Interview with Christian Barker: Co-Founder of Billionaire Magazine & Founder Editor of August Man & The Rake
Christian Barker was the co-founder and editor-in-chief of digital luxury platform Billionaire.com, the founding editor-in-chief of men’s elegance publication The Rake magazine, and a founding editor of Singapore lifestyle title August Man magazine. He is currently an editorial, social and content consultant, journalist, and Asia editor-at-large for The Rake. Follow him on Twitter @cbbarker
There are many publications that I keep up with to help fuel my own inspiration in the menswear space. Religiously I take about thirty minutes out of my day to check out latest posting on my tumblr and Instagram feeds. Some of you have asked me to post more about some commendable Instagram feeds that displays sartorial stye. Most I filter out the noise by searching #sprezzatura and #sprezz to catch some of the latest Italian inspired sartorialists sitting on the banks of Pitti and taking pictures of themselves. If I wasn't so busy with my own clients and other work matters then I would love to do the same! Lately, I've also have been reading New York Times Fashion & Style to see some of the latest designers inspired by street style. Street style observation is a great predictor of fashion trends and finding your own interpretation of your own style within that trend. Reading The Rake is incredible and I encourage all of you to subscribe to it. They articulate the processes of finely crafted products and tell the story so well. This is a very high quality read!
Below is my interview with Christian Barker and it has been a great pleasure connecting with him and learning about his new endeavor Billionaire Magazine. Enjoy!
Someone like yourself, who is well established in the menswear aficionado space, I can't help but wonder about your childhood. Could you share with us what you life was like as a child. For instance, what did your parents do for work and what was life growing up like a child?
My father was some sort of consultant, which was always a difficult occupation for me to comprehend as a child, but I knew he wore suits to work, he wore them well, and that had an impact on me. Before I was born, he’d worked for Alitalia and spent a great deal of time in Italy, which can’t help but lift a man’s dapperness levels. Dad passed a lot of his sartorial knowledge down to me from an early age; I’ll never forget the first time he took me to his tailor when I was 17, kitting me out with my first blazer, some grey flannel trousers and a made-to-measure charcoal pinstripe suit: the basics. My mother was and is a keen seamstress, and she used to make a lot of the clothes my brother and I would wear, which bred in me an appreciation for handmade, unique garments. I vividly recall asking her to make me a white Don Johnson ‘Miami Vice’ suit to wear to my school dance in sixth grade. So, the signs were always there, I suppose.
What were some of your jobs before starting The Rake and your other magazines?
Out of university, I worked in the music business, promoting and marketing dance music at record companies in Australia in the mid- to late-’90s, and then when CD burners and file-sharing came along and decimated the industry, I shifted over into music journalism. I’d always wanted to be a writer. Music writing transitioned into lifestyle, travel and style journalism, and before long I ended up editing men’s magazines.
Tell me about your wardrobe. If I were to go into your closet what would I see?
You’d see too much! I know it’s bad for them, but the suits are like sardines in there, sadly. I think I’ve reached ‘peak menswear’ and need to begin scaling back. Problem is, most of what I buy is classic, perennial stuff that doesn’t really go out of style, so I’m loath to get rid of anything. Despite the volume, like most of us, I’m often found wearing certain favourites over and over again. There’s a peak-lapel, one-button, brown glenplaid with orange overcheck bespoke Hardy Amies suit I love, it’s really pan-seasonal and versatile. When I’m headed somewhere cool I rely on my Steven Hitchcock bespoke grey flannel, two-button single breasted — so classic. My Gucci camel coat is my other winter lifesaver. In Singapore, due to the climate, I wear a lot of linen; I’ve got a bespoke Rubinacci three-button cream vintage linen suit with a rust windowpane check, that’s brilliant. You have to be careful around red wine though. I wear a lot of blue blazers, my favourite at the moment is a made-to-measure Zegna ‘casual luxury’ example in silk/wool, and there’s a Tom Ford ready-to-wear blazer with his signature pumped-up peak-lapel I’ve worn the hell out of. I almost always wear a white shirt, Brooks Brothers OCBDs my go-to. Footwear-wise, I’ve got every shape and size (plus plenty of old-school Adidas, Nike and Converse) but my absolute favourites would have to be my Berluti Alessandro whole-cuts, which started life in a greenish tone called ‘caviar’, but were recently re-patinated to midnight blue. My array of suede Tod’s Gomminos get plenty of wear during the European summer and at home in constantly sweltering Singapore.
Let's talk about the real world in our industry right now and I can't wait for you to chime in on this. I live in reality, where I design and sell other international designers’ clothing for 'real people'. People from size 32 waist to size 52 inch waist. People with severe postural issues. People who are so completely confused by seeing million dollar ads of dramatic images with skinny teenage depressed boys sporting wetsuit tight bizarre outfits (including suitings) that would never make sense for the normal 'average' human being. What advice can you give to new designers in the sartorial space for effective advertising of their brand in magazines like yours?
There’s this odd disconnect in that the majority of guys who can afford high-end menswear are in their late 30s and beyond — a man’s peak earning years are between 45-55 — but the models featured in most marketing campaigns are maybe 20, and so often high-fashion menswear is designed such that it will only suit 20-year-olds; more mature men will look like the proverbial ‘mutton dressed as lamb’. While marketing and the media will always present a somewhat idealised image, I think many brands and magazines miss a trick trying to foist $5,000 suits on youngsters, very few of whom have the wherewithal to actually buy high luxury products. Over the past few years, it’s been refreshing to see more mature, characterful gentlemen featuring in fashion ads and magazine editorials — men like the model Aiden Shaw, who frequently appears in The Rake, or actors Willem Dafoe and Michael Shannon, recent faces of Prada. I think that’s much easier for the target consumer to identify with.
What were the beginning stages of The Rake and what would you describe as the turning point of making it grow?
When The Rake’s founder and publisher Wei Koh first outlined his vision for a magazine based on classic men’s elegance and craftsmanship to me, it really struck a chord as I’d been sensing a shift in the marketplace away from capricious fashion, towards an appreciation of bespoke, artisanal products and buying ‘less but better’. Launching a magazine focused on what might loosely be defined as luxury in 2008, in the midst of the Global Financial Crisis, was challenging, but in a way the timing couldn’t have been better — the tough times promoted an even greater swing away from profligate consumerism, creating an even stronger appetite for long-term investment pieces. Especially in the menswear realm, consumers were seeking out quality goods that provided value for money, and because of the iffy economic conditions, men wanted to look their best in a professional setting, which basically comes down to sharp tailoring. The Rake was perfectly placed to provide guidance in those areas. It was absolutely in tune with the zeitgeist.
And what about Billionaire.com, which you went on to launch in 2012?
Again, the editorial philosophy was shaped in response to what I felt was a prevailing mood in the marketplace. Speaking with the top brass at leading luxury brands like Gucci and Ermenegildo Zegna, it had become clear that CSR and sustainability were becoming ever more important priorities for these companies and their consumers, which was borne out in my dealings with the affluent individuals who form the core of luxury brands’ client base. At Billionaire.com, we set out to combine a focus on craftsmanship, unique goods and services and legitimate luxury, with culture and the arts, philanthropy, social responsibility and sustainability — key touchstones for the affluent audience today.
Who have been your favorite successful people that you’ve met in the industry thus far and why?
I love what Tom Ford does, and the people he’s surrounded himself with at the top of his organisation are all marvellous human beings. Mr Ford’s business partner Domenico De Sole was a very inspiring interviewee. The Zegna family are terrific — CEO Gildo Zegna is an incredibly sage, savvy individual, and his sister Anna is one of the warmest, most lovely people in the business. Berluti’s Alessandro Sartori, who I first met back when he was with Z Zegna, is an utter genius, and such a serene, humble, kind gentleman. Paul Smith is a hero from both a business and creative standpoint, and a fantastically cool guy. I have enormous respect and regard for Diego Della Valle, his brother Andrea, and Tod’s CEO Stefano Sincini. And the Rubinacci family are all amazing people. But I’m often most inspired speaking with the craftspeople who actually make the wonderful things I’m privileged to write about — their passion and perfectionism is infectious.
Singapore is very similar in the climate as Boca Raton, Florida (South Florida). Tell me about some of the current style that you notice in Singapore.
Dressing for Singapore is tough because it’s always sweltering and super humid outdoors, but frostily air-conditioned wherever you go indoors! A lot of men here dispense with jackets altogether, going about in shirtsleeves and tie, which I think is a horrible look. My friend, the leading Singapore bespoke tailor Kevin Seah, is an expert at creating light, breathable yet sharp suiting custom designed for the sort of climate we face in this equatorial country. Unlined and half-lined jackets in openweave cloths such as Fresco or linen are always terrific for warmer climes, and in general, there’s been a great swing toward less structured tailoring globally — men who’ve grown up wearing casual attire expect the same level of comfort from their suiting.
What advice would you recommend to the readers who want to get into the magazine/media business? Any books that helped you with your career?
I’m a great believer that focusing on serving the reader is paramount. There’s a brilliant speech by the publisher Felix Dennis, featured in a book called The Art of Making Magazines, where he explains his belief that “The reader is king,” and the most important “ability of an editorial person is to put themselves in the shoes of the reader and provide what the reader wants, whether or not the reader knew what they wanted before they opened the magazine. This ability is the magic bullet to professional success… Put yourself in your reader’s shoes. Always, always pause to consider: What is it my reader needs? What is it my reader wants? What will get readers buying this magazine or visiting this site over and over again?” I always try to keep that in mind.
Christian Barker is one of Menswear & Luxury's best in the editorial world. He holds a slew of positions that include contributing editor at GQ Australia, features editor of Nylon magazine Australia, one of the founding editors of successful Asian men's lifestyle magazine August Man, and founding editor-in-chief of world renowned men's classic elegance publication The Rake. To add to his resume, Christian is also former CEO and currently Editor at Large at Billionaire.com which is a luxury lifestyle site and magazine featuring the world's finest goods and services to the most discerning readers around the world.
Some questions for this interview include:
How Christian balances his day with running company's, family and writing content.
See how Christian got his start in his career and how he arrived where he is now.
Learn what it takes for a niche media magazine to become successful and helpful strategies Christian has used to get there.
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Spotlight with Leo Vanweersch: How This Optician Took His Love For Design To Create A One Of A Kind Bespoke Success
" Do something you really like. No matter what profession. Do it because you love to do it. If you are able to do something that you love a lot then success will probably follow and you will be happy in the future. People are so often driven by only money and for me that is not the way that leads to success. " - Leo Vanweersch
I had the pleasure of learning about this great eyewear designer. Below are raw answers by Mr. Vanweersch including insights on how he pivoted from a local optician to a full bespoke eyewear designer now serving clients from all over the world. Leo also shares his opinion to aspiring designers on how to become successful. Enjoy! - Tim
1) Tell us a little about your past. Where you were born and your father and mother's occupation.
I am a Dutch designer who has worked for many years as an optician in his own boutique with a big interest in fashion.
I was born in Vaals, a small town in the south of the Netherlands. My parents were simple people who always worked hard but they didn’t have any interest in fashion. My interest in beautiful things and especially quality I inherited from my deceased grandmother.
I had a happy childhood and spent much time with my friends. Together we played
in a band. After years each went his own way but the friendship continues to exist to this day.
A COMBINED ANSWER OF
2) What were some previous jobs before you started designing glasses?
3) What got you interested in designing this level of quality of glasses?
4)Tell us about the materials you use to make your glasses along with the process it requires to make them. Do you make them yourself?
Before I started to design I, as already mentioned, worked for years in my boutique as an optician. During the years I noticed that fashion became more and more important concerning eyewear but unfortunately I also noticed a lack of quality and fit in eyewear of almost all of the high fashion brands. I also noticed that most of the eyewear of the high fashion brands is looking alike. The logo tells you which brand it is. That is because of the selling of licenses of these brands to eyewear factories. Eyewear is often mass-produced.
In Leo’s boutique he received a lot of clients who could afford clothes and other accessories of the high-fashion brands. But they didn’t want to buy the eyewear belonging to these brands. The reason: they are looking alike. Leo’s clients wanted to wear glasses that made a perfect match with their face. They didn’t want glasses that were sold on every street corner.
" The logo tells you which brand it is. That is because of the selling of licenses of these brands to eyewear factories. Eyewear is often mass-produced."
So I started to draw with paper and pencil. I wanted to feel the lines in my hand and would draw what was in my head and with my heart. I wanted to manufacture fashionable eyewear of highest quality and decided to manufacture my designs by hand and made of genuine horn.
My very first design was auctioned for charity. I was completely overwhelmed by all the reactions to this design and was very happy with the huge profit for the charity organization. Ülsje Handcrafted Glasses was born.
My designs are all made of genuine horn. Genuine horn is a beautiful natural material. Sometimes the horn is combined with silk; a beautiful pattern is created. Of course there are more brands that manufacture eyewear made of genuine horn but I am using the material in a more pronounced way.
I have a small collection and prefer to do made to measure. So therefore I do not have many designs in stock. After ordering it will take about 6 weeks to manufacture. Sometimes the made to measure is happening from a distance and sometimes I meet clients in person.
Then there is another possibility. A couture design. I will then draw a design only for one person. After the drawing and discussing it with the client a sample has been made. After the fitting of the sample I determine if the design needs changes and the client determines which horn plate to use for the final design. A lot of work but a beautiful procedure.
My designs are all made by craftsmen in a small family run atelier in Germany. These men and women are very important to me. They know me well and they understand exactly what I want to create.
5) Who are some noteworthy clients that you have?
Most of my clients are men and women who love quality and craftsmanship in a way I do. People who want to wear glasses that are underlining their personality. Mostly businessmen/businesswomen, doctors, lawyers, architects, artists etc. are wearing my designs. They love fashion and want to look perfect but they don’t want look the same as so many people do. They want to underline who they are.
6) How did you approach growing your business?
Steadily people getting to know my designs. A number of times an article is written about me and my designs. I use social media. But my first customers have found me by themselves. They were already for a while customers in my boutique. They were talking to friends about their new designs and so the demand for my designs continued to grow. So no big advertising campaigns. I don't want big advertising campaigns because they do not do well on a luxury product. I don't want to mass-produce. I want to deliver a high quality design with a perfect fit that suits someone’s personality. I just want to make someone happy and look beautiful.
7) What clothes do you enjoy wearing?
Concerning clothes, I have my own style. I often wear made to measure. For example the fabrics of Holland & Sherry. The tweed and velvet of Holland & Sherry are my favorite and I like the quality and the classical looks of the English fabrics but it needs to be manufactured in the more Italian way. Beautiful elegant lines combined with beautiful fabrics. My trousers are always a little too short. Classic with a contemporary twist. I choose the fabrics myself and combine them together. I am a huge fan of braces. If you look at my eyewear designs one can see also a classic, timeless design but always with a contemporary twist.
One thing, I never wears is jeans and I've never owned a pair of jeans. Not even for working in my garden. I don't like it at all when i see so many people, men and women, wearing jeans.
8) What is your method of coming up with the materials and designs of your glasses?
When it comes to inspiration a number of things are important.
First of all I am inspired by people. By all kinds of people and all kinds of cultural backgrounds. I find it interesting to delve into different cultural backgrounds. I often sit in a park and watch people. How they walk, how they talk, how they act, how they dress etc. I love to talk to people about their traditions. There is so much to learn by not sticking to only your own ideas and traditions.
I also loves music. All kinds of music. Not just listening but also making music with a couple of dear friends. Friends who I've known my entire life. All kinds of different people that makes the friendship so special.
When it comes to concentration, I enjoy listening to classical music. Especially Mahler. Mahler’s 5th. Symphony touches me deeply again and again. Also, I love to listen to lounge and deep house music. I am energized by it.
And an after party with some disco music gives me the feeling to dance.
Large cities with their architecture make a deep impression on me. I love to look at the buildings. A little bit strange maybe: but beautiful front doors painted in great colours are always photographed. Mostly I visit large cities for doing business and mostly regret to have so little time to enjoy the atmosphere.
I also love jogging. At least three times a week I am running. Mostly early in the morning or late in the evening. It makes my mind free. I enjoy running in the forest while enjoying all the beauty nature has given us.
But, although mostly always very busy, I also take time to run when staying in a large city. In the early morning when for example les Jardins de Tuileries open its gates,I am one of the first to run his lap. It gives me a great feeling. The peacefulness early in the morning on the inside of the park and all the noises, belonging to the city, on the outside of the park. It makes me happy and feel very blessed.
Books.I am obsessed with books. No bookstore is run over. Hours, I can stay there. I like all kinds of books: about fashion, cities, history, music, architecture, furniture etc. etc. I do not enough place to store them. With the result you will encounter books in every room.
My daughter Charlotte, who wants to become a dancer and is studying in the UK. It brings me so much joy to see her grow and working so hard. The elegance and strength of a dancer can make a deep impression. Creativity in a completely different field. She also comes in contact with all kinds of different people from different cultures. And as her father she likes it enormously.
I do not have a mood board. I save all experiences, images, scents, colours etc in my memory. I exactly can tell someone what I've has seen, felt, smelled on a certain moment. Even though I've seen, smelt or felt it already a long time ago.
9) What are your top 3 books that you recommend reading to help improve someone's life.
Difficult to answer: Leo’s top 3 books. As already mentioned I have so many books. To choose a top 3 is very difficult. But okay let’s go.
Graham Robb -> Parisians -> it is a well-written book that gives you a good sight on Paris. Although I travel quite often to Paris and I thought I know the city well, reading this book gives you a feeling one is seeing the city anew. The book tells about the history and the present of the city. History, guide and novel in one.
Richard Holmes -> World at War -> it is a document (also documentary by the BBC)-> a book, which illuminates all sides of the war. Interviews with many great names from the war but also with housewives, resistance fighters, spies and Holocaust survivors. Remarkable: when the documentary was made and the book was written many people who were answering questions were still alive. So they could give comment on all the facts. Now it is not possible anymore. Most of people aren’t alive anymore.
Patrick Demarchelier -> Dior Couture -> pictures of couture pieces of Dior from 1947 -> I know there a more beautiful fashion books about beautiful high fashion brands -> so why this one. Because it is about timeless beauty. It is pictured in so many different places with many different models and all styled by many different stylist and make-up artists. It is so many beauty in one book. Demarchelier himself said about the book: “When you are a fashion photographer, you must inspire a dream, but with Dior Haute Couture, the dream is already there”.
10) What would you recommend to a new designer in eyewear to get started?
Recommendations for a new designer in glasses? Well I think my recommendation is rather for everyone and not only for a new eyewear designer. Do something you really like. No matter what profession. Do it because you love to do it. If you are able to do something that you love a lot then success will probably follow and you will be happy in the future. People are so often driven by only money and for me that is not the way that leads to success. There are so many designers in this world but you can make the difference by doing your job with love and passion. Besides that it is also important not only to have passion and the ability to design, but one should also have the knowledge about manufacturing and have the knowledge about materials and fits.
You can See Ülsje Handcrafted Glasses on Leo's website : www.ulsjehandcrafted.com and follow him on Instagram
Notes on ordering Ülsje Handcrafted Glasses:
As already mentioned Leo prefers to do made to measure. Sometimes and if possible Leo meets his clients in person but because the demand is growing all over the world it is not always possible to meet him.
What can be done? If someone contacts Leo he will send by email big pictures of a number of male or female designs. If someone has chosen a design, Leo will then send a sample of the front of the design. Leo would like to receive pictures of the customer while holding the front before the face so he can see if the design is not too big, too small, in width. He can see how the fit on the nose is and how the eyebrows fit in.
He also puts all kind of different colours of horn plates in the box. So someone can see the beautiful natural colours of the horn.
Whether or not a design is ordered Leo would like to receive the box back. But if someone orders it will take about 6 – 8 weeks to manufacture. Because Leo is doing made to measure not much designs are in stock. All designs are suitable for sun and optical glasses.
The design is delivered in a hand sewed velvet sac inside a hand painted wooden box.
Photos by: Hugo Thomassen
Books Recommended By Leo:
Upcoming Spotlight with Leo Vanweersch. Find out how this Dutch designer is taking eyewear to a new level.
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