Michael William writes A Continuous Lean, a popular and influential blog about men’s style. He is one of the most influential bloggers and tastemakers when it comes to men’s fashion. And he has become such a powerful force, because he was an early proponent of the independent men’s fashion movement — where buyers champion less known brands who eschew glitzy advertising in favor of high quality wares. It was from his blog, I was introduced to Todd Snyder, who probably one of the most underrated American designers.
Today, when I read his interview with a GQ editor about GQ’s What to Wear Now stylebook, I was mildly miffed but mostly surprised. Why? because i believe GQ is the antithesis of what Williams and others bloggers like him such as the gentleman who writes Die Workwear stand for: the little guy, the independent brands where focus is quality not the size of the marketing budget. GQ, on the other hand at is nothing more than a glorified marketing vehicle for the large conglomerates such as LVMH, PPR and Prada.
And I don’t say this lightly. I have been a long time buyer of the GQ (and others of its ilk) and they have figured out a way to guide me wrong. They were supposedly chroniclers of fashion trends. They were great at recommending shirts, shoes, belts, bags and even shaving creams. I thought they were experts and as a result I bought clothes and shoes based on their recommendations. A few thousand dollars lighter, I realized the these magazines were much better at writing flowery copy than they were at actually have good tips and helping me build a proper and a quality wardrobe.
Everything GQ recommended was (and still is) essentially from big giant fashion brands and what those brands want to be sold in the market. There was very little obeisance to quality and instead it was just for creating a myth around these overpriced bands. We all pay for their huge marketing spending and not the quality of the finished product.
Burberry blazers disappointed and so did Gucci loafers. I thought I was buying quality product that would last a few years. What I ended up was disappointment. I once owned a pair of Prada shoes and often wondered to myself — how the hell did I talk myself into buying such poor quality. Prada makes consistently bad shoes, both in terms of leather and construction. The experience soured me on Prada that even though I love Church’s, I am not going to buy them because Prada bought them.
It took a while, but that correlation became pretty obvious a few years when juxtaposed against writing by some independent bloggers. It was rare that these publications carried information about lesser known brands, one that didn’t have mega-million dollar advertising and marketing budgets. In fact, the more big fashion brands (which tend to be owned by marketing machines of LVMH and PPR) spend at these glossy magazines (and its the true on women’s side,) the bigger their sales. A nice hand-in glove relationship.
The quality of these fashion related writing on the websites of these publications is pretty lousy — slideshows featuring most commercial (and advertised) products in the market, with lightweight editorial. Ironically it was long form writing in the old issues of magazines like GQ and Esquire that helped me understand the power of narrative and long form journalism – two things I still am trying to master after so many years of writing professionally.
Back to fashion: after 25 years of trial-and-error (first 21 years, I was too poor to actually experiment), I have figured out my personal style. It is perhaps why none of those magazines hold any charm for me. These magazines have not treated their readers with intellectual honesty. Most of my sensibilities have come from reading independent bloggers, who have lived with clothes and brands for a considerable length of time. They have a personal experience – which rightly or wrongly makes their picks worth taking a gamble on. When Williams recommends a brand of boots, then it is because he has tried them for a long time.
The sad part is that the men’s magazines could have stayed true to their self — quality writing, great artistic photos and a sense of understatement and they would have kept guys like me around. As an urban professional male in his forties and who likes to dress well, it is safe to say I am a good target customer. Except that I focus less on frothy brands and more on quality. Internet has helped educate me on what is quality and what I should expect from quality. The allure of mega brands is lost on me, for I have opted into the slow consume movement. GQ (and others cut from the same cloth) are quite the opposite of that kind of thinking.