Mr Ignacio Quiles
This self-taught dandy shares his distinctive style secrets on a walking tour of Providence, Rhode Island .
Mr Ignacio Quiles wears several hats, both literally and figuratively. As a young man, his Puerto Rican mother told him to learn a trade that would always put food on the table. He took her advice to heart and trained as a chef. But it was his lifelong passion for men’s style that put clothes on his back. Over the years, this multi-talented 63-year-old from New York has been a vintage shop owner, accessories designer, stylist, self-taught alterations tailor, haberdasher, artist, writer and, in the past couple of years, model.
When we meet, Mr Quiles is wearing a felt trilby. He’s rarely seen without a hat. “I must own more than 100,” he says. He finds it difficult to keep track of his expanding wardrobe, which is split between his small apartment in Chinatown, Manhattan, and his much larger residence in Providence, Rhode Island – five hours’ drive northeast of New York – which serves as his walk-in closet and archive.
Mr Quiles grew up in Harlem in the 1960s, the only boy among five sisters. He recalls a time when the men in the community had real swagger in their Stetsons, Stacy Adams shoes and double-breasted suits. “They would dress up during the daytime, especially on Sundays, because they worked at night,” remembers Mr Quiles. Trends were very localised. “People used to talk about ‘the bop’, the way you walk. In Harlem, people bopped differently from the way they did in Brooklyn, and people dressed differently from Brooklyn to Harlem.”
“Providence gives me the quiet time I need to not be a manic person, and New York gives me that excitement, that pump, that energy”
Young Mr Quiles was obsessed with matinée idols in classic movies from the 1940s and he copied the style of Messrs James Cagney, Jimmy Stewart and Humphrey Bogart. He has always been a snappy dresser, and wore penny loafers and saddle shoes from the age of 11. “They used to call me ‘the crazy, mixed-up kid’ because they said, ‘He’s Puerto Rican. He looks black and he dresses white.’”
Mr Quiles educated himself in the way of style by picking up and studying old copies of GQ and Esquire that had been thrown out by people in more affluent neighbourhoods, and by befriending the French owner of a vintage shop in Brooklyn, who schooled him in the ways of designer labels. And he learned the art of the hustle by bargaining with the merchants on Delancey Street on the Lower East Side and then customising his charity-shop purchases on his mother’s sewing machine. With a hat as his trademark, Mr Quiles earned himself a new nickname: Count Borsalino, after the Italian fedora maker, which also gave its name to a classic French gangster movie starring Messrs Alain Delon and Jean-Paul Belmondo.
“Enjoy what you wear, wear what you enjoy, and go out and show the world what you’re made of”
Having made a living principally from buying and selling vintage clothing and furniture, Mr Quiles’ life changed when Brooklyn photographer Ms Rose Callahan took his picture for the 2013 book I Am Dandy: The Return Of The Elegant Gentleman by Mr Nathaniel Adams. “I never thought of myself as a dandy,” he says. “I was just being me.”
Ms Callahan then featured Mr Quiles and his distinctive beard and gap-toothed smile in her 2013 exhibition Artist/Rebel/Dandy: Men Of Fashion at the famous Rhode Island School of Design Museum in Providence. This show proved a huge success and helped to boost Mr Quiles’ profile. After attending a number of events in Providence and making new friends, he and his late partner decided to move there.
These days, Mr Quiles splits his time between the two places. “Providence gives me the quiet time I need to not be a manic person,” he says. “New York gives me that excitement, gives me that pump, that energy.” Mr Quiles invited MR PORTER to join him in Providence for a walking tour of his favourite spots by way of showcasing his wide-ranging personal style, which he sums up with this motto: “Enjoy what you wear, wear what you enjoy, and go out and show the world what you’re made of.”
Providence punches well above its weight when it comes to restaurants because of the culinary schools nearby. This is the kind of suit I might wear for a nice dinner out in town, somewhere like Broadway Bistro. I’m not a fan of ultra-skinny-fit suits that younger guys wear today to show off their physiques. I love cloth and I like to see it move, to see how it drapes, to see its weave. I love the way a double-breasted suit looks, how the buttoned jacket creates a perfect window for a collar and tie – in this case, a rounded contrast collar. I was going to add a collar bar, but took it off at the last minute. It’s enough that the colour of the pocket square is picked up in the socks. That’s one thing I tell younger guys: you don’t need to combine every single accessory in one look. It’s too much. Take 10 per cent off.
This Junya Watanabe + Levi’s jacket is probably my favourite thing I wore this week. I love how he mixes influences together – it’s part American, part Japanese, but with this African fabric in the patchwork. And look at these fantastic patch pockets – big enough to fit a magazine. I’ve chosen to keep the rest of the outfit comparatively muted so as not to compete with this, albeit with barely glimpsed orange socks to echo the orange in the jacket. This is what I might wear to meet friends for a drink. People in Providence are genuinely friendly. I’ve only been in this town for two years, but it feels like 20. When my partner, Pamela, passed away recently, I did think about moving back from Providence, but the locals here wouldn’t let me. I’ve become part of their daily life and they’ve become part of mine.
My eye was immediately drawn to these amazing Junya Watanabe patchwork jeans. They’re a standout statement, so you need to pair them with something less busy, such as this plain sweater and army green field jacket. And these Edward Green suede Chelsea boots are killer. This is the kind of thing I would wear to walk my two dogs. I’m serious. Why not? My ex-wife used to say, ‘Don't buy a fur coat unless you can drag it through the mud.’ Why have something if you don’t wear it? I don’t keep things for best. I walk everywhere in Providence because I find the architecture so inspiring it makes me want to write. When I need to recharge with a cup of tea, I’ll often stop in at the café at The Dean, a cool new Brooklyn-style boutique hotel. I sometimes observe people on their Tinder dates and try to figure out from their body language whether it’s a success or not.
The Athenaeum is an independent, member-supported library that has welcomed free-spirited thinkers and writers for more than 200 years. It’s filled with the most obscure collection of books, and it’s such a pleasure to get lost in there and soak it all in. This is a fairly typical everyday outfit for me. There’s something stately about pairing a pocketed cardigan with a blazer. I feel like an aristocrat with his hand in the ticket pocket of a vest [waistcoat]. These pants have a subtle tie-dye pattern, and pull tabs on the side for structure. I wear a lot of neck scarves, and this cashmere one from Loro Piana goes perfectly with the unstructured double-breasted summer blazer from Dolce & Gabbana.
Providence is a great supporter of art. There is no tax on artwork here and there are art shows all over town – some good, some less so. Providence Art Club often has events on in the afternoons and evenings. The people-watching is good; some make a real effort. I don’t need a reason to get dressed up. It just depends how I feel when I wake up. I particularly like the high waist on this distinctive windowpane Gucci suit. A hat is a tricky thing, but you know when you put it on, and cock it to one side, whether it feels right or not. Often, you have to play with them, reshape them until they sit right. I learned how to do that from old gangster movies. It doesn’t take long to personalise a hat. This one is beautiful, the way it folds.