Messrs Eugene Tong And Josh Peskowitz On Fashion, Friendship And “Being In It Together”
Messrs Eugene Tong (left) and Josh Peskowitz at Details Cocktail Party, Milan. Photograph by Mr Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images for Details magazine
It was late in 2004, while scratching together their livelihoods in the lower reaches of various mastheads in Manhattan, that Messrs Josh Peskowitz and Eugene Tong first met and formed a friendship. Sparked by a symmetry of interests and aspiration, the friendship has proved invaluable as the two of them navigated the ever-changing industries of media and menswear. Well, better than just navigated. In the years since, Mr Tong and Mr Peskowitz became the Starsky & Hutch of fashion – a baroque (Mr Peskowitz) and minimalist (Mr Tong) buddy act during the heyday of Tumblr when they were the brightest stars of street style – and the wisened experts in their field, guiding brands and the industry itself. Throughout Mr Tong’s tenure at Details magazine, and later as a stylist and brand consultant, and during Mr Peskowitz’s stints at Esquire, at Park & Bond and then as a retailer, the two native East Coasters were sounding boards for one another, playing hype man, co-conspirator or life coach when needed.
And then came the pandemic, cancelling all of our plans, throwing industries into disarray, and isolating all of us far away from our loved ones. Mr Tong, who grew up in New Jersey, happened to be in his native Taiwan when the lockdown came, and it was there he remained until September, watching so many of his plans, and much of his work evaporate, just as we all did. Mr Peskowitz, who was until recently the fashion director of Moda Operandi Men’s, holed up in his native New York throughout its time as global epicentre of the crisis, and now perhaps of the economic downturn – and through all of that, he somehow remains, as ever, inspiring.
To mark the launch of our #TIMEwithHIM campaign, which underlines the importance of friendship for our mental health, and the first anniversary of the MR PORTER Health in Mind initiative, we got on a Zoom connection with Messrs Tong and Peskowitz to talk about their work, our world, and a few things that’ll never go out of style. And remember: stop scrolling. Call a friend. Check in.
Do you guys remember your first meeting?
Mr Josh Peskowitz: We first met... Eugene, you were still at FHM, right? I was at The Fader and you were at FHM. And we really got to be friends a bit later, when Eugene got the job at Details, and Cargo hired me to replace him. I was working at Stuff magazine, like, kill me. And I got a call from Cargo. I was totally unprepared for the job and immediately started drowning. A friend told me to call Eugene. He was one floor up. I was just extra vulnerable with him. I said, “Dude, I’m fucked.” He was like, “I was there, I’m going to help you.” I wouldn’t have survived that job if it wasn’t for him. And we just realised we like the same shit; we were a similar age, from similar backgrounds and we grew up listening to the same music; we cared about the same stuff, we had the same political bent. So we ended up becoming really close friends. It got to the point where all the PR people knew that the only way you were going to get one or the other of us to attend an event was if you invited both of us. But we just looked out for each other and, he’ll probably dispute this, it was a lot more of Eugene looking out for me, than me looking out for Eugene.
Mr Eugene Tong: The support went both ways. We were at the same point of our careers when we first met, and we kind of grew with the industry. I’ve always really cherished that we were in it together – we were both on the same path – we cared about where the other person was, and could always sort of riff off one another.
Mr Peskowitz: People who are in a creative field aren’t always great at negotiating for what they’re worth, negotiating an industry, especially one in flux. And I feel very fortunate to even have a sense of what I wanted to do, professionally, and to at least approximate that over the years is unbelievably lucky. But there isn’t necessarily a corporate ladder or a track or established… anything in our world. So, to have someone be there in that way, psyching each other up, that’s just the best.
What are some of the work or life-related questions you turn to each other for?
Mr Tong: I mean, there was basically one every week for… how many years did we work in magazines? Those last two years at Details, when I had a pretty full plate, running the style department and the style pages with Matthew Marden, when I was also styling three, four shows during New York Fashion Week. I was lucky enough that the magazine let me do that. But I would always call Josh, talk him through what I was thinking, my ideas, show him a few things. It was always really easy for me and Josh to communicate because we kind of have the same taste; we see eye to eye on a lot of things. He was someone I could bounce stuff off of.
There were a few times that I thought about leaving the magazine, and each and every one of those times I spoke to Josh. I trusted his feedback – and the designers that I worked with trusted him, too, and welcomed him as well. He always got a little preview, and he was always the first one backstage to congratulate us. That stands out. It was a stressful time, and speaking of mental health, we were both probably not in great places, but we were there for each other and trying to support each other. Those endless fashion weeks, they take a toll. And I remember many a nights in the back of the [Hôtel] Costes in Paris, the two of us just talking each other down, or trying to find a quiet corner somewhere before a show and just chatting, catching up, making sure we were OK.
Mr Peskowitz: When style.com shut down, I still came out to the shows but I was in these hotels... The hotels were like by the airport, you know what I’m saying? And I had no car. And as it happens on these trips sometimes, because you’re burning the candle at both ends, I got really, really sick, in Paris, and Eugene was just like, “Yo, go to my room,” because he was staying at the hotel nearby. And I was like, “I’m not getting into your bed, disease-ridden the way I am.” That dude literally was just like, “Go sleep in my room.” That’s the type of dude he is.
What type of dude are you? If you were in a 1990s-style buddy comedy – think 48 Hrs or Lethal Weapon – and you guys were posed back-to-back on the VHS cover, who is who?
Mr Tong: Oh, if we’re doing Lethal Weapon, I’m definitely Danny Glover, and he’s definitely Mel Gibson, the loose cannon. I definitely have to rein him in sometimes. Get a few whiskeys in Josh and he’s just a loose cannon.
Messrs Eugene Tong and Josh Peskowitz leaving the Gucci show, Milan, 22 June 2015. Photograph by Ms Melodie Jeng/Getty Images
How have you guys weathered the pandemic?
Mr Peskowitz: We talked really early on, in March and April, but not since. I’ve had a really hard time staying in touch with my friends. It’s been tough for me, especially in the period of time when I was winding down the job and formulating my next moves. That thing that makes the friendship, particularly of men, and particularly in New York City – like, “I’m going to meet you here, we’re going to do this thing, we’ll go have the coffee, we’ll go have the drink, we’ll meet up for dinner, we’re meeting these people”, that third space, and occasion – having that removed from our lives is tough. But with Eugene, and my other true-blue friends for years and years, it doesn’t matter. You can go six months without speaking to someone, and if you know who they are and they know who you are, then you just pick right back up. I think it’s extremely important to remember that, if you’ve been feeling isolated during this period of time, you could pick up the phone or jump onto Skype or whatever, and, with real friends, it just doesn’t matter.
Mr Tong: I keep telling people I have a little bit of survivor’s guilt, because at the end of February, I was like, “All right, I need to go back to Taiwan.” It was supposed to be a two-week trip, and I just got back two weeks ago. My sister lives in New York, and my brother is in San Francisco, and obviously I have a lot of close friends here that I was in contact with. Luckily, Josh and I are the type of friends that don’t need to speak every week. But in March, Josh came to mind, and I checked in on him. We ended up having a two-hour FaceTime call. I think that’s the mark of friendship.
How else have you been taking stock and taking care of yourself?
Mr Tong: I am still running. But now, it’s just been trying to figure out what can this new motivation look like. Usually, right now, I would be training for a marathon, probably. There’s no... Well, I trained too much and I ended up hurting myself. So it is about finding a new form of motivation and a new routine.
For me, these last few months have really just been... Professionally, it was out the window. Projects were either cancelled or postponed. And I was in Taipei, obviously. So there wasn’t much to be done in terms of work. It was more, “let me take this time to figure out what it is that I want to do, and take care of myself”. For me, that was running. For me, that is, as strange as it sounds, cleaning and doing laundry. I did a lot of laundry in Taiwan. But I missed my home, I missed all my stuff. I had a suitcase full of two weeks of clothes that I was wearing for the last six months. Being someone like us, that’s a pretty tough thing to do, after those years of packing for Milan and Paris. But I’m kind of decluttering. After you live seven months out of a two-week suitcase, you realise that you don’t need this much shit. And I’m trying to figure out what post-Covid looks like for people like us who are freelancers, stylists. I can’t do what I do on a Zoom call, you know what I mean? Which is another reason why it is great to have someone like Josh to talk through this type of stuff. You want to speak to someone who you trust and who knows what’s going on.
Mr Peskowitz: I used to go to acupuncture once a week, and I used to get Chinese medicine treatments. But I have therapy with a psychologist once a week, and one of the things that we talked about very recently – and this is very reminiscent of Eugene talking about survivor’s guilt – is, we’ve all been put in a really difficult position because of Covid. I’ve lost my employment. Eugene wasn’t able to come home for a while. I know you’ve had to deal with a bunch of stuff. I would always say, “Well, I’m not as bad as this person or that person. I still have a roof over my head. I still have a woman who loves me and who I love and that I enjoy spending time with who’s in the same place as me.” I have this bounty, and my shrink was saying to me, “Look, somebody else may have it worse than you, but that doesn’t negate the way that you feel.” I think that’s important.
And, you know, work-wise, I knew that the way our business was running was nuts. I opened my store in LA as the antithesis to the markdown-driven model that had been going on for years. And maybe, finally it took a global pandemic and a recession or depression to drive home the fact that there are too many stores, that the things out there are mediocre, and people shouldn’t be paying for mediocre. When it comes down to it, the things that matter, and what people are willing to spend money on, are craftsmanship, innovation, rarity – those things should be celebrated. We might be finally getting around to a point when a lot of the Byzantine nature of our business will be shaken away, and it’ll be time again for the good guys to win. And if the good guys are going to win, then I want to participate in it.