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John Bakel: Style, Denim and Rock ‘n Roll

Wolf + Panther spoke to Denim & Supply - Ralph Lauren Senior Design Director John Bakel about how to define style, his personal philosophy of fashion and where to look to get inspired for that new swag you want to try out; after all, who better than a designer to give tips on evolving your personal fashion?

W+P: Why is that most guys don’t seem to have a strong sense of personal style?

“Men and women are very different in certain ways.  In one way men have a more hunter mentality and women tend to be more gathers.  Men aren’t going to go window shopping, I’m a designer and even I don’t go window shopping.  Guys want to find something they love.  They’ll research it and then they’ll go get it.  What’s missing for most guys is that it’s not just about finding pieces of clothing.  Because if the things you buy don’t add up to anything and you don’t feel good in it, then it doesn’t say anything about you.  Without a bigger context of what you’re looking for, you’re going to look like your closet threw up on you.”

W+P: How does a man discover the direction he wants to go?  How does a guy who wants to identify his fashion voice find it?

“Some people’s personalities are very preppy.  If you know that about yourself, the starting point could be looking at images of preppy guys and that could spark something in you, that leads to the question: “Where is a good place to get gingham shirts?”  And then begins the search of “I don’t like this” and “I really like the fit of that.”  And then the hunting begins and you start incorporating a look that matters to you.  The look is always evolving.”

W+P: Ok, that makes sense but can we go a little further?  How do you find those pieces that continue the evolution of your look?

“Say if you are a more rock and roll kinda spirit, or have a more downtown vibe and you’re looking for clothes in a place that sells more conservative, Wall Streety things.  You could find some good pieces, something universal like blazers, but if it doesn’t really speak to what you want and you don’t really have a context for why you’re buying these things beyond buying something just because you needed it, then you’re just throwing clothes on you’re back.  You’re not creating a personal style.  Fashion is taking clothing a step beyond it’s utilitarian purpose and style is how you express that, pull it together and make it personal.

W+P: How do you edit your wardrobe?  It’s easy for people to get heady with the research and the thrill of the hunt.  How do you keep from going too far and stay true to your style?

“Guys are simple… a guy’s wardrobe can be really paired down.  You don’t need to have a lot of shoes, you just need shoes you love.  If you’re wearing cowboy boots and they have a pointy toe and they’re alligator skin and you’re a preppy you’re just never going to be happy in those.  Or what a lot of guys do is buy generic, in between kinda stuff and it just adds to this kind of feeling that they’re average, or that life is average and they get stuck in this weird little bubble.”

W+P: Any advice for someone who finds themselves in such a bubble?

“Context is a big thing and you’ve really got to figure out what looks inspire you.  And it’s easy.  You might watch a movie that inspires you.  I love James Bond, it’s a sharp tailored kinda thing.  I love Steve McQueen, which is more rugged, and those things can be combined together.  There’s different parts of your personality where the James Bond thing might make sense, and parts where the Steve McQueen thing might make sense, and you add the two together and it becomes something unique to you and it’s exciting.  Fashion has to be fun, but not goofy. Fashion is always an ongoing learning process.”

W+P: How did you get started in fashion?

I went to school for physics, history and arabic.  It just all kind of happened for me.  Rogan Gregory was my neighbor and he got me an internship at Tommy Hilfiger.  I was working for his sister and got a job soon after.

W+P: Wait, you were at Tommy when is was at its height.  Mid/Late 90′s right?  When it was huge in hip hop?

“Yeah.  And further down the line, after I left Tommy,  I got to be involved in the denim resurgence and its return to quality.”

W+P: So where are you finding your personal inspiration as an artist.  How do you get started with the visual story you are trying to tell in the pieces you design?

“I’m looking around at what’s happening, what people are wearing, and seeing what the conversation is.  Vintage is a big part of it for me.  I look at vintage to see how things are really made.  I can also see what someone has done with a garment when they’ve owned a piece for a long time.  Maybe, they cut off the sleeves.  It’s all in the details.  As an artist, it’s also important to decide what you’re not going to do.  Even before that, you gotta know how you want things to look.  You are creating a message and it needs to be compelling.  You should feel something inside when you’re creating clothes and be clear about what you’d like to say.”

W+P: Clear about what you are trying to say?

“You should never have to explain a design to the customer.  They should be moved by it when they see it.  They should really want it.  Or they put it on and never want to take it off.”

W+P: How do you use your day and how are you left feeling at the end of it?

“Most of my day is spent sketching, fitting, bouncing around and following up on things. Its an awesome job that I love.  You impact people.  Challenges end up being awesome and when it’s over I say ‘Wow!  I’m glad I did that.’ ”

W+P: Personal Influences?

Hedi Slimane.”

W+P: ‘Nuff said.

Photography by Joe Tanis.  Check him out at www.joetanisphotography.com

Models provided by Red NYC

Wardrobe is a combination of John’s own hand tailored suits, vintage, and a variety of brands including Denim & Supply