The Style GOAT: Glenn O’Brien

As a middle schooler I used to hoard my lunch money so I could buy GQ magazine. I needed it for two reasons: to draw the photos, and to read Style Guy.

It was the only source I had to figure out the mysterious rules on how to dress. Glenn O’Brien could follow the usual rules, match your shoes to your belt but not your socks to your shirt, and yet he never dressed like an old square man. Even when he was an old man. Glenn is the G.O.A.T.

The New York Fashion Geek

Reg will say that knowing what looks good and what is cool has simply been part of his life since birth. He means it. I think he’s right.

Who he is, where he was, and when, built a foundation of classic rules with an authentic streak of Hip-Hop freshness. That is where he started. Now he’s in Brooklyn (New Yorker for life) and the 80’s are over (for now), so why should I, or you, care?

Because he does.

Because he still looks at everything, pays attention, and talks to everyone. He casually dropped the name of GQ’s current editor and referenced an article in Rake so I am inclined to believe him when he claims he keeps the entire magazine business afloat. I found him through his podcast. Or rather, his podcast found me when he interviewed Marcel from X of Pentacles. Chris Cox tipped me on to Marcel’s work some time ago and I started following him. The interwebs suggested I go listen to a podcast with Marcel as a guest and I fell face-first down the podcast rabbit hole wherein I started following Reg. Reg talks to everyone.

He even spoke to me.

Knowing what looks good is a matter of opinion. Knowing how to create, or style oneself, into a particular look is a matter of training.

This is to say we all have our opinions, and who am I, or you, to say whose is wrong or right, but, and this can be a big butt (wink), there are some things that can be learned or taught to help a person achieve particular looks. If that is what one wants.

You can hire Reginald Ferguson to go through your closet for some help figuring out what looks good, or he can take you to a tailor, but what you get would be more than just his opinion. He will give instructions, principles, generational wisdom, and also some opinion. All of which has value. He is in the business of passing down what was given to him, combined with what he has learned along the way.

I’ll start with what he was given.

He is a Black New Yorker. This is important.

Why is it important?

First it is important because he claims New York. Claims it hard. Some people were born and raised in a place, and he was indeed born and raised in New York, but it is another thing to stay. And to claim it. And to rep it. Reg is a New Yorker. You don’t have to ask, he will tell you, It’s in the name. We could possibly argue about the relevance of race, I’m comfortable with that discussion, but social constructs aside, being Black in America teaches a person some things, including what it is like to bear extra scrutiny or judgement on one’s appearance. This is a simple experiential fact and what Reginald will tell you is, that he had some very good teachers in how to navigate this world. He was brought up by Black professionals who knew the importance of presenting one’s self with an awareness of how others will see you. His grandmother was a seamstress. She worked around bankers and lawyers, that kind of New York and it was in large part up to her to make them look good. She passed along what she learned to Reg. Grandpa was a church man who did the same. These are the people who taught him to shop, about fit, coordination, about fashion. And he learned.

Reg had sage teachers at home, that is important, but he also came of age as part of Hip-Hop’s first generation, in the birthplace of fly- the Bronx.

The Bronx! This is the place that gave the world Slick Rick, Kool Herc, and Melle Mel. Those people gave us Fat Joe and Swizz Beats… and Reg.

So what we have here, is a kid who was taught the basic rules of classic menswear since birth coming of age in the hey-day and heartland of hip-hop. He is the balanced hybrid of… no I’ll stop myself right there. He is only balanced because he is a touch extreme in two directions. He is a staunch advocate of his two week rotation of suits, because good quality clothes last longer with a little resting time between wearings, but 14 suits is a few more than a modest arsenal. Then he also has an Imelda Marcos sized appreciation for sneakers. Being a sneakerhead isn’t all that unique these days, but maybe it is a bit much for someone who calms to be suited and booted at least 5 days a week and he does not forward the Jimmy Fallonesque ‘suits with tennis shoes’ look. He is no philistine. In the end Reg is balanced in the same way a 49-51  split senate is bipartisan, but unlike the partisans he somehow sits at both poles. So no matter where you sit on the spectrum, he’s more out there than you, or less out there, in both directions. More street. More boardroom. He is more of all those things and he works hard with those who don’t know, to know more, and do better.

Al’s Attire, I should have known and so should you.

This guy makes basketball shoes. As in he takes basketballs, cuts them up, and makes them into shoes. These aint Nike they are Spalding couture. He does the same thing with baseball mitts- turns them into purses. He is designer, tailor, and a brand all of his own making.

I didn’t know about AL before I wandered into his shop. I was just window shopping, sort of strolling along San Francisco’s North Shore neighborhood and it was just the next door in a row of others, I had just gone ga ga over cheese in a spot across the street, so I was already in a good mood. I stepped inside and was struck by what I found.

Let me state clearly that my not knowing about Al’s before I got there was a personal deficiency. I have since learned that not only is he not new, but he has been a front running outfitter for the cool kids since I was a child. When I struck up a conversation with him I recognized the sort of approachability and openness that I have found in so many other true leaders in their field. The ones who no longer need to prove themselves to anyone. The ones who have shown their worth to all who matter long ago and are still doing what they do, but out of love for their craft- not chasing status. Those people are always happy to talk with anyone, even those like me who have absolutely nothing to offer, if you are talking about the work.

Al’s stuff felt new. Not new like fast fashion plastic and tin foil from Forever 21, but new like ideas. New, like a digitized camouflage suit jacket , which would never be my thing, but kept me transfixed when I saw it on his hanger. I will not venture to say that he is the first one to make a camo jacket, but he did it in a way that felt right, not like a gimmick.

That is his magic. He does new odd ball stuff sans gimmick. Sans social media marketing department. Sans pretention.

But with a double dose of creativity and cool.

Slightly Choppy: Scott makes cool stuff

Scott saw me gawking through the open door and invited me in. The studio isn’t in a general retail space, situated upstairs from a real estate agent, but he didn’t appear all that surprised to see a visitor. I suspect it happens regularly.

Scott Richards runs, or rather is, a company that produces hand painted nautical flags denoting the West Coast’s favorite surf spots.  I asked him if he considered these triangular canvas flags nautical, or if they are pennants, and he just shrugged. That sort of technicality, or rather strict terminology, does not appear to be his concern. He rather offhandedly added that he would suppose they are pennant like in their one sidedness but nautical in their construction, which tells me he has thought all of this through, he is not flippant, just casual and unconcerned. What is important is that he makes them, and that people, including himself, like them.

I like them too.

Scott went to art school and came out as a “visual communicator, the air quotes were all his. He went on to work with all the cool kids at the cool companies, Quiksilver et all, but has now decided to spend his time just making cool stuff. Less corporate, more making, and if you wander around his studio space, because he will let you do that, it is obvious that this guy is tactile. Little knick-knacks and block prints fill all the open spaces on shelves and in corners, objects and made images, the sorts of things that aren’t ads, but advertisers work hard to incorporate. This place isn’t so much projecting an “image” but is very much making the base level stuff on which images are built. It is hard not to love it. All of it.

We chatted a bit about art, about surfing (how I’m really bad at it), and a bit about business. He is doing a National Park series, all sorts of custom orders, it looked like things are going great but mostly they just seemed relaxed and happy. I left appreciating not just what Scott Makes, but enjoying the whole thing. Scott’s studio, the company, the company he keeps, the way he goes about all of it. It is materialism done right.

Less of needing and wanting more stuff and accumulating or winning- more of the taking what is tangible and crafting meaning and value.

For me, it’s Doheny.

The Reckless Eyeball

This is Matt Ingram.

In 1951 Matt Ingram drove his old car to a neighbor’s house to see about borrowing a trailer. The neighbor didn’t answer the door, so Ingram went and looked out in the field to see if the neighbor was there, but all he saw were some kids. So, he left and borrowed a trailer from someone else.

Matt spent 2 years in jail for looking at those kids.

Well, really for looking at one kid. Willa Jean Boswell, a 17 year old girl saw Ingram driving on the road and was frightened when he looked at her. She ran to the field, told her brothers, who told their dad, who told the police, and they arrested Ingram for assault with intent to rape.

That’s it. No other relevant details. No one contested or offered that there was more to the story. The entire court accepted that Matt, who had not been in, or caused, any trouble previously, never got closer to Willa Mae than 75 feet. He never spoke a word to her, never even made any sudden or aggressive movements, just a look, and the jury convicted him. He was sentenced to 2 years on the chain gang.

A series of appeals and a whole lotta pressure from… the Soviet Union, eventually brought his case to the North Carolina Supreme Court where his conviction was overturned.

That process took around two years… which Matt spent in jail.

For a look.

Or maybe rather, because he had a look.

Mr. Ingram wasn’t trying to have a look, he was just doing his thing. He was working and being himself- which is in some way the root of what makes that look “a look”. There is some form of innate coolness. Not posing. Not trying. Just being. All business.

Thing is, Ingram’s look wasn’t all that unique. He was by all accounts- normal.

For a Black man.

At that time all sorts of other folks, who were in fact trying, worked this look. In fact, that look was being imitated and replicated all over movie screens and billboards because there was, and still is, something in there, that is undeniably cool.

But cool is only safe for some.

And if that cool is innate, the sort that just is, then what do you do if you are Black? In order to be safe should someone not be themself? Tone it down? Tuck it in? Reel it back? Take what others imitate and monetize and push it down to make white people feel safe? To a lot of people, those who just wanted to get on with life, the answer was “yes”.

It was the sort of thing that when white folks do it, they are popular and get to be in movies but when Black people do it…

It was just after Ingram’s case was won, and received worldwide media attention, that a group of White men decided not to take their case to court when a Black kid named Emmet Till was accused of having that same look.

We have, in so many ways, come a long way. That was 70 years ago. So many people have marched, and worked, and changed since then.

But then I think about backwards hats and hoodies and I have to wonder.

And man, when I look at old pictures of Matt Ingram,

I can still see that cool. Plain as day.

Becoming What We Should Be

None of of us are a finished product.

When considering ourselves, or in understanding others, we should keep in mind that any finished product requires a process.

We should not expect that we can jump right to the end in being our best self. We cannot skip the building. The development.

This applies to health, maturity, or in understanding. We should acknowledge that not only do we not know things, but that in order to best understand, or know something, we will likely need to do the conceptual work of learning foundational and contextual details in order to know anything.

Or anyone.

CRT Simplified, Day 7

Microagressions are small, often unintentional slights, not even necessarily insults, but little pin pricks based on a marginalized characteristic (such as race, sexual orientation, gender, nationality).

Any one instance of such would be no big deal, but the thing is, they add up.

It’s like when my older brother used to hold me down and begin tapping me on the forehead till I could name ten fruits. It wasn’t painful but man it was annoying and made it super hard to do something that was normally simple- naming ten varieties of fruit.Microagressions are just like that, except instead of my big brother its American society and instead of naming ten fruits, Black people are just trying to live life.

The concept of microagressions fit solidly within CRT in that they become very evident and pervasive (endemic) when we listen to non-white people (counter-storytelling).

CRT Simplified, Day 6

American law is based on property rights, not human rights.

If American law had been based on human rights rather than property rights, slavery and the confiscation of Native American land would have never been legal. But both happened- with official sanction.This prioritization of property over people was evidenced in proposals to emancipate slaves via slave owner compensation- rather than prosecution for a violation of human rights.

The caveat is that White people have in fact been protected under the law in a similar way to property, making Whiteness itself a form of property. This would help explain why stand your ground law tends to favor White shooters over Black victims, but not vice-versa, or, why there may be more systematic reaction to property damage from a Black Lives Matter protest than there is systematic reaction to the killing of an unarmed Black person.

CRT investigates how Whiteness acts as a form of property.

CRT Simplified, Day 5

All people generally think of themselves, and their own needs, first.

This is often an assumption when we consider the workings of both capitalism and democracy. CRT theorists have found that programs, laws, or movements directed at combating the effects of racism, usually only have staying power, or in some way “work”, if whatever is being asked also, in some way, benefits White people.

This is called “interest convergence”.

Simplified CRT, Day 4

Race is never the only thing going on in a Black person’s life.

Or anyone’s life for that matter. People “experience” race at the same time they experience sex, gender, wealth, poverty, nationality, or any other aspect of human socialization. All of those things are ever-present and must be known and addressed.

So, if we pass a law making it illegal to segregate schools by race, and then all the White people move away, we need to know that wealth plays a role, gender plays a role, sexual orientation, and many other things, all play a role.

Considering how multiple factors happen all at once, is called “intersectionality”.