Bonnie and Me

I remember Bonnie Raitt saying, in an interview after her first big Grammy award, that she’d never been well recognized before then because “the folkies thought my music was too much rock ‘n’ roll, and the rock fans thought I was too folkie.” Or words to that effect.

The trouble with taking a “middle way” is that the people who are really into things are generally gung-ho in one direction or another; and it’s generally these aficionados who have the audience to create the buzz – or whatever it’s called that sphere – which gives the artist, performer, designer, whatever, credibility and acceptance. Critics may be so immersed in the sub-culture of their particular fields that they lose a feeling for what is excellent because it is not the cutting-edge, of-the-moment type of creation they are following just then. While other types of critics, let’s call them the conservatives, ignore the endeavors of anyone who recognizes or adopts elements of current movements in his or her creations. Yet history tells us two things: greatness is what appeals to the widest audience over the longest time; and excellence may not be easily recognized by its contemporaries. Audiences walked out of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake;” 1860s Parisians paid money to jeer at impressionist paintings; e.e. cummings’s poetry was too simple, too playful; Andrew Wyeth's art too representational. Ultimately the value of our creations is judged by the ages.

“Fashion” is creative, edgy, innovative. “Classic” reveres and reflects the past. My job as a retailer of men’s clothing is to find ways for men to express themselves in ways that reflect both values. Not self-contradictory, this is the middle way. This is what we know to be true style: reverence with a twist. Critics from the left and right will bash me; slaves to either convention or innovation will abjure my efforts. But I won’t sell a guy a jacket that is Peewee-short, or pants that threaten future generations. And although I think your clothes should be comfortable, they should fit you well enough to accentuate your attributes and hide your deficiencies without bagginess or artificial padding. Never will I willingly assent to the old-fashioned “costume” for a man. I won’t let a guy leave my place looking silly. (This is especially important in planning an outfit for a big event. I ask the groom-to-be, or his father or brother, to imagine the photograph of himself, in an album, ten years hence. Do you want to think, “There I am on one of my best days,” or, “What was I thinking?”)

When it comes down to it, we know the middle way because we are educated in the craft and aware of our environment. Our take on things will never be banal or uninspired unless our background is limited in scope and our energy insufficient to interpret current trends to our special use. And finally, we are not artists, following a muse; we are merchants, offering our clients a manner of self-expression that will improve their lives in the here and now.

Nick HiltonPrinceton