If you’ve followed this site for basically any amount of time you would be familiar with the byline David Coggins. And if you haven’t been in a coma as of the last two months you would know that David has a new book called Men and Style and it has been the talk of every stylish guy I know. I’m someone with a tight embrace of hyperbole, but that statement is no exaggeration.
It’s worth pointing out that over the past ten years Coggins and I have become very close friends. We’re very different, but in some ways we are very much alike. We both like well-made things. Each of us love a good bottle of Barolo and a cheap beer. His influence has pushed me to be a better man. Coggins has also certainly been a force in helping me be a smarter and more gracious human being. Not to mention the fact that thanks to David I occasionally say things like “I’ll have a bottle of your lightest beer please.” I supposed we all have little oddities which can’t be explained. (Read: Miller Lite.)
In a way, that’s the essence of this book. It’s got what the title says it has, men and style. It also happens to have a series of conversations with a lot of interesting guys about the process of solidifying that sense of style. And yes, everyone has those little embarrassing little quirks and colorful moments along the way. It’s pretty great stuff regardless if you know who these men are or if you don’t.
Being a friend of David’s I have followed this book since it was an idea and getting to see it published and now celebrated by so many great people, brands and publications has been extremely satisfying for me and well deserved for him. But putting our friendship aside, I really think that Men and Style is interesting and worthy of your money and time. I just don’t see many books on style that manage to dive deeper than just clothing, and this book does. Because a life only concerned with clothes is an opportunity squandered.
I sat down with David to talk about his book, travel and the journey of a stylish life. Our conversation is below.
ACL: David, I really love how you have approached this book and all of the interesting people involved. I wonder what you think the big takeaway is when it comes to personal style?
David Coggins: Thanks Michael. I think one lesson from the book is that it’s important to have a sense of who you are and how you fit into the world. The best dressed men communicate something about themselves, that has to do with their character and worldview. Who makes their clothes is incidental.
What did you learn about style by writing this book and doing these interviews?
One thing that really impressed me about the men I talked to, men I admire and look up to, is how honest and unguarded they were. Admitting that they made mistakes–mistakes we’ve all made–makes them more human, and it makes them more appealing too.
Beyond all of these great people involved in this project, who would you say has influenced your style more than anything?
I really like the way old Italian men dress. The first one I really paid attention to was Luciano Barbera. He was, and still is, so sophisticated. He mixes patterns and textures and generally fearless. But he’s also always smiling, he seems to take the broader view, which is just as important.
Is there anything funny that you came across in the process of speaking to people which didn’t make it in the final draft?
Well sometimes people get carried away and talk about some indulgence and then they regret it. But if somebody asks you to leave an indiscretion out, you do what they ask. This isn’t hard hitting political journalism here. I’m not trying to upset anybody who was generous enough to contribute. When Mark McNairy was in high school he sprayed his money with Polo cologne and ironed it. Which is of course amazing and shows that Mark was always a little bit eccentric. That stayed in the book.
What is your favorite piece of style advice in the book?
I like it when people are attached to things that they suspect are out of date or behind the times. So when Whit Stillman says he loves the year 1961 and can’t believe madras jackets are on deep markdown at Ralph Lauren I love that. It’s like the way I still drive a Saab. There was also a theme of finding a uniform and making few decisions. A lot of the men seemed to refine the range of what they wear.
Your father David also has a great book out. Is there any sort of family rivalry going on?
Ha! No rivalry. I’m a big fan of his book, Paris in Winter, and helped edit it. He was the first editor in my life and it was fun to be able to return the favor. He’s a big part of Men and Style and is very supportive of it. It’s funny, if you go to Amazon they suggest you buy the two books together.
What is your favorite piece of life advice?
Hirofumi Kurino, the elder statesman at United Arrows in Tokyo, and a true gentlemen had glasses custom-made back in 1977. They were based on his wife’s glasses that she had as a student. I couldn’t believe that he was so precise, cared so much to do that even back then, as a young man, almost 40 years ago. I think it cost him an entire paycheck. I guess I appreciate men who have a classic sensibility, but also a slightly obsessive streak. Most interesting people are a little irrational about something in their lives, and that’s a good thing.
Since I have you, I want to talk about your travel. You are someone I really admire for your willingness to get out there and go places. Talk to me about your where you like to go every year and why –in addition to the new places– you like to go back to the same spots year after year?
Well most of my trips involve fly fishing or art or eating or men’s tailoring. That’s a pretty wide map: Montana, Italy, Paris, Japan. I think you have to be aggressive if you want to travel–it’s just not going to happen if you don’t make an effort. But if you do then you start to create rituals, and those rituals create a sense of tradition.
In Montana when you’re fishing you’re outside all day, you’re out of reception and away from everybody who knows you and what you do. It helps keep everything aligned. Our family goes to Paris and that’s a great tradition. We go to the same restaurant for a formal lunch every year. It’s in January and it feels like our celebration of the best of what we hope the year brings.
Then there’s a new tradition in Florence that you and our friends have begun, which I also love. Nothing’s better than passing Italian men bicycling around the city smoking Tuscan cigars. Then if you see some frescoes in Santa Croce and have lunch at Cammillo it’s a very good day.
And then Japan. It’s really a special place. I lived there after college for about a year. I feel a real attachment there. The incredible service, the attention to detail, the food–it’s all remarkable. I’ve gone with my sister the last few years and that’s been a great experience. She really responded to it, and it was fun to see the country again through her eyes.
If you could shop at only one store for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Wow. Great question. Isetan in Tokyo is the world’s great department store. I can’t stand how great it is. There’s too much for a lifetime there–their home floor and food hall are worth the trip, not to mention men’s tailored clothing. They even sell good cigars. If you’re talking about someplace more intimate and concise then Beams f, which is the Beams tailoring outpost, also in Tokyo, is so good it’s downright lurid.
If you could drink at only one bar for the rest of your life, which would it be?
Oh lord. Very difficult. I would have said the Orchid Bar in the old Okura Hotel in Tokyo. But sadly they dismantled that. I think Harry’s Bar in Florence. I like European bars. They’re small and slightly formal. I like that. Though you know I like dives too! But for one bar, I’d rather my feet not stick to the floor. At Harry’s I like walking out onto the Arno after a Campari or two and deciding where to go to dinner. Though the last time I was there I was wearing a white sport coat, like many Italian bartenders. An American man asked me about getting a car. I thought he was asking for my sage advice, but then I realized he thought I worked there and wanted me to order him a car!
If you could stay at only one hotel for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Aman Tokyo is the greatest city hotel I’ve ever been to. Far and away. I’ve never experienced anything like it. That’s a rarefied experience and something worth doing once. I try to spend my birthday in a cottage at the Chateau Marmont. That’s an indulgence I really love. Being overdressed in LA and waking up early because of jet lag. I go next door to the Liquor Locker and get some bad beer and good champagne. When you’re a New Yorker in LA it feels like you’re living a secret life. That’s a good thing to do every now and then.