Jonathan Kanarek is on a quest to transform the LA man’s wardrobe, one pair of flip-flops at a time. Voted one of Esquire’s Top 5 Best Dressed Real Men of 2007, Kanarek began his revolution with the launch of the lounge-like Jake Vintage, where he’s been schooling clients in classic sartorial mores since last year. Now, Kanarek is preparing to launch a seminar series focusing on the art of living stylishly. We chatted with the vintage virtuoso to uncover his views on modern menswear, his top style secrets and what he thinks about people who can’t bear to part with their ripped jeans.
JC Report: What qualities of vintage menswear do you feel are missing from modern design?
Jonathan Kanarek: A lot of suits today are made very well, but the craftsmanship of a vintage garment is on another level. Back in the ’40s and ’50s, men would buy suits with the intention of passing them down to their sons. The modern ‘Big Box’ retailers are more concerned with pushing trends—and the clothes are only made to last as long as the trend. Not only are men starting to want this higher level of quality, but they’re also looking for something that will allow them to show more individuality. That can be achieved through vintage or classic cuts, whether it’s a three-button from the ’50s or the early ’60s Mad Men look.
JCR: Do most of your clients already have a well-honed sense of style, or are they essentially clueless and coming to you for guidance?
JK: I would say 70% are looking to elevate their game, and 30% or less already have a strong personal aesthetic and are just adding to it. California men have a very casual beach mentality, so I’ve got my work cut out for me. But I’m optimistic—I can already see that more and more guys are coming around to a polished way of dressing.
JCR: Why do you think that is?
JK: Part of it is the pushback from casual Fridays, which ultimately turned into a full casual week. Now, we’ve got all these offices filled with Bermuda shorts and flip-flops, and the pendulum has to swing back. A lot of high-end designers are doing men’s-only stores, because they recognize something I did a long time ago: guys feel safer when they’re in a masculine environment. Also, you have to look at the media. We’re in a political season, so you have a lot of slick looking guys on the TV—not to mention shows like Mad Men and CSI where the guys are really buttoned down. In general, men are saying “Enough already, I want to be better.”
JCR: What’s your typical process when dressing a fashion-phobic client?
JK: The main thing that sets me apart is my level of customer service. I pay attention to each person’s stature, frame, hair color and educate them on the right measurements, the right color palette, the right proportion of sleeve to cuff and how it all pertains to their frame. A lot of places aren’t willing to give you that information unless they know you’re ready to buy. If I know I can’t find the right suit for someone on his first visit…well, I’m a patient guy.
JCR: How did the idea for a formal seminar series come about?
JK: I grew up in a time when we still sat around the table and had dinner every night. Times have changed, and now no one is teaching kids those things that were once passed down from grandfather to father to son. The seminars are kind of like a finishing school for guys. I’ll be leading the first one on the proper rules of dress, but I’ve called in the experts for the others. Art of Shaving is on board to teach grooming, and we’ll have a mixologist for the session on entertaining etiquette—every man should know how to make a Manhattan.
JCR: Sadly, a lot of our readers won’t be able to make it to LA for the series. If you could impart on them your top three rules of dress, what would they be?
JK: First and foremost, you need a great tailor. The effect a tailor can have on your wardrobe is nothing short of astounding—it allows you to wear the clothes, as opposed to the other way around. Secondly, find the clothes to fit your frame, and don’t try to force something that’s not right. Look, you’re not going to be able to get into that mod, skinny suit because you’re 5’9 and 180 lbs, so lets look at something else. Finally, never stop paying attention to the little details. I was recently at Art of Shaving, casually pitching the seminars to the guy at the counter, and it turned out the president of marketing was there that day. I was really happy that, even on my day off, I took a moment to look smart.
JCR: In your opinion, what are the key pieces every man should have in his wardrobe?
JK: You can’t go wrong with a gray or blue Brooks Brothers suit. A great tux would absolutely be in my top three, but I know for the world at large, it’s probably not a priority. Spend some money on your shoes, you can’t go wrong with a good John Lobb, Florsheim, Allen-Edmonds or Johnston & Murphy. A vintage topcoat is incredibly elegant and a good wristwatch is key, but you don’t have to see it from outer space—smaller is always better.
JCR: Some may argue that the modern lifestyle is radically different from that of the ’50s, and that the traditional elements of style you’re championing are no longer practical in the present day. What would be your response?
JK: I’ve heard that before and, although I understand it, it’s a blatant cop-out. Just because you have a busy lifestyle doesn’t give you license to be a slob. To those people, I say “try it.” Vintage may not be your thing, but there are a myriad of designers who are making clothes more lightweight, flexible and comfortable. Guys are often slobs because they’re getting a pass. These days, it takes a little more than charm to get from Point A to Point B—clothing has a lot to do with it, but it’s also how confident you feel about yourself.
For more information, visit www.jakevintage.com.
This interview was conducted by Erin Magner