From the cutting room floor
An Interview with David Coggins
A gentleman of great style and grace, New York-based writer David Coggins is known by many in the world of men’s’ style. The contributing editor at Conde Nast Traveler, his musings have appeared in the likes of Esquire, A Continuous Lean, Kinfolk, Mr Porter, and more. Recently David has put together ‘Men and Style: Essays, Interviews and Considerations’, a NY Times best-seller that explores and celebrates why men dress the way they do. If that wasn’t enough he also has a new collaborative line with London menswear institution Drakes and is editor of their new magazine Common Thread.
What was the inspiration behind putting together ‘Men and Style’?
Well, I was about to turn forty and it felt like a good time to write a book. I started to think about the things that mattered to me and the men that I admired. What had they learned from their fathers and how had they evolved as they had gotten older? So that was the starting point. I was thinking about clothes, of course, but also how dressing fits into a larger context of who we are.
At what point in your life did you really start paying attention to what you wore?
Quite early. A lot of the men I interview in the book are clearly the same way. We had strong opinions from the time we were young—we liked a certain colour or shirt. I think I learned the power of dressing and got more specific in my teenage years. I should say I’ve always been very particular about what I like. I think that’s normal to a certain extent—but I may have been extreme.
What do you think the benefits are of a man taking a greater interest in his own style?
Well there are many. A well-dressed man is somebody who has a certain amount of self-knowledge—he knows how he fits into the world. That’s a good thing. When you dress well you are showing respect for the people around you, which is also good. And if you don’t care about any of that then do it for the women in your life—or the woman you want in your life.
How important do you think it is that we have people in our lives to look up to and to guide us in our style choices?
I think it’s incredibly important. I like the way old Italian men dress. They have a sense of colour and texture that’s terrific. And generally, they look happy. I love Luciano Barbera, who’s a legendary owner of his own label and textile company. Somebody more provocative would be Jarvis Cocker, he just has a really unique way of expressing himself and he’s like nobody else.
If you were to describe your favourite outfit/uniform on any given day what would it be?
I like a certain sense of formality. I wear a sport coat every day I'm in a city. I like old clothes that have a sense of history. So an old tweed jacket is a good thing for me, grey flannel trousers, a blue oxford shirt. I wear a lot of knit ties. I love the texture. So one of those too.
How many suits should a man own? And what different styles would you say are essentials?
Wow well, this is a very tricky question. I think every man should have one suit that he is comfortable in, even if he only wears it once a year. That time will certainly be important and he should rise to the occasion. It’s sad to see men who are uncomfortable when they dress up—they look like they’re dreading it. That’s partly because they have a suit that doesn’t fit properly. If I was starting I’d get a good blue suit and a good grey suit. Those are classics for a reason. Spend as much as you can afford because you’ll have them for a long time. Then you can get a little more aggressive in pattern and fabric. I also think an unstructured blue sportcoat is a really good thing to have.
Men’s fashion in the past ten years has undergone a massive transformation, what do you think was the catalyst for this?
Well, a lot of things. Technology, of course. We see so many images of men from all over the world. And of course, we can track down clothes more easily too. I think some of that is really good—it’s good to be educated, of course. But with so much information competing for our attention, I think it’s easy to get distracted. There are too many trends. I think it’s better to take time and have a more measured approach.
In an age of disposable fashion, how does one stay clear of trends and manage to develop their own style?
I think you start with something really good and basic and then add things to that. So if you have a good grey flannel suit you can wear it with an oxford shirt and tie. But then try it with a pink shirt. Try it with a scarf, a pocket square. Maybe a Western shirt. A chambray shirt. The suit is always there, but the flavour changes a bit. Don’t try to go experiment too much too soon. These things take time. You can’t dress like Luciano Barbera without decades of education. When in doubt see what Fred Astaire wore: all classics and they still look flawless.
You’ve recently collaborated with Drake’s. How did this come about? And what particular elements were you most excited about when working with them?
I’ve been a fan of Drake’s for a long time. They do everything well. They make things well—sometimes they’re discrete, sometimes they’re more outgoing, they’re always stylish and have a sense of ease. When I met Michael Hill, an owner of the company and the creative director I wasn’t surprised that he’s a wonderful person. We talked about clothes that we both liked and came up with some things that I would wear every day. When I like something I’ll wear it a lot and it was really fun to talk about the type of tweed jacket you want to live in all winter. We also made a short scarf—what I call the indoor scarf—that fits under a sportcoat. I’d been looking for one forever and couldn’t find any. So it was nice to make one with them.
And finally, given that you are a keen fisherman, have you ever considered a trip to New Zealand to visit our renowned fly fishing grounds?
Ha! Flyfishing is definitely my favourite thing to do, and I travel quite a bit to do it. I’ve fantasised about fishing in New Zealand—as many do—and have just not gotten my act together yet. I know it’s very technical and the guides there have a reputation for having high expectations about your skills. So I want to make sure my casting is ready for the challenge. Of course, once I go I’ll know I’ll want to go back every year!