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The World According to #jacques Elliott

Influential punk-preppy stylist Elliot Aronow launches a menswear brand/movement.

Interview By John Dugan, September 25, 2013

Color photos by Daniel Arnold; Black and white press photo by Diggy Lloyd

Elliot Aronow may be a relative to newcomer to the world of menswear brands, but he speaks our language of music and visual culture. The New Yorker cut his teeth booking punk shows as a teen on Staten Island, and went on to make waves in music and publishing industry as an editor and party-thrower for The Fader magazine, co-founder of the free legal music download website RCRDLBL.COM, as a columnist for Playboy.com and publisher of arts and culture magazine Our Show with Elliot Aronow—which also spawned a video talk show from 2008-2011. Aronow's latest venture is #jacques Elliott—an upstart menswear brand influenced as much by his punk ethic as his love for the aspirational style of Polo. Thus far, it has produced a handmade polo with designer Grahame Fowler and a series of ties with Brooklyn Tailors. We hopped on the phone to find out more and got an hour-plus of heady conversation. All of the Aronows showed up for our interview—the punk, the journalist, the NYC hustler, the Polo collector—and we managed to come away with a number of quotes that capture the essence of Aronow's vital vantage point.

Transitioning from music to fashion
When I was rebooting my life in my very early 20s, I had a couple gigs buying for different vintage stores around New York and stuff. I would go with the owners to these hillbilly towns in Pennsyslvania and say 'Oh well, let's buy all these gaudy Miami grandma jackets cause there's this chick called M.I.A. and I can guarantee they'll be really big.' 

Once that look popped off, I was getting a lot of work as this renegade under-the-table guy who, for a couple hundred bucks a day, would go with you and help you pick out all the stuff.

My serious exposure to fashion began around three or four years ago when I started collaborating with Brooklyn Tailors. Serious in the sense that I was learning more about the vocabulary, that was more my apprenticeship. Peaked lapels versus notched lapels, not only knowing what those things mean in a technical sense, but going a step further and knowing what those mean in a cultural sense.

That's what interested me the most about clothing. It's very literal.

Clothing, you look at someone and you can tell what they mean. The other layer to that is the way that clothing always has meaning, whether it is royalty and peasants, or punk rockers or mods or Polo collectors. That's always been what's interesting to me. It all goes back to my education in skateboarding and the Beastie Boys. There are all these little distinctions you pick up on when you're a loser in the suburbs trying to find a pair of Pumas, right? That's what the Beastie Boys wore. Same thing with being a skater... you didn't want to wear Hook-Ups because that was a poseur brand, but you wanted to wear Zoo York, for example. It's always been around me and always been the way I viewed the world.  Most of the way I viewed music was through style. That's why I didn't click with indie rock, it didn't romance me visually. I didn't want to see a bunch of guys in cargo shorts singing about some bullshit.

Brooklyn Tailors 
We had worked together on 30 or so suits, trousers, jackets, blazers over the years. I could see our collaboration starting the moment I became a customer. 

For this thing, which just came out last week which you can get at #jacques-Elliott.com, we just had fun one afternoon and we did our take on a Brooks Brothers tie. I always like the utility of the striped tie... you don't need to be fashionable guy per se to pull one off. We made the fabric ourselves, had it produced in England, and had it handmade in NJ. We made three different colors, silk and linen blends. We only made a few, so buy one now.

From the #jacques vintage collection

A career in music vs. a career in fashion
RCRDLBL, I left in October of last year. That hasn't been part of my world for what feels like a very long time now.

In terms of music stuff, I've always sort of managed to get in and get out of the business at different times in my life. It always feels like a continuous dialogue I am having with musicians and DJs and people that are involved in with music.

I tried to burn it all down with RCRDLBL in 2006 or 7 or so, but they took me back in.

Clothing has always sort of made my heart beat fast. I've found in the last few years, it was making my heart beat faster than music was. I'm doing a lot of styling for bands. a lot of friends that are in bands are starting to wear the clothing that I'm producing, which is really exciting.

Making a record
As a last ditch effort to get myself kicked out of the business, I'm making a record (laughs) with the full disclosure that I'm not a musician in any sense of the word. I'm doing a promotional seven-inch for #jacques, which is going to come out within the next five to six months or so.

It's pretty exciting, it's with a pretty heavy-duty musician back in the day, from the late '70s, Arthur Russell downtown Manhattan scene.

It's almost a little rap. If it takes us more than a day and a half to track it, I probably won't wind up doing it. If people are going to go in with me, we're going to go in and have fun. If it becomes too serious or labored, we'll move on to something different. We'll do a party track on the A-side, and we'll do an instructional loungey B-side.

Style growing up
When you are just some shithead in the suburbs like I was, you didn't know what was proper and what wasn't. We would be skateboarding just looking stupid, wearing purple pants, also listening to Gravediggaz which transitioned me into Bad Religion which transitioned me nto the real underground stuff, which was the San Diego hardcore stuff. That was where the rubber hit the road: Antioch Arrow, The Make Up, all these bands that people used to accuse of being fashion punks. I loved the look, it was exciting to me. The idea that you could be smart and put to gether and not dress like a garbage man to be a punk rocker. That was a very powerful idea to me as a sixteen year old. That's the primary motivation behind #jacques: wearing traditional clothing in a subversive way. Or using a dapper external thing to get across viewpoints that are left-of-center. There weren't that many lanes if you didn't want to be a cool kid. Anti-cool back then was you could be into skateboaring or punk. What else did you do back then?

 Our Show interview video episode 1 featuring LCD Soundsystem and Andrew WK

The devaluation of music
Music has offered less utility over the past 10 years or so. I'm not really sure if you are 16 and you are looking to differentiate yourself from everybody else [that you do it through music]. And so much good music now is popular. High fashion kids listen to Kanye just like 13 year olds. 

Also that thing is that music is easy to steal and clothes are not easy to steal. That's the short one line answer to why music is devalued.

The way that music is promoted nowadays is that it encourages the consumption of new new new. Of course people that encourage that consumption are the people that are selling pageviews to advertisers and publicists that are paid to push all those bands as products anyway.

When you end up seeing how the sausage is made, it changes your opinion to how certain bands rise to popularity. I try not to be too cynical about it. I like knowing about it in a more ambient way. Oh Savages, cool that that exists.

On creative work ethic
In this line of work, I don't know much in my old age but I can tell you, if you are going to be in any fields....if it's fashion, or food or music or whatever... any of these quote unquote not real job fields which of course mean that you work all the time, any of these fun fields, you better be working on a Tuesday night, man. If you're not about it on a Tuesday night, I don't think you're going to have a shot at making it. I think that's great. I want to be engaged with people who are in it all the way. It's cool to have hobbies, but if you are making music as a hobby, I don't think you should demand an audience. That's fine. Everyone should make music in the same way that everyone should cook pasta. But you can't expect that you deserve an audience and to earn a living off it if you're not in it all the way. Amateurish in your approach is good, but amateurish in your work ethic is not cool.

#JE x Grahame Fowler Paris polo 

Why a menswear brand
#jacques has been in Hamburg getting our tunes tight and now we're ready to present our schtick to the public. Given my background in punk, the last thing I wanted to do was create an entitled white hipster "look how cool we are" fashion brand. 

I took a lot of steps back and thought, 'What's exciting to me is helping guys change their relationship to style or in many cases figure out what it is.' What's really cool about now, is that it's permitted now in the culture for guys to be into clothing. I've been clothing obsessed since I was six years old, I've always been a weirdo and I've always had dyed hair. You can imagine growing up, people would not use flattering terms to describe somebody who wanted to look different and viewed clothing as a way in which they communicated with the world. You could always do it through sports or physical stuff. 

I think it's really cool that it's loosened up a lot. Guys are sick and fucking tired of being pigeonholed into being some Don Draper alpha male business guy or some fashion victim blog loser. I don't think those are real people. I think #jacques communicates directly for the real dude. 

I certainly want to know I can go online and triangulate my taste with cost and find something that works for me. That's what we are here to do. We want to inspire guys to take control of clothing.... that's whats #jacques is here to do.

It's all about creating an attitude that guys can tap into and extract what's useful to them. Utility is at the forefront of our agenda... presenting ideas, clothing, that's useful. This is how #jacques dresses to go on date. This is how #jacques dresses for a job interview. [More on #jacques here]

"Uncle Ralph" (aka Ralph Lauren)
Jewish boy from Bronx who imagined himself to be someone and became someone, you gotta love that. He was always able to create a universe based around showing people what he loved. What a phenomenal idea to base your brand around.

'This is what we think is dope.' Uncle Ralph invented that back in the day. He is the OG of lifestyle marketing. It was all his vision of what he thought was nice. The reason a lot of his stuff holds up, in addition to the fact that he was ripping off stuff that was great, was that he didn't come from money. If you didn't come from money, and I don't come from money, that's what you wanted to have. My parents bought me JC Penney and the Hunt Club. There's something very powerful about that, about aspirations. 


Raekwon and Ralph
I have one of the Polo "snow beach" pullovers which Raekwon wore in the video for "Can It Be All So Simple." So let's unpack that for a second, you have this Jewish guy from the Bronx who does this super colorful line of ridiculous looking ski wear... which Raekwon wears... and you have me a Jewish kid from Staten Island wearing it not only because I'm a fan of Ralph Lauren, but because I'm a fan of Wu Tang Clan. There's so much depth to it, it's exciting.

The university look of the '50s
It's a nice clean look. I think ultimately those are the best looks. Going places, a guy who is going somewhere, to an event or going some place in his life, going on an adventure. That's what clothing is about. That it literally moves with you, adds another layer of fun to it. With clothing, you get to bring it with you.

Inspirational people
I gotta play my hand straight.

Beastie Boys were the number one, they were the original curators. For my generation, they were the original guys drawing from all these disparate areas, funk, Kung-Fu movies. And their general generosity, that they gave to the culture. [They said] 'Be true to yourself and you'll never fall.' 

Nation of Ulysses, that whole thing was really exciting. The crazy journey and trying to find suits. [I learned that] your own terrible version of what you thought was cool was in many ways more interesting and cooler that was cosigned as cool. The missteps are whats exciting sometimes. It's exciting to fuck up. 

Uncle Ralph is certainly up there. There's a bit of Malcolm McLaren in the mix.

Growing up punk
I've been involved in this since I was 14 and I'm going to be 33 in a couple weeks. It's weird to turn around that see that you've been a self-identified punk longer than you've not been. It colors the lens with which I view the world. 

Punk rock gives you a little bit of an unfair advantage. Especially in the Internet era, when we've been doing things with no money and a staff of three forever. 

That anti-authoritarian point-of-view is always going to be one I carry with me. That's always the lens with which I view culture. That's why I stay in the game as the old librarian that I am: the sense of adventure. Where are we going to go today? What two ideas can we combine to cause a little trouble?

Visit #jacques-elliott online.