Mr Wooster


Plaza Uomo USA - - FRONT PAGE - WORDS Martin Gelin PHO­TOG­RA­PHY Alexan­der Berg


It’s early

morn­ing in Fe­bru­ary 2010. Nick­el­son Wooster is in a ho­tel room in Mi­lan, unpacking a grey flan­nel suit from his suit­case. It is made by J. Crew, tai­lored to look like some­thing some­one might find in Thom Browne’s wardrobe, with char­ac­ter­is­tic cropped trouser legs to ex­pose the an­kles. Wooster leaves for the city’s ap­parel fair, un­aware that Scott Schu­man, whose blog The Sar­to­ri­al­ist makes him pos­si­bly the most in­flu­en­tial fash­ion pho­tog­ra­pher on the planet, is head­ing to­ward the same des­ti­na­tion. Wooster’s dis­tinc­tive suit catches Schu­man’s eye and be­fore long a pic­ture of Wooster ap­pears on the fa­mous blog. The Sar­to­ri­al­ist’s fol­low­ers grow in­creas­ingly cu­ri­ous. Who is this suit clad, griz­zled man, with tat­too cov­ered arms, and a face some­how both child­ishly boy­ish yet weath­ered as from a life of hard­ship?

” That’s where it all be­gan,” Nick Wooster re­calls. “In the days that fol­lowed count­less blog­gers asked to have my pic­ture taken, and I’ve been chased by the fash­ion pa­parazzi ever since. One of the pho­tog­ra­phers re­ferred to me as a ’sar­to­rial bad-ass’.”

We are hav­ing break­fast in Wooster’s charm­ing one bed­room apart­ment on Christo­pher Street in West Vil­lage. He is dressed in an Ox­ford shirt and a navy cash­mere jacket by Wooster & Lar­dini, a col­lec­tion de­vel­oped by him­self and the Ital­ian firm Lar­dini. Now one of New York’s big­gest style icons, he is greeted by a gag­gle of pho­tog­ra­phers each morn­ing as he leaves his house, all ea­ger to doc­u­ment his lat­est out­fit. But his fan base ex­tends far be­yond Man­hat­tan’s bor­ders. Wooster reg­u­larly re­ceives emails from young men around the world, hop­ing to get per­sonal style ad­vice from the in­ter­net sen­sa­tion. Nearly half a mil­lion peo­ple fol­low him on Instagram.

The pho­tos on the so­cial me­dia plat­form con­vey a stern, tough-look­ing guy, far from the hum­ble, al­most timid, per­son­al­ity he re­veals in pri­vate. He blushes shyly when re­ferred to as a global fash­ion icon, yet is keen to point out that the hys­te­ria that sur­rounds him fails to take into ac­count the long and some­times painful road that got him where he is to­day.

“I get so many mes­sages from kids in their twen­ties say­ing they want to look like me. It took me thirty years to get here. So­cial me­dia makes fash­ion look so easy.”

Dur­ing his last visit to Swe­den, Wooster had some­thing of a eureka mo­ment. “I was at a bar one night when this mid­dle-aged man walked up to me. He told me, ’My son is go­ing to be



so im­pressed that I met you’. That kind of thing used to only hap­pen in niche clothes shops or at fash­ion shows, but in re­cent years I get ap­proached by peo­ple ev­ery­where.

I could be at the air­port in Frank­furt and sud­denly there’s some­one who wants to take my pic­ture. It would be a very dif­fer­ent story with­out so­cial me­dia.”

His sta­tus has paved the way for a num­ber of brand col­lab­o­ra­tions, pre­sent­ing him the op­por­tu­nity to get into fash­ion design. He is cur­rently work­ing with a dozen cloth­ing la­bels, from the Ital­ian suit­mak­ers Lar­dini and Swedish White Briefs, to Ja­panese United Ar­rows and New York based shoe com­pany Greats. ”Men’s fash­ion is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a re­nais­sance across the world. Go to Tokyo, Am­s­ter­dam, Lon­don, Paris, Stock­holm, Copen­hagen – there are well dressed peo­ple ev­ery­where nowa­days.”

55-year-old Wooster

grew up in Salina, Kansas. It is small town with 43,000 in­hab­i­tants, lo­cated in the bi­ble belt, with “no style aware­ness what­so­ever”, ac­cord­ing to Wooster. “There’s ab­so­lutely noth­ing in my DNA or child­hood that prepped me to be­come a fash­ion junkie. Well, apart from be­ing gay,” he adds and chuck­les.

Wooster’s fa­ther, a car me­chanic, failed to get the “hope­lessly un­handy” young Nick into mo­tors. In­stead his eyes were firmly set on clothes. He re­calls his mother slightly wor­riedly ask­ing him if he was “re­ally go­ing to school dressed like that?”. He was around eight or nine and wrapped in a piece of brightly coloured fab­ric. As a teen he started work­ing at Salina’s only tai­lored menswear shop and slowly came to terms with be­ing ho­mo­sex­ual. As soon as he grad­u­ated from high school in 1983, he packed his bags and moved to the Big Ap­ple.

“The same week I ar­rived, the New York Times ran a cover story on the AIDS cri­sis, pre­vi­ously un­known in America. I had come across ru­mours of a new kind of ‘cancer among ho­mo­sex­u­als’, but this was the first time I read about the dis­ease. The ar­ti­cle said the ill­ness tar­geted mainly ho­mo­sex­u­als and drug ad­dicts. Great, I thought, the only two things that in­ter­est me.”

He is amazed

and grate­ful that, de­spite spend­ing the Eight­ies in the wildest night clubs lower Man­hat­tan had to of­fer, he never con­tracted the virus. Lit­tle re­mains of his former life­style and, fol­low­ing a cou­ple of stints in re­hab, he is now sober. The one thing in­tact from his tur­bu­lent party years is his apart­ment, lo­cated in the shrink­ing part of West Vil­lage that is still dom­i­nated by es­tab-



lish­ments cater­ing to ho­mo­sex­u­als (gay clubs, sex shops, drag queen bars).

De­spite our visit tak­ing place in the morn­ing, there is no es­cape from the bass line vi­bra­tions em­a­nat­ing from the club next door, where Seven­ties disco tracks are played on re­peat.

He tells us that in the Eight­ies, when he be­gan his fash­ion ca­reer as a buyer at Saks and Bar­ney’s, the gen­eral as­sump­tion was that any man who took an in­ter­est in fash­ion must be gay. Since then menswear has ex­pe­ri­enced a revo­lu­tion – mod­ern men, gay and straight, take much bet­ter care of their looks and style. Wooster has wit­nessed this change in at­ti­tude de­velop over the years and has ,to a de­gree, con­trib­uted to it. As a buyer at New York’s most lux­u­ri­ous de­part­ment stores, Bar­ney’s and Bergdorf Goodman, he played a part of the open­ing of the lat­ter’s menswear de­part­ment in 1989. But the car­di­nal fac­tor be­hind the pro­fil­er­a­tion of men’s fash­ion is the in­ter­net and so­cial me­dia, he says. “All of a sud­den it was to­tally ac­cept­able for straight guys to sit at home and browse fash­ion sites. We didn’t cre­ate this need; it was al­ready there. What the in­ter­net did was to cre­ate a pri­vate sphere that al­lowed men’s in­ter­est in fash­ion to step out of the closet and blos­som. The first blogs on men’s fash­ion were writ­ten by straight guys! Just look at New York’s grow­ing tech in­dus­try. It’s made up of im­pec­ca­bly dressed, het­ero­sex­ual men.”


Nick Wooster keeps busy trav­el­ling the world, at­tend­ing trade shows and meet­ings with store own­ers and de­sign­ers. He only just got back from a trip to Shang­hai, where men’s fash­ion is grow­ing at su­per high speed.

“In the US menswear makes up around 15-20 per­cent of the to­tal sales of de­signer wear. In China the fig­ure is 55 per­cent. That’s the first coun­try where men’s fash­ion has out­paced women’s.”

His per­sonal style is a post-mod­ern fu­sion of high and low, new and old fash­ioned. Rough her­itage meets el­e­gant tai­lor­ing – topped with his un­beat­able flair for de­tails. Hardly sur­pris­ing his favourite de­sign­ers are Ja­panese, Junya Watan­abe and Rei Kawakubo, per­haps most fa­mous for head­ing up the la­bel Comme des Garçons. Stay­ing true to his shy self, he humbly ex­plains that his work is nowhere near that of ‘real’ de­sign­ers. Wooster likens his ap­proach to clothes to a DJ’s re­la­tion­ship to mu­sic. Whereas oth­ers cre­ate the ac­tual art, his job is to pick out the very best and iden­tify new and cre­ative ways of com­bin­ing the pieces. “Some peo­ple re­ally do have the ta­lent to design. Karl Lager­feld, Rei Kawakubo, Junya Watan­abe, Thom Browne. I’m not one of them.”

En­ter­ing the lobby

of Wooster’s build­ing is a bit like step­ping onto the set of a

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