Men With Personal Style Series – Paul d’Orleans
This is the first in a series of interviews with men who have cultivated a unique personal style reflecting their lives and passions.
As a writer, artist and leading expert on vintage motorcycles (who rode last Fall in a “Cannonball” cross-country on a 1930 Velocette KTT) you might expect Paul d’Orleans to be all denim and leather. Yet, as you will read, this gentleman has his own rules of menswear.
Where are you located and what do you do?
I currently split my time between San Francisco, New York, and ‘travel’… I’m a writer, artist, photographer, and publisher. My website ‘The Vintagent’ is about motorcycle history and culture. I write for all sorts of magazines and publications, essays about motorcycles, history, and fashion. I also shoot ‘alternative’ photography; Wet Plate and Daguerreotype. I travel around the world to view/judge/ride/emcee vintage motorcycle events. I curate exhibitions, and am moving towards hosting events.
How would you describe your style?
Sophisticated toddler with a gold card.
What are some of your major interests and talents?
I got a degree in Art, and made my living for 27 years doing murals and specialized decorative paint techniques. I gave that up 4 years ago when ‘The Vintagent’ got popular; now I’m a writer. Interesting note; I worked for billionaires in my former career, and did some great stuff, but was never asked to have my work in a national publication. But within a year of declaring myself a writer, I was asked to write for really big magazines. I think good writers are more rare than good artists.
Why do you wear what you wear?
I’m deeply devoted to Fun. Happy is my spiritual practice. I’ve sat for over 10,000 hours in meditation, and that’s the result. But I’ll tell you a story; after a traumatic divorce, I put my whole life in storage, and moved to Paris with a single suitcase, in which I had three khaki pants, six white Oxford shirts, two sweaters, two pairs of shoes, and two jackets. I lived for 18 months in those clothes as a sort of monastic test, while totally focused on my writing, to complete a change of career, and reinvent my life. I survived, thrived even, but I was happy to get back to my clothes, and my old friends.
How has your style evolved?
I have a ‘sweet’ face and milky skin, so couldn’t wear bright patterns and pastel colors when younger, without looking like a fancified 8 year old. I grew a beard four years ago, and it’s a bit grey, so I can wear just about anything nowadays.
Who or what inspired your sense of style growing up?
My mother had a fashion business in the 1970s/80s, and my grandmother was an editor at Vogue, and taught at Parson’s. I emulated David Bowie as a teenager (his Berlin years), was kinda Perry Ellis for a minute in ‘79/’80, before going totally punk by ‘81. I evolved into classic Rocker (English biker) style by ‘84, and tore around San Francisco on a Norton café racer. I laid low in the 90s, raising a daughter, but re-emerged in the 2000s with my current obsessions.
Favorite article of clothing or men’s accessory that you have received as a gift?
As my father neared death from the effects of radiation exposure (cancer treatment), I asked for his Omega Constellation watch, which he graciously removed from his wrist and placed on mine. Not fancy, not especially collectible, but precious beyond measure.
Worst fashion mistake?
Before it was so named, I had a mullet. And someday, when the greatest faults of the 80s are rehabilitated, I will be acknowledged as a pioneer. (My mohawk was cooler.)
If your home was burning down and you could only grab one big armload of clothing what would it be?
All I need is a passport, bank card, cell phone, and computer. I can build a new wardrobe; point me to a flea market.
What did you wear today?
Japanese socks with orange and khaki squares set up my whole outfit - Thinple stretch khaki trousers, suede Crocket & Jones wingtips, a pinstripe blue dress shirt with an orange camouflage overshirt, and an old Guerlain pocket square (blue with daisies!) tied around my neck.
What are a few of your favorite stores?
MAC in San Francisco, l’Eclaireur in Paris, Barney’s in New York, flea markets and vintage stores everywhere.
What do you think about, what is your approach when getting dressed?
Dressing for me is mood-based; sometimes I feel evil and look for the worst possible combination, just to figure out how to make it work. Ghillie suit and tie. Flourescents and cardigans. What gets vetoed; anything too recognizably ethnic/costume/clownish, or any kind of cliché, unless I’m putting a dagger through its heart. I won’t wear anything recognizable as a ‘style’; if my outfit is trending Preppie one day, I’ll wear the ‘wrong’ shoes or jacket or accessories to screw it up.
What do you like to wear and carry with you while traveling by air?
I fly three times a month, and usually wear the heaviest clothes I need to carry; motorcycle boots and leather jacket, or a big fur if its really cold. If I’m not going somewhere to test ride a bike, I usually wear a comfortable two-piece suit. In any case, I dress well and always sport a tie or foulard, as it can make the difference between an upgrade or a bummer.
Right now its a pair of Lucchese suede boots with side zips, a square toe, and a cowboy heel. An odd hybrid between Beetle and Cowboy, but they fit like gloves, and feel both luxurious and masculine. Women get it; men don’t notice them.
Etro, RRL, Thom Browne, or destroyed vintage.
I wasn’t a big jeans wearer until a few years ago, when RRL gave me a pair of selvedge denim for helping throw a motorbike party in Paris. I found them so versatile, with suit jackets or riding gear, then Edwin gave me two pairs, then Maple from Canada, which are kevlar reinforced. I haven’t bought blue jeans in ten years, but wear them a lot now. I don’t subscribe to the ‘jeans cult’, so wash them and abuse them, as jeans were intended from the beginning.
Favorite jacket or suit?
This month its a Bernhard Willhelm camo bomber jacket, with a huge snarling tiger head in a pink surround on the back. Everyone loves it; I was born in the year of the tiger, it feels like a personal totem.
I never used to wear jewelry, but I found some rings from ‘Mr Fabulous’ at the Paris flea market, who sells obscure erotic and Masonic objets. He sold me two ex-Mason rings, kinda big, and unique. Then my new sweetie gave me a chunky silver ring from a Lebanese designer as a ‘promise’, with a cross pattée in diamonds, like the ‘X’ on an old treasure map. It made me feel I’d been discovered.
Do you keep everything forever or donate frequently?
With two full closets on each coast, and four rolling racks in my SF storage, I’d say I’m a keeper. When I get rid of stuff, I always regret it at some point later, when I’m looking for just the right component for an outfit, and it isn’t there!
Any especially memorable fashion or menswear moment you care to share?
Magic happens all the time. I was at the Inspiration show in LA a few weeks ago, which celebrates the spread of Japanese workwear, and found a bright yellow mohair Thierry Mugler jacket from the 80s. Absolutely outrageous. I wore it over tuxedo gear to an art opening that night, and got featured on an LA fashion blog. Yesterday I was being filmed for a documentary on motorcycling, and wore a $1 home-knitted flourescent orange fisherman’s sweater I picked up at a thrift store in rural Utah last October. Its horrible/wonderful (jolie-laide en Francais), but looked right under an apple green waxed cotton jacket from Private White V.C. (designed by my pal Nick Ashley), while riding on my little yellow ‘73 Triumph dirt bike.
Blood and Sand, or Dark and Stormy, depending on the weather.
Just got a pair of Bernhard Willhelm hi-top sneakers off ebay. They were sold out everywhere, so I buckled.
I’ve decided the biggest difference between looking ridiculous while wearing something ‘off-piste’ and being a fashion inspiration to others, is your attitude. If you communicate that you’re wearing something because it makes you happy, and fully understand it could be seen as ridiculous, you include the whole world in the joke. It’s magnanimous.
Paul’s blog, The Vintagent, is the World’s #1 Vintage Motorcycle Site http://thevintagent.blogspot.com/ And, yes, that is Christina Hendricks, of Mad Men, in the photo with Paul.