MR. BOWTIE MEMOIRS – TELL US ABOUT THE START OF THE BOWTIE THAT IS NOW A STAPLE IN YOUR WARDROBE.
The first time I ever wore a bowtie was Fashion Focus – Chicago’s version of Fashion Week. It was one of my first events so I was overly excited. I was covering a show, wasn’t on the list, talked our way in and got us into press. We go there the next day and this woman says, “You’re the bowtie guy!” A light bulb went off in my head. This is something that people remember. Since then, the trend has definitely taken on but that was probably a good 6 years ago when nobody was really doing it. On top of being 6’4”, and having crazy glasses – I realized this was a good way for people to remember who I am.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE PLACES TO FIND BOWTIES?
There is an awesome group of local Chicago designers and I’m very supportive of local businesses. I think we have a really great fashion scene that no one knows much about. If I can spread the word about them, that’s great! The one I am wearing today is J. Cheikh. They made it for me, custom. I’m a huge fan. Artfully Disheveled is a really good one as well. They are very good conversation pieces. DIBI – Daniel Bruce, has a good collection. Plank – I will have to show you! They are made of wood.
UNDER THE SUIT AND TIE, MOST PEOPLE WOULD BE SURPRISED TO SEE ALL OF YOUR TATTOOS. WHEN DID YOU GET YOUR FIRST ONE AND HOW HAS IT EVOLVED?
My first one, the birds on my arm, was about 3 years ago. I’m obsessed with the idea of self-evolution and taking yourself higher than you think you can go. I think people often settle and say “that’s just who I am” and I think you can be whoever you want to be. The tree on my left arm – the same idea, growth and change. I am always trying to reinvent myself mentally, and more recently that has been a really big initiative in my life, getting myself to a better place. The chest tattoo, go big or go home. This one is for my dad. My dad is amazing and he and I have been getting really close the past few years and really getting to know each other as adults. When we were young, he must’ve said he likes eagles so for his birthday, Christmas, everything for the rest of our lives, he got eagles stuff. [Laughs] I’m working on what I want to do for Mom.
[LUCAS STOIOFF (Founder, DineAmic and owner of Siena Tavern): Should I get anyone’s autograph? [Laughs] Intros happen across the board and we become best friends, obviously]
WE LOVE THE IDEA OF PERCEPTION AND RECREATING YOURSELF! WHAT DO YOU THINK YOUR VISUAL REPRESENTATION SAYS TO OTHER PEOPLE?
I love playing with that idea. Like you said, people never would expect that I would have tattoos. 1. I love that and 2. Why not? I feel like you can use that as a tool to further yourself and make people think you’re something that you are not yet. One of my mantras has always been, “Dress like a CEO and people will think you are.” All through college, I walked into class every day in suits like I owned the place and that really helped me get into the industry and get recognized. At the same time, in the summer I can throw on a tank and be somebody totally different and I love that!
YOU’VE WORKED FOR FRENCH CONNECTION, MICHIGAN AVENUE MAGAZINE, SERVED AS DIRECTOR OF RUNWAY AT AGENCY GALATEA, AND NOW AS PR COORDINATOR FOR 900 SHOPS. HOW DID YOU BREAK INTO THE INDUSTRY?
When I went to college, I had been out of high school for 4 years. I never thought I would go to college. My family didn’t really have the money to do it. I had two epiphanies in my life and this sounds very cheesy. It’s been a voice that I did not understand or recognize and the first time it happened, I woke up one morning and I just heard “it’s time for college.” It was crazy! I went to Columbia for a year for film. The last class of the core, I basically dropped out. It wasn’t what I wanted to do. I took a three-month break, was living in Elk Grove Village and waiting tables at PF Chang’s. At one of my tables was Michael, District Manager for French Connection. He liked my personality and asked me if I was looking for a part time job. I had never had a fashion job, wore hand-me-down’s growing up and being well dressed was not a thing for me [and that was 2005.] I took the job and I really started to like it. People think I popped out of the womb with a Vogue in my hand – I did not. I’m still learning a lot.
I transferred to Illinois Institute of Art and studied Fashion Marketing & Management. Before graduation, I started my blog The Bowtie Memoirs, and I used it as a tool to get into events and meet the right people. I met both sides of the game, bloggers and publicists. Internships like crazy, Michigan Avenue Magazine. I worked with Barbara Glass. I interned at 900 North Michigan Shops in marketing. When I was at 900, a friend of mine passed me along to Marie at Agency Galatea and I started as her assistant. While there, I noticed nobody was spearheading the runway division so I basically asked her if I could take over. She turned around and said, “We’ll make you new cards!” Sarah Burrows, my former internship boss at 900 called a meeting with me and offered me this position. She said they wanted to take the publicist in-house for the first time. The property opened in ‘88 and they always used outside firms, until now.
THERE GOES OUR THEORY OF POPPING OUT OF THE WOMB WITH A VOGUE IN YOUR HAND! WHAT WAS IT LIKE GROWING UP?
My parents were divorced when I was young. They were busting their butts just trying to keep us fed. I have an older brother and two younger sisters. We didn’t have a lot of money, we didn’t have great clothes and wore a lot of hand-me-downs so fashion and style were never a part of my life or was it ever a thought. I remember when I was 16 not thinking I was cool enough to wear Abercrombie like everybody else. I was kind of a big kid. I was a huge nerd. I was silent. I never said a damn thing throughout school because people were just mean. When I met Michael, I wish I could see him today and tell him what an impact that one moment has made in my life. It’s more than people in the right place at the right time, it’s taking the opportunity that’s presented to you. A lot of people miss it. 2005 is really when I started to be in fashion. I never will claim to know it all and I’m learning as I go.
WHAT MAKES SOMEONE SUCCESSFUL IN THIS INDUSTRY?
There are a few rules that people forget. The first one is, you have to be nice. Fashion gets a bad rep for being rude and mean. There are people that project that stereotype and I’m definitely not one of them. I think if you are nice to people, people will do more for you and they will be happier to help you. If you want to get into this industry, you have to project it. I’ll never leave my house in sweats, unless I’m running around the block a few times to work out. Every day is an interview. Have cards. Show up on time. Follow through with what you’re doing. As far as I’m concerned, work harder than everybody else. Chicago is a really great city and there is a lot of good talent here, but I feel like there is a lot of opportunity to rise above and people notice. You have to get out and meet people or you will not succeed. You cannot do it by yourself. You have to have advocates that push you by showing them that you do good work.
YOU WERE RECENTLY FEATURED IN TCW’S “TOP 50 CHICAGO SINGLES” (AND WE COULDN’T AGREE MORE!) WHAT WAS THAT EXPERIENCE LIKE?
It was really interesting because this whole year being 30 and single really is proof of my profession. I don’t have a lot of time to give people. Even today on a Sunday, I had this and that, and then a date following so it’s been kind of crazy. It’s one of those things where someone nominates you, you do an interview and a photo shoot. It was funny to answer those questions because I took them seriously and I feel like I was kind of snarky when I read them. That was one of my personalities coming out, trying to be funny and witty but coming off sassy. It was a great experience – I love TCW and their team, I think they are fantastic. The party is coming up on the 22nd and I hope to see you there!
ARE YOU DATING ANYONE? DOES THE PR WORLD ALLOW TIME FOR DATING?
No. I’m a publicist. I also do a podcast. I’m also on a board. I’m also contributing to magazines and blogs. I think it is a matter of balancing your time. 2013 has been a really big wake-up call for me personally because I have ignored myself for probably 4 years. I was serving tables full time, interning, going to school, all at once. There was a period for 3-4 years where I would sleep 4 hours a night, just trying to make it. Now that I’m on the other end, I have a great job and things are going well, I’m willing to cut time down but you have to first work with my schedule. If I start dating someone and things are going well, they will move up in my priorities but I can’t just give that to you from the get-go.
WE’RE LOVING YOUR WEEKLY APPEARANCES ON FOX AND WCIU FASHION SEGMENTS. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PART ABOUT YOUR JOB?
I love TV! I love the quickness of it. It’s incredibly exciting and terrifying at the same time. But your adrenaline is going. I’m a publicist – I would be lying if I said I didn’t love attention, I do. Attention for me, for 900, and the places I represent is very important to me. For me the two are always intertwined, whether I’m getting exposure for myself or 900, it’s always connected. My favorite thing is doing TV. It’s a very surreal experience that not a lot of people get to do and understand. My mother thinks I’m Brad Pitt. She thinks I’m famous, so proud! [Laughs] There have been some recent opportunities I was telling you about. I just filmed a pilot, but I feel like that is what’s next for me. That was my second epiphany. This voice said, “you’re going to be on TV.” I feel like I try to stay connected to what the world is telling me and not so much what other people and myself are telling me. I’m very in tune with the universe. If you can use the power of thought and attraction, it’s very real. As I move forward, I hope TV is going to play more of a part of my life.
HOW DOES CHICAGO’S FASHION SCENE COMPARE TO OTHER CITIES?
Obviously we’re not New York, Paris or Milan but we’re Chicago. I think that Chicago has a lot of pockets of fashion. There are a lot of local designers that are doing well here. The problem with Chicago is that we don’t have the resources. It’s not that we don’t have the style but we don’t have the garment districts, the production facilities so it makes it very hard for people to stay and be successful designers here. Even from when I started college to now, I’ve seen an evolution in Chicago. I’m wearing Maison De LaCour and he just showed in New York for fashion week, but he is dedicated to making sure that people know he is a Chicago designer. I feel like a lot of people want to erase that and I really respect Julius. It’s people like him that are going to change this scene and the way the rest of the world looks at it.
YOU’RE ALSO THE CO-DIRECTOR OF MEDIA RELATIONS FOR THE HABITAT FOR HUMANITY YOUTH BOARD, AS WELL AS CO-HOST OF THE “SPEAKING OF FASHION” PODCAST. WITH A FULL ROSTER OF GIGS, HOW DO YOU MANAGE YOUR TIME?
I don’t, period. [Laughs] It is incredibly tough. Personally, my life has taken some hits in order for my career to be successful but I am still on that path trying to find success financially. It’s starting to get to a point where I’m out there, people are starting to know who I am, so I’m starting to rebalance. I’m learning as I go how to do that and I’m starting to build a great team that are helping me do that. My trainer, April Sutton, and she’s more of a life coach than anything else. I have unbelievable friends that also act as guides that keep me doing well. I’m figuring out more as time goes on.
WE ARE ALREADY WELL AWARE OF YOUR SUNDAY NIGHT PIZZA RITUAL. WHAT ELSE CAN WE FIND YOU DOING WHEN WE ARE NOT RUNNING INTO YOU AT EVERY EVENT IN CHICAGO?
[Laughs] That’s an awesome question. You’re right, Sunday nights. When I have down time, I’m either with my best friends or I’m completely alone, which is some of my favorite time. To think, and to be honest with you, to sleep and do nothing. I don’t get to do that a lot. In my own space without everybody coming at me.
WE KNOW WE WILL BE SEEING MORE OF YOU. WHAT PROJECTS ARE IN THE WORKS FOR THE FUTURE?
My 2nd year at 900. I’m excited to start refining my efforts and further expose the property to Chicago. I shot a pilot. It’s a great opportunity. It happened very quickly. You know as much as I do! I want to continue with the Habitat Board and continue to get the youth of Chicago involved. I want to keep contributing at a bigger and bigger level. I’d love to start writing for some local Chicago magazines and then go up from there.
Outfit in main photo: Maison De LaCour blazer | Levis | Converse | J. Cheikh tie | H&M shirt and vest