Written by MAX BLAGG
Photography by PHIL POYNTER
Nick Sullivan occupies an office in the heart of the Hearst media empire – the towering structure on 8th Avenue designed by Sir Norman Foster, a modern skyscraper perched on a 1930s pediment, in classic Manhattan style. And style is what Sullivan loves about New York, the subtle elements that redefine our fashion perspective daily.
There are several clues to his interests scattered around his book filled 21st floor office. A military crest from the English clothing company Gieves and Hawkes, who have been supplying exotic uniforms to the military for two hundred years. Gieves and Hawkes were the original outfitters for the English explorer Robert Scott’s ill-fated Antarctic journey, and photographs of these valiant Englishmen still look as modern as a 21st century fashion shoot, heavyknit thick polo neck sweaters and classic peacoats framing nautical faces. There is also a gold frogged military jacket and chest belt from the turn of the 20th Century, and Sullivan’s own choice Nigel Cabourn revision of the classic naval officer’s dress jacket, made last year.
Fashion literacy has risen sharply in a few short years among the Ameri-can male population – a working knowledge of the various telling details of tailoring and what constitutes style has increased, a development enhanced by Sullivan’s editing of Esquire’s Big Black Book, the magazine’s twice yearly catalog of all things stylish, practical, expensive, and luxurious.
“American men are moving away from their Calvinist attitudes, of not wanting to be too showy.”
Sullivan is intrigued by what makes something luxurious, and in pursuit of the answer even did a brief stint of sewing at the Hermès workshop in Paris, getting a close-up view of how their splendid leather goods are put together. At the end of a working day observing the perfection of the craftsmanship around him, he understood why these handcrafted goods cost so much more than machine made versions, why they last long enough to become treasured heirlooms, growing more beautiful with use and age.
The onslaught of information provided by the Internet has converted almost everything into common knowledge, and while certain brands have perhaps diminished their exclusive cachet by becoming so recognizable and popular, a host of alternative, highly creative brands are producing the most interesting and innovative clothing. Sullivan sees an absolute explosion of talent and creativity in menswear.
“American men are moving away from their Calvinist attitudes, of not wanting to be too showy. In America, unlike, say, England or Italy, men were encouraged to ‘underdress’, to tone it down, but lately they have become more knowledgeable about clothes, more comfortable with looking good, with wearing clothes that really fit, even with accessorizing, which was unheard of just a few years ago.”
Maybe we are even beginning to grasp the concept of sprezzatura. Sullivan practices and preaches this subtle art, having introduced the idea to Esquire readers in the first Big Black Book in 2006, a distant time in fashion years, when a vividly colored pocket square or hand made shoes might have raised a quizzical eyebrow. Sprezzatura is all about looking great without seeming to have given your look much thought at all, improving your appearance with small individ-ual touches that mark you as a man who knows who he is and how to comport himself. Think Cary Grant in North by Northwest or Steve McQueen in The Thomas Crown Affair - casual, urbane, elegant, unruffled by whatever life might throw their way, men of the world.
The craving for bespoke shoes and Thom Browne suits has not necessarily spread to every corner of this great land however. The massive retailer J.C. Penney’s recent attempted makeover was sum-marily rejected by a broad band of customers, who resented the fact that some of New York’s coolest style mavens had relocated to Texas to help shoehorn Penney shoppers into slimline suitings. “ I don’t know the details,” says Sullivan, “but perhaps they were evangelizing the changes in mans’ fashion a little too rapidly for the heartland.”