Meet The Men Making Fashion More Friendly
Mr Luke Day (left) and Mr Ben Cobb
This summer we’re launching MR PORTER Health In Mind, a campaign designed to help men lead healthier and happier lives. In the next few months, we’ll be setting up a fund powered by The Movember Foundation that will raise money for charities working to promote and support men’s health. On top of that, we’re also going to spend more time talking about the issue.
Why are we doing this? Because, to put it bluntly, men aren’t great at taking care of themselves. We’re far less likely than women to seek help when we’re unwell, a tendency that contributes to an average life expectancy in the UK that’s more than three years shorter than that of women. We’re three times more likely to end our own lives, too, according to statistics published by the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), a UK charity dedicated to preventing male suicide.
These are complicated issues, and we don’t claim to have all of the answers. What we can do, however, is help to raise awareness of men’s health by celebrating a few of the things that keep us happy and healthy. And we’re starting with one of the foundational pillars of a fulfilling life, one that men often don’t prioritise enough: friendship.
It’s easy to take our friends for granted and assume that we’ll always have someone there to provide support when we need it. We spend our lives surrounded by others – our social media profiles boast hundreds, if not thousands, of connections. But it is the paradoxical nature of the modern world that while we are rarely alone, we’re at risk of becoming more isolated than ever.
Loneliness is an insidious problem. According to a survey on male friendships conducted by The Movember Foundation in 2016, we have a tendency to drift apart from our friends as we get older. While just seven per cent of men under the age of 24 said that they lacked a close friend, this figure rose to 19 per cent for men over the age of 55.
And genuine social connectedness is proven to be beneficial to mental wellbeing. Without good friends to fall back on, we’re far more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, especially during the most stressful times in our lives, such as the loss of a job or a relationship.
But what is it, exactly, that makes a good friend? Why are we drawn to certain people above others? And what are the psychological benefits of comradeship in a working environment? Rather than try – and, no doubt, fail – to explain it ourselves, we decided to ask a few people from the menswear industry to share the details of their closest and most enduring friendships.
Fashion isn’t exactly known as the friendliest of industries. In fact, you could say that it’s got something of an image problem. It’s perceived as a cut-throat, insular and highly competitive world, and it’s not uncommon for even the most successful people in the industry to suffer from impostor syndrome or to feel like outsiders. In an environment such as this, surely friendships are more important than ever.
Mr Matthew Breen and Mr Tommy Ton
Mr Matthew Breen (left) and Mr Tommy Ton
Messrs Tommy Ton and Matthew Breen first crossed paths in New York City while Mr Breen was running Carson Street Clothiers. He later went on to launch the luxury menswear brand Deveaux, and when it expanded into womenswear last year, Mr Ton joined the team as creative director. What the two men share in common is an outsider status of sorts. Mr Breen came to fashion from the law, having spent the early part of his career as an attorney, while Mr Ton, who had dreamed of being a fashion designer in his teens, took a circuitous path to the top, making his name as a street-style photographer for gq.com and style.com.
What do you remember about your first meeting?
Mr Ton: The New York menswear scene was an interesting place back then because it felt like at one moment it was non-existent and the next moment it was everywhere. All of these guys were suddenly fanboying over fashion, which I thought was hilarious.
Mr Breen: He enjoys making fun of me about that to this day.
Mr Ton: There was this little clique of guys who were really interested in fashion despite coming from a background that had nothing to do with fashion. It was fun to become friends with them because they saw me in a different way from how I saw myself, which was nice. I’m very shy and I struggle to see myself as anything more than someone who just does their job.
Mr Breen: The first time I met Tommy, he was like a celebrity, at least in the fashion scene. Our little crew was super intimidated by him, not realising that he was actually quite a shy guy. So, it was an interesting dynamic when we first met. But once everyone figured each other out, it was the beginning of a good friendship.
Mr Ton, you’ve moved on from photography, but back in the day you were the guy, right?
Mr Ton: I wouldn’t say I was “the guy”.
Mr Breen: You were 100 per cent the guy.
Mr Ton: I think I just had a big platform, working with the publications that I did at the time. People knew that if I took their photograph, there was a good chance that it would make it onto gq.com. And that became common knowledge, so when these guys would see me at Milan or Paris, it’d be like… [puffs out chest, rolls up sleeves]
Mr Breen: There definitely came a point when Tommy was getting followed around by street-style wannabes, but it wasn’t always that way. The first time I saw him, I thought, this dude works really hard. It’d be 95°F in Florence and he’d be sprinting around, playing Frogger with cars to get the right shot. He was the only guy doing that.
How has it been, Mr Ton, going from photography to fashion design? Do you feel at home?
Mr Ton: Yes and no. I still think of myself as something of an outsider. I’ve found my own family in this industry, but I’m still greatly intimidated by certain aspects of it. That’s why I don’t feel like I live and breathe fashion, not as much as I wish I did. The funny thing is that all my close friends are in fashion, so I guess I should feel at home. But I still feel a certain distance from it.
Mr Breen: I’m also an outsider in the industry, coming from the law, but my perspective is a little different from Tommy’s. The menswear side I’ve found to be quite congenial for the most part. People don’t look down on you if your background doesn’t sync up with what they think it should be.
How do you find the right balance between being friends and colleagues?
Mr Breen: Our attitude is very much that we work hard, but we play hard, too. We obviously spend a lot of time together in meetings, but we’ll make sure to have dinner together, too.
Mr Ton: Do you remember that time in Paris last year?
Mr Breen: Oh, man.
Mr Ton: We were in his favourite Italian restaurant, Marco Polo in Saint Germain. He had the gorgonzola gnocchi and I had some kind of truffle pasta. We had to walk it off.
Mr Breen: There’s an outdoor fair in the Tuileries Garden in summer and it had those big inflatable hamster balls. Tommy was like, “How fun would it be to go in those?”
Mr Ton: But it was hot. Like, really hot in there – 90ºF, no circulation, completely airless. And we’re really going for it. Then, all of a sudden, I start to feel really nauseated. And I see Matt jump out of the bubble and run towards a bush. He’s throwing up. Then I’m running into the lobby of the Westin hotel, looking for a bathroom and everyone else is totally fine.
So, the lesson here is: don’t load up on carbohydrates on a hot day and then exercise in an enclosed space?
Mr Breen: I have not felt that terrible in a long time. I didn’t want to go in there. I did it for Tommy.
Mr Luke Day and Mr Ben Cobb
Mr Luke Day (left) and Mr Ben Cobb
Mr Luke Day
You don’t have to spend long on the menswear scene to cross paths with Messrs Luke Day and Ben Cobb. The editor of GQ Style in the UK and editor-in-chief of Another Man respectively, they are two of the industry’s most colourful characters, their flamboyant, 1970s-inspired outfits a regular highlight of men’s fashion weeks. Neither of them can zero in on the precise moment they met. Mr Cobb hazards a guess that it was at a Giorgio Armani show about 15 years ago. They’ve been inseparable ever since and have accompanied each other through many of life’s big moments. “Marriages, divorces and funerals,” says Mr Day. “We’ve done it all.”
What were your first impressions of each other?
Mr Cobb: I remember thinking that you seemed shy, which I found interesting. Because you had quite a look on.
Mr Day: That makes sense, as I’m quite protective around new people. I’m going to have to be honest and say I can’t actually remember meeting you.
Mr Cobb: Well, that says a lot.
Do you find it easy to make friends in the industry?
Mr Day: I expect that whatever industry you’re in, you’ll end up making friends. You spend intense amounts of time with one another. It’s a bit like going to school together.
Mr Cobb: That’s especially true of our industry. I see you more than family now. We’re away for weeks on end at shows, and there are always events.
What do you like about each other?
Mr Cobb: Luke’s very open with you once he knows you and feels comfortable. He doesn’t hide how he feels – it’s all out there.
Mr Day: I’m very present in my emotions. And I need a lot of emotional support. So, I’m lucky to have friends I can turn to, like Ben.
Mr Cobb: I think it’s quite amazing and I think it’s made me open up more, too.
Mr Day: Ben has the call to adventure. I like your free-roaming, Sagittarian thing.
Mr Cobb: Oh, you’re going to get into the horoscope?
Mr Day: Whereas I would naturally err on the side of caution. And I like that about him. He helps me step outside of my comfort zone, because I suppose I feel safe with him.
In theory, shouldn’t you be professional rivals?
Mr Cobb: People do say that, but I’ve never had that feeling at all. When something great happens to one of us, we both have cause for celebration. Men’s fashion is a small world. If we’re doing great work, it’s good for the industry. It’s good for all of us.
Mr Day: And it’s not as if we’re really competing with one another, anyway, because we have such different points of view. You can tell that by the way we dress. We’re in the same decade, aesthetically speaking, but that’s about where the similarities end.
How would you describe each other’s style?
Mr Cobb: I think I’ll go with rodeo hustler.
Mr Day [laughs]: That wasn’t very polite. I’d say Ben has a very sensual, elegant way of dressing.
It’s refreshing to hear you both speak so openly about one another.
Mr Day: Well, maybe that’s true. But I love how things are changing. It shouldn’t be a shameful thing to show vulnerability. Or to be kind. And now that it’s seen as the right thing to do, it feels like we can all finally relax. Because it’s the easiest thing to do, too. It’s what comes naturally.
Mr Jerry Lorenzo and Mr Kerby Jean-Raymond
Mr Jerry Lorenzo (left) and Mr Kerby Jean-Raymond
Fear of God’s Mr Jerry Lorenzo and Mr Kerby Jean-Raymond of Pyer Moss run two of the most exciting labels to have emerged from the US in recent years. They first connected last year after Mr Lorenzo spotted Mr Jean-Raymond’s work on Instagram. A few months later, Mr Jean-Raymond requested that Mr Lorenzo interview him for one of Hypebeast’s digital-only cover stories. They spoke about sneaker collaborations, spirituality and their outsider status as men of colour in the fashion industry, all themes that continue to bind them together today, along with a mutual love of a wild night out in Paris.
You’re based on different sides of the country. When do you find time to meet?
Mr Jean-Raymond: We gravitate to one another when we’re in the same city. When I was in Los Angeles, we hung out, went to Complexcon. Now we’re here [in Paris], I’m dragging him out at night.
Mr Lorenzo: It’s hard. I’m an old man now. I’m a dad.
Mr Jean-Raymond: For real, though, one of the things I respect most about Jerry is that he’s a family man. Seeing someone in my industry who has reached a level of success that I aspire to, but who also has a functional relationship and a family life – that gives me hope, because it’s something I never saw when I was growing up.
So his success has provided a blueprint for your own?
Mr Jean-Raymond: For sure. When he and I first met 12 months ago, my career was in a completely different place. His career took off sooner, so I had the chance to watch him walking around with security, all these kids running towards him. Now that’s kind of like what I’m going through. But had I not seen how he handled it with grace, I probably would have folded. It’s inspiring how disciplined he is about certain things, how strong-minded he is about business. You know I tell you this all the time, but I appreciate just being a fly on the wall.
Mr Lorenzo: I like to offer Kerby as much as possible. Now I have a chance to pour into someone who I really believe in, it’s like a giving well. You give to it, and it gives back to you.
What drew you to Mr Jean-Raymond’s work with Pyer Moss in the first place?
Mr Lorenzo: There are so many young designers with brands right now, but those who have a perspective really stick out, and he was one of them. Kerby takes a very convicted stance in what he believes in. He doesn’t sway, and that comes out through his art. And the more I got to learn about his brand before we met, the more parallels I saw with my own. I found out that it was self-funded, for example, similar to mine.
Mr Jean-Raymond: Both having an independent label, both being black men, you know, we have a lot of obvious similarities in a space where it can feel like we’re naturally outcast. And it makes sense to stay close, because we’re stronger together than we are apart. We both have sneaker deals, and knowing what we do about each other’s businesses, it makes us less likely to get screwed.
So, you think it’s important to have an ally when you’re coming from a place of marginalisation?
Mr Lorenzo: A thousand per cent. Kerby came into my life at a time when, I didn’t realise it, but I needed someone that I could lean on. A lot of times, you make friends in the industry because you both like this designer or whatever, but your value systems are so different. You may have similar material interests or aesthetics, but a lot of those friendships don’t last. And I think that with Kerby, our friendship wasn’t ever really about the fashion. It’s about the brotherhood.
Mr Jean-Raymond: It’s the same way for me. The fashion is the thing that we do, but who we are is what connects us.
Mr Sinan Abi and Mr Per Fredrikson
Mr Sinan Abi (left) and Mr Per Fredrikson
Messrs Per Fredrikson and Sinan Abi met on the football pitch in their early teens. They formed an immediate bond and have done almost everything together since, from taking their first trips abroad without parents to spending four months backpacking in Southeast Asia. In their twenties, they set up a small vintage store in Malmö called Séfr, or “zero” in Lebanese Arabic. It has since blossomed into a menswear brand. Now both aged 32, with fiancées and young families, the duo remain as close as ever.
What were your first impressions of each other?
Mr Fredrikson: I remember Sinan walking towards the football pitch with this tough-guy look on his face. He didn’t seem very approachable. My first impression couldn’t have been more wrong, though, because he’s the friendliest, most sociable guy I know.
Mr Abi: He always tells this story. I was really focused that day, that’s all. There were a bunch of new people arriving to the team. I was like, “I’ve got to show them what I’ve got.”
Is it fair to say you saw something in one another?
Mr Abi: We definitely felt an interest for each other, a kinship. We wouldn’t have met if it wasn’t for football – we were from completely different neighbourhoods in Gothenburg.
Mr Fredrikson: But after that, we did everything together. School classes, holidays, starting the business…
It must have felt like you were taking a big risk with the business. Do you think either of you would have done it alone?
Mr Abi: It’s not risk that would have put me off doing it alone. I just don’t think it would have been as much fun without Per.
Mr Fredrikson: It wouldn’t have been the same without someone to share it with. And it’s comforting to know that you have someone by your side when things go wrong, too.
It’s often the case that good friends aren’t exactly very similar, but they have complementary characteristics. Would you say that’s true of you?
Mr Fredrikson: Definitely. If we were to ask someone else, they would say that you’re more outgoing, social, a funny guy and I’m the calmer one. I’m more of a typical guy, I guess, quite reserved with my emotions.
Mr Abi: Whereas if I have something going on, I like to talk about it, get it out, get over it. I know that, if I have a problem, Per will be able to help, because he has a different perspective and he’ll be able to look at things in a way I hadn’t considered.
Does this help you as colleagues, too?
Mr Fredrikson: For sure. In the beginning, we did everything together. But as we’ve got used to each other’s skills and characteristics, we’ve divided the work up a lot more. And because we trust each other completely in what we do, we’re comfortable doing that. It comes naturally.
Mr Abi: Also, I get the feeling that people like to hang out at our office. It feels like a welcoming place. It’s got a nice, relaxed vibe. And that’s because our working relationship is built on a solid foundation of respect for one another.
You both have young children. How has this affected your friendship?
Mr Fredrikson: I actually changed the nappy of Sinan’s oldest in the office yesterday.
Mr Abi: For me, meeting Per’s son, when I see him, I feel some connection to him. I don’t know how to explain it. Maybe it’s because of the love I have for Per. My fiancée always says that the relationship I have with Per is really beautiful and that I should feel very grateful for having that. Because we accept each other 100 per cent, for everything we do.