Most of us live in Ralph Lauren’s world, the one where we are a Lifshitz, which should be just fine, but in hopes of becoming something else, something we see as more, we put on the trappings of that more, portraying ourselves as belonging to, or being of, that other thing.
In Mr. Lauren’s case, he did it so well that he has not only gained admission to so much of that imitated world, but he has created a whole new universe built right over the top of that old one to the point that most of us are completely unaware of this past.
But this past still exists. As in it isn’t gone but is still alive; it just usually isn’t ours.
Rowing Blazers has been written up by GQ and Esquire, all sorts of style or fashion folks that know much more than I, so I will stick with what I got myself from them directly.
Jack is doing the work. At the Los Angeles pop-up I found him glad handing in a way that appeared surprisingly invested. LA normally lives up to its reputation of shallow fixation on the who’s who brand of social climbing, and here we have a clothing style rooted in emblems and icons communicating very specific memberships, and here was Jack paying authentic attention to all sorts of nobodies. Like me.
I have a lot of experience with nobodies and a now solid set of associations with somebodies, and way to much intimacy with wannabees. I have learned that a defining characteristic of actual somebodies is that they do not, or no longer, need to try to act or project their somebodieness. Wannabees on the other hand must constantly police and buffer themselves against the nobodies lest such association put their charade in jeopardy.
Jack showed no interest in sleuthing my pedigree before paying me attention. I watched him act the same with others.
That works for me.
Now I have never met Ralph, and maybe he acts the same, and for all I know all of this is just an act, I know how that works, but this sort of access versus authenticity matters in the realm of tradition and clubs.
And that is most definitely the world Ralph, Jack, and any other trad, prep, ivy, or otherwise institutional representative style of clothing are engaging. But while Ralph once sued the American body governing the sport of rugby for infringing on his presumed ownership of the word “rugby” (I will never let that go), Jack sells a line of rugby shorts that celebrate the rebelliousness of that sport’s roots. While tried, and tries, to pass traditional emblems off as his own creation, Jack has published books explaining the history and meaning of sartorial emblems.
In the end they are both selling things originally meant to denote in group to those who are most decidedly not in, Rowing Blazers is at least being up front about it. I should also note that Rowing Blazers is also the official outfitter for USA Rugby, USA Rowing, and a whole bunch of other actual clubs or teams. It isn’t all for the masses.
With news that the SAT is rolling out an adversity score for possible use in college admissions, I have been asked the question, “how much does being white, hurt my college application?”
I have been asked this question before (every time a white person talks to me seriously about college applications) and in light of this new metric I now have to answer with…
“Not at all.”
The truth is, being white has never hurt your chances of getting into college. Not even a little bit. Not even at the most liberal, left leaning, social justice minded institution will being white hurt your chances of getting into college.
When I give that answer, those who know and trust me, argue that this is the opposite of what everyone has ever told them. Those who don’t know or trust me, simply don’t believe me.
May I offer up some points of perspective?
At no top tier American university does any ethnic or racial group outnumber white people. Now, this does not mean that there are not schools, good ones too, where the majority of people are not white. Howard for example is a great school, and there are almost no white people there, but odds are if any remotely qualified white person were to apply- they would get in. It happens. But Howard isn’t really what most white people are worried about. They are more worried about Harvard, Princeton, or State U of wherever. Places they actually want to go, and are worried that their whiteness will be a disadvantage.
I get it.
College is not only competitive but high stakes. That is why all those celebrities paid large sums of money to cheat their way in. Diversity is a hot button topic, everybody wants it, and if you as a white person think you don’t have any of that, then you feel disadvantaged.
I get it.
I may have actually both thought and felt that before. Thinking or feeling that doesn’t mean you are bad. But it does make you wrong.
If you step back for a moment and look at American colleges (or businesses, or government, or Hollywood) you will realize that all of those places and institutions are dominated and usually run, by white people. 80% of college presidents are white.
Yale’s student body is 52% white, Michigan is 65% white, and Harvard is 42% white. As you read that, you might screech to halt at Harvard and think, “that is less than half!” And you would be right. But what you might not go on to think about is that Harvard is not enrolling America, but rather the world, and the world is not white. In fact, that is part of why Harvard is being sued right now. Because the largest group next to white people is Asians (a large swath of ethnicities all lumped together) who make up 14% of the Harvard student body, but 60% of the globe’s population. In fact if you combine all of Europe and North America’s population, you only have approximately 19% of the world… and not all of those people are white. So how in the world (pun intended) are there so few Asians at Harvard… and so many white people? I added that last part. The plaintiff doesn’t mention the white people.
But not every school is Harvard.
Florida State is 62% white, “The” Ohio State is 68% white, and for so many of my friends and loved ones… BYU is 82% white.
Remember that most schools categorize students as white, LatinX, black, Asian/Pacific Islander, Native American, and other. At U Texas in Austin, a geography with a lot of non-white people, 41% of students are white while only 20% are LatinX. Written another way, the number of white students is double the size of next largest group. It takes all the non-white people bundled together (which isn’t how race and ethnicity functions in society), to ever outnumber the white people.
White people are not having trouble getting into good colleges.
Now there are some other things that will definitely hurt your chances of getting into a top college. Things like:
Not being rich.
Marginal SAT/ACT score.
Poorly written essay.
Being the first one in your family to apply to any given college.
Attending a high school that has not sent a student to a top college in our current lifetime.
Then there are things that will hurt your chances of getting into a good school:
Bad SAT/ACT scores.
Poorly written essay.
These are different than the things that will hurt your chances of actually attending a good school:
Being afraid of loans.
Homesickness and family pressure.
Notice that being white is not on any of those lists.
Look, I know that there are articles, and people, and even actual policies out there directed at increasing the diversity of college classes. That is in fact a real thing. I participate in those things. That is part of my job. There are people who have dedicated their entire lives and billions of dollars and lobbied and sued and protested and legislated, and argued, and educated and done all sorts of things to push for diversity in college admissions but none of that equates to whiteness being an actual disadvantage.
College is too expensive and elitist and competitive -for everyone- and being brown skinned is not going to remove all the obstacles and check all the boxes and open all the doors that white students are expected to go through.
There is no sentry posted at any college gate with orders to bar the entry of white kids because they are white.
Nothing is more California than surfing.
Nothing is more surfing than Hawaii, but that’s another subject.
If you want to hire this dude as a model, let me know.
When you are 19 and have never been to LA you call your uncle (me) and he sets some things up.
Gregg’s part is pretty direct. Mine less so. We don’t really have to talk about my part, it just is. It is always a part of this sort of thing.
I represent “the Man”. The system, the FBI, authority. Always there watching, observing, assessing the threat.
“I’ve said it a million times and I’ll say it again, It’s the L.A. moment. It’s the L.A. moment.” Craig stated with enthusiasm.
He did indeed say it twice and probably has repeated that repeated phrase a million times- because it’s true.
Craig said it to me in an easy-going sort of way, looking over at Mike with a smile. The two of them had just spent the entire night painting the interior walls of Commonwealth Proper’s new showroom in DTLA.
The space used to be the backstage area of Al’s Bar, one-time hot spot to see artists like Beck, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and the Replacements. You can still see what used to be the stage in what is now a clothing shop next door. When I was there I could also see a white board with a sketch of the new floor plan and a list of all the construction still left to be completed before they open. It looks to be the kind of classy with an intentionally unfinished rough edge sort of place that I would expect from Commonwealth Proper.
Commonwealth Proper has matured since it started back in 2008. It has grown up in that there will now be 4 showrooms (Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, LA), and matured in that the brand doesn’t have to try to be anything other than what it is. They have established themselves and are free to be whatever sort of menswear design shop they want to be.
And I kind of love what they have become. Commonwealth Proper has done this odd thing where they have learned the skill of bespoke tailoring appropriate for Wall Street and too good for Congress, while maintaining both a sense of humor and an edge.
I am not a floral corduroy jacket or full plaid suit wearing guy, I’m too physically large for that much pattern, but I love that Craig makes and wears those things. I love even more, and am the sort of guy, that would wear a fitted navy suit with the two Ron’s, Swanson and Burgundy, printed on the lining. I would wear that to death. If someone pitched that idea to me in advance I would snicker with self-righteous doubt, which of course shows how little I know and how skilled these guys are.
A part of growth and maturation is the humble re-learning of things we already know. We understand that what goes up, must come down, yet throughout our mortality we continually toss things into the air hoping they will somehow take flight. Ideas, aspirations, children, all tossed up and most of them tumble back down with varying effect or consequence.
But sometimes things soar.
There have been times and occasions when I have thrown about the idea of committing myself to being an artist. In those moments, before the idea falls flat, I have looked at the careers and works of two artists whose work I have simply always liked- and who I have in many ways imitated. Those that soar.
One of them is Shepard Fairey.
Back when my wife and I were young, and broke, and had nothing on our walls that I hadn’t painted myself, I would troll the Obey Giant website waiting for Shepard’s flash sales but never bought anything. It is hard to justify buying art when the kid needs diapers.
So. Many. Diapers.
In 2007 I made my very first art purchase. It was just a print. The image consisted of two small African children rendered in gold, green, and orange, below the word “HOPE”. It was affordable, $15 0r $25 if I recall correctly, and all the proceeds went to Darfur. It was a perfect purchase. It looked how I liked, had a message I appreciated, with the bonus of potentially tangible aid to a cause.
A year or so later I saw another HOPE poster by the same artist. So did the whole world
My oldest daughter, who I thankfully caught when tossed in the air, recently reminded me that having a fandom isn’t considered cool. I asked her in all of her middle school expertise, if there were some things cool enough that fandom would be excusable. She could not think of any.
This was in my mind when I shook Shepard’s hand last Saturday.
Not that I have ever had any real cool to begin with, but I did my best to keep it in that moment. In every instance I’ve made the attempt to keep my cool when excitement was bubbling hot below the surface, the results have been stiff and awkward encounters. I was awkward and gawky. I tried not to be, as I was in this instance the guest of a guest, but “tried” almost by definition denotes failure.
Luckily the person whose guest I was initially, was, and is, cool enough that I didn’t ruin everything, but at the end of the day- I met my Luke Skywalker.
I also met, but mostly saw, a world, or crowd, not my own. I like that world, I just don’t know it. And in knowing I don’t know it, but finding myself there that night, I felt myself world adjacent. I was next to it, I saw it, but I was never really in it.
That is how worlds work.
You can know all sorts of things without them being a part of you. You can want to know everything, you can look, stare and gawk, but to enter, you need an invite. A host.
How does one find a host in a world they know nothing of? I’ve lucked my way into a few of those in the past. I crashed a party or strolled past the guards unannounced and stumbled into the lap of a host here and there. But gate crashing only gets you so far. It can get you in the room, but not really into the group. I get that. I get it. It is what it is.
It being what it is, is why I have decided that when I have a chance, when I am positioned to be one, I will look for people who need a host. I will be that. In the event that one is outside looking into wherever I am, I will open the door and my arms, and show them the ropes.
No one can welcome everyone, and if where you are is a place everyone wants to be, I get the need to screen. Or protect. Or just rest. But I am not there. I am just here. Just is the right adjective. I am only in this middle place that only some people want to be but aren’t, so I can afford the extra company. If you want into my world, the one I know, I can and hope to be that guy. HOPE. The print I bought had that word, along with the words “helping other people everywhere.”
I cannot expect entre’ into all the spaces and places and peoples at which I gaze. Nor do I deserve it. But if I, or maybe you, catch the eye of an outsider, they will forever remain outside till one of us lets them in. And who knows, maybe one day I, or one of you, will toss out an idea, and it will be one of those hosts who give it wings.
Also… Shepard Fairey, and his art, and his studio, and his friends, are freaking awesome and I don’t care what my middle school daughter thinks!
And also also… Justin Bua is on notice.