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.
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