Why are things the way they are? What goes into the things I use in my everyday life. Those the questions that drive both my life and this website. The menswear landscape itself is littered with iconic items that each have their own story and purpose for why the way things are the way they are. Think work wear or anything derivative of military clothing. That’s the great part of men’s clothing, everything is really born out of use and function. It’s all very linear. To me, I’m just as interested in the people and the process of how the magazines I read come together as I am for the shoes I wear, the suits I buy or anything else. This week GQ unveiled a new fall style book called What to Wear Now (which hits newsstands on August 27th) and I saw it as a great opportunity to sit down with GQ Senior Editor Will Welch (a man who I hold in high regard and respect greatly) to talk personal uniforms, fall fashion and the making of one of GQ’s most stylish special editions ever.
ACL: How does What to Wear Now fit into the world of GQ style coverage?
Will Welch: It feels like that the more style stuff we do, like we have now done the Style Bible for two years…but that’s April. And then October, we’re working now on the second Style Playbook, so that’s kind of a spring and fall issue where the look of the cover is different and the style quotient is kind of amped up. And there have been three covers for all of those – three cover stars. And it feels like there’s no end to the hunger for more style stuff.
ACL: Yeah, it seems like this is something pushed mostly from the interest from the reader. Do you think guys are getting more interested in fashion now than they were?
WW: Yeah, I think so. I think there’s a lot of things happening. There’s more interesting stuff going on in men’s style. Guys are more interested in it, and are also okay with being…it increasingly. I think we’re almost past the point where there’s anything weird about being interested in style, you know? It’s like…it doesn’t seem less manly to want to know how your car runs, or how your suit is made. All of that, I think there’s a certain very organic “how shit works” aspect to the way men think in the stuff that we “nerd out” about. And now, style has just been added to the list. I think for a lot of guys, it was always there.
ACL: To me, it just seems like guys kind of want everything now. They want to be good at fixing their car and they want to be great at dressing and they want to have an understanding of interior design or whatever that is. All of those things now, we’re at the point where I think men are sort of expected to be multi-faceted, multi-dimensional – and this sort of falls right into that and it makes perfect sense. You could be reading this and reading a lot of other things at the same time and it fits into people’s worlds. Sorry, that was more of a statement than a question…What’s the idea behind this issue (What to Wear Now)? Is it a straight service thing?
WW: It is very service oriented, although I think we were trying to layer in a lot of inspiration and aspiration and something that feels like style reporting too. And the conceit of it is…it’s sort of based in the fall runway shows.
ACL: That’s the starting point for everything.
WW: That’s the starting point. But I don’t think that when you’re looking at the issue – and this is very intentional – that it feels like a report from Paris, Milan, and New York or something like that. Although that is absolutely a part of it. The idea was to say…I mean what exactly the title of it is…”What to wear now” with an emphasis on “now.” “What is new out there?”…”what feels really fresh?”…”what is like a little bit of the roots of that stuff, but also what about it feels very 2013?” And not only why it would be cool to have one of these things, but also how to wear it. (I think) and the emphasis on the service – there’s a line in here…it’s called “what to wear now,” but it could just have been easily called “how to wear it now.”
ACL: Yeah. Looking at this, and then thinking about street style and street style photography…those sites and everything….the great thing about this and street style, is that it’s easy to figure out how to do things. Even someone like myself, I think it’s really challenging to say “these are the things I’m seeing from a far off trend / fashion show perspective – how does that take its place in my life?”
WW: Exactly, people are saying ‘what on earth does that have to do with me?’
ACL: And those things aren’t in the store, so it’s like ‘I have to wait for that…I hope I remember…,’ you know?
WW: I think that is something that we sort of take as our job. You know, for GQ to work on style…this is a little bit ‘inside-basebally-y’ but the real roots of this issue are with Jim Moore, who’s the Creative Director of GQ who’s been here for over 30 years…he had this (trend report) thing that he did internally. But we just called it “the slideshow.” And basically after Pitti, and Milan, Paris, and New York, and all of that, he gets all the images in. And he and his team comb through all of it and they came up with a slideshow that was sort of our interpretation of the most important 30-45 things that happened at the fashion shows that we were going to be using to pull from, to create one for the magazine. We essentially already did a very stripped down internal version of this thing and have been doing it for years. So he then takes me and Jim Nelson, Michael Hainey and Fred Woodward – who’s the design director and Michael’s the deputy editor – will sit down in this room. And he has a TV and he clicks through and he explains all this stuff. So you see everything from the smallest presentation in New York to a really high fashion label in Paris. And there’s a toggle coat in every one, and he’ll talk about the toggle coat and why it’s back and why it matters, and what the history of it is, and how it’s going to be something that we’re going to be covering this season and how we’re planning on incorporating it.
ACL: Yeah, I mean I guess this is the reason why I feel like it should be just professionals at fashion shows…
ACL: …like myself, all bloggers generally don’t need to be there. And a lot of the time, people ask me, ‘are you going to come to the shows in Milan?’ And occasionally, I’ll go to something, just as a sign of support for someone I know at the brand that invited me. But generally I say, ‘I don’t want to go there and take up space from people that actually need to do this like on a professional level.’ Jim (Moore) is the guy that needs to be there because, you know, I think in another life, he would have been working as some sort of code-breaker or something, you know? He sees the patterns and the rest of us just get caught up in the show of it.
WW: And that’s why I don’t really even feel like I need to be at the shows, even though I edit it from an editorial perspective, not a fashion editing perspective of magazine editing perspective…something that came out of the shows. Jim Moore and his team are there and that’s what they do. And he’s going to come back and he’s going to tell me, you know?
ACL: Like that song from this summer, Blurred Lines…don’t you think the internet has blurred the lines with everything? Where trade is not trade anymore…because of bloggers…
WW: Yeah, every brand has an editorial department now. People are trying to be sort of be all of those things at once, or it’s going to make your product feel more authentic if you have a point of view that you’re expressing editorially, in addition to just the design of the clothes themselves…which should have a point of view on their own.
ACL: This issue seems like a response to the interest from readers. This wasn’t born out of a focus group. It’s very obvious that the readers can handle this, or they want it.
WW: Yeah, definitely.
ACL: What to Wear Now adding new elements hat haven’t been seen in other issues of the magazine. It’s taking some of the greatest hits from some of the recent style coverage, right? And you’re adding new stuff to it…you’re basically blowing some of this stuff out a little bit more, taking a deeper dive than you would have.
WW: Exactly, yeah. An example would be…the first chapter is plaid suits. And very specifically glen plaid and Prince of Wales. And we shot Eddie Redmayne for the magazine wearing one, but you didn’t get all of “this” information about it. It was a quick celebration of the plaid suit…and we actually did a longer…also in the magazine there’s been a full feature on just plaid suits, but it still doesn’t have this level of information both on ‘what it’s all about’ and ‘why it’s cool now’ and ‘how to actually wear it.’ And the ‘how to wear it’ thing is exactly what we’ve just been talking about.
ACL: Does this represent, from an art direction standpoint…it seems like the art direction changes fairly quickly in the magazine. It evolves pretty quickly. Is that new for this book, or is this where everything is going in the magazine for fall…is this sort of where we’ve been?
WW: I think this is unique to the book…to this particular special edition.
ACL: I mean the design…
WW: What’s great about it…Fred Woodward…his back-story is incredible and fascinating, Rolling Stone and Texas Monthly and so on…but what he does at GQ that is really exciting for me and for all of us on the editorial side is…he’s not like ‘oh GQ did a re-design!’ Every issue is re-designed. It’s a constantly moving thing, which is just really exciting. It all has to work on a very detail oriented level. And the systems that they come up with to do that is really exciting to me, on a magazine-design-nerd level.
ACL: I think it keeps it really fresh.
WW: Yeah, and this is sort of based on a Russian-constructavist look.
WW: Yeah, and it’s funny. When we were making it, I’d be like ‘can we do a…add a little call-out here, or can we just do a little starburst here, just to draw the eye there?’ And they’d be like ‘dude, the Russians would not do that.’ *Laughs*
ACL: *Laughs* Is that serious or was that a joke?
WW: They were kidding, but also saying ‘yeah, we can’t add that.’ And it’s this modular system that’s incredibly flexible, but still holds its very particular look throughout. All this stuff is totally over my head, but it was really fun to work with them on it. And to see where it could be stretched a little bit, and where it was like “no, that’s not going to work.” But with something like this that is brand new, it was hugely important to us that what’s happening is incredibly clear from the moment you open it.
WW: I hope, I hope that’s what it is.
MW: Will, since you top edited this edition, should we talk about your personal style and how it plays into this?
WW: Sure…if you want to.
ACL: By only wearing black you’re a neutral party? Is that what you’re saying?
WW: I guess the best thing I can say is that it wasn’t a decision really, it happened over time. I got a pair of black jeans that I started wearing every day. And then I started wearing a black jean jacket with it and liked the way that felt. And I never stopped, mostly because I never had that feeling where you get to the office and by 11:00AM you realize that whatever you were going for that morning isn’t working and you’re stuck feeling like an asshole all day. I used to have that feeling all the time, and I hate that feeling. And I found that once I added the black suit I have on today, I was ready for pretty much any meeting or party or whatever, and wouldn’t have to worry about trying to get it right anymore.
The other good thing is that wearing the same thing all the time, to me anyway, doesn’t get boring. In fact, it’s kinda the opposite. Jim Moore is another guy who basically wears the same thing everyday, and we talk about how, once you create that little box for yourself, variations inside the box are just as exciting as a new wrinkle for someone who has no box. If that makes sense. So when I was in LA and found a black James Pearse pocket tee that I didn’t know about and really liked, that was as awesome as finding a cool new plaid blazer or crazy pair of camo boots or whatever. Even though it’s just another black t-shirt.
ACL: I think that I’ve personally developed a pretty much, uniform. And I think that’s something that’s celebrated in menswear for people who have a uniform like Steven Alan or Jim Moore – all these guys that have uniforms. I think men are really lucky to do that and I think about a young Michael Williams. I remember how absurd I was, in my clothing-thinking ways. And I think it took me a long time to get to that point. Now I have a system, you know? And I think you probably figured out what you want and what your system is. Do you see the young guys around here, just really going after it?
WW: Definitely, I mean you see on the street and in the office too. And I did the same thing. I think figuring that stuff out does just come with a little bit of age and trial and error, and figuring out what works for you. We could both change tomorrow, if we felt like it.
ACL: I agree. It’s also fun to be able to just one day, wear some look, and one day be like a totally different style. If you wore something crazy preppy to the office, that would be pretty amazing. And then you just go back…
WW: It would be funny. And that’s something we talked about a little bit in the magazine and there’s a little of it here (in GQ) too. Sometimes, style is about playing a character a little bit. And it can help to think of it that way. And you can sort of mess with it from there.