Recently, OTC had the chance to spend an evening with Glenn O’Brien, best known as GQ’s legendary Style Guy. He was in town to celebrate the launch of the fall/winter GQ Style issue at DC’s elegant new nightspot, The Huxley. Earlier in the day, we sat down with O’Brien at his suite in the Ritz Carlton. While it is always fun to meet a well-known figure, perhaps the most impressive thing about Glenn is that style does not seem to impress him very much.
Without question, Glenn is on the inside of the fashion world. He knows the people worth knowing and has access to the designers, brands, and luminaries we all read about. Glenn is witty, wry, intellectual, and observant; traits which have served him well over the years. However, for a “fashion” writer, he is an odd fit in the best of ways. First and foremost, he’s a writer. He is interested in people and stories, ideas and the world around him. Glenn is far more curious about who you are than who you’re wearing. If anyone has been there and that, it is Glenn.
Compared to the often overwrought dandies that populate the style blogosphere, Glenn O’Brien’s sense of style is wonderfully prosaic; suits, blazers, nice shirts, classic ties and jeans, and the occasional weathered biker jacket and Picasso beach shirt. He has a distinctive look and way of assembling these classic elements that reflect his own history and personality. Glenn does not need to impress anyone with just-so outfits, skinny suits, or anachronistic dandyism. Not that he is opposed to any of that, by the way; when asked about the landscape of today’s blog-driven fashion and vintage-inspired sensibilities, Glen embraced it all. When is comes to trends and the vagaries of fashion, he’s very open-minded. In fact, his favorite suit is actually from the mid 1990s. “Yeah, it’s out of fashion, but I love it,” he says.
Blogs, he noted, have democratized the means by which style and fashion evolve. “Say what you want about Scott’s [Schuman] site, but The Sartorialist has created a new way for people to explore fashion,” said O’Brien. “The real-world nature of the photos is great; it allows you to experiment on your own and not rely on corporately constructed ensembles.”
That theme – the natural evolution of personal style, versus “assembled” style – was a thread woven throughout our conversation. What the Style Guy appreciates most is personal expression and the willingness to value quality, construction, details, longevity, and patience. Wear what you like and be proud of it.
This sentiment was best expressed when we chatted about mutual friend, the legendary menswear author and designer, Alan Flusser. Alan, known for his impeccable style and ability to assemble beautifully classic wardrobes that best compliment the wearer’s coloration, physique, and personality, is also a fan of comfort. One of his lesser appreciated skills is marrying the formal and informal – such as the day he sported a bespoke linen blazer and shirt, natty pocket square, electric blue Todd’s Gomminos, …and slate grey Nike wind pants. Took about a half-hour to realize he was even wearing them because he made it work so seamlessly.
Such expressions of personal style are indeed personal, and they don’t work for everyone. That’s OK; such is the beauty of true style and importance of personal expression. Real sartorial skills take time to learn and experience to develop. Truly good style requires personal honesty, and when achieved is distinctive, admired – sometimes mocked – but often noteworthy.
We asked about something Flusser often states; that today there are no real male role models when it comes to style. While there are celebrities who dress well, these stars are often outfitted by others who have mapped out a sponsored image for them. Or, they dress by contract; disinterested in style themselves and playing the role of living mannequin to paying brands.
Gone are the days, says Flusser, when the likes of Cary Grant or Gary Cooper embodied the values of male sartorial attention to detail. They had a keen appreciation of tailoring and personal expression and they understood the power of projection sophistication coupled with nonchalance. True, notes O’Brien; but they also had the benefit of being studio actors who had at their disposal dedicated wardrobe departments. Today’s celebrities are essentially freelancers, solo brands out to define and effectively telegraph their public persona – often for a fee.
When asked to name some leading male style role models, The Style Guy said that, frankly, the best dressed men he knows are often civilians – doctors, lawyers, businessmen. They simply have the interest, ability, and inclination to learn what works and what they actually like. These everyday guys are not embarrassed to care about the details of fashion, and they appreciate its impact in their professions and how they are perceived. That said, he did mention the likes of Andre 3000 and Rolling Stones drummer, Charlie Watts, as examples of well-known sartorial class acts.
Glenn is old school, and that is one of his strongest assets. He is ecumenical when it comes to the breadth and depth of fashion out there today. Never disparaging, he defended the popular “Made in Brooklyn” meme that is beginning to spawn its own bit of mockery.
“I’m tired of hearing about ‘ironic’ mustaches or ‘ironic’ Brooklyn shops. There is no irony as far as I see,” he says. “These folks looked around, saw the future, and said, ‘we don’t want that; we’re heading in the other direction.’ Good for them.”
All those handmade satchels, small batch suits, custom shirt makers, vintage fabric bow ties, and hand-welded city bicycles are what’s driving the resurgent interest in menswear and American urban style. They are making real things that consumers want, and all that “irony” is being riffed on by the big corporate brands…ironically.
Watching Glenn work the room at DC hotspot, The Huxley, it was clear that he is someone comfortable in his own skin. Overall, he was surrounded by a stylish crowd, although some guests were trying a bit too hard to be GQ-awesome while others appeared to have opted for a cautious DC law firm look.
Looking somewhat professorial in a simple Anderson & Sheppard grey suit, blue checked shirt, and yellow tartan tie he wore his famously inscrutable expression with aplomb. When informed that we were chatting with O’Brien, Alan Flusser responded without hesitation, “Glenn is one of the few forces for intelligent manners and intelligent fashion.”
Gentlemen, all the way around.