Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Cruciani e Bella, Roman Contesto e Gelato - An Ode to my Eternal City.

Contesto:  Italian, Context.

Carrera marble and cobblestones.  They were here long before you and will outlast you by centuries.  Marcus Tullius Cicero, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Giuseppe Garibaldi - men of immeasurable talent, honor and character have wandered down the same ancient, ivy-shaded alleyways, seemingly frozen in a just-right state of beautiful decay.  This is Roma.  There seems to be an unspoken deference paid to those who came before and the Eternal city they left for our senses to see, taste, smell and feel.

Nowhere is this more clear than on the short walk from Giolitti, Roma's oldest gelateria, to Cruciani e Bella in the Piazza S. Lorenzo in Lucina. Austere figures in deep navy suits, solid navy ties and polished black shoes clutching cakecones filled with colorwheels of delicious gelato avoid the shade that the walls of the solid, unchanging palazzos provide, unfazed by the intense June sun as they meander to and from the Senate.  Like the architecture and sweltering summer heat, these men, their penchant for formal clothing (and taste in ice cream), seem not to have changed much in the 10 years since I was last a resident of this city.  Dignity, propriety and elegance are a constant state of being.

Danilo Cruciani's small but wonderful shirt and tie shop has been a similar constant for many of these aforementioned Romans and the travelers that instinctually identify with them.  In the summer of 1994, my father wandered through its doors fresh off the plane, carrying an Alitalia lost luggage ticket and in search of a clean shirt.  What he found, along with the shirt he required, was a gregarious shopkeeper who had just returned from a vacation in Vermont, his home state.   He walked out the door forty five minutes later with three shirts, four ties and a new friend that he would visit each time he came to Rome until his passing four years ago.

Though it had been five years since a member of the Ciongoli family had visited Danilo, his eyes lit up as I reintroduced myself. "Ciongoli!  From Vermont, e vero?  How are your mother and father?"  After thirty minutes of chatting, absorbing and picture taking, I left with a beautiful tie and a better understanding and appreciation of the contesto that defines this wonderful city.  I look forward to the time when I can give that tie to my own son and walk with him from Giolitti, fragola e limone in hand, to visit Danilo.  I have a feeling that he will be there and that he'll be glad to see us.

Signore Cruciani on a rare casual day.

Unlined collo francese. MTM available.

Made to measure ties with the back blade hand monogrammed.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Shooting Sixes: John Yang

1 year old, coddling his brother Ro in SeoulKorea - 1971

 Stand up and be counted.  
Bailey’s Elementary, Falls ChurchVA - The third grade.

Tweeded. Second row, second from the right.
J.E.B. Stuart High School, Falls ChurchVA - 1986

Dinosaur BBQ with Frankie & the Rugby knit team - 2009

My mentor with his muses Frankie & Jasper, Brooklyn - 2012

John remained quiet and uncharacteristically uninquisitive on the chilly winter afternoon as we crossed Park Avenue and headed east on 60th Street.  In the two years I had known him, we had done this walk to his favorite Chinese lunch spot countless times, often debating the merits of what we had eaten the previous visit.  These discussions usually consisted of John asking me a litany of questions about my meal:  "What did you get?  Did they pan fry the noodles?  In vegetable or sesame oil?  Was it spicy?  What kind of seasoning do you think they used?"  This went on and on until John could write a dissertation about my lunch.  

John's penchant for the socratic method didn't end with food.  If he took an interest in something, be it paddle boarding or historically accurate pocket details for WWII field jackets, his inquiries would not relent until he knew everything there was to know about it.  I've often heard that the brightest people ask the most questions.  I don't know if that statement holds true but I do know that John's curiosity has not only made him very good at his job as a clothing designer but also the best mentor a neophyte in the field could hope for.  John taught me what garments should look like and then showed me how they could look.  The open dialogue he invited and encouraged about the clothing we designed allowed me to give and form my own opinions as well as make plenty mistakes.  This dialogue not only yielded better garments but also better friends.  

The bitter December wind pushed me backwards as we made our way towards the restaurant.  This time we weren't talking food.  I had been approached by my favorite designer with a dream job offer to become his #2. I would get to work on all product categories and frequently travel to Italy and Sweden for design trips.   I then told John that I didn't know what to do.  I was happy where I was.  I loved working with him and our team and I couldn't begin to thank him enough for what he had taught me.  I would love to work with this designer but I wasn't sure I was ready to leave.  What should I do?

He looked at me, pausing for a moment to put up his hood, and said, "I don't think you have a choice.  You don't get to choose when opportunity finds you."

Q: What's your trade?

A: I am Design Director of Men's Knits for Rugby Ralph Lauren. I oversee all aspects of product development for every cut-and-sewn knitwear from the vintage inspired tee, to the iconic namesake product. My career spans over 20 years focused on all other categories within this field (It's easier to list what I haven't done: underwear and lingerie). I have worked for Banana Republic, Tommy Hilfiger, Gap, and Nautica. I also had my own line at one time, but that's a discussion for another time.

Q: How would you describe your personal style and how has it evolved over the years?

A: When you've decided to get into this business, you wind up going through it all! Shifting from being Punk to going New Wave, High conceptual designers to Retro thrift shoppe. It's a real contradiction in terms of styles and ideas, but you also get bored and need to break from ideas of conformity, at least to me. At this point in my life, it's all about my family life, with my wife Renee, my son Jasper (9) and Francesca (6). They influence me to look like the timeless man, like those of vintage photos that of your grandparents. You know them, real turn-of-the-century, photos of just men, all in a group shot, huddled together, but then there's that one guy who stands out more than the rest. It's not that he's better looking. He's just got more style and flair, not flamboyance, just the right accents, the posture, the purposeful grooming, the tilt of a hat. I want to be that guy! I don't want to look younger or hipper than my kids, I've already got enough embaressing photos of that.

Q: The song/album that changed everything?

A: Well, this is a tough one...I would say there have been a couple of life changing moments through my tastes in music. Much like my changes in personal style, the music was it's nucleus. One that does stand out, goes back to my early years in High school, it was the introduction to Head on the Door by The Cure. I was living in lollipop culture until I discovered the other side of the rainbow. Not that I listen to alot of angst and mellowdrama now, but it really was fitting for a youth, badly in need of revolt.

Q: Deathbed meal?

A: I have such an affinity to the culture of food that I couldn’t possibly single out a menu. I can appreciate the quote from a food writer, who once described himself, not as a foodie, but a greedie.
Moreover, I think having the pleasure of good company, is equally as important to the food itself.
I’ll never forget a scene in the movie ‘Sideways’, in which Paul Giamatti’s character is drinking a prized 61’ Chateau Cheval Blanc from a coffee cup, alone in a diner.
My best eating experiences to date have always had great people, good conversation, and nice bottles of wine to match, which is why I love to entertain.
Q: What brought you to New York? 
A: When the time came for me to make a decision for college, it was to either 1) go to the Corcoron School of Art in Washington D.C. and live at home or 2) go to Fashion Institute of Technology in the Big Apple and take on the Frank Sinatra's inspired challenge. 
Q: What inspires you to stay/what pulls you away?

A: Living in NYC for over 25 years, it always amazes me to how polarizing it is, but it's to which these extremes inspire such emotion, diversity, and  creativity. I love it...I hate it. It's what makes it so unique.. never a grey area. Never a dull moment.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Shooting Sixes: Brett Wagner

Brett was on green way before the fellas at Pitti.

His go-to summer kit.

With the author at at BG event making a jacket
and shorts look acceptable outside Bermuda.

Holiday mustache.

Beard, bowtie, bandanna.

I sat at the head of the empty table in a 30-year-old blue blazer and hand-me-down tab collar shirt. The tie around my neck, which displayed an illustrated crawfish boil ingredient list in miniature, was slightly newer. I had driven from Vermont to Connecticut with a design portfolio but no design degree to interview for a job answering phones at the clothing company I wanted to be a part of. After a 20-minute conversation with the company’s head of customer service, I was left alone in a conference room waiting to meet a group of strangers that would hopefully change my life. Brett was the first person to come in. “Hey, I did the artwork for that tie,” he remarked as he sat down and introduced himself. He was a New York city resident and the men’s clothing designer. The casualness of his perfectly aged Nantucket red polo shirt and salt washed blue cord OPs stood in stark contrast with the quiet desperation and propriety of my interview attire. He already had what I wanted.

As we talked and went through my book, it turned out we were coming from a similar place. Brett had no formal training or schooling in fashion but loved art, clothing and style. He had started out doing graphics, like the ones on my tie, but had moved quickly when they realized his potential. I came to find out that Brett was behind much of what drew me to the brand. By pushing the boundaries of color and silhouette ever so slightly he created clothing that felt familiar and fresh at the same time. It was more about refining than over-designing.

A half hour later, I walked out the front door, loosening my tie with a smile. It looked like I'd evaded fashion school and made a great friend in the process. Both turned out to be true.

Q: What's your trade?

A: Woven Shirt Designer at Levi Strauss & Co.

Q: How would you describe your personal style and how has it evolved over the years?

A: A mix of all era's of prep - now with a bit of current Americana.

Q: The song/album that changed everything?

A: When I was younger, I always loved driving around with my dad blasting The Rolling Stones’ More Hot Rocks (Big Hits & Fazed Cookies). That said, The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ By the Way is simply the best album I've ever listened to from start to finish.

Q: Deathbed meal?

A: I’ll take a filet and fries flown in from Belgium.

Q: What brought you to New York?

A: Fashion. I decided that I could make it in this industry despite a complete lack of experience, degree or any industry connection. Looking back now, it seems kind of arrogant but I’m glad I took the chance.

Q: What inspires you to stay/what pulls you away?

A: It's made me more confident, but also feel completely overwhelmed at times. I’m inspired by the simple experience of walking the streets and witnessing the staggering mix of different people and things happening. It fascinates me on a level larger than clothing. Its something I miss and hope to return to. I'm currently living and working in San Francisco and, while it's no New York, I like to think that everything happens for a reason.