"Crave Knowledge, F*ck Around": An interview with Lawrence Schlossman, Brand Director of GRAILED
Even if you’re a lifelong fashion geek, you probably haven’t heard of Lawrence Schlossman. In fact, you’d have to be a special sort of enthusiast to know Mr. Schlossman by name - for someone who fundamentally changed Internet fashion, he keeps a pretty low profile.
Schlossman got his start in fashion with a menswear blog inspired by wasting time on a job he hated; from then, he went on to co-write one of the most popular fashion Tumblrs in existence (the evergreen “F*ck Yeah Menswear”), and even published a book of the same name. He then joined Complex as a Style Editor before launching the infamous (and unfortunately now shuttered) Four Pins, a sardonic menswear blog responsible for everything from fashion memes to the popularization of the fire emoji. Now, Schlossman is Brand Director at menswear tech startup Grailed, which bills itself as the premier online destination for designer clothing resell.
From publishing books to creating cultures to changing the way you shop online, Lawrence Schlossman is one of the prolific figures in menswear today. It’s a miracle he even has time to Tweet. Recently, Lawrence and I sat down at the Grailed offices to talk fashion, culture, and the hidden merits of just f*cking around.
AR: How did you get your start in writing?
LS: I just did it myself. As far back as I can remember, the classes that I enjoyed the most were always English and Creative Writing. I relished that writing process – not necessarily Creative Writing, but writing about perspectives to ultimately offer an opinion. I took this one Art History writing class where we wrote about our views on aesthetic topics, but even before then I always liked [that process.]
So when it comes to me writing about fashion, it stems from me having this full-time job that I did not enjoy at all – and I’m the kind of person who if they’re not really feeling what they’re doing, they’re just going to shirk responsibilities. As a result, I just started blogging instead of doing this job I hated. This was also during the heyday of blogging, like around 2009 as the whole scene was just taking off. So I poured my time into [writing] rather than my real work, benefitting from reading that first real wave of menswear blogs like Continuous Lean, Street Etiquette, The Sartorialist, etc. Plus, I’ve always been into clothes, so there’s this whole combination of: I like writing, I’m reading these blogs, I’m unhappy and I’m bored at my job. I just started f*cking around and then ultimately plugging away at a Blogspot. That first site is still up, from what I remember [Ed’s note: link to Lawrence’s original blog, “Sartorially Inclined” ], and it’s not writing that I’m particularly proud of, but it was my style and my first real go at fashion writing.
I’ve always tried to be honest and transparent in my writing: I didn’t start writing to make money at it. Even a couple years ago, you had the first real wave of people starting blogs to show product, who could make money by I don’t know… lacking transparency? By being paid to show products and not disclosing that they were, all of those hot topics now. I’m not trying to call anyone out, but for me, I just started writing with that transparent bent because fashion was something I was really into already: I was already spending my disposable income on this brand, this trend, et cetera so I didn’t need to take money for it all. The signs, the timing, my interests were all there, so I was just like: “Might as well f*ckin’ do it.’
So you were there in the primordial ooze, doing something you loved, cranking out these honest and transparent articles – how did a project like “F*ck Yeah Menswear” come out of that?
LS: Again, it was those early blogging days: back in that time, a lot of the people I associate with in the Menswear blogging world were really tight, because 1) it was a small community compared to the much larger Womenswear and Personal Style blogging worlds and 2) a lot of the blogging world hadn’t really ramped up yet.
Back then, not everyone had a website. Me and this small group of enthusiasts were essentially guys just doing it for fun, writing as a hobby mostly just to entertain this small group. So my buddy Kevin [Burrows, the book’s co-author] and I just had this conversation once as members of this small group about how funny it would be if there was a “Hipster Runoff” [a popular Tumblr blog satirizing hipster culture] for menswear: both are these insular worlds, with their own codes and rules, even their own languages. I mentioned the concept as a joke, but Kevin just took it and ran with it. This was around the time that “F*CK YEAH” Tumblr’s were really popping off, so he started “F*ck Yeah Menswear” and made it this weirdly lyrical, poetic… thing.
I just remember him sending it to me and me being completely enthralled. It was the funniest thing to me and I just wanted to add to it, so I shot back: “Give me the username and password, I’ve got a post.” It then became this back-and-forth where I’d just log in, check the site, see what Kevin had posted, laugh my ass off, and then just try to make him laugh in return.
It was purely an exercise in friendship: Kevin lives in L.A., so this was our way to communicate and laugh and have an inside joke. It just so happens that this inside joke between two friends started to really attract a following. Then it reached this critical mass and I just remember talking to him once like “holy shit, this is has become a real thing. It’s not just this weird ‘pen pal’ exchange.”
Basically, it was just two friends riffing off each other about a shared passion?
LS: It was really just two writers who loved menswear trying to make the other one laugh, and then it kinda snowballed. And Kevin’s hilarious – he’s a modern day Renaissance man who has written and produced comedy. He even did an animated comedy series for GQ [Gentleman Lobsters].
So it was Kevin and I trying to one-up each other, and the content apparently resonated with a lot of people a lot more than I would’ve thought; then it took off, and suddenly, there’s a book about it on the shelf at every Urban Outfitters in the country.
What I always thought made it special was that you and Kevin had such a deep, deep understanding of menswear but went on to make this anthropological view of the whole subculture – almost like an anthropologist looking from the outside. What was it like to be in that early menswear scene but seemingly always ready to lampoon it?
LS: I think it’s natural that if you love something to death like Kevin and I did with men’s fashion, you’re always going to find something hilarious and ridiculous just because you’re so embedded that you forget what that passion may look like to the outside world. You don’t acknowledge any of those ridiculous things at the time, but with any sort of perspective, that “second nature” passion part disappears and you can then either laugh at what you see and keep doing it, or get jaded. I think that when you love something intensely, you have to be able to laugh at yourself and laugh at the stuff that goes on around you as you do what you love.
Was it ever difficult to transition that laughing, joking, “f*cking around” mentality we’ve talked about into building credibility within fashion, an industry characterized by its seriousness?
LS: I’ve never had an issue where I felt a direct person wasn’t taking my seriously because I think honesty, across any medium or industry, is refreshing, but I think I toiled away a little bit when I first started because of my mentality. My first job in fashion was as a publicist at BPMW – which I loved, by the way, they’re a great company – and that was a definite grind, and not always productively.
But oddly enough, I think that having that [joking, yet honest] writing in my back pocket was actually a big help for building my career in fashion. You don’t have this resume that’s just top-to-bottom bangers like someone who’s worked in the industry for a decade plus, but having the writing and the blog act as almost a portfolio for my taste level and opinions in a way helped validate all of the rest. I never really felt like I wasn’t being taken seriously even though my writing was based in f*cking around because anyone who more experienced probably recognized some of those same absurdities I write about. I mean, they love fashion just as much as I do – they may have laughed about the same topics before. So while fashion is seen as a serious industry, I never felt like I got in trouble for like, “being too real” or even just f*cking around with my writing.
Do you think that whole idea of bloggers and personalities “being too real” is a cheap trick?
LS: Absolutely. I think that idea really came about in the post-Four Pins landscape. Once Complex shut down Four Pins, menswear as this insular little thing become almost like a snake eating its own tail. Now, I think we’re back at a point where people are craving knowledge. Not that a good joke doesn’t go a long way, but because menswear has become so hyper-trendy as the industry has changed and the audience has expanded, there’s now a large group of people seeking to know why a brand blows up one week then doesn’t matter the next. They want a little but more substance in their editorial.
That’s not to say that a funny writer or an honest writer will always be better than someone who is super clinical, but I’ve seen things move away from that whole “devil may care” attitude where part of the voice is this whole “you don’t even know what I’m talking about, so I’m going to talk down to you” shtick. That worked at a point because it made new menswear fans crave more, kinda like when you’re in middle school and the girl that likes you is super mean to you [Ed’s note: no girls liked me in middle school], but that whole angle reached a critical point. That whole Four Pins voice still finds an audience on social media – especially Twitter – but now, people want to learn rather than just make in-jokes. I think you can teach and still have fun, but as a whole, the menswear community has moved away from the “too real” attitude.
I’m interested in your comment about teaching and learning. You’d think that as the menswear audience grows, you’d have enough people getting that “first lesson” – don’t wear this with that, don’t wear these colors – that the content would be common knowledge and no longer really appealing. But you feel like we’ve gotten to a point where people crave that teaching more?
LS: I guess I don’t really find myself interacting with people who are at that first level. That’s no comment on those people, but most people that would know of me connect with Grailed or Four Pins and are almost past those first learnings. But even that is case-by-case: the community is so large and so diverse now that it’s impossible to generalize and say something like “all menswear readers are acting this way” – all we can really do is extrapolate based on what we see and who we talk to. It’s truly hard to say.
From my experiences with Grailed especially, I think there’s been a real shift towards more educational content. There are just so many trends popping up that even the more experienced customers want to know which trends have legs, which they should skip, etc. and naturally look towards a voice of authority and experience to help them.
End of the day, it’s all about knowing how to spend your hard-earned money on fashion – am I buying a Vetements hoodie that costs a ton but someone thinks has staying power? Or am I buying vintage tees because I see them on Instagram and therefore think they’re popular? With all the visual noise on social media, it’s only gotten harder to analyze trends, and therefore the teaching and learning editorial has a new importance.
So you’re now starting to see more of that “intermediate” customer coming to Grailed? Correct me if I’m wrong, but Grailed used to be a worst kept secret that catered mostly to really experienced fashion guys.
LS: Word – I mean, think about it: people want to save money. That’s the thing with Grailed. You can get what you want cheaper than retail, from the super high-end to the relatively newer sections like “Hype” [Supreme, Palace] to “Basic” [J. Crew, H&M]. There’s some crossover between sections, but the guy looking to buy 10 J. Crew dress shirts because he just started a job yesterday is way different than the dude browsing Hype looking to buy Yeezy’s for like, one penny less than two thousand dollars or whatever the f*ck those go for now. They’re all different types of people, but now they’ve all got a place on Grailed.
Relating it to the editorial “teach and learn” thing, people come to the site because they trust our opinions and the general taste-level we represent, whether that’s applied to Rick Owens cargo pants or an H&M tee. I think that part has certainly helped the site’s expansion to pick up more of those interested beginners, but again: people aren’t shopping on Grailed because we have the f*ckin’ funniest memes or because our blog [Dry Clean Only] has the most fire fit pics. I think they come for this more authoritative personality, both newer and more experience customers alike.
How much of that developed personality was you coming in as Brand Director vs. the community shaping itself? Was this your plan for Grailed when you joined the team in April?
LS: Nah – these guys were doing great things way before I got here. From a press perspective, me being here helps shape that authoritative personality, but it’s hard to say. I don’t want to give myself too much or too little credit, but I think that my impact here has been more about taking my journalism skills and then applying them to something new, something not in the press. The stuff I did at Complex, at Four Pins, set me up to join Grailed and help these guys navigate their brand through the world of the fashion press, but in terms of some master plan for the community, that wasn’t it.
I think that’s actually a fairly common transition in the fashion industry: journalism to brand. If you go and talk to X creative director at Y brand about their work history, you’d be surprised at how many of them have press experience. Journalism provides such a versatile skill set that it can transfer pretty much anywhere.
What are your thoughts on that relationship between the fashion industry and the media?
LS: It’s super incestuous. Maybe it’s not the most (pause) ethical. Not like there’s anything terrible happening, but fashion and fashion press have almost become one and the same. Especially now with members of the fashion press being personalities and having their own brands, thanks to social media. You can be a writer, sure, but now you can also have this whole machine running off to the side that may be more of your career than the job that put that “personal brand” machine in motion. That’s not so different than the brands you’re reporting on. A writer is curating an Instagram feed, just like a brand does.
I think that’s the nature of where we are in 2016, where everyone is quote-unquote “a brand”, but in the fashion industry, that’s even more apt. It’s a more superficial industry in some respects – well, not in some, it is a superficial industry. Compared to other stuff, I mean it’s not global security. But because it is a superficial industry, those lines between press and brand are heavily blurred. Just look at “personal style bloggers”: they release and market their own products, so are they designers? Bloggers? Models? To some extent, everyone is everything now.
And as someone there for the beginning of fashion blogging, you’ve watched this entire transition, for better or for worse.
LS: It was honestly unavoidable, just based on how important social media has become for fashion. Even now with Snapchat – regardless of what you do for a living in fashion, it’s now so easy for you to become some level of a public figure. It’s all enabled this interest in people personally. In fashion, if you dress well and are a good looking person, regardless of what your day job is, you could very much find yourself with a profitable side job, but also as someone now managing a personal brand. Social media made this inevitable, but I honestly can’t say if it’s bad or good. I guess when it comes to actual reporting of substance outside of The Business of Fashion or The New York Times, maybe the effect has been overall negative on the journalistic product that now reaches the readers.
But, then again, it’s also fashion: I don’t know what people really expect, but in my opinion, it’s not changing the world. Some people will disagree and tell you it’s the most important f*ckin’ cultural force on the globe, but I don’t agree with that. In short, it was inevitable, and for better or worse, it is that way. I’m not one to wax poetic and say “I miss the old days of dot-blogspot” because that’s a huge waste of time; and again, we’re not talking about politics, we’re not talking about global security, we’re talking about clothes. I don’t really care either way. It is what it is.
Would it be fair to say that fashion in the age of social media has almost become entertainment?
LS: Eh. I don’t know. Maybe?
But in my opinion, probably not.
I think the thing that fashion will always have is that there’s a true utility to getting dressed – there’s form but also function. When you take the “art” thing out of it, fashion still has utility. You can’t really apply that to something like watching a movie. People still need to get dressed.
Regardless of price, regardless of how cool something is, there’s a true inherent value to clothes. Because of that, I think fashion will always stay out of that pure entertainment world, like television or film. I mean, even if it’s high-end, it’s still a shirt: you need to wear one to get service at a restaurant. Unless you live in a nudist colony, you have to get dressed every day. That makes fashion always somewhat important.
Finally, let’s play some word association. I’m going to shout something out, and you just say the first word on your mind.
F*cking overused word. That people use to seem knowledgeable.
One last question: since we are in the Grailed offices, what’s your all-time shoe grail?
1985 Air Jordan 1 “Royal.” Nike made the Air soles a certain way so that they don’t crumble with time – I could put those shoes on today and they’d be as solid as they were 30 years ago.
The above text was first published in "The New Class", the September 2016 edition of SHIFT Magazine. A special thank you to Lawrence Schlossman, Alyssa Vingan Klein, and Jessica Minkoff for making this interview possible.