I was at a party last week when I spotted this totally dapper looking gent talking to my friend Dayle who runs the IG account ArtfulCityStyle. Dayle introduced this impeccably dressed chap as Richard Aloisio, Art Director at The New York Times. I almost immediately asked Richard if he would consider being on my blog and he gave me his card. Now, I assumed that this fancy New York Times Art Director was merely being polite, but low and behold, not a week later I was standing in the lobby at The Times waiting to head on up to the Art Department.
After a little tour (where I was trying to act as cool as possible and failing miserably - I WAS IN THE NEW YORK EFFING TIMES!) we settled into a meeting room to talk men's fashion and learn a little about Richard and his fascinating life.
Ruthie Darling: Did you always dress this wonderfully?
Richard Aloisio: “Well, not this wonderfully, no. I always dressed nicely, but I guess about three or four years ago I met somebody who makes bespoke suits, his name is Domenico “Mimmo” Spano - boy I’m nervous, mind if I take off my jacket?”
(I had to laugh at this. He was nervous? I was sitting in a private meeting room in the New York Times Building and HE was nervous?!)
RA: “A friend introduced us, Mimmo and I. I walked into his studio and I fell in love right away. He had the walls painted in these colors, a cheddar and a green and a purple. I walked in the room and I thought: I could stay here all day. I was wearing a suit that day, not bright like this, but you know, a dark blue suit, like most guys wear. I always had funky ties and socks, but not so much in the suits. He had books and books of fabrics that I could look at for days on end.”
RD: I’m curious, you say you’re shy and even nervous, but you wear clothes that are so flamboyant and make people look at you and want to talk to you-
RA: “But nobody does talk to me. Not one. I might get a shoutout from a guy saying nice suit, but that's it.”
RD: What about women?
RA: “Never. Well, the only people who might say anything; black people. It's always a black person, never a white person. One time I had a guy say “You are one fly dressing motherfucker” and I thought: that’s the best thing I’ve ever heard! I like it when I hear something from a black person because the white people, they don’t know color. They’re afraid of color. It might be me too. I try not to look around when I’m walking. I avoid people’s glances. I don’t want to see if they disapprove of my look. Maybe I come off as aloof."
RD: Are you a New Yorker?
RA: “I was born in Brooklyn. I went to Pratt for Art. I had a few jobs before I came to The Times and I’ve been here forever.”
RA: “Almost forever. Longer than you’re alive.”
RA: “I always loved color. It’s inside me. Once I moved to Manhattan everything exploded in me. Once I left home I realized, I can do anything I want now. This was very bad because anything I liked, I started buying and that’s when all my collections started happening. If I liked something, I was going to have hundreds of them.”
RD: What kind of collections?
RA: “Well everything I’ve collected has been through serendipity. I worked for a magazine (I won’t say which one) and for my birthday, the associate art director gave me a little pin. The kind of pin you wear on your tie and that was it. I went nuts with pins. I was just combing the city for pins. But after a while, I started buying these kits where you could build a dinosaur out of little pieces, you know, like little ribs? Then I would hang them from the ceiling. I would fill my whole apartment with dinosaurs. I’d spray paint each one. So that was the beginning.
RD: **Bemused face**
RA: “I have OCD. If I see something I like, I have to have more of it.”
RD: So, what is your current obsession?
RA: “Clothing. Suits.”
RD: From dinosaurs to suits?
RA: “Well, in between there has been lots of other obsessions. Like vintage quilts, I have a pretty large collection of those. I’ve got hundreds of cookie jars and vintage vases. Ah Ruthie, you don’t know what you’re in for now….."
RA: “You see something, and it’s lovely and it elevates your mood. But then it gets to a point where there is so much of it, you don’t see any of it. The cookie jar thing happened because I was on my way to put down a payment on one of my vintage quilts and we passed this store that sold cookie jars. It was closing down and the owner wanted to get rid of the contents. I think I bought forty cookie jars that day, my wife bought twelve.
RD: Forty!? Did you not leave the store and think: i just bought forty cookie jars?!
RA: Not really, no.
RA: “For me, now, it’s just clothing. I always have a collection going on. I have a friend who always asked me “Richard, what are you collecting now?” He always encouraged me to do more art and I’ve always done something artistic, but recently he said that I’m the art now. That meant a great deal to me.
RD: Why do you think so many men will just pick a plain blue or a black suit and throw on a plain shirt?
RA: “I don’t think they care. And if they do care I think a lot of guys are afraid of color. They’re afraid of being ridiculed.”
RD: Ridiculed by other men?
RA: “By other men, yeah. I was at this family event once and I was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and my wife’s cousin said to me “Wow, I love that shirt, I wish I could wear a shirt like that” and I said “Well, why can’t you?’ and he said, “Oh I couldn’t wear a shirt like that” I said “Look! It buttons up just like a regular shirt!” They’re afraid of it. They’re afraid of the color. Maybe they’re afraid of being called gay. Granted, I’m a designer so I see color and it just delights me.”
RD: You’re very into the socks,
RA: "The socks were the first thing. Actually when I met my wife I was very proud of the outfit I was wearing. I was wearing a Benetton sweater - it was a cyan blue. She said, “Ooh I like that sweater” and the first thing I said was, “And look at my socks!” They were cyan blue too. She told me later that she thought that was rather pompous of me, so that was the joke for years - she would say “and look at my socks!”
RA: “Socks were my entrance into color on the wardrobe.”
RD: Maybe that would be a good way to get other men into color?
RA: “Well yeah socks are a big thing now.”
RD: How did you get into Instagram?
RA: “It was a friend’s daughter. She’s about sixteen. She saw me playing with my phone and she said “Are you on Instagram?” and I said “Oh god no, I hate that stuff!” and she said “Oh c’mon, I’m on it, we could follow each other!” and I said “I don’t want to!” After a while I came around and said, “Oh, all right” and she showed me how to use it. I started taking pictures. Then I started to make a layout and I showed it to a few people and they liked it. I design stuff you know? I don’t just throw things out there. Bill Cunningham even took a few photos for me!”
RD: What do you think about young men’s fashion?
RA: “The young guys that work here. Oof! They look like they’ve rolled out of bed. Crumpled! Everything is crumpled! They look like crumpled lumberjacks.”
RD: Yep, that’s the Bushwick look! Perhaps men think they can opt out, but they can’t of course - people make judgments.
RA “Well absolutely. I think it was Edith Head who wrote: You can have anything you want if you dress for it.”
RD: Except perhaps if you’re Zuckerberg who actually just instagrammed his rows and rows of grey t-shirts.
RA: “Well when you’ve got all that money -“
RD: It’s a statement then, even: “I don’t need to wear a suit I have enough power not to”.
RA: “Exactly. it is a statement, yes.”
RD: Do you get your clothes ready the night before or do you do it on the fly?
RA: “I do it on the fly, but then I go to the gym and my head kinda clears and I see things differently.”
RD: Is it comforting to have all of this things around you? Does it make you feel in control?
RA: “Yes, you’re getting it because you think it’s comforting. OCD is about the compulsion to get something which soothes you. You get anxious, so you do something to make yourself feel better, but you’re going to get anxious about something again.”
RD: That sounds exhausting?
RA: “It is exhausting. I’m up all night doing this Instagram thing. I’m getting like three hours of sleep.”
RD: Have you met any followers?
RA: “Yeah, I met Judith aka Style Crone and Dayle of Artfulcitystyle, but I get intimidated meeting new people. What you see on Instagram - I can do that in a room all by myself, but not in front of you.”
RD: This OCD, were you like this as a child?
RA: “Oh yes, but it gets worse as you get older. It’s very frustrating because it can be paralyzing. It’s an illness. I have shirts hanging from floor lamps. My stuff is everywhere."
RD: And your wife, she’s fine with this?
RA: “Ha, no. Neither of us are fine with this.”
RD: But she understands?
RA: “As much as you can understand somebody like me.”
RD: Yeah, because I would kill you.
RA: “Thank you for putting it so…so…tenderly.”
RD: That’s me!
RA: “I love to pick the craziest fabrics. Mimmo, will say “That will make a good sports jacket” and I say, “Why not a suit?” and he’ll say, “Oh, that’s a lot for a suit, that’s a lot of pattern” and I’ll say ‘No I want to get a suit!”
RD: You don’t mind “a lot” of, well, anything, do you?
RA: “Ha no! I guess I don’t. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing. I coined that expression here at work actually. When we first got computers here at The Times and you could really play with layouts, I went nuts. I’d put curves on type, shadows, color etc. My boss called me in and said “Richard it’s too much, just do one thing” and I said “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing”.
RD: And you still have a job.
RD: Do you have a favorite color that you gravitate towards?
RA: It used to be red, but now it’s cheddar or, I like a chartreuse. I love a purple! I don’t like beige. I mean have you seen that store, Muji? It must be Japanese for “nondescript”. Everything in there is grey and beige, I get so fucking irate when I see that shit in there. This is what you’re pushing on people? Grey? Beige? Sue (Kreitzman) said it too, right?”
RD: Yes, Sue's catchphrase is "Don't wear beige, it'll kill you."
RA: “So, did you get what you needed?”
RD: I don’t know, you’re so quiet and stoic ...
RA: “Ha, Yeah, I’m very shy!"
RD: So you keep telling me.
RA: “I guess once I get going…“
RD: If it’s worth doing it’s worth overdoing, right?
As we were leaving the meeting room, Richard asked me if I wanted to meet Bill Cunningham. To quote my 90's teenage self: "Duh". Cue Aloisio and Darling, running around the offices of the Art Department of The New York Times, searching for Bill Cunningham like SVU's Benson and Stabler tracking down a perp. We eventually ran into Mr C. stepping out of the lift. Now, being the smart little reporter girl that I am I kept my tape player rolling (as if - it was a total accident, but hey.). A transcript is below. Fangirling does not even begin to cover it!
RA: "Bill! Bill!"
BC: "Oh hi there, oh hello, young lady".
RD: Hello, lovely to meet you!
BC: "Wow what a terrific bird's nest hat".
RD: You like it?
BC: "Oh it's terrific, yeah I love it! Your dress and all, that's lovely!"
RA: "It's a coat".
BC: "A coat? Oh a coat! Oh that's beautiful, child."
RD: Thank you!
BC: "Is it warm enough for today?"
RD: Who cares? It's fabulous!
BC: "Vanity keeps you warm".
BC: "But the hair, the hat-"
RD: Yeah I just made it out of a scarf -
BC: "Oh it's lovely and the color, the solid background and the - it's fun. You're having fun with the stuff".
BC: "That's what it's meant to do".
BC: "Today everyone takes it so serious, like it's some kind of gospel, instead of just having fun with it. It's like when the kids go out to Governor's Island, for the vintage dance, I mean there's a little core group of maybe fifty that are really into the authentic dress, but the rest are just having fun. It's lovely. But your shirt is no shy violet, Richard. Wonderful".
RA: "Yes, you said it was marigold".
BC: "That's what I thought this morning".
RA: "That's what you said".
BC: "That's beautiful, Richard. Ah, you have joy with it, young fella. It's nice to see someone having a pleasure with it, you know, instead of taking it so serious. But your coat is lovely".
RD: Thank you.
BC: "Lovely child".
RD: Thank you Bill
BC: "Goodnight kids!"
RA & RD: "Goodnight!"