It should come as no surprise that acclaimed menswear designer Joseph Abboud was named Best Dressed in high school. The Boston native and major Red Sox fan first made a name for himself as a menswear designer when he joined the Ralph Lauren brand in 1981 before branching out on his own in 1986. One of his lines, Black Brown 1826, which used to only be available at Lord & Taylor, is now carried at 61 Belk stores and online at www.belk.com.
While he was sitting on a veranda at Ballantyne Hotel overlooking the golf course, we talked by phone with the designer before his recent public appearance at Belk at SouthPark mall. He told us why what you wear every day matters, where he finds his inspiration and what would make a great Father’s Day present.
How do you find inspiration for your designs? I do my best work when I’m not in the office. The office is where I’m executing ideas, not forming them. I’ve trained myself over the years to keep my eyes open for ideas and concepts at all times whether I’m on a business trip in Asia or vacationing at the beach. My ultimate inspiration is nature. It’s so hard to capture the true colors of nature. God made those colors, but we can only try to replicate them. I love vibrant, rich, intelligent colors that don’t look forced or synthetic. I can be walking on the beach and pick up a stone and have a new sweater color.
What type of man do you have in mind when you’re creating your line ? The interesting thing about all my collections I’ve designed over my career is that I try to design clothes that a guy feels natural and relaxed in. I prefer for the guy to have the leading role and the clothes are the supporting actor. My customers are self-confident and have their own personal style. It’s so important to develop your own style. That keeps you from not having to follow the pack. And it’s part of my design philosophy to create great pieces that guys can wear in different ways.
What would make a great Father’s Day gift? Sweaters are starting to become a huge category again. We have lighter weight ones for summer made from linen and cotton that can be thrown over a T-shirt when temperatures drop at night. It’s a great thing to have. Or buy a five-pocket linen jean. People think linen as being rumpled, but it can be crisp and fresh. I also love linen shirts. I have a zillion of them. They feel so soft and cool on your body and they don’t have to be dry-cleaned. They wash and iron beautifully.
What’s your most important style advice for men ? It’s OK to throw on something to walk your dog or get your paper. But if you’re going to a movie, shopping or brunch you need to put thought into what you wear. The way you present yourself casually, socially and professionally opens doors. I remember my mom and dad saying that if I always kept my shoes shined, dressed nicely and said “Yes Sir” and “No Sir,” I would always get the job. How you present yourself is very important. It’s an art, but it’s not that complicated if you study it.
I am seeing a change among young people. I have two daughters – 18 and 21 – and I’ve noticed the guys that are hanging around them want to dress up again because it feels good and women notice. It used to be that if there was a guy in a leather jacket in a room with men in suits, he would get the girl. Now it’s the guy in the suit who gets the girl. What’s exciting now that is that young people with limited income can afford to be stylish. There’s so much affordable luxury available now. I don’t believe in paying for the label. Pay for the product. There are some really beautifully styled brands out there. In my Black Brown 1826 line, almost everything is under $100. There used to be a time when you were only allowed to have taste if you had money, but that’s not true anymore.
Where should men look for fashion direction? Old Hollywood when men were called movie stars, not actors. Look at old photos of Gary Cooper, Tyrone Power, Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant and Clark Gable. They knew how to dress.