Despite their best efforts to stand out, most Fashion Week attendees simply blend in. In a herd of peacocks, all that flash starts to look the same. However, amongst the fleet of Prada statement shows, Rick Owens jackets, and Celine bags, a few brave souls manage to stand out based on something more: a singular creative vision. Corbin Brett Chamberlin regards his daily wardrobe as an art form; he is not content to spectate style, he dictates it. As such, he has become an unmissable presence not only at Fashion Week, but wherever he goes. You’ve seen him light up Manhattan streets: a foppish gent with a devilish smirk, leading man curls, innovative neckwear, and, quintessentially, those impeccable capes. With the Summer of Gatsby just on the horizon, it’s the perfect moment to sit with Mr. Chamberlin — a contributing editor at The New York Times and Scene Magazine — to discuss the anatomy of his ambitious aesthetic.
Can you remember the first time you dressed up?
I was nine. My mom bought me a linen kurta in black. She insisted it was meant for bedtime, but I dismissed her PJ accusations and wore it to the grocery store. It was the first time I experienced the fancy-factor, even if it was in the deli.
Who was on your wall as a teenager?
My mother forbid it, but I would have slapped Ginger Spice on my wall so quick, if allowed. I was totally infatuated with the fiery-haired sensation. Rather, my walls were covered with my own artwork, photography and magazine clippings that I would have framed.
What was the first thing you learned about clothes, growing up?
Unfortunately, I grew up in a very conservative situation part of the time and I wasn’t totally allowed to dress like I wanted. Repression breeds obsession and of course rebellion, so growing up I would sneak bow-ties and pins in my backpack to later spice up my bland outfit in the school bathroom. Therefore, the first lesson I learned about clothing growing up was the mental and emotional impact they could provide.
What personally attracts you to a garment?
The older I get, the more I appreciate a garment of quality and fit. And no ones really values fit like someone of size, in my opinion. I’m a larger guy in a very skinny-minded world of style; options are not free-flowing. A well-constructed shirt from Charvet or Indochino makes my skin feel at home. The perfect cashmere cardigan or wool trouser that falls perfectly on your ankle (just enough to show off your velvet dinner slipper) is heaven. I love clothing with little details, even if you’re the only who knows about them. Texture is vital and polyester is death — fabrics must be supreme.
What do you convey through clothes?
Basically: “I don’t care if you’re into it. I am.” I’m not the most exciting dresser. My foundation is basically a white oxford with gray trousers or a dark denim. I add more frantic-toned layers from there; like my vintage purple Hermés cape or emerald green trench coat, etc. Now, when discussing my pins, you can make a clear association of my mood or tone by which one I’m wearing, à la Madeleine Albright. Snakes, bats and spiders are my favorite, typically because I don’t want to talk to you. But sometimes I’ll throw on a emerald-eyed bee or something more traditional if I’m feeling warm and cozy.
What’s a period of fashion/dress you find most underrated?
The period that hasn’t happened yet. Everything has been refreshed, redone, re-cropped and retouched a 100,000 times. For an industry that’s always looking ahead six months, we’re always recycling eras and trends. Sure, we add a fresh spin or take, but it’s never really new. Dismiss the comeback, let’s see something totally modern.
Capes have always mystified me. Besides the fact that they are a free-flowing garment that covers everything up in brief whirl, capes are, in my mind, an authoritative article of clothing — a garment that means business, if you will. Everyone assumes that I noted and am inspired by André Leon Talley and his spectacular capes; this is untrue. My love affair with the cloak began way before I set eyes on ALT. It’s always been an article of clothing that I personally associate with. Gemma Kahng recently made one for me. It is spectacular.
What is something you used to find stylish but now do not?
I am not a stylish person. Period. Although, when I was in the sixth grade, I bought a seemingly lifetime supply of extremely discounted Versace muscle shirts that had gaudy designs and prints on them (images of tennis balls and skulls, etc.). I’m glad that gaudy ship has far away sailed.
An insight into our culture. At most times, trends are total bullshit, but they reflect the economical and mental ripples of what’s going on at the moment, and that fascinates me. I love to see what people are buying and try to figure out why they’re buying it.
Who or what is an unexpected influence on your style?
Fran Lebowitz. When I was 13 and rummaging through Goodwill, I discovered her book Metropolitan Life. Fran’s extremely tailored look was captured in the author’s page; the idea of a woman dressing more powerfully than my dad inspired me. Later on, I discovered the dandy, Patrick McDonald, who is now one of my best friends and mentor. You cannot discuss the passions of clothing without mentioning Patrick McDonald. His devotion to his own decadence is inspiring. I think about Mr. McDonald every time I get dressed, especially when I think it might be OK to go casual, then I swiftly go back and change.
What’s a risk you want to take?
Nothing major. I don’t want to rock the boat too much. Perhaps I’ll wear more caftans during the day, especially those from Farah Angsana.
How does your style philosophy relate to your overall outlook?
Determined. Sometimes unwilling to settle, even if it’s for the worse. I dress for myself and how I feel at that very moment. I’m not into long-term plotting of outfits. I just go with it.