Editor’s note: after the show I typically do a wrap up post on FB, but since this was Richard Press, I thought it would make sense to publish it here as well. If you have not heard my first interview with Richard, you can listen to it here. Again, and please read this line before you write that you wanted more clothes stuff, this was not the Ivy-Style podcast, which will premier with Richard, and will be ALL CLOTHES. Promise.
Mr. Bruce Boyer, on this site yesterday:
Richard Press is a national treasure and this interview is priceless because he gives us wonderful stories, but more importantly because he reflects on life with courageous honesty. Honesty, for those of you who are young and naive, is a very expensive gift, and you don’t get it from cheap people.
I wish I had video of this moment on the show: Richard Press telling me about the tailer at the original J. Press store who was a Nazi prison camp survivor who “survived because he never made a mistake sewing an SS uniform.” It was a lot at once. Of course there was the grotesque pain of the subject in the first place, one cannot even broach the subject without leading with that. But then there was also a pride, a pride in a survivor but a pride in an artisan too, and there was the storyteller, always present with Richard, and then there was the pause at the end, because in each one of Richard’s stories, there needs to be a beat or two afterwards so you can get to either the laugh or the bigger meaning.
I have a teenage daughter, going to turn 15 this month, and her mom is undergoing cancer treatment to her face, and watching her watch this raises the biggest of life’s questions. We are in a time of redefinition and reinvention, and life’s biggest questions seem graffitied all over everything. I asked Richard if he shared my sense that we Americans are finally understanding the value of experience, if he feels like people lean on him a little more because he has seen many things, and if he got the sense that people were looking to him at times just to ask, “Are we gonna be alright?” He took a rare pause himself, then said, “yes.”
It is a critical flaw, this thought process that if something fundamentally changes, that it completely changes. We hold these phones in our hand and wonder at how things are never going to be the same again. And they won’t. But that does not mean everything changes. And the constants, the universal commonalities, they are the buoys. We need those with experience to point out the constants.
It gets more complicated though, because if you only live in the constants you become petrified. Nothing petrified is alive. That’s another thing I took from the interview with Richard, as he explained to me his passions for song and theater, his tenure as President and CEO of the northern star of traditional men’s fashion, and then his “family secret” – that he took time off to get a Masters in Cognitive Therapy. I asked him his favorite movie, he said it was always “Gone With The Wind” but that he is ashamed of that now, and wishes someone would remake it. Then he told me his next birthday would be his 86th, and I realized that it is that nimbleness, the pervasive willingness to think things through again and again in lockstep with an adherence to his traditions that got him here. All of life is balance, and there is a fulcrum between the traditional and the present moment as well.
Richard Press reads ALL THE TIME. ALL THE TIME. When I proclaimed that the greatest book ever written, period, was The Gold Coast by Nelson DeMille, my producer rolled his eyes, my other producer rolled her eyes, and Richard said, “In that case I should probably read it.”
Richard has met my daughter, who LOVES him. I asked him why he thought was. Richard is remarkably modest for a showman, and demurred, pointing out that he has dear teens in his own family that he is close to so maybe he speaks the language. But it isn’t that. If anything, Richard speaks the opposite of volatile, unstable hormonal teen. But the real answer is probably the biggest lesson I got from this.
The reason my daughter loves Richard is because he is who he is. Authenticity is attractive. Richard did not model himself after anyone, he did not try to impress anyone. He just genuinely went after all of the loves of his life without worrying if the lead in a musical can also be a CEO. After the interview, he left the studio with my producers, who were both so taken with him that they sat with him outside (there’s a small patio with remarkably low chairs) and he had a glass of wine. I stayed for a few minutes to clean up, then walked out to the sight of Richard holding court, red party cup in his hand, seated facing the sun, untied bow tie, and the value of experience and authenticity were visible.
I wish you and your family all the necessary strength, courage, and love to endure what you are going through.
Hi Nick and thank you very much. We’ll get to the other side of it, lifted by the support and prayers of everyone. We are very grateful.
John loved the podcast with Richard. Found out so many things I don’t know about him. Can’t wait till you do the Ivy-Style podcast with him.
I just finished listening and it was as great as I hoped. Thanks for asking my question, to which Mr. Press gave the kind of poignant answer I expected.
Also, I’m glad y’all discussed Kanye, who clearly doesn’t (or doesn’t want to) understand that the Jewish community played a significant role in supporting the civil rights movement’s that he has prospered from. He’s a punk.
“movement” I meant.
I haven’t yet listened to the entirety — I will. In the spirit of honesty (Boyer), I would appreciate his (and Mr. Press’) evaluation of the notion that good ole fashioned classic Ivy has survived (and will survive) mostly because of Japanese traditionalists who have refined, revitalized, and rejuvenated this unique (even peculiar?) style have persevered in their interest, some surely regarding it has a passion.
Would J. Press still be around without the TRADitionalists at Onward? Maybe not. Probably a much smaller operation, and reliant either upon family grit (O’ Connell’s, Ben Silver) or a buyer who has both a good eye for quality and plenty of capital fo invest (The Andover Shop).
The best Ivy-ish jacke for the $ I’ve seen in years was made by Ring Jacket, and I’ve committed to saving for Tailor Caid tweed:
Also, the % of the market that the last few remaining Ivy/Trad makers (in America), including Individualized and Alden, supported by Japanese purchasers, is mind-boggling.
The survival of J. Press is mostly about the enterprising ingenuity and innovation of TRADition-appreciating Japanese gents– yes?
Hi S.E. – To borrow from Mr. Press, “Here’s where I think you are wrong.” I am nearly 100% certain that Onward did not buy a losing proposition and then keep the former President and CEO on. The fact that they retained Richard tells you what you need to know. The fact that they just opened a new store tells you everything else. Is Trad no longer a purely American venture? Sure! And thank god! But I do think that Press would stand on its own anyway.
@John Speaking of Tailor Caid, check your email!
I agree with SE regarding Ring Jacket. Whilst surfing awhile back I came across a Japanese web-site which had pictures of the most magnificent “jackets”, and other stuff, that I’ve seen in awhile. But, alas, I don’t read Japanese, and I don’t purchase RTW over the net.
The Armoury sells Ring Jacket. If you’re ever in NYC, their stores are terrific places. https://www.thearmoury.com/artisans/ring-jacket
Looking forward to the Ivy-Style podcast.
Thank you for this interview, John. It is as much a tribute to Richard Press as it is a demonstration of your skill as an interviewer. One of my favorite things that Richard said was, “Here’s where I think you’re wrong…” If Richard said those words to me, he would have my complete attention. When he was talking about how civics was once taught in school and still needs to be, my wife yelled from the other room, “That’s right!”
I look forward to your interview with Richard about Ivy Style.
Loved the podcast with Richard. Learned so many more things about that I never knew.
Great show with Mr. Press! He is the epitome of a “life long learner”, never resting on his laurels, but always moving forward, and doing so with grace, and most importantly I think, humor. We can all learn from his example.
Thank you for sharing this!
Valid points, all. What I’m pointing out (clumsily?) is the growing market for Ivy in Japan– among tradition-valuing gentlemen who tend toward a very-and-fastidiously particular version of traditional style: what they refer to as American Trad; what we here would call Old School Classic Ivy (OSCI). Think the J. Press brochure circa ’61. There’s every reason to suspect the market here in the U.S.A. has been shrinking, and there’s been a cynical return to MTM/MTO. In my world, plenty of uber traditional guys are making a made dash for “the bygone masculine” (a buddy’s phrase)– everything from watches to accessories to cars to … well, clothes.
Clearly the American incarnation) of J. Press is doing sufficiently well to merit Onward’s ongoing interest and investment. Amen and all to the good, since the value remains (The oxfords look and feel like New England Shirt Co., so the price is more than fair) and quality has been improving. I’d love to see J. Press move away from the Canadian manufacturers and engage Hickey Freeman’s RTC (former Southwick exec is there now and the clothing is great) for off-the-rack — and use Greenfield for the better custom. But then I’m a diehard devotee of Old School Classic Ivy; so, I can be persnickety. Not unlike the guy who wants not just a Submariner, but, by God, a 6538. That guy.
My prayers for you and your family as well, John.
I look forward to listening to the interview and hearing Mr. Press’s stories. I also note that the second volume of his Threading the Needle arrived on Saturday so I have a Richard Press feast in front of me.
** “cyclical,” not “cynical.” Nothing “cynical,” after all, about the return to MTM/MTO. Refreshing. My colleagues who have opted for MTM/MTO suits and jackets look GREAT.
Ah man — thank you for asking my question in your talk with *the* Richard Press. The whole podcast was a real delight to listen to. Terrific!
Listened to the interview last night while driving – great, great stuff (no surprise); loved the “Richie” Sinatra stories, and laughed out loud at the “god forbid” George W. Bush comment; but mostly came away with a new appreciation for what an amazing front row seat Richard had for important people and events in the 20th Century. Selfishly, that he has commented on my writing from time to time feels even more special and I feel lucky to have “known” him in a small way.
Richard: any chance you’ll be attending any events in the DC store? Would love to meet you, and bring my 15yo son with me.
PS – John: really enjoyed your interviewing style; and your stripped-down version of ‘The Rising’ was really beautiful.
LOVED the conversation and very much looking forward to the next one. Truthfully, I was never a “J. Press” focused customer – most of my suits were from there, carefully selected during sales time when I worked in government. It was really Richard’s blog that drew me into their world and made me want to be part of it. I knew this summer that I HAD to get a Magee Donegel Mist tweed jacket this fall from his post, and HAD to add a couple of OCBD’s just because of their heritage. Meeting his this fall at their DC Fox event was a real treat. I told him I had just had a jacket fitted but it wasn’t in stock yet (I had it shipped) and he insisted the two of us walk into the back so I could find it and show it to him, and he pointed out what made it so special and what colors would go best with it for trousers beyond the obvious browns and grays, which led me to a FOX MTM birdseye flannel.
Can’t wait for the next interview, but you’re absolutely right. It’s NOT the clothes that make Richard special. He makes the clothes special.
Great interview. Looking forward to the next podcast.