In today’s interview, we’re going to talk to Brian Sacawa from He Spoke Style. Welcome, Brian!
Brian Sacawa: Thank you, Raphael. It’s a pleasure to be here, I really appreciate the opportunity to talk to you. It’s great to meet you for the first time, it’s not in person, but it feels like, in person, it’s always fantastic to meet other people who are doing great things online for men’s style, so it’s a real honor. Appreciate it!
Sven Raphael Schneider: Awesome! Yeah, what drew me particularly to He Spoke Style is that you have this fantastic photography and a very good sense of style with unique outfits. It’s all original, and it’s hard to come by so I thought, you’re the man I have to talk to, for sure.
BS: Thank you very much!
SRS: So, you are a former cyclist, you are a musician, you grew up in rural New York, just tell us more about you, your personality and how you ended up at He Spoke Style?
BS: Oh man! Where do you want me to start? Let’s see, I guess the biggest part of my life always has been music. I started playing the saxophone when I was 8 years old because I had a friend in 4th grade, he was like the coolest guy in the world, and most of the people in my school started playing instruments in 5th grade, but we were in 4th grade, he was taking lessons, he was awesome and I wanted to be like him. I begged my mother to take saxophone lessons, and that’s how it started, I thought this guy was really cool, and I wanted to play saxophone just like him, so, I don’t know. It became like a passion, I loved it, I was good at it, but I practiced really hard. Some have natural talent, some people are just really gifted, and I wasn’t one of them, I had to work really hard and luckily, I’ve had some amazing teachers to help me achieve whatever I want to do.
SRS: So you never started with the clarinet, you started with the saxophone right away? I think that’s quite unusual, right?
BS: I did start with the saxophone, but you are right. A lot of people do start on clarinet and then move to saxophone. A lot of the times, at least now, when I go to schools and give presentations on instruments, sometimes, you know, so many people want to play the saxophone that they put them on clarinet because there wouldn’t be enough clarinet players and too many saxophone players.
SRS: Alright, awesome. Three years to this day, you started He Spoke Style. Basically, you started in 2013, and you had these other blogs way earlier. How did you get into style?
BS: (laughs) I say that you know, you fail at many things and then eventually, like throwing things at the wall and eventually, something’s going to stick. I had a lot of things that didn’t quite work out, but I don’t know, how did I get into style? I guess, I’ve always been conscious of dressing well and understanding that how you dress has a really direct effect on how people look at you and the image you project and how you want people to understand you. Your style says something about you.
SRS: Totally right! People think you’re competent or incompetent or they make assumptions on your income or the car you drive, hobbies you have based on the way you dress.
BS: Yeah, for better or for worse, you know that’s reality. I have always been interested in it, it’s always been something that I understood. Funny story, when I was at Michigan, I performed in one of the classes for saxophone students and I took my shoes off when I performed because I was performing this piece by Karlheinz Stockhausen and it required all this movement and my shoes were making a lot of noise, and I didn’t want that to distract from the performance. Had a lesson after that performance, my teacher said “You can’t do that, you can’t take your shoes off in front of these kids. They look up to you.”. Even just like that, my appearance mattered, and it was important to him how one looked, or one performed, even it was for a certain thing. So to be more specific, I guess in 2013, I wasn’t doing much because I had “retired” from bike racing, and I had given up running the music series that I’ve been running for five years so, I’ve always had extra-curricular projects in my life and at that point, I really didn’t have any because I gave up two of the biggest things. Like I said, style was always something I’ve been interested in and kind of surveying men’s style online, which I really started to get into at that point, style blogs really started to kind of become a thing. I mean, women’s fashion blogs have been around for a long time, and they kind of have that on lockdown, but men’s blogs were sort of something brewing, I could feel.
SRS: I would still say, you know, if you compare men’s style content website compared to women’s, it’s an underdeveloped, underserved market, three years ago, even more so.
BS: Yeah so I saw basically that there were two kinds of sites, there are the very informational sites like yours, very well-researched, very well-written and tons of great information and on the other side, there were lots of inspirational sites, usually written by younger folks and a lot of the style, like the inspirational side of the style blogs back then didn’t really appeal to me. They really weren’t my style so what I really wanted to see was like a combination of the information and inspiration.That’s how I started the blog.
SRS: Actually, I read your very first post and it was basically along the lines of It’s a good time to be a man with influence in style because there are mad men out there because people or men are spending more on their clothes than to become more aware of it and it’s more you know, acceptable. At one point in time, men interested in fashion were maybe strange or too female or potentially, people will think they’re gay. It all came with a stigma versus now. It’s the most normal thing in the world even for American men to be interested in clothes and style. People wear man purse in New York, and it’s totally okay. Three years ago, it probably would not have been okay.
BS: Yeah! That’s really the point. It has become okay for guys to care about how they dress in a broader sense. People who’ve been into style for a long time, that’s never really been a thing but you’re right, there has been a stigma, as you mentioned in that post, I point to mad men like being kind of a watershed moment for men’s style, just like opening it up and like there’s this cool guy with all his demons or whatever, he’s a bad person, but he dresses well and looks cool. I think because of the popularity of that show, a lot of other guys were like “I could do that too!”. We all have our own takes on, so there are the “Rules of style” but we all have our own interesting ways of interpreting and bending those rules and making them conform to our own selves, and that is really what contributes to someone’s personal style.
SRS: Okay, so what are the kind of “rules” that you would suggest men follow and what are the ones that you say, you can bend them a little?
BS: Oh, man! That’s a tough one (laughs). I think all guys should get their clothes tailored, absolutely! A really simple one is to get your pants hemmed. So many people don’t do it and just to the point that more people are getting interested in this now. I had a friend, and he came up to me the other day and said “Did you write that post about me?” and I’m like ” I have no idea what you’re talking about” and he said “Oh this thing came up on my FaceBook feed and it was something about ten men’s style mistakes and I clicked on it and it was your website and I read it and I was like, I do that, I do that, so I thought you wrote it about me.” and the following week, he called me up and said “Hey, you know how to get my pants tailored?” (laughs) It’s good because it’s becoming a consciousness and people paying attention to style is really becoming more pervasive, and that’s a really positive thing.
SRS: It absolutely is! So, What is one of the rules that you think can be bent?
BS: Oh, Actually, I do have a rule that shouldn’t be broken. This is kind of a pet peeve of mine if you’re wearing a waistcoat and a tie, do not put a tie bar on.
SRS: I totally agree with that!
BS: It’s like the department of redundancy department. (laughs) So that’s one I won’t bend.
SRS: One of the things that always drew me to He Spoke Style was the photography, and you’ve also done videos, and whenever you put out something, it seems like the production quality is extremely high. How much do you feel or think has that impacted the perception of your blog?
BS: Well first, thank you for those compliments because it is something that I put a lot of thought and we put a lot of effort into is having a very high quality, premium product that we’re putting out there and as you know, style is a very visual thing, if you don’t have good artwork to show, it’s really not going to be as effective so, we’ve always been really interested in finding ways or thinking about it in a way that “How can we do this?”. Not necessarily in a way that hasn’t been done before because I mean, how can we deliver products on a quality level, a little bit above.
SRS: How does He Spoke Style finance everything? How does that work? What’s your focus, are you more into sponsorships, advertising, are you working your own products? What’s your take on it?
BS: The way that we make money is through working with brands on sponsored content and we’re lucky, we don’t have to say yes to everything and as a matter of fact, we say no to a lot of stuff just because, we’ve cultivated a certain brand image which is one of quality and slightly aspirational and more about luxury idea of things. So we’re not working with fast fashion retailers, we were able to carve out a niche for ourselves where we can exist in this space and being one the few people who are making this kind of luxury content and doing content series and content packages for brands who want a different take on men’s style and lifestyle rather than just your boilerplate outfit post. Also, working with so many creative people and have great ideas, we try to take what we do to a different level and offer brands something, a partnership rather than just being a mouthpiece for what they want to say but to be a creative partner int he project and that’s one of the things that sets us apart, we’re one of the few websites, I think, on the men’s page right now that are doing bigger, like all-inclusive lifestyle content things but still folding into style which is the main part of what we’re doing. We’re telling a story and as a result of that, we’ve gotten to work with many great brands, many luxury brands around the world and to create content that is a little bit different and a little more, I don’t want to say highly-produced but just with a different kind of polish and a different take, we’re putting some time and effort thinking about the content we’re producing and we’ve been lucky that these partnerships have worked out, and that’s the main way that we generate revenue.
SRS: Okay, that’s fantastic! I just talked to Dan Trepanier from Articles of Style, and they decided to remove entirely from advertising and create our own products, and you do sponsored content, but you just turn down what doesn’t work and work with the ones that we like, and I think both are perfectly legitimate.
BS: I think that’s really important because when someone is working with a bunch of brands or you see that ten people are posting the same kind of Instagram photo on a particular day, it’s sort of, there’s a lack of integrity there. One post will have some watch on, and then two posts later, they’re wearing another watch. I don’t know, I’m really big on brand loyalty, and I’m a lot older (laughs)…
SRS: How old are you?
BS: I’m 38.
SRS: It’s not that old!
BS: I was driving in my car, and I was talking to my mom. I always call my parents when I’m in the car. It was the very first time I forgot how old I was! (laughs) and I said, I’ll be 38 this year, and she was like “No, you’re not, you’ll be 39.” . What?
SRS: You are very busy, Brian!
BS: I am getting old, but the point is I think, we’re not chasing, we want to tell a story that we want to tell, and we want to control the conversation and put a certain image out there and we’re not going to be pushed around or succumb to the lure of doing something just for the money. Actually, this is a really interesting topic to me. For the three year anniversary, today, I actually wrote a thousand word editorial about what I think some problems are that we’re facing in men’s style blogging space. Even since I began the blog, three years ago, there’s been such amazing change and it’s palpable so what I get into an editorial is, actually three years ago, Leandra Medine of manrepeller wrote this article called “Blog is a dirty work” and that she pointed critique of the blogging industry and how it had changed. Blogs have changed the landscape in many positive ways because it’s given people like me the opportunity to have a voice in a conversation, to have a seat at the table, to be able to share something with people and it’s also, there are just so many positive things that have come out of it but certain bloggers were being not very transparent when we’re talking about disclosing things and just taking things for free and whatever, not disclosing out content sponsors, there’s starting to be serious credibility and integrity issues.
SRS: Absolutely, of course.
BS: The fashion people paid their dues, worked their way up from intern to editor of a major publication. They were mad because “Who are these people? They can’t do this, they haven’t paid their dues like us! They don’t belong here, they’re just popular!” and you know, therefore, the term blog became very kind of dirty, but I would say that we’re at a point now, where bloggers are few and far between, I would say. People who actually put in time and effort into their blogs and not just writing content on their blogs when they’re being paid to. Like if you look at, we’ll have sponsored post but in between that, we put in useful things that are just telling a story about things that I’m interested in or that I think people are going to respond to or start a conversation about anything. No one’s paying us to make a podcast, no one’s paying us to make the video series that we did in New York, no one paid us, other than the one cocktail video we did with Absolut but most of that stuff, we’re just doing because we want to put it out there and there’s a story that we want to tell, there are people that we want to introduce you to.
SRS: This is not easy to make money. If it was just about the money, we’d start an Amazon shop and sell some obscure pills or some items from China that we would import and do just that. You do this because you really like it, and you try to make a living out of it; you help so many people in the process. That’s just great!
BS: Exactly! and we are offering a service and the service we offer is for lack of a better term, a portfolio of creative products and services and we offer a voice, a different kind of voice out there in men’s style, personal style landscape and that’s attractive to brands and blogs have really shaken up and changed traditional advertising in a positive way.
SRS: I agree with you. So if there was a brand that would approach you, or what would be your dream collaboration with a brand?
BS: I just had it! BMW was like a bin absolute dream collaboration for us. I’ve driven a BMW since 2011, and it’s super authentic.
SRS: You like BMW, you drive it, and now they approach you, and you’re like ” Yeah, I like this brand, I drive the car, why not!” right?
BS: This is the type of thing that we’ve been fortunate and be able to do with a lot of brands like this, to create a content series that is more on compassing. We did a road trip across Europe, and we were in Zurich, we were in Milan and went to Munich and along the way, we met all these interesting people with various backgrounds. We met a musician, in Zurich, we met a CEO of a carbon fiber ski and snowboard company, we met Giampaolo in Milan, we met two guys who revived a brand called Cambiaghi, they make bags and hats. In Zurich, we met with the hotel manager of Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten Kempinski München. Our job was to tell the story of all these interesting, amazing people and what they do but as a travel diary, through Europe, driving the car and talking about what they do and how it relates to certain features, functions of the BMW. It was such a great project because we got to step outside of our comfort zone and we had to step outside of our comfort zone and create content that was more immersive, that was more editorial, more lifestyle, so that was really, that for me, was the pinnacle of what we have worked for. Those are the types of things that we want to keep doing in the future.
SRS: I recently read a post where you wrote about a day in the life of Brian Sacawa. It looked like, you know, very full, is that kind of the case every day?
BS: Yeah I am always very busy. I should sleep more. I have been making time actually recently to just kind of decompress and read quietly for half an hour, watch some TV, which is a nice brain massage, either way, just step aside from the computer and it’s really been helpful for me to collect my thoughts and think a little bit more clearly because it is so easy to just like you finish one thing, and you’re on to the next thing and immediately, that particular day you’re talking about was actually a low-stress day. I didn’t have a ton of things coming at me; I could really focus on like what Rob and I were going to do that day and think about that. A lot of extraneous distractions, I wasn’t traveling, didn’t have a hundred emails or phone calls coming in, things like that so.
SRS: Based on your Instagram feed, seems like you traveled a lot. What are your top three travel destinations?
BS: Let’s see. I love Milan, I really do. It’s my favorite Italian City. I’ve been there a few times now. Milan is an all-time favorite.
SRS: For the fashion? For the Food, for what?
BS: Good question. When I tell people that Milan is my favorite Italian city, a lot of people are like “What?!”
SRS: It’s not that pretty, you know outwardly. There’s the Duomo, that’s nice. They have that nice Scala mall and the Opera buildings. They have their gems, but overall, it’s not like this pretty, romantic city.
BS: Right, it’s not Florence, Venice, it’s not Rome. It does not look typically Italian as we think like in a picture book or something but what I like about it is, it feels, because it’s not like that, I don’t feel it’s super touristy, and I feel like I’m really with real, Italian people. It feels more authentic in a certain way. Venice is very touristy, it’s hard to find the real Venice sometimes, I think but Milan, it just feels authentic and true in that way.
SRS: I can see that, that’s a good reason. A true Italian feeling.
BS: I like Chicago a lot!
SRS: Yes, I agree with you. Windy City, top!
BS: Yeah and number three, If I had to come up with another one, it would be New York, but I didn’t spend much time there.
SRS: So you mentioned music was a really important part of your life and playing music and listening to music are two very different things. What’s your taste in music when it comes to listening?
BS: That’s really a good point that you made there. Listening to music and playing music are very different things and as a trained musician, you are taught to listen to music in a certain way and at times, that makes it very difficult for me to listen to music because I’m always engaging with it, I’m always analyzing it in some way but types of music that I really like, I don’t listen to a whole lot of classical music which is kind of weird,I guess. But again, it’s like an investment to sit down. Like you can’t listen passively.
SRS: You can’t probably because you know everything, you look for themes and stuff like that. Other people can maybe sit down and enjoy it for what it is, but once you’re more into it, it’s impossible not to analyze, right?
BS: Yeah, I can’t have it on in the background and get anything done, but I really love jazz, I love listening to jazz. There’s a new Joshua Redman album, The Bad Plus, that’s really awesome. I recommend that one. I love 70’s bands, especially because, what I love about that music is that there’s such like a raw energy and passion and excitement, and they are really playing the instruments. It’s very different than today where a lot of stuff is synthesized or computer generated. Those are real people playing, and you can feel that in the energy that they put out. Also, probably interesting, you wouldn’t guess it, I’m like a hip-hop fan.
SRS: That’s amazing. Yeah, that’s great! We had another guy, his name is Gui Bo from France, roand it was the same thing. He was hip-hop all the way, and you could not tell by looking at the way he dresses.
BS: I enjoy the beat of it. I’m kind of nerdy, listening to beats and deciphering them, but I also like the fact that there’s a certain language that’s almost like a code, and your job is to sort of figure it out.
SRS: Excellent! Alright, one question that’s always popular is, what would your fans and readers be surprised to know about you?
BS: I probably just told them. Well, I’ve been reviewed in New York Times, one was for a solo recital that I did at Miller Theater, the other one was when I performed as a solo as part of the festival called Mada which was started by Philip Glass, still going strong and I performed on a Grammy-winning album! There you go!
SRS: Oxford or Derby?
SRS: Flannel or Derby?
BS: Depends on the time of the year.
SRS: That’s fine. So, what do you wear during what time of the year?
BS: Okay, flannel or worsted? Worsted (laughs)
SRS: Necktie or Bow tie?
SRS: Belt or suspenders?
SRS: Barrel cuff or french cuff?
BS: French cuff.
SRS: Undershirt or no undershirt?
BS: No undershirt.
SRS: Custom or off the rack?
BS: Custom, whenever possible.
SRS: Okay, so last but not the least, what can we expect from He Spoke Style in 2016?
BS: Well, we will keep doing exactly what we’ve been doing, which is providing high quality, original content. Hopefully, we can expand our content offerings and frequency of what we’re posting and in the near future, we’re launching a new podcast series, that should be up later this week. We’re going to be reviving the newsletter and just hoping to engage with as many people as possible and listening to our readers in creating content that they continue to like and enjoy and respond to.
SRS: Wonderful, sounds great! Brian, thank you very much. I’m sure our readers, listeners, and viewers learned a lot about you especially the hip-hop part, I thought it was really interesting, Thank you for your time and all the best for He Spoke Style.
BS: Appreciate it! Thank you very much, Raphael!