HOW NICK WOOSTER BECAME AN INTERNET SENSATION AND THE NEW MENS WEAR GURU. WE MET THE SARTORIAL BA DASS IN NEW YORK.
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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
“IT TOOK ME THIRTY YEARS TO GET HERE. SOCIAL MEDIA MAKES
FASHION LOOK SO EASY.”
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.”
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-
“THE PRIVATE SPHERE OF THE INTERNET HAS ALLOWED THIS FASHION INTEREST TO
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