The Art of Sprezzatura & The Lost Menswear History of Dublin
10th June, 2017
Challenge any bona-fide style purveyor to pinpoint the key epicentre of menswear design and, with little hesitation, a flurry of replies will spotlight Florence; the once-traditional fashion capital of Italy. Having long nurtured a unique environment in which womenswear offerings invariably play second fiddle to their male counterparts - a noteworthy contrast to the female-driven design extravaganzas of Milan and London - its bi-annual crown jewel, the internationally-acclaimed trade fair Pitti Uomo, has trailblazed its polished yet imaginative exhibitors over the course of four decades. Yet while its participating designers garner significant coverage for their collection unveilings, a near-equal number of headlines are generated by the striking ensembles of Pitti's spectators.
The fair's unabashed celebration of impeccable grooming and tailoring has spawned a new-found appreciation - and, perhaps more vitally, acceptance - of widespread "dandyism" amongst male style enthusiasts. It couldn't be more fitting that the Tuscan capital has dutifully helmed this menswear rejuvenation, given that the latter's main characteristic - a whole-hearted embrace of sprezzatura - comprises a term that originated at the heart of the city's Renaissance (described in more detail in this recent feature for The Florentine). Nevertheless, not even Pitti's main orchestrators can resist poking some good-natured fun at this resurgence of male vanity - as illustrated in last year's "Pitti Peacock" mockumentary, a deep-rooted analysis carried out by none other than David Attenborough.
If one thing is certain, it is that Pitti Uomo's international resonance knows no bounds - having bolstered huge inspiration in European cities with emerging (rather than established) menswear design sectors. What better location to testify that statement than Dublin itself? Alongside the capital's continual progressions to harness its inherent wealth of design talents, a small-scale - but visibly impactful - mens style movement has been championing superbly-crafted suits and aforementioned sprezzatura on Irish shores. Two of its key protagonists - indisputably - are Jake McCabe & Lawson Mpame. The former is a creative innovator and digital cognoscente alongside his creatively intuitive partner-in-crime, Niamh O'Donoghue; the latter an effortless sartorial pioneer who dreams, blogs and creates on his website, Laws Of Style. Their mindsets are undoubtedly international but, equally, they take notable pride in displaying the wares of Dublin's finest craftsmen. Louis Copeland & Sons are a firm recurring collaborator of theirs, while masterful milliner Anthony Peto - whose Irish boutique is a sister shop to his Paris atelier - has channelled his colourful finesse into custom hats for Jake and Niamh's trip to Pitti Uomo next week. To stamp both men's personal style as a copy-and-paste transparent from Pitti's catwalks would be a definite misjudgment - their attire seamlessly fuses a variety of inspiration points from one city to another, finished off with enough inventive flair to rival the trade fair's fashion veterans.
Indirectly or otherwise, both Jake and Lawson's pivotal roles in this Irish menswear Renaissance are on parallels with Ruth Griffin's quest to re-kindle Dublin's enriched mens-fashion heritage, the likes of which celebrated high-quality sartorialism and pride in one's appearance as fervently and sophisticatedly as its European neighbours. Breathing new life into the city's long-forgotten (or long-standing) artisan businesses, Ruth's historic shopping trips - dubbed the Lost Fashion History of Dublin tours - have offered countless attendees an unrivalled gateway into the hustle and bustle of Ireland's bygone style eras. Her recent Gentlemen's Lost Tour - centred around the edifices of Grafton Street - is no exception, having giving special insight and photographic evidence of the dress sense of Dublin's most stylish gentlemen and the shopping haunts they frequented. A high-calibre business such as Louis Copeland & Sons perfectly marry their abundance of fashion heritage (the tailors began operating in 1908) with their present-day style innovation, greatly aided by their vibrant custom collaborations with Dublin's fashionable males. In merging the past with the present, the city's evolving design sector is celebrating its stylish roots whilst continuing to foster international connections, beyond even its traditional ties to London's fashion industry.
With a couple of days to go before Pitti Uomo 92 launches onto the Florentine style scene, I've spoken with Jake & Lawson on the status quo of Dublin's menswear sector, their personal definitions of sprezzatura and the multiple facets that make up their individualistic style (stay tuned for an additional interview with fashion historian Ruth Griffin below!):
Can you remember your first encounters with tailoring, and how your love of polished attire was first triggered (whether through publications/editorials or inherited through male relatives)?
Jake McCabe: I am the fashion black sheep of our family. What you see before you is the result of years of exploration, learning and refinement. After a long stint as an angsty young skateboarder in baggy jeans followed by a burst of rebellion in my teens playing in a punk/skinhead band, my relationship with fashion has evolved over the last 10 years.
From my highly polished Doc Martens and cropped bleached jeans to my hand made leather loafers and Louis Copeland suits, one thing has remained a constant. Fashion is about personal representation and leaving your stamp on the world.
My love for tailoring developed further when I was in college. I used to peruse sites like Articles of Style, Reddit, The Style Forums and endless personal blogs, not to mention the countless watch, technology and car magazines my dad had on hand. I would gather images, clippings and take notes and sketches, always building a vision for my future wardrobe. There were lots of, “if I ever had the money” moments and once I made the decision to drive and work towards that vision I was hooked.
I thank my dad for always questioning my style, rolling his eyes and showing me the way. As someone who travels a lot, his style is clean, concise and European in nature. Fit for any situation. “Buy once, buy right”, is what he would always say. It has taken me a long time to properly understand that but as time has gone by and my understanding of the world, the effects of fast fashion and the importance of supporting trade has increased, I couldn’t agree with him more.
Lawson Mpame: My first encounter with tailoring and that polished clean look I suppose starts from an early age because of my Dad who is a lawyer. Growing up I would see him dress up in that clean suit and he's a quite a stylish dapper gent himself. He would actually wear stuff like double strap Monk boots with suits and mix it up but still keeping it really clean cut as I would myself now. My love then just grew more and more when I discovered the tailoring section from Zara which is affordable but very stylish and also with the rise of Instagram. My love for it just keeps growing and it has definitely got worse for the better having collaborated with renowned store Louis Copeland & Sons who introduced me to the world of Italian fabrics and the Made to Measure tailoring. I haven't looked back since!
What is your personal definition of “sprezzatura”; how does it influence/permeate your style (from your attire to the manner in which you carry yourself)?
J: Sprezzatura, to me, is about displaying and exuding confidence without an ego. It’s about understanding cuts, colours and textures that work for you and then pushing them to the limit. There are no “safe zones”.
I’m a short guy, 5’6” on a good day if I’m lucky, so I use suiting, tailoring and my style to bring presence. With résumé of aggressive and alternative hairstyles under my belt and a beard to boot, I strive to catch attention through visual stimulus and then retain it through conversation, passion and creativity.
Case and point is my most recent addition to my arsenal. A fuchsia two-piece which was Made to Measure by Louis Copeland ahead of Pitti Uomo. Certainly not a boardroom piece, but in my line of work and the creative industry, it’s important to stand out, stand tall and not be afraid.
L: For me, Sprezzatura is being able to mix and match any pieces together or just wear a full suit and accessorize it well with effortlessness. It can be seen through all my looks and how I vary each look and am I lover of mixing things up that wouldn't be deemed conventional. It's more than just about how you dress. To me, it epitomises my three main Laws of Style; which are Class, Confidence and Creativity. Sprezzatura is about turning heads and just being an all round gentleman that exudes those three Laws of Style.
If you could single out one city or country that best represents your personal style and approach to fashion, where would you choose?
J: Right now, I think I find myself leaning more towards New York and L.A. There is something about completely blurring the lines between workwear, tailoring and more modern sneaker culture that I can’t draw myself away from right now. I like to dabble and play with the ‘rules’ of the classic menswear look and leave it up to interpretation. The beauty about it is not being ties to just one location.
L: I would have to say without a doubt Italy and more so Milan! I feel like in a past life I would have made a decent Italian haha. These guys just know to dress, whether it be suits or casual classy or street style! They are the frontrunners of fashion all round and sure some if the best brands come from Italy! I would definitely love to move there some day!
What is your viewpoint on Dublin’s street-style purveyors? Have you noted any (significant) changes in their approach to dressing over the last several years?
L: I love Dublin’s street style purveyors and I myself would dabble a bit in the street style fashion. It’s always a refreshing break from a dapper look! Street-style is definitely what you will see a lot of guys wearing in Dublin and they have definitely stepped up their game over the years. I feel one day we could be part of the elite cities that are known for fashion and street-style if we stay on the course we are on.
J: Street-style is a funny one, because I take major issue with its use as a label. Similar to the use of the word ’collaboration’ by bloggers, influencers and countless others, it has lost its way and meaning. The lines have become so blurred that it’s difficult to see through the haze of the high-street and really highlight the purveyors. What I do see and something I hope will continue is a more playful approach to colours, prints and textures for men. Gone are the days of tradition and I welcome the burst of mango, off white and berry pinks.
How do you perceive Dublin’s menswear sector - and which of its key protagonists are you most inspired by?
L: The menswear sector has definitely got better over the years and it’s slowly getting stronger, and a clear indication of this are the new menswear boutiques that are popping up and some of the pieces big retailers like Reiss are buying to cater for a wider customer base who are stylish. We are no longer subjected to very safe pieces because Irish men can't dress, they are buying in a lot of different pieces that would sit well in London. That shows major growth.
We have also seen a rise in menswear bloggers when a few years back there would have been only one or two prominent menswear bloggers. Who knows, we might catch up to the likes of Paris, London one day! In terms of who inspires me in the city unfortunately the list is quite short, it’s just Darren Kennedy - the biggest menswear blogger in Ireland - and a good friend of mine, Jake McCabe! Hopefully this list will grow in the next few years.
J: Dublin is a strange city. I come from a village about an hour from Dublin so when I’m in the city I still feel like the outsider looking in. Even after 5 years here. Of course you have the high street, the guys whose better halves have chosen their clothes, the older guys who focuses on functionality and then the streetwear swerve.
I draw inspiration from all walks of life in this city. With my job, I need to show my creativity and a little bit of flair and I can’t help but try to flex a little bit with my growing love of the streetwear trend. However, functionality plays a huge role in my wardrobe and it’s something I see a lot more men in Dublin doing, building and curating wardrobes as opposed to buying in bulk and succumbing to fast fashion and fads.
I think the attitude towards men’s fashion is shifting in Ireland and particularly in Dublin and I remain optimistic of its future.
What are the differences/merits of basing yourself in Dublin, as opposed to a sprawling metropolis and epicentre of style like London or Milan?
L: There's a good and bad side to being based in Dublin as opposed to big fashion cities like London or Milan. The good is that I have a chance of being a big fish in small pond. In addition to this, it means I can work with big brands that are here because there aren't a lot of bloggers to compete against. The flipside of it though is that we don’t have as much events, fashion shows etc for guys because we are still growing in the menswear industry. The womenswear industry is definitely much bigger and unfortunately gets all the attention and focus.
J: What equally acts as Dublin’s magnificence and pitfall is its size. I can cross the city in under 30 minutes and witness a multitude of style and interpretation. With that, we aren’t really known for a particular look or pioneering any trends. The beauty is in the interpretation and endless creativity of the people. We’ve all seen those articles, “1 piece – 5 ways”, in Dublin, you’d be left with countless iterations and even more opinions and I really admire that.
Jake, can you reveal any insights into Cupl Media (your partnership with Niamh O’Donoghue) and its impending projects/plans for the future?
I can’t say too much but what I will tell you is that myself and Niamh, my ultimate partner in crime, are working on something that will help flip the falseness of the current blogger and influencer market on its head. Our focus is on content and creating cool shit for cool people.
Lawson, in which ways do you hope to see the menswear sector and dapper gentleman continue to evolve in the coming years?
I hope to see more menswear boutiques being opened up offering very unique brands that we would otherwise only get in other countries! I also wish to see more men dressing dapper and being creative with their dapper looks and I want to see men evolve in to being able to style themselves and not have to depend on what they see on mannequins! Hopefully we can one day have our own version of Pitti dedicated to Dapper gents!
You can follow Jake's Florentine fashion adventures by following his inventive Instagram feed "here" (alongside Niamh O'Donoghue's imaginative social media) while clicking "here" will transport you to Lawson's sleek Laws of Style blog/website. Continue reading for invaluable insights into Dublin's vivid menswear fashion history, all credited to Ruth Griffin's encyclopaedic knowledge which permeates each and every one of her tours:
The remaining four instalments of the Lost Tours' third summer season will take place on the 15th July in the Liberties, the 19th August in Merrion Square, the 30th September on South William Street and the 13th October on O'Connell Street. Click "here" to discover full descriptions & booking details.