“Look, listen, learn”
Almost four months ago, in the middle of the summer I was for the first time visiting Florence, first time visiting Pitti Uomo. During my visit I got the chance to meet one of the most personal and luminous person in the industry, Mr. Ignatius Joseph.
It was really a pleasure to meet this fine gentleman whose style, charisma and friendliness are absolutely something to learn from. Mr. Joseph was kind enough to invite us (me and Anton) to see his newest collection and to discuss about it with a cup of coffee.
Mr. Joseph who is originally from Sri Lanka, has lived most of his life in Europe and (when not traveling around the globe) is at the moment living in Germany. He speaks several languages and every little detail in his behaviour speaks that he really is a true gentleman.
Ignatius started his business in 1997 by making shirts, shirts that are nowadays one of the finest there are in the market. All of the shirts are still made by hand in European, primarily Italian workshops by people who were raised in the shirt making industry. The cut of the shirts is usually classic and the fit not too tight but rather more than comfortable to wear. As Mr. Joseph says “The Ign. Joseph shirt is designed for normal everyday wear since even today's connoisseur, whether a businessman or member of the classical professions, is a mobile, working person who needs clothing that will bear the demands of daily life. Ign. Joseph produces everyday luxury for men and women of extraordinary taste.”
The new collection we saw (and that can actually be seen worn by Ignatius himself in the pics) consists of a blue jacket and a pair of grey wool trousers. Maybe the most classic combo there is but still finished with a little twist (such as the high-waisted trousers or the details of the jacket) that will in the end make you to stand out from the crowd.
In addition, lately Mr. Joseph took his time to answer few of my question and now I’m happy to share with you the answers.
1) What made you get into the clothing industry?
I was born in Sri Lanka when it still was a British colony. Whatever one might think about those days now, one thing was clear to me then: the dignity of the well-dressed. I was impressed by English clothing styles and the way they were translated into the tropical climate of Ceylon as it was still called. This dignity became apparent to me again when I joined the hospitality industry after completing my university studies. Regardless of the nationality of the guests for whose care I was responsible, I could see the continuity between character and style. In the high-end business travel sector there are just as many badly dressed men as anywhere else. The remarkable thing was that truly well-dressed men-gentlemen-were a pleasure to have as guests. They were demanding and thoughtful. The care they gave to their appearance extended to the way they treated everyone around them.
When even high-end business travel started to become standardised and price-conscious, these guests virtually disappeared and when they were gone, the hospitality business lost its attraction to me.
At the same time I knew that there would always be a market for what I call discrete luxury or overstated discretion. My childhood fascination with gentlemen's wardrobe stimulated me to pursue the clientele that had all but vanished from the hotels where I once worked. You might say that I sought a net for exotic butterflies. That net became the Ign. Joseph shirt. But unlike a butterfly collector, I wanted to lure the well-dressed back to the artisan shirtmaking that was once the standard of European men's style-and if you will to lure the next generation away from the mediocrity and lifelessness of mere brands fed by anonymous factories in who knows where.
It's a working shirt for gentlemen who have not forgotten the culture and traditions with which they were raised. It is also a lesson in the culture of fine dressing to those who are only now developing their own personal taste and talent.
2) How would you describe your “philosophy of dressing”?
You know a not so famous book by a fairly famous 19th century British writer is titled-if translated into English you could say-"Tailor re-tailored". In this very strange book Thomas Carlyle develops what he calls a "philosophy of clothes". Carlyle was an important writer in his day but I doubt if anyone but academic scholars bother with his work today. No, the book is not literally about tailoring. Carlyle used clothes as a metaphor for social institutions.
I have a "philosophy of clothes", too. For decades now most people-at least in Europe and North America-have been told their purpose in life is to just "be yourself". To do that hundreds of thousands of products are marketed every year-all promising that with this product you will finally "be yourself". When I was growing up however, you had to make yourself-you had to do something. There was no "self on the shelf" to buy.
Now I do not mean that everyone is destined to be that icon of dime novels, the "self-made man". What I mean is that to get a self you have to make it-you have to learn, to have experience, to observe, do things, make mistakes, meet people and share life with them, listen to others. These are not corny, sentimental virtues; they comprise what I call the "craft of living". You cannot buy someone else's experience like a so-called "energy drink".
Clothes-the clothes that really fit-are the outward expression of all that experience and life one has had. Although some people are born with expensive clothes, no one is born well-dressed. To get to be a well-dressed person, whether a man or woman, you have to learn to make your own life.
3) Your new collection in a couple of phrases?
When I was trying to create a new name for my collection, which now comprises more than shirts, I thought about my philosophy and I thought about my experience. Although I did not study the classics or humanities, I could not live in Germany without knowing at least a little about its great philosophers and poets. People even make jokes about our "Dichter und Denker". I prefer to express myself-when I have time of course-in complete sentences rather than just phrases.
“Ign. Joseph Spirit won't fly you to St. Louis, but you will feel comfortably elegant in the plane that does.”
“Missing links are for anthropologists to study. This season my shirt customers can find their links with the cuff.”
4) Your first advice to men who want to dress well?
Look, listen, learn.
Sincere dress comes with experience and reflection about who you are, what you do and where you are going on this planet. Sincerity is the first step to dignity. Dignity and self-respect are the essence of the well-dressed, which is only an outward sign of the maturity within.
Thanks to Mr. Ignatius Joseph, I already wait to meet him and seeing his bright red Austrien made shoes again in January @ Pitti.