Coilhouse Style Vanguard: Ryan Oakley

We’re reviving Coilhouse Style Vanguard, a column that spotlights stylish individuals from around the world. Previously, we featured Princest – you can read her segment here.

I met Ryan Oakley in Toronto lat year. It was during my exhibit at the Plastik Wrap boutique – Ryan had just purchased one of my prints and I was oohing and ahhing over his immaculate outfit. It was composed of a suit tailored so precisely it would stop fashion non-believers in their tracks and a shirt, tie, vest and socks all clearly chosen with expert care. He was a pinstriped vision, carefully treading the line between aristocrat and pimp.

Ryan Oakley with his print

The suit-as-hipster-gear has been around for a long time, but this guy looked like someone who truly understood and respected it. There was a certain je ne sais quoi… An air of “that’s right, bitches” about him that I found entirely justified. Last week Ryan put forth his suit expertise in an informative and hilarious post simply titled The Used Suit. In fact, Ryan writes about men’s fashion a great deal in his multi-faceted blog, The Grumpy Owl. From the About page:

Although Ryan Oakley began his career as a simple rake, he has since become Toronto’s most renowned flaneur and notorious dandy.  A composer of psychogeographic fictions, he is also a server of food, a tender of bar and a washer of dishes. While performing all these functions with efficiency and elegance, he has also found the time to publicly criticize books, theatre and the beleaguered women in his life. Mr. Oakley reserves some of his misanthropic vitriol for his own blog, The Grumpy Owl.

He’s also part of The Worldwide Culture Gonzo Squad, where he shares the blog-o-stage with several esteemed colleagues, including Coilhouse friend Jerem Morrow and Stylish Gent‘s M1k3y. So if Ryan’s masterful dandyism and tailoring insights aren’t enough to convince you that he’s one cool cat, check out some of his other posts, like Dinner With C’thulhu. It’s an instructional post where mister Oakley tells us how to entertain a precarious great old guest. Many topics are covered, from appropriate leather furnishing [“C’thulhu finds this comfortable as it allows ample room for Its tentacles but you will also be able to easily wipe any goo”] to dinner [“Human hearts are dreadfully difficult to obtain in today’s economy and the police tend to frown upon eating even the low quality, though well marinated, meat that can be found in your local hobo population”].

Without further ado, Ryan and his fashion philosophy, in his own words.

Tell us about the history of your look, its evolution.

I’ve been wearing suits since I was a child and, except for an unfortunate period during school, never lost the habit.  When I moved to Toronto I quickly discovered that everyone pays the wrong sort of attention to just another punk kid.  Since I was trying to drink underage and get away with a host of other ills, a suit and tie served me quite well.  These were simple black affairs, stolen from thrift shops, ran into the dirt, covered with blood, then replaced with another.

There’s a lovely mugshot of me wearing a grey pinstripe but, sadly, the police refused to give me a copy. The scum.

When I finally quit drinking and drugging, I discovered that I had money but no real outlet for what’s an obsessive monkey in my mind.   I dedicated myself, in earnest, to the vice of vanity.  Anything worth doing is worth overdoing and the money I may have put to some reasonable use is now going to my tailor.

What is your style philosophy?

Style is philosophy.  And I’m a logician.  I view clothing as being a system of syllogisms, paradoxes and axioms.  Like music or math, it attempts to be a pure expression of platonic reality.  Colours, patterns and textures must harmoniously combine to form an elegant truth.

Because this is my view, I pay no attention whatsoever to fashion.  Nor do I dress to express my office, my personality or my surroundings.  I wear a suit because I’m a western man and the suit is the single best item of clothing we have.

Aside from being a recognizable and well-governed medium, thus an interesting one to innovate in, it also appeals to and combines the fundamentals that every animal uses in its fur and feathers.  That is, the handicap principle, aposematism, cryptis and mimicry.

A suit is not a vulgar symbol of wealth, a display of superiority or an expression of bourgeois respectability.  It is a beautiful thing.  When I put one on, I hope for it to look equally normal and equally weird one hundred years in the past and one hundred years in the future.  That’s the meagre dimensions of the sartorial truth I aspire to.

Click below for the rest of the interview, a video and more photos, of course.

Talk about your shopping habits, please.

As in most things I do, I have no mid-range.  I only buy used, which I have altered by *a* tailor or bespoke, which *my* tailor makes from scratch.The only exception to this is neckties and cufflinks.  But since I have over a hundred ties and women often give me cufflinks as gifts, I haven’t had to shop for either in a while.

Like most men, I despise shopping.  The experience is always peopled by slow-moving, indecisive oafs, often carting around their belligerent children and staffed by incompetent, if not outrageously familiar, salespeople.  It’s a lot like Church.

But I love a trip to my tailor.  Having a suit built by him is always a fascinating, educational experience.  It usually takes about a month, starting with being measured, choosing the cloth, the details and the shape, moving on to a series of fittings while the suit is in different stages of creation and culminating in some final alterations before it’s complete.

I love nothing more than being measured.  To see my body turned into math and that math turned into art is as close to the divine as I ever hope to get.

Who/what is/are your biggest style inspiration?

Animals.  Birds in particular.

Although being wildly dissimilar on the surface, many elements and purposes of the suit are isomorphic to many elements and purposes of an animal’s appearance.  These helpful little creatures also remind one that function is beautiful and beauty is functional.

I admire their ruthless efficiency.

How do you cultivate your persona beyond your wardrobe? How does this translate into your home decor and lifestyle?

I’m a pack-rat and my home decor is the result.  Most of what I own has sentimental value.  I’ve been collecting owls since I was a child.  They’ve become quite popular as late, which is both  a blessing and a curse.  I only used to compete with little old ladies at the thrift store and they were fierce enough.  But now, I also have to compete with young people.  Their demand has, at least, created a wide variety of new owl knick-knacks.  So I have options.

I’m not sure that I have a lifestyle. That’s a term used to sell condos. Basically, I wake up in the afternoon, go to my job, come home and write.  I try to be a decent person and often fail.  I just do what interests me, refuse to give a fuck what anyone thinks about things they don’t pay for and just get on with my life.  My friends think I’m an asshole but an honest one.

I also like birdwatching.

Insofar as I have a persona, it’s because I do exactly what I please and only act like me.  In this is a valuable lesson:  If you’re going to act like someone, act like yourself.  No one will believe you anyway.  The best place to hide is right out in the open.

16 Responses to “Coilhouse Style Vanguard: Ryan Oakley”

  1. the daniel Says:

    Not only does this guy have a style like no other, but his blog is really entertaining. A great fit for Coilhouse.

  2. Seamyst Says:

    Gorgeous! I’m not sure I like his hairstyle in the third picture (navy pinstripe), but I like his hair in the other pictures, so meh.

    And does this remind anyone else of “Sharp Dressed Man”?

  3. R. Says:

    As I told my crew on my LJ…I’m a woman who loves a good bespoke suit on a man. It’s hard as hell getting my man into a sweater let alone a suit, so I admire other men who wear suits and don’t look like they’re trying too hard.

  4. syd Says:

    he reminds me of William Burroughs in his checked coat and black gloves. Also in his disregard for typical human whatnot. awesome

  5. Jerem Morrow Says:

    I bow to not only a better dresser, but also to a superior bee’s knees writer.

  6. Infamous Amos Says:

    In Toronto, everyone is involved in a “who can be the most fucked up dresser” competition that has seemingly been going on for decades. Very seldomly do you see anyone go the other way and decide to just look flat out dapper. Withdrawing in disgust is not the same thing as apathy. Cudos to any man who can wear a suit and make it look bulletproof.

    I was at the Plastik Wrap show, too! Bought a print myself, which shares wall space with a Metropolis poster and Southern Cultrue on The Skids Coop print. I’d be lying if I said people were not jealous of that little wonder.

    Oakley had me beat on style that day, (and all days), thought I do still rock the porkpie hat frequently and am damn proud to do so.

  7. Alice Says:

    “The best place to hide is right out in the open.”

    Truer words, sir, truer words…

    I’ve been blessed with a male companion who’s rarely if ever seen out of a good suit, which has pretty much conditioned me to drool over any similarly dapper man, so I greatly look forward to reading Mr. Oakley’s blog!

  8. Infamous Amos Says:

    Ah, memories…

  9. Kale Kip Says:

    No shit, this dude looks exactly like Michiel Eijsbouts!

    (A Dutch comedian who started his own religion that coincidentally circumvented a smoking ban in bars. That action pissed off all political, legal and religious institutions at once.)

  10. m1k3y Says:

    “I just do what interests me, refuse to give a fuck what anyone thinks about things they don’t pay for and just get on with my life.”

    words to live by!

  11. Ragdoll Says:

    It is inspirational when people dress up everyday and create their own character to represent who they are. Please cover more fashionistas/isters soon.

  12. Dandysme » Ryan Oakley Says:

    […] Magazine features an interview with »Toronto’s most renowned flaneur and notorious dandy« Ryan Oakley, who loves nothing […]

  13. fred bennett Says:

    Great post! Men’s fashion is really taking off lately.

  14. The fashion entry. « Run from Tomorrow Says:

    […] resonates perfectly with his body type, who understands–quite correctly–that clothing “combines the fundamentals that every animal uses in its fur and feathers”. Quite so, Mr. Oakley. Our dressings warm us, but they also help us advertise. Onward, […]

  15. The Past is a Barnacle | The Grumpy Owl Says:

    […] upon a time, when interviewed about my sense of style I said: “Function is beautiful and beauty is functional.” These are words I stand […]

  16. The Tech Gonzo Diary » The Uniform Says:

    […] My friend Ryan Oakley described his choice of fashion in this Coilhouse interview: […]