GB Does style matter?
TS Not only does style matter but style is everything. It’s how you use your charisma and sex and ability to sell your Ideas. There are two jobs. You have your job, which is making what you love and what you’re great at and then you have your job of bringing it to the world. There are millions of tools you need to do that, like good writing skills, or tenacity. It’s not shallow to think about the clothes you wear. They’re packaging for our bodies and convey essential information about who we are. Of course there’s a bottom line : guys don’t care what girls wear, they only care about what’s going on underneath the clothes, but above and beyond that clothes (or speech) convey information about the person’s, intelligence, politics, confidence, sexuality, personality, cultural background, ambition. It’s everything.
GB To what degree is it about sexual attraction?
TS On top of the booty, the way that a girl dresses can make a difference between a seven and a nine. If she gets a dog the cuteness of the dog adds to the cuteness of the girl. When I walk my wife’s dog I get so much more attention. There’s a concept known as collaging which is best represented in the trailer for the movie, The Craft (1996), which shows four teenage girls walking down the hall in school in slow motion. They’re all pretty cute, I mean, they’re movie stars, but this phenomenon called collaging happens when you put together all the favourite parts of the women and you have this sensation of overwhelming beauty. It all comes together because the mind has to process so much information so quickly that it processes it in an emotional rather than a logical way and all the visual components get composited into one idealized image. The works especially well in advertising images when it’s accelerated with music and special effects and bouncing boobs. It’s more than the mind can logically process but less than the mind can emotionally process.
GB Is style always related to our social aspirations? Does it reflect our values?
TS Style only represents social aspirations in the worst case. It’s probably more than I’d like to admit. It’s a shame that fashion becomes a signifier of wealth. Maybe that’s the difference between fashion and style – that fashion is a signifier of wealth but style transcends that. I’m in Aspen Colorado right now, which is a great place to study style because there’s so much affluence here. Colorado is a place with the worst sense of style and the most money of any place I’ve ever been times a thousand, but there’s also a certain high quality to all the outdoor clothes here because it’s an outdoor culture. That’s why the best raincoats in the world are made in Portland and Seattle. Anywhere else, they use umbrellas but if you really have to deal with the rain you need a Gore-Tex layer.
GB Is style an expression of personality?
TS Yeah of course, it’s the packaging of the soul. Especially for you and I because we don’t live in Colorado, we live in London and New York where fashion is an art form. It’s inventive and maintained and developed in the same way as a rich vocabulary is used to express your ideas verbally. If you have a rich use of language you can express who you are as a thinker, whether it’s slang or OED. That’s just as important in terms of attractiveness as big biceps or tight buns.
GB I agree that it’s a sophisticated language and that also means that it evolves quickly in London and New York so our style is constantly changing in subtle ways.
TS I can only speak for myself, but I try not to change my style all the time. I try to be as consistent as possible. In my next apartment I’m going to have a washing machine in my bedroom that’s very small and efficient so I can wear the same outfit every day. My favourite example of this consistent style is Alexander Rodchenko, a Russian Constructivist. His wife, Varvar Stepanova, made him a wool and leather work suit that he wore everyday. I basically have my uniform but I’m always looking to refine it. As they say in that NWA song: A T shirt and Levi’s is his only disguise.” I have my uniform based on utility but what utility means in my complex urban life is a lot of things. I wore my Marsfly Nike sneakers skateboarding and to black tie events and everything in my life for over year so it was almost ridiculous at times. In The Painted Word, Tom Woolf talks about young artists at the Whitney gala wearing jeans, saying “I’m just a kid, don’t take me seriously.” Then there were the artists wearing the same suits as the Vanderbilts, which said that they’d ascended to the same level of wealth and status. Carl André famously only wears denim overalls. When I saw him at Sol LeWitt’s funeral he was still wearing overalls rather than paying lip-service to convention. He was in a way, conveying the politics of his art. For everyone, the clothes that you wear are an expression of yourself as an individual which makes everyone an artist.
GB But are you in a privileged position because you and your art are famous so you don’t have to put so much effort into impressing people through that form of expression?
TS I don’t know if that’s a blessing or a curse. I went to a dinner party wearing my sweater with holes in it and a patron commented that I had a hole in my sweater then her husband said, “It’s okay, Tom’s an artist.” I said, “Don’t blame me for the hole, blame Prada.” I was embarrassed by the name drop but the humor made light of the possibility that I was offending my hosts. The reality is that there is a unique path for each individual artist. People assume that the artists are living so far outside convention, basically getting paid for something they should do for free, that the normal rules of civility don’t apply. I’m always a little insulted when people say that to me: “It’s ok he’s an artist”. People assume that it’s some form of disrespect, but actually I just love my favorite cashmere sweater that’s all falling apart. You can argue that the hole adds character. In fashion, people pay good money for holes. That’s paying for the value of associated experience. You buy jeans with holes in them that make you look like an artist in the same way you’d buy the same sneakers Michael Jordan wears. Does it make it less special now anyone can buy this associated value? Nowadays a being a VIP is only about money. In the 80s it was more about style. But the real part of this isn’t in new New York and London, it’s in Congo and the artists known as Sap, who live in the most corrupt and violent country on earth, that’s been colonized and controlled for many generations – and these French-speaking African geniuses make clothes out of garbage that are so elegant and are unparalleled works of art. These guys turn the whole conversation upside down. Their resources are much lower yet the stakes much much higher.
GB So is spending time being concerned with your own style morally questionable?
TS No. Any aesthetic decision you make is art. It’s almost a responsibility. This is how we keep ourselves out of the dark ages of colour. If you choose not to buy teal or maroon cars, they’ll stop making them. People have a moral responsibility to take these decisions seriously and show up wearing something that they’ve chosen consciously, whether it’s a uniform or not. It’s important to keep old things alive, to fix them and dye them and not just take what’s given to you in some cheap store but make decisions, like wearing used things.