Interview + Photography by Luke Alland, using Leica's Q2 Reporter.
"Everything should be worn for a reason, I know that as a designer, as a stylist and in terms of being comfortable. I've always been comfortable, when I had a handlebar moustache, a paintbrush moustache to being clean shaven...
as Michael Jackson would say, it's 'just another part of me'."
Shaun Gordon is a gentleman about town, boasting a stellar career as a model, menswear designer and brand ambassador. You might also know him as the former necktie maker for Shaun Gordon Ties. He has a wealth of style knowledge, and incidentally, it took me years to see him in anything less formal than a three-piece suit. I caught him in his prime dandy phase. He sat down with us to go through his favourite 5 vintage items, and to share the stories behind them.
As we talk over lunch, discussing the stories behind each of his 5 things, I ask him whether it's not just the genes he's inherited, but also if style has been passed down as well. Lo and behold, we begin with his chalkstriped suit and why it means so much to him.
Thing 1: Vintage David Zimmerman Suit (circa '50s)
Luke Alland: So what's the story behind the chalkstripe, I remember you mentioning a familial connection?
Shaun Gordon: "My grandfather, Alvin, came to England in his early '20s to try and make a life for himself, before eventually sending for my Aunt Rose and my mother to join him after successfully doing so. A painter and decorator by trade, regardless of how he dressed when behind the brush, his philosophy on style was to always 'look as put together as you can, because you never know who you are going to meet or which way the day might take you.'
"Whilst I was out in Portobello Market, I happened across this gorgeous number. Which, when I threw it on, fit like a glove. It was exactly the thing I was looking for: the oversized lapel, the quality of the jacket and the fact it fit the description of all the stories I'd heard about my grandfather from my aunt Ida and mother. I just couldn't leave without taking it.
"It's not just about the stories they told me about him, but also the whole Golden Era of Hollywood and how much of an influence that has on me. The way the guys all dressed, how they would treat a lady. Taking pride in their appearance, for me that's the inspiration and love behind this particular suit. When I wear it I feel as if I embody it, and him, in a way."
Thing 2: Pixie Floral Red Bowtie
LA: Ties and bowties have played a huge part in your life for the past few years, so what is it about this one that stands out so much to you?
SG: "I'd been searching for the 'right' necktie for an extremely long time, and in pursuit, stumbled across bowties too. This in the end proved to be the catalyst for me in deciding to make them — and ties — for a living. When I bought this, I actually didn't have a clue about how to tie one. I saw this and a navy polka dot in Shoreditch whilst out perusing as I normally do. Probably couldn't have cost more than a fiver, I think it was a 3-for-£15 deal, proper bargain when I think back to it.
"It's just such a versatile piece and going back to the start of my sartorial journey, I followed the rules almost to the letter. If I wasn't wearing the full look with the braces and a hat, it never felt complete. Now, after years of doing it and transitioning away from my sartorial era, I feel much more relaxed about exploring that side of [a relaxed] elegance.
"I spent years self-educating myself through books by Alan Flusser and James Sherwood for example, seeking out this natty, dandy, sartorial set of rules, and this was the foundation of what I know now. Having that as a knowledge base means it's far easier for me to know how to break them."
LA: What's your favourite memory wearing the bowtie? It seems as if it's been the starting point for a lot in your style journey...
SG: "This is going back to around 2012/13 but I was working for Timberland at the time, and I rocked up to the office wearing this, a chambray shirt and a pair of white Dr. Martin brogues. I had jeans on as well, which obviously meant I was wearing double denim, something I'm not sure I'd do now. As I came through the door, one of my colleagues burst out laughing and shouted, "Damn he's a cool motherfucker!", but they loved how I had translated what we were doing in the studio through my lens of dandyness.
"Everything should be worn for a reason, I know that as a designer, as a stylist and in terms of being comfortable. I've always been comfortable, when I had a handlebar moustache, a paintbrush moustache to being clean shaven... as Michael Jackson would say, it's 'just another part of me'."
Thing 3: Vintage Unlined DB (circa '40s-50s)
LA: Your third piece, the blue blazer, harks back a little to your first piece, doesn't it?
SG: "Yes, precisely. When I look back to the Duke style and the Windrush generation and how they dressed, most of the blazers sat like a glove around the hip. Without a back vent, they really accentuate the shoulders and provoke a certain sense of masculinity. The huge peak lapels were the thing that drew me to it originally, although I hated the buttons that were originally on the jacket."
LA: You took some of your own flair and added it to this piece, then?
SG: "Exactly. The original buttons looked so bad and really cheapened the aesthetic of the blazer. I can't be having plastic buttons on something this special, so I headed down to Button Queen and bought some lovely blue Corozo buttons and the tone-on-tone really worked. It just shows that you're not always fixed with the hand you're given and that you're able to change things to your style — if you know how."
Thing 4: Vintage (circa '60s) Denim Waistcoat
LA: The denim waistcoat wasn't something that I imagined you would pick as one of your five things. There must be a story there?
SG: "Years ago I went to visit a good friend of mine, Adam Rogers, in New York. As we were rummaging through the usual vintage shops, I discovered this in the pile. I wasn't looking for a waistcoat — and bearing in mind this was my pre-dandy era — I didn't really own anything like this. The denim and wooden buttons were a pairing I couldn't take my eyes off.
"Originally it had a tobacco brown back, but I ended up wearing it so much that I wore through it! I took it to my good friend and tailor, Steve Bell, who's always looked after me and my clothes. He didn't have a tobacco brown so I ended up choosing a navy blue and even though it's not the original garment, the front remains intact and I love it all the same."
LA: If this is pre-dandy then, how long do you reckon you've had this waistcoat for?
"To be honest, I'm looking at about 8 - 10 years now, I can't remember the year exactly, but it's seen me through almost all of my phases. It's seen dreads, a moustache, beard, me being a denim-head, pre-dandy, dandy and now post-dandy. The best thing is it still fits amazingly after all of these years."
Thing 5: Vintage Five Brothers Double Pocket Shirt
LA: We come to your final look Shaun, and there's been a whirlwind of stories that we've gone through so far. You said whilst we were shooting that this shirt holds a very special place in your heart...
SG: "When I was working at Henri Lloyd as a menswear designer between 2009 and 2011, we did a number of research trips, going to galleries, vintage shops and the like, for inspiration. I remember specifically we went a house that someone had converted into a shop and I really had to do some strong convincing to get the head designer to buy this shirt.
"I wanted to design something based off of this template. I loved the double pocket, the material and the pattern. It all just spoke to me in a way, and I thought we could create something really interesting that could be both functional and stylish.
"Designing something for the collection based off of this shirt and the fact that it actually sold proved to me, for the first time, that I really could sell something I believe in, and that I actually knew what I was doing. It gave me the confidence to actually take that forward into the rest of my career."
LA: Thank you very much, as always it's been a delight Shaun. Last question I promise. Where's your go-to vintage shop?
SG: "Claudia from 282 over in Portobello is my favourite vintage shop by far. She deserves every last pound, penny, bitcoin that she gets because she is absolutely brilliant. Not only does Claudia sell fantastic pieces, she is extremely knowledgable about vintage and a very lovely person to chat with."
Full look Breakdown:
Hat - vintage Homburg from Portobello Market Arcade (very lucky find!)
Shirt - Eton