On a brisk Friday at the revamped Bloor Street Club Monaco, designer Aaron Levine and mens style blogger Michael Williams sit in the cavernous new menswear space downstairs. Levine, straddling a stool, makes decisions about next season’s fabric samples (he calls one particular anchor pattern “tasty goodness”) while Williams talks fashion with the preppy retail chain’s powers-that-be. They are here to launch the new store and their collab collection, Made In The USA, a selection of flaneur-friendly suits, shirts and ties, before the public descend on the store on Saturday. Shoppers will get shoe shines, haircuts (presumably all what the New York Times dubs the “Hitler youth”) and shots of whisky.
Both men are well-versed in the current dude-uniform of choice: raw denim, oxford shirts, chukkas. Levine got experienced at Hickey Freeman and Maine’s Rogues Gallery before becoming design chief at Club Monaco. Williams is self-educated via his blog, A Continuous Lean, and his PR firm Paul + Williams, which works with man must-haves like Mark McNairy, Levi’s and suddenly-cool Dockers. Williams wears a pale blue shirt with a blazer and tie, Red Wing boots and a Rolex GMT II; Levine sports an indoor toque that covers his shoulder-length hair, a cashmere cardigan and a button-up shirt.
The two are in good spirits after a night out with Jeremy Logan of Standard Apparel (the Toronto-based company that reps labels like Fred Perry, Oliver Spencer and Filson) where they ate oysters and Japanese tacos at Harbord Room. The plan for Saturday morning, Williams tells us, is to hit up Ossington: “it’s like Toronto’s Williamsburg, right?” (If he means flooded with tourists seeking some sort of tired indie cred, we guess he’s right.) Here, we chat with them about trad style, dressing like a douche (in a good way), and looking like twins–yep, we’re still kicking ourselves for not asking who’s Arnold and who’s Danny DeVito.
The label is called Made in the USA, but to Canadians, Club Monaco is a very iconic Canadian brand. Did you give any thought to having any of the pieces made in Canada? MW: Toronto still has a struggling apparel manufacturing business; it’s something we’re thinking about, so we’ll see. We’ve been looking at tailored stuff and there’s so much good tailored stuff that comes out of Montreal. We’d be super-stoked to have our stores carry that in New York. It’s not a nationalistic thing, it’s just about wanting traditional things to be made in their traditional homes.
Every dude these days seems to have a uniform.
AL: Guys are creatures of habit. If you find a specific fit in one place, then you’re generally likely to keep going back, keep getting that. You know, I thought I was weird – I know I’m weird, actually – because if I found a shirt I loved, I might buy two, or if I find something specific that I like, I have anxiety I might not find it again. You have a gut reaction to what you like.
MW: It’s also the little things that make the biggest difference to style. Just the way you wear things and you put them together, even if a lot of people out there have very similar stuff. Aaron and I – yesterday, we were essentially wearing the same thing but looked very different. Part of that is because we’re friends and we all start dressing the same after a while.
AL: We’re like an old married couple. MW: Like 13 year old girls at the mall. But also, you buy your jeans raw and you break them in and they’re unique to you.
So no artful whiskering or rivets on your jeans then? I find the really raw denim, that kind that stands up on its own, is too much of a pain to bother with.
AL: It’s a relationship. It’s a project.
With a belly though…
MW: We’ve got to toughen you up!
AL: I’ve got one too. You’ve just got to commit.
So with dudes wearing this uniform, what is the one new thing they should be buying this season?
MW: I think I’d buy a cashmere sweater. [Gestures to Levine’s cardigan.] I wish I could buy this thing. I mean, grandpa sweater? Come on.
AL: [Points to Williams.] I’m thinking about that blue blazer.
MW: I bought a bunch of the Made in the USA product, to be honest. I went home and I was super happy with that – it was pretty fucked up. Like, I don’t say that around people I really like because they’ll be offended but I was like, “This is good. I’m super happy with that.”
AL: And I did the same thing – I was actually there with you that day and we were buying stuff – we were supporting what we liked. We actually spent our money on it. And I can’t think of a truer testament to what we believe in than taking the money that we work hard for and putting it back into the product because it’s what we like.
MW: This shirt, I bought at 5th Avenue [the Club Monaco at 160 Fifth Avenue in NYC].
AL: And I bought this sweater. MW: Fall’s the best time if you’re a guy and you like clothes. Fall is the best time of the year to be into that and I don’t know if we’re the same person, but cashmere sweaters and oxford shirts. Sometimes, it’s socks, as a guy, it’s about warmth.
Speaking of warmth, what do you think about Canada Goose? It gets a lot of flack here now.
AL: That’s a shame, because they’re made here, you know? I love them. But actually, they’re extremely hot. I tried one on in New York and it was like wearing a sleeping bag. But I think they’re beautifully made.
MW: Anytime anything gets too popular and you see too much of it, there’s always going to be the other group that’s like “no.” I wear a Barbour coat, even if it’s super freezing, almost all the time. I don’t need a parka, but I like the idea of a parka. My friend wears one from Woolrich – that thing’s made in Canada and it’s pretty sweet.
AL: I wear that Barbour coat [the same one MW wears] like all the time.
So you guys really do wear all the same clothes, it seems.
AL: We looked like fuckin’ twinsies yesterday. You can tell just by looking at us though, that we do it differently.
Finally, shirts. Michael, it looks like you’re a tuck-in kind of guy.
MW: Generally, I don’t, but you know, if you’re gonna wear a jacket, you have to tuck in your shirt. I mean, that’s a rule, you know. We don’t like rules, but you have to understand the rules enough so that you’re doing the things the right way, but you’re also breaking the right rules.
Which rules would you never break?
AL: Bottom button on a sport coat.
MW: I would never push my sleeves up on a sport coat.
So no Miami Vice throwbacks?
AL: Yeah, styling for the sake of styling, talk about douche. If you’re like rigged out and it consumes you and you look tricked out…
MW: But some people want to have a costume, you know, like Nick Wooster [the mens fashion director for Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman], he’d be the first to admit “yeah, I’m a costume guy, that’s how I like to dress” and that’s his thing. You know, do your thing, whatever makes you happy. He has moments where it’s like insanity.
AL: But that’s his innate style, it’s not like douche style.
MW: Even if you want to be a douche, be a douche. Be whatever the fuck makes you happy. There’s so much in this world that’s trying to make you unhappy, why do you have to be unhappy with how you dress?
Fraser Abe is a Toronto style writer who last wrote for Toronto Standard about sister-muses Chloe Comme Parris.