One Man Brand

June 06, 2013 BY WATM

Nick Wooster has been called so many things: God of Street Style, Alpha Male of American Street Style, Woost God, Fashion King of Manhattan, The Baddest Ass Son of a Bitch in Menswear, Legend, Icon (obvi) and until recently, the Sr. Vice President of Product and Design at JC Penney. Around this office, we just call him Nick (or Nickelson, ok or maybe Nicky Dubs), and Capsule’s Minya Quirk sat recently with him to chat about #menswear, personal style, drop crotch goth, his first fashion job, those sometimes cruel internet weirdoes who are obsessed with him, and why they’ve got him all wrong.


Minya Quirk: We’re not talking about JC Penney. At. All.

Nick Wooster: Ok, thank you.


MQ: Has the #menswear movement really trickled down to a mass level or is our “world” really small?

NW: I think menswear’s come out of the closet. For such a long time, men made such a point of not boasting about or broadcasting their interest in looking good. It was the metrosexual moment that loosened the grip of this idea that guys were somehow no longer afraid to talk about, look at or geek out about fashion. That, coupled with the rise of the internet, dovetailed for the perfect storm of…something. Our world is still relatively insulated. I hope that it’s bigger than I think it is. But the reality is, I think it’s just not there yet. But, if women’s wear is any indication, the signs are there that in a short amount of time, it really will be more of a mainstream thing than it is.


MQ: Here’s hoping. I mean, I don’t think most guys are ready for Nanamica and Head Porter Plus but there’s definitely some sort of shifting of the cultural tide.

NW: The reason why I think there is hope and why ultimately this thing will eventually be more mainstream than it is, is that the great thing about menswear and all the Japanese menswear in particular, is that it’s rooted in something accessible. Not everyone’s gonna wear drop crotch pants, but there’s something about a Purple Label North Face jacket that’s so amazing, so elevated and at the same time offering something that that everyone can appreciate and want. The Japanese dig deep and are interpreting American heritage brands better than we are. They master everything. They do their research and take that education and put it through this filter and come out with some amazingly executed, innovative end result. There’s nothing like a hamburger in Tokyo.


MQ: Let’s talk about you. Do you have Google alerts of your name set on your phone?

NW: Yes.


MQ: Are you the Kim Kardashian of menswear? What’s with all the commenters on pictures of or articles about you? I’m sure it’s flattering. But weird, no? Does it make you crazy?

NW: The comments have been heinous lately. I recognize that to someone who doesn’t know my history, maybe I seem like this guy who gets dressed up for the internet. In some ways I get it, but it bothers me that anyone would think that I’m all about getting my picture taken. I sleep at night because I know I’m qualified to oversee creative direction and get product made. I did this the hard way. I have worked my entire life in this business and I’ve done the work–from being on the selling floor to learning to speak Italian to work with manufacturers with John Bartlett. I’ve done it all. I’ve paid my dues.


MQ: How did you nurture your personal style? (This is a really lame question, I’m sorry.)

NW: I mean this when I say it, I didn’t do anything. I like clothes. When I realized as a child that you had to wear them, and it takes the same amount of effort to look good or not, I figured out long ago that I only wanted stuff that I loved and looked good in. Listen, my father was a mechanic. He worked in a garage. I knew very early that if I had to work, and I did, I’d work in a clothing store to get the good stuff that I wanted, and that’s all I did. I was just stupid. I didn’t know any other way. If you keep buying stuff that you love, eventually you‘re going to have a wardrobe, or a garden–I always make this garden analogy, but of course I don’t garden–that is really beautiful. I’ll never forget my transition from pleated pants to plain front pants, it was the late 80s. I couldn’t get rid of those pleated pants fast enough. I didn’t have the means to do it all at once, so I wore one pair of tropical weight wool grey pants with everything. You could say I’m doing the same thing now with drop crotch pants. It’s like, ‘oh shit, how am I gonna get some more of these quicker!’


MQ: So you’re going for it, the Rick Owens look. Drop crotch goth.

NW: I have to say, they’re comfortable. I understand the sweatpants thing, but this is more stylish. I like the ones that are constructed like proper trousers. It’s different. I always liken menswear to a box–the designers that are able to push to the edge of the box, like Hedi Slimane, Rick Owens, Miuccia Prada, Hiroki at Visvim, they’re pushing and evolving the shape and thus creating new silhouettes that are still relevant. But it’s a fine line, and the second you go over, it’s not relevant. This is true in women’s too, if you’re able to change the proportion, you’re able to create a style, Tom Ford and Thom Browne have shown us that–Rick Owens and Renee at RTH, it’s the same idea; they’re both designing within the bounds of menswear and totally relevant though through different filter and equally interesting. Different is necessary. Not every six weeks but necessary.


MQ: We’re in the business of selling fashion, so I appreciate trends and the cyclical nature of fashion–but I feel like there’s a strong sense of personal style absent from the blogosphere. The flip-flopping between dress shoes and sneakers, the graphic tees versus the Italian suiting. On one hand, it’s sweet because these kids are learning about different niches or strains of fashion, different trends–which all come in and out, and you know this if you’re around long enough–but on the other hand, I find it all indicative of some sort of lack of real style. But that’s part of growing into manhood, I suppose. What advice can you give to these young bucks?

NW: The great thing about being 52, is that I’ve made a lot of (costly) mistakes. I don’t need everything, I need the things that work for me. It’s why uniforms are so appealing. They’re liberating. I rallied against a suit and tie my whole life, but when I went to Neiman’s and Bergdorf I was forced back into that uniform; it actually helped me shape a style that works and now I choose it. I know that if I wear a jacket and take three minutes to put on a tie, I’ll look infinitely better. When it’s business on the top and party on the bottom, the sartorial mullet if you will, well, that works for me. That’s what dressing is all about–finding what works for you. I’ll wear Thom Browne forever, it seems made for me. Tom Ford on the other hand, I love his work but it looks…different on me.


MQ: I agree. I love the idea of knowing what works. I guess it does come with age. Though it’s hard to just say no to trends sometimes, especially if you love fashion. I mean, straight up tomboy style is not for me. Period. I can’t do it. You have to put blinders on and know your limits. Acid wash mom jeans are great on the young Brooklyn girls, but come on.

NW: They were bad then and they’re bad now. Of course youth can allow for a multitude of everything. An 18 year old girl can wear anything. But that same girl at 35 can’t go to that same place. Well, I probably shouldn’t wear shorts but I’ve loved them all my life.


MQ: I mean, with an 80s trend, get yourself a neon wallet and forego the head to toe thing. Take a little piece.

NW: When we started carrying Rick Owens at Bergdorf’s, I thought our customer wouldn’t wear a drop crotch, so we bought heavy with leather jackets because the feeling is, anyone can wear that with jeans. But you can also take that pant and wear it with a regular tee. There are ways to mold an idea, a trend if you will (I hate that word), something that feels new, by just taking one element.


MQ: Let’s circle back to the shorts? You love shorts.

NW: They’re more comfortable. And I don’t hate my legs. And I like that they’re a little off-putting. The minute it’s nice, 75 degrees, it’s shorts weather. They’re the closest I can get to wearing a skirt.


MQ: What were you wearing in high school?

NW: It was the 70s. I don’t need to say much. Those photo printed shirts, there’s a reason why a nylon shirt is not comfortable; they don’t wear well. I did a little of that, but I got with the religion of preppy, or classic dressing pretty early on. I worked at a clothing store in my hometown of Salina, Kansas as a junior in high school. It was called Joseph P. Roth and Sons Clothiers, the nicest store in town. While I always had some inherent sense of what looked good, they helped shape my wardrobe back then; I wore Gant shirts, Trafalgar belts and chinos all through high school.

MQ: Did you come to New York right after finishing college in Kansas?

NW: Six months after. I was in journalism school and moved here to work in advertising at Saatchi & Saatchi where I worked on Proctor and Gamble packaged goods. It was the most horrible work experience for me. I was going to be Darren Stevens from Bewitched, but that just didn’t pan out. I wasn’t meant to do it. I didn’t know anything about the fashion business per se, but in 1986 a friend asked what I wanted to do and I thought, I could be a buyer. I knew how to do that. At the shop in Kansas they clocked that I was gay, and said, “Nicky has taste! Pick the best ones. Nicky, here are some ties, pick the best ones!” And I had a knack for it. They had taken me on some buying trips–so years later, in the back of my mind, I knew I could do it. I landed a job through a friend on the sales floor at Saks and then at Barney’s under Peter Rizzo as a buyer’s assistant and got promoted quickly. It was an amazing time, in the late ‘80s there, when it was a single store.


MQ: I used to go to Barney’s on Saturdays to hang out and soak it all in, when I was in high school. I just loved it.

NW: On any given Saturday in the late 80s, everyone in New York was in Barneys. It was like a night club.


MQ: I think I got into the fashion industry just based on the fact that I‘ve always loved shopping. Kind of scary, but what can I say?

NW: What are my interests, right? Shopping. It’s true–I make no bones about it; I’m shallow. It’s part of my job, but it’s also my passion. I like clothes and stores and stuff. And the only way to know about it is to see it. There are lots of people to know about and do lots of things. When it comes to worship, I choose the temple of the store. I wish it was more interesting, or that I was more clever.


MQ: Ok so let’s talk retail right now–what’s good out there?

NW: My top three favorite stores are all on the West coast right now. Unionmade in San Francisco, Union and RTH in LA.


MQ: Todd is killing it at Unionmade. I can’t believe how good it is. When I visited over the holidays the cacophony of ringing registers and the lines of people who want a taste of what he’s selling; it really affirms the fact that you can do it, if you do it well.

NW: He’s so good and so nice. It’s the secret sauce of menswear–everyone is really nice. Which is totally different from other parts of the business. I love it. Chris at Union in LA too. He’s just an amazing merchant who has his finger on a bunch of different things and it’s an interesting mix. Rene at RTH, it’s the same idea but he makes most of his stuff. All three of them are the nicest guys. I also love Nepenthes in NY, they do an amazing job. Daike and the team were so good to me, when we have collaborated. I think HW Carter is great. Carson Street Clothiers, too. Brian again, such a nice guy that I am so impressed by.


MQ: Last three (or so) purchases.

NW: I bought the Ovadia and Sons blue shorts with bleach stains on them, at Carson Street. I bought both the Celine AND the Undercover haircalf leopard-printed slip on sneakers. And four pairs of Rick Owens pants.


MQ: What kinds of hobbies or things do you do in your free time? Something that has nothing to do with fashion. Tell me you’re a bird watcher or something.

NW: I’m a faggot watcher on Fire Island. I don’t do anything else. Movies and food.


MQ: So what’s your food obsession right now? Juice? Kale?

NW: Steak! Josh Peskowitz took me to the Strip House recently for an amazing meal. Steak and potatoes is my idea of good food.


MQ: So butch.

NW: I’m from Kansas. I also love Isodi on Christopher Street. Italian. Delicious.


MQ: Travel plans for the summer?

NW: I’m going to Pitti and then I plan on living at the beach (on Fire Island). I’m a squatter. One of my best friends just bought a house in the Pines so I’ll be there.


MQ: You better start planning your outfits for Pitti.

NW: Please, that’s not an issue. I got clothes.


MQ: You’re a free man! What’s your next dream job?

NW: Something all my own.