Fashion and the Future of Tech

The intersection between tech and fashion can be a confusing place, and nowhere is this more true than when observing the styling choices of the world’s best-known thought leaders, CEO’s and founders in technology.

In a move that may have created 2000’s “tech-bro” fashion, Mark Zuckerberg humble-bragged that he wore only hoodies and gray tees to “clear his life to make as few decisions as possible except serving the [Facebook] community.” This statement made it clear that tech would go on to turn conservative business dress norms upside-down.

Photo of Mark Zukerberg
Most public appearances by Zuckerberg feature this gray t-shirt

It was an interesting (albeit slightly pretentious) way to claim that business wear was unfit for the modern company. Instead of calling it stuffy, uncomfortable, or an unnecessary financial burden, referring to getting dressed in the morning as a drain on valuable brainpower was powerful enough to create ripples of change.

Today, this trend continues. In March, banking giant Goldman Sachs relaxed their dress code, allowing their employees to ditch the suit and tie for something more Silicon Valley. Other companies capitalized on the unwillingness of customers to make their own styling decisions, and now we have Stitch Fix and self-branded “Silicon Valley Stylists” pushing people away from ratty sneakers and t-shirts, but arguably into a homogenous blob of oxford button downs and chinos.

It seems symbolic then, that Zuckerberg, a bastion of tech-bro style, would see his greatest controversy as a CEO come from someone who is antithetical to him in every way – especially when it comes to style.

Five days ago, the Federal Trade Commission voted to fine Facebook a sum of $5 billion for privacy violations that came to light with the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which saw the private information of more than 50 million Facebook users improperly obtained. This saga came to be thanks to the actions of whistleblower Christopher Wylie, a data consultant, political researcher and Victoria, BC native.

Wylie was recently covered in an article by Paul Flynn for Fantastic Man, which delved into his experience at the centre of a media firestorm, but also the experiences leading to his involvement with Cambridge Analytica, and his current position as consultant for fast-fashion giant H&M.

What’s most interesting about Wylie is his signalling of a new generation of tech leaders. Far removed from Zuckerberg’s awkward and vanilla on-camera persona comes Wylie’s confident and sophisticated facade (“He looked like a pop star and spoke like a professor”, said Flynn). He is seldom seen without electric-dyed cropped hair and was photographed for Fantastic Man wearing Dries Van Noten and Stone Island.

Christopher Wylie for Fantastic Man

Most media appearances by Wylie are done wearing something unconventional, but what sets him apart in the fashion world are his nuanced opinions about the effects of the industry.

In an article with The Guardian last November, he spoke about a lesser-known aspect of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, how fashion-based data was used to target messaging towards users with pro-Trump and right wing tendencies. Simply put, knowing what brands a user liked or engaged with signalled strongly about their political leanings. “When you look at personality traits, music and fashion are the most informative [tools] for predicting someone’s personality”, he said. Users who followed American denim brands such as Wrangler, Hollister and Lee could be linked to low levels of openness, and were therefore “more likely to engage with pro-Trump messaging.”

Wylie blames the fashion industry for creating “cultural narratives” that allow people to be easily pigeon-holed and targeted with political messaging. This seems like a difficult place to lay blame, clearly this is more the fault of the companies that exploit data rather than those who make blue jeans that just happen to be worn by people who do shift work. However, another of his claims held more water. Politically right-wing movements often develop uniforms, whether in the case of the Italian Fascist “blackshirts” of the 1920’s or alt-right supremacists in white polos and khakis in Charlottesville. These uniforms are inexpensive, easy to identify, and emblematic of the messaging used by these groups.

None of this should be surprising for a wunderkid who dropped out of high school, studied law at the London School of Economics, and was midway through further studies on fashion forecasting when a job opportunity for the then called SCL Elections (later to be Cambridge Analytica) came calling. His current position is further removed from politics, but not from the scientific study of the fashion industry.

As a part of H&M’s Artificial Intelligence Ethics Unit, he takes on projects that answer questions about how the brand impacts their customer’s mental health, among other things. This is welcome news when talking about H&M, a company that is easy to shove off as a fast-fashion parasite.

Someone like Wylie doesn’t come around very often, and his trajectory should be watched by anyone who cares about the massive amount of power the fashion industry holds (beyond the ability to empty people’s wallets). And when compared to his counterparts in the tech world, he is above all, much less boring.

-C

On Butchers and Barbers

The Less-Identified Barbershop

As the mercury starts to rise in Vancouver, the telltale signs of summer are everywhere – patio drinking has re-taken it’s place as everyone’s post work hobby of choice, spike ball games spring up like weeds in your local park, and the first taste of wildfire smoke came and went through the city two weeks ago.

Summer also means more time walking slowly, without the ever-driving rain keeping you away from spontaneous discoveries in your own neighbourhood. For me, Uptown Barber was one of these discoveries. Hidden in plain sight between a skateboard shop and a window of For-Lease signage in Mount Pleasant, the business has no sign to make its appearance known.

Once inside, there is sparse seating in the muggy one-room outfit, and three heavily tattooed and pierced barbers operate on a cash-only basis. The music is a toss-up, unidentified metal during my afternoon session, but the employees, mostly musicians from the sound of it, are keen to chat on any style or flavour that you mention. When I mentioned upstart outlaw guitar picker Colter Wall, my barber Ben had a half dozen Vancouver-based country artists to list off, surely a bit of trivia for a city known more for electronic and Carly Rae Jepsen.

There’s something about sweating under a sheet for half an hour for a shade over twenty dollars and wanting to come back. For lack of a better word, a lot of barbershops reek of scene, and are tough on the wallet too. Businesses like Uptown are something special.

On Striped Shirts

Second only to cuban collars and rayon, wide and colourfully-striped shirts are quickly becoming my favourite summer staple. Part of the key to this is opting for a wider stripe and vintage-inspired colours. Known as a butcher’s stripe, there is no clear measurement for what sets it apart from any other stripe.

Interestingly, the name derives from the setting apart of a master butcher from an apprentice, who would wear a thinner pinstriped apron until they progressed to broad accompanied with narrow, and finally the coveted wide-striped edition.

High cutaway or button-down collars serve these shirts well, and although I have found a lot of inspiration where these shirts are paired with ties, most of these are undoubtedly from Pitti Uomo. Needless to say, this may not work in Vancouver.

G. Inglese for No Man Walks Alone

On another note, who doesn’t like moody bedroom synth pop in the summertime? I stumbled upon local artist Diamond Cafe on the advice of a friend-of-a-friend at a party, and immediately took a liking to his work, which conjures the end of the night in a backyard soiree with tiki torches and cigarette smoke. Enjoy!

Arc’teryx Veilance – Wallet Review

Working a lot of retail over the past couple years has taught me two very important things (thankfully it taught me something to make up for making barely above minimum wage without a fleeting prayer of commission).

The first of these is where the concept of margin comes from; the space between the cost of production and the sticker on the product itself. This magical space is a place of Peter Pan-esque show and sparkle. It is important for anyone to know how much of the retail price they are paying is made up of storytelling, sensory appeal and psychological trickery. I don’t mean to antagonize the seller by saying this though, because the feeling captured by owning a truly well-designed and fulfilling product is tangible too-and hopefully tangible enough to cover that gap. 

The point is that it is important for the buyer to be aware of this, especially when purchasing anything related to fashion, where designers and streetwear brands convince the masses that it is reasonable to pay $700 for an embroidered t-shirt. The gap between cost and price will always exist, but hopefully you can decide to invest in a compelling reason to explain it.

The second thing that I learned is that if you get in with the right brands, you can get hooked the fuck up. This ties into my first point because it was only after acquiring a large number of items advertised at a high price for almost nothing, that I realize I felt mostly the same as a person, but had a new appreciation for good design, functionality, and choosing products that truly fit your personality. All the deeply discounted or free product in the world didn’t mean much if I didn’t feel strongly for what I had acquired.

During a Christmas season several years ago, I served a short stint at Arc’teryx, Vancouver’s king of everything outdoors. I came to appreciate their sleek and well designed technical wear, and had the opportunity (I would never have otherwise) to try their technical menswear Veilance line.

Part of this included purchasing the newly released Casing Billfold 78mm wallet, admittedly because I lost my other wallet -purchased at the famed leather market in Florence- in a folding lawn-chair. I later found it but elected to stay with the Veilance piece. Here’s why:

The main difference with the Casing billfold is its construction. Relying on laminated fine grain, water-resistant Horween leather, the lack of stitching provides the minimalistic look typical of the Veilance line. The silhouette is clean and sparse in detail, most pieces by Veilance are hard to pick out from a crowd, but at the same time they are difficult to truly replicate.

From a functional standpoint, this wallet is for the truly minimalist. Eight cards pushes this wallet to the absolute limit, and it isn’t for anyone who likes to carry more than six to eight bills in cash. Thankfully, this isn’t a huge problem for me (I’d rather further drive myself into dangerous levels of credit card debt, thank you very much).

Although the price of $325 CAD may be hard to swallow, I am beginning to see where its value come from after almost a full year of use. Daily use has left almost no impression on its beautifully constructed exterior. The wallet glides into my pocket, and I can hardly feel it when it’s there. Aesthetically, it feels sleek as hell when I place it down on the bar before paying for whatever the daily special is with a minimal tip. I often find myself lusting after the companion Casing Card and Casing Passport editions, although I would need to be flying many more planes to justify the latter.

The bottom line

I truly believe that this is an example of good old-fashioned, unadulterated value provided by Veilance, even at a high price point. Comparable luxury wallets can run in the range of $500 for tackily branded, “Italian leather” offering from Louis Vuitton. For the functionality and exceptional eye for design, I feel that the Casing Billfold is worth the investment. I hope that it is successful enough to provoke Veilance to keep experimenting with accessories and god knows what else.

Coming soon: reviews of Veilance Frame LS and Actuator Hoody.

In the Style of the Don’s Son

Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 masterpiece The Godfather will go down as one a staple of cinematic greatness – hopefully forever. However, it is not only because of sensational acting or memorable one liners (“Leave the gun, take the cannoli”) that this is the case; The Godfather is also a monument in menswear, a capsule of a time period when suits were compulsory, and an example of how a man dressed told stories about himself, the message he was trying to share with the world, as well as what was expected of him due to societal norms during the time period.

I prefer to focus on Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) when I think about sartorial influence in this film. The reason for this is that Michael’s garments are a story in transition, as his role in the family from Ivy League pretty boy shifts to that of a stoic and murderous kingpin, we see dramatic changes in the way he dresses – offering the full gamut of sartorial styles for the time period. 

Take Michael’s early style choices, a brown corduroy jacket paired with charcoal flannel pants, an off-white oxford shirt and striped tie. This look is unmistakably Ivy, we can assume he has spent some time at any of the New England’s more privileged institutions. What defines the “Ivy look” is the degree of casual flair in line with formality – it is all about making it clear that you come from money, but not being as put together as your father would be in the same social setting. Within this style, the viewer can look for patch pockets, patched elbows and thicker fabrics of corduroy and tweed suited to the Northeaster weather, as well as contrasting-coloured trousers and the ever-present oxford shirt. Michael uses this look to establish that he comes from a strong institution -but he isn’t in charge (at least not yet).

As the film progresses, a significant shift in power occurs. We see the Don himself (Marlon Brando) pass leadership of the family business on to Michael, which then allows him to dress down into knit cardigans suited for spending most of his time at the family’s spacious upstate estate. Michael takes this time to update his wardrobe, specifically by upgrading to wider lapels and high-cut vests in charcoal and black.

The significance of the wide lapel in positions of power is unmistakable. Simply enough, it accentuates a “V” shape in the upper body, broadening the shoulders and giving a sense of status and confidence in the wearer. Scenes throughout the movie show most members of the crime family adorned in it, but it is also a feature that was widespread at the time, so what makes Michael’s distinctive is the adherence to details: high quality of fabric, well-placed accessories (every tie is worn with flair) and a sense of swagger that has a lot to do with the way he looks when he sits.

The dramatic conclusion of the film sees Michael drift fully to the “dark” side of the family business, ordering murder and shifting power with apparent ease, all in a suit that fits the “mafioso” image to a tee. The dark gray double-breasted wool three-piece suit worn became emblematic for is powerful look, and it does this because of how it fits Michael’s character. The suit is stoic, commanding, but still slightly understated. With wide (but not too wide) peak lapels and a high-cut seven button vest, the suit isn’t outlandishly done or overly detailed. This was something notable considering that, during the immediate post WWII era of relative excess and frivolity (after a period of time where fabrics and stylistic choices were limited for rationing sake), it was permissible for well-to-do men, especially those involved in “less-legitimate” business to wear louder colours. Look only to Moe Greene and Michael’s brother Fredo Corleone for this, both feature bright fabrics, oversized shirt collar and cravats fit for the Las Vegas sun.

In conclusion…this is why I love watching old movies set in this era, or any era when menswear was the norm (think Mad Men, Peaky Blinders, or Italian neorealism from Fellini and De Sica). It’s fun to realize certain styles making a comeback in the contemporary scene, and with the entire history of menswear easily available to us through film with on-demand streaming, it may not be too hard to implement some of these topics into your wardrobe.

Chalk stripe in navy w/ Ammy Gill

Friend of the blog and fellow INDOCHINO style guide Ammy Gill looks incredible in this Navy Chalk Stripe Suit.

What really defines this look are the little details, Ammy is a broad shouldered guy, so the double-breasted with wide peak lapel is pulled off effortlessly. A well-matched pocket square and tie complete the look, especially because they work well with the lighter buttons on the suit. Buttons can make a huge difference on how a suit is accessorized (especially with your shoes and belt) and have got to be one of the cheapest ways to spruce up an old look.

I have two favourite spots in Vancouver, Button Button and Dressew in Gastown both have a large selection, and getting set up with 12 buttons (2 front and 8 cuff for a standard suit) should only set you back around $10 or so…how’s that for a bargain?

What this is all about

In this article I plan to share my thoughts on style, the pervasive little five letter word that means so much and so little at the same time. I don’t really intend for this to be a style blog, and to be completely honest, I don’t have a clue what I intend for it to be at all. All I know is that I want to explain why I wear what I do, how it impacts my life, and what I think more people should care about when they make decisions about what to buy and what to wear. 

Firstly, I want to talk about menswear. I am bringing this up because it’s what I care about the most right now, and that is really only because menswear fills my closet, most of my Instagram feed, and it even pays my bills. A year ago, this term evoked a certain dichotomy to me. On one end of the spectrum there is functional menswear, the banker, lawyer, or accountant who wears suits because they have to. On a similar vein there was Tommy Shelby from Peaky Blinders, older gentlemen wearing looser-fitting garments and to an extent-Ivy Leaguers in striped ties and sport jackets. Let’s call this traditional menswear for lack of a better word. This was worn because it always had been, because the social code dictated. Because it was necessary to be seen in it to maintain a social class.

I had other evocations too. I knew that there was the shiny, slender-cut profiles of movie stars and Henrik Lundqvist, that collars could be worn open and high cut (Scotty Lavin in Entourage) and narrow pinstripes looked good when shot inside a nightclub for a TV Show (who wants to go to a nightclub in a suit anyways). This could be hedonistic menswear, or modern menswear or any other sleek sounding word that brought to mind any European designer meant to be purchased by the newly rich as an affirmation to the American dream. Quality was assumed, but not necessarily distinct from any other brand.

The point about this isn’t that each variety of menswear mattered at all. The point here is that they were all inaccessible.There was no way to start wearing suits unless you reached a point in your life where you were supposed to wear suits.

For someone like me, that meant waiting until my first proper job interview, walking into a department store and talking to a wizened old salesman who had surely fitted off-the-rack suits for thousands of men in his time, but upon finding out I was a complete rookie with a $300 budget, put me in the closest navy-blue slim fit garment he could find and sent me on my way. 

As a Prairie-bred kid from a middle class family, I was adrift in the suiting world. Where was I supposed to learn about this brand-new discipline with its triple digit price tags, “modern” fit tips that contradicted the wisdom of tradition, and, let’s face it, a North American disposition to accept the “black sack suit” as the default for business formal. 

It seemed like my fate was to fall into menswear and figure it out along the way while picking up tips from a sea of “style blogs”, someone’s lawyer father who was worn the same suits for thirty years, and visual cues of co-workers whose shirts are barely tucked in for eight hours of the day. Then I would be buried in something that would look like shit if I was standing up. But I guess there’s always cremation. 

Now that I have worked in made-to-measure suiting for the better part of seven months and wear suits almost daily, I have come to several simple conclusions.

It’s just not that fucking hard.

It’s not as expensive as you think.

You can change your life by dressing better.

Menswear makes people anxious because of the same evocations that I mentioned earlier. But what menswear should be about is leaving a few buttons undone, knotting a tie using an app on your phone (and not feeling bad about it), feeling confident knowing that your clothes are well cut to your figure, and looking like you hardly had to think about putting the outfit together. 

The Italian suiting community holds the term sprezzaturra dearly to their hearts; it is the act of looking good effortlessly, as though you hardly care about your appearance even though it is so dashing it turns heads and breaks hearts.

Sprezzatura is the goal, and in order to stay true to form it should be achieved through the fewest possible inputs. Menswear shouldn’t be mind-racking, it should be fun. Wearing a suit should never be a chore, and you should look forward to your next opportunity to spruce things up. And it should never be reserved only for weddings, really. 

I guess that’s the point of what I’m trying to do. To inspire, but to make things easy. Suits can seem like one of society’s most effective ways of segmenting social classes and making people feel uncomfortable. I think this is bullshit. I dress up almost every day and I barely make above minimum wage. But at least I can play mind games with the people I line up with at Starbucks, and that is kind of fun for me.

So, stay overdressed, you might just enjoy it.

C.