I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to interview my incredibly stylish friend Kwesi Blair about men's fashion. Admittedly, this is a subject I don't know enough about, so I can't think of a better teacher than someone whose style has been recognized by The Sartorialist, the New York Times, and countless social magazines. Kwesi has lived in New York since college and is a consultant with Robert Burke Associates, a luxury retail and consumer products consulting firm whose clients include Bergdorf Goodman, Bulgari, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Marc Jacobs. He so kindly answered my questions about men's fashion, and I am delighted to share his answers with you!
Photo courtesy of NY Times
MoS: Who is your favorite tie designer?
KB: That’s a tough question. I have a lot of ties from lots of designers. I tend to skew more classic than trendy, and my ties kind of reflect that. I have a lot of Ralph Lauren, Alexander Olch, Thom Brown and Charvet.
MoS: What do you think about French cuffs?
KB: Second to ties, cuff links are my next favorite men’s accessory. I am starting a collection. I would say half of my shirts are French cuffed. Ralph Lauren makes great silk knot cufflinks in almost every color. I have a few and they are not too expensive or flashy.
Photo courtesy of A Southern Gentleman
MoS: Who makes the best "bang for your buck" suit?
KB: I am a big fan of the J.Crew Ludlow suit.
MoS: I have some specific jacket questions. 2 buttons or 3? Double vented or single?
KB: I like 2 buttons and double vented.
MoS: Moving on to pants, are pleats ever appropriate? What about cuffs?
KB: Pleats are tough. As for cuffs, I don't mind them if they offer the appropriate break on the shoe, which is 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch.
MoS: I don't know where to start with men's dress shoes. What color shoes with what color suit? What are your favorite styles and designers?
KB: I used to be a men’s shoe buyer at Saks, so this category is my weakness. Generally the rules of black shoes with navy, grey and black suits apply. That said, I wear brown shoes with almost everything except black suits/tuxedo. My go to shoes at the moment are a pair of JM Weston brown lace ups, brown Louis Vuitton checkered loafers, Ralph Lauren brown monkstraps, and my navy Generic Surplus Hightops.
MoS: While men’s fashion doesn’t necessarily involve as many widely varying trends as women’s fashion, are there any men’s fashion trends you are really noticing for fall?
KB: As I mentioned earlier, my personal taste is definitely classic modern, so most trends and fads go into my notes and not into my closet. The thing about men’s trends is that they are generally just repeats from a few seasons ago. We don’t have wardrobe changing fashion options from season to season that require immediate updates or rehauling. A pant is a pant is a pant. That said, I have noticed a lot of three piece suits on the runway, as well as double breasted blazers and jackets. The lumberjack motif is still a trend, as buffalo plaids flannels, chunky sweaters and hiking books continue to be all the rage. In general there is a focus on heritage and old American styling. The “workwear” movement is big right now…lots of denim, chambray shirts, worn leather and work books (Levi’s, Filson, Red Wing Boots, etc.)
MoS: From your perspective as a retail consultant, how has the economic downturn affected the retail/ fashion industry?
KB: Everyone is looking for a deal and has been trained to shop by discount. Sites like Gilt, Ideeli and Rue La La are examples of how people want to shop now and feel like they are making smarter shopping choices. I also think that the consumer is being bombarded by branding and marketing more than ever.
MoS: Tell us a bit more about how branding has changed.
KB: If a person is going to buy something now, they really want to feel like its unique and differentiated in some way. With so many choices, people are becoming more discerning and more conscious of their shopping patterns. I think that brands and retailers are also trying to personalize and customize their appeal. They are trying to get consumers to feel like they are a part of the brand. For years consumers were meant to feel at arms length from a brand, and now they are trying to do the opposite. This is reflective in the variety of “real people” ad campaigns (Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, Cole Haan) and the rise of social media campaigns (blogs, twitter/facebook groups, “meet the designer” pieces).
MoS: What was your first big "investment" fashion purchase? Was it worth it?
KB: My first big fashion purchase was a Ralph Lauren suit that I bought when I graduated from college. It was absolutely worth it and I still wear it pretty regularly.
Photo courtesy of The Sartorialist
MoS: You grew up in South Carolina and now live in New York. How is men's fashion in New York different from that in the South?
KB: In general I think that Southern men have a very good sense of style, from seersucker to bowties and everything in between. Most men in the South have basics that they don’t veer from, which is a philosophy that I believe in as well. Men in the South look dapper and gentlemanly, without trying too hard. I find that there are a lot of guys in NY who are trying WAY TOO HARD. Nothing says "desperate for attention" more than a guy who looks like it took him hours to put on his clothes. That said, I do think that men in NY are willing to try new things more readily, which is admirable. I am not sure if there is always a favorable outcome but I see a lot of guys that I would give an A for effort.
MoS: Let's say you are in need of some style inspiration. Where do you look?
KB: There isn’t one place that I could single out. I keep my eyes open all over the city to get inspiration. I work on Madison Avenue and get an eyeful almost everyday. That’s pretty inspirational. I will say that I pay particular attention to art students at Parsons and FIT.
MoS: What are your favorite mens fashion magazines or blogs?
MoS: You are going to your favorite restaurant for dinner and drinks on Saturday night. Where do you go, and what do you wear?
KB: River Café. Grey Lanvin Double Breasted Blazer, Crisp Michael Bastian White Button Up Shirt, Acne Jeans. Shoes Undecided…depends on the mood.
A HUGE thank you to Kwesi for answering our questions and allowing us to feature him as the resident MoS expert on mens fashion. We look forward to seeing so much more of Kwesi Blair!