is not going to be that many options. It’s not like we’re going to go from bomber jackets to maxidresses, you know that’s just not how it is. The reality is by narrowing the choice I think there is more freedom in that for everyone.”
MS: Liberation in structure. Sounds like my school days of a packed lunch and a uniform.
NW: “Exactly. If you pack to go on a trip you do so much better if you keep things in one story, one idea. Then everything kind of goes with everything and you can keep re-wearing stuff over and over. So I think if you can apply that on a macro level you don’t need that many things. I’m very ‘Do as I say, not as I do’. There doesn’t need to be so much choice. Your closet shouldn’t look like mine, not because I don’t want people to have an abundance. It’s that you shouldn’t be bogged down with that.”
RM: What should my closet look like? Any advice for the average guy who wants to address his wardrobe?
NW: “A simple T-shirt, tailored trousers with some sort of interesting sneaker. That to me is like the template for how any guy can look good. And it’s head-to-toe in a single colour. If you can follow that simple formula your life will be so much simpler. It’s just one less thing to worry about, because most people should not and will not prioritise clothes the way that I do. I understand that I’m not normal, even sometimes I think it’s just too much already, like all the shit I haul around the world. You know the term baggage? I understand that both as a sociological concept and as a literal one. I’m forever hauling shit around.”
MS: There’s a certain respect in your references. You honour classic styles and suiting, but always seem to bring a twist or modern piece to the outfit.
NW: “People ask me frequently if tailoring will make a comeback, but you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. The deal is sneakers are fucking comfortable, we’re not giving that up. I love a good leather shoe but they don’t feel the same on my feet. I’m not turning my back on them completely but it’s just how everything has evolved. We’re not going back . Now I have never been a big denim person — I’m more into chinos — but even the baggy shorts I’m wearing are really comfortable. I could wear boxer shorts all day where, you know, your balls can hang out — I love them. Why would you wear that restrictive, tight Justin Bieber look? I mean it’s fine if you’re Justin Bieber, I suppose.”
MS: You’ve come a long, long way from Kansas, Toto.
NW: “In the ’90s I learned through the designers like at Bergdorfs — when we bought designer collections in the ’90s — that if you wore designer clothes in the United States it was a 100 per cent signifier that you were gay. The only men who really bought designer clothes at that time were gay men. At exactly the same time in the UK, the men who were buying designer clothes were lads because it came from the football culture. Gay guys in the UK didn’t wear designer clothes, they wore sort of like the uniforms of mechanics: tight jeans and T-shirts kind of thing which goes back to that art type.”
MS: What changed it?
NW: “In the 2000s then, and I really say it was MTV Cribs that flipped the switch for US guys. Understand that between musicians and athletes … guys could realise ‘I can have more than one type of sneaker, I can have more than one shoe’.”
RM: So who was your first? Brand of sneaker, I mean …
NW: “’95 Air Max. In 1995 when the Air Max came out I was working in design at Ralph Lauren and when that secret came out, someone showed them to me and I was like ‘Holy fuck’ and I ran right to the store. I can’t remember where I got them, but you know in those days Nike wasn’t sold in Barneys or Bergdorfs; you had to get them elsewhere. I remember I was doing tons of drugs at the time, I literally got so wacked out on cocaine I was sitting in my apartment starting at those sneakers because they were so cool. I wore them to work the next day and Ralph was like ‘Oh my god, what shoe is that?” and it was the first time I ever wore a sneaker on the street.
“People ask me frequently if tailoring will make a come back, but you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.”
MS: And Ralph’s comment on your workwear?
NW: “Oh he loved them, he thought they were the coolest thing, and again he has such respect for history. A guy like Ralph has understood that this is the way it is and it was starting probably long before 1995 but that, for me, was the pivotal moment when I changed.”
MS: What changed?
NW: “It was just the idea that this is what changed [style] for me, and of course musicians and kids were doing this but again to me that was the thing: sneakers were the domain of children , they weren’t a thing adults wore. I was 35 in 1995 and I was well on my way to thinking that I was an adult and it’s just so funny … here I am today, 58, on set with you, and this is what I’m wearing.”
THIS ARTICLE APPEARED ORIGINALLY IN THE OCTOBER EDITION OF ICON MAGAZINE.
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