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Fashionable Madman


wenty years ago, Gavin McInnes was beaten up for wearing Dr. Martens boots in the wrong part of his hometown of Montreal, and to a certain extent he never seems to have gotten over it. As one of the founders of Vice, the Williamsburg-based international street style mini-conglomerate (they have a magazine, books, and stores), he’s a grumpy thirtysomething arbiter of twentysomething taste. For ten years, he’s been writing the most popular feature of the magazine, Do’s and Don’ts, where he critiques the fashion choices of people on the street (think of him as Joan Rivers for the Jackass generation). Now the rants have been collected into a book, and we met up with Gavin, who was dressed entirely in white, to talk about how we could all do better. — Carl Swanson

How did the do’s and don’ts start?
It started out we had to do fashion in our magazine because that was a lot of our advertisers. And we always hated all that shit. Even today, when you look at magazines like ID, it looks like a parody of fashion. We’ve been guilty about it too. We just really don’t know anything about fashion.

But you run a fashion company.
Yeah, but do we really know what we’re doing? I don’t handle the stores, but as far as the editorial of the magazine goes, the people that are directly involved all dress like clowns. The fashion industry is one of those jobs like acting, styling, directing. It’s a total scam. It’s a scam for lonely people and dumb people.

It’s for people who are seeking meaning . . .
I was just at my friend’s farm up there in Ottawa; he has no idea what even hip-hop is, and so I was wearing a striped shirt with a striped blazer. I’m like, "This is getting on my nerves; I’m clashing." And he said, "Oh, is that what you do in New York, you try to have a good outfit?" I said, "Kind of, but only idiots take it seriously." It’s sort of like karaoke. You go out there. You do your best. You try to pull it off, but when you fuck up, it’s not like you’re fucking up your vote or adoption. You’re fucking up a song in karaoke. So you show up in a wifebeater, but you realize it’s a woman’s wifebeater, and it has this weird sort of Fame cut. You know Irene Cara. . .

Unless you chose that intentionally.
Some people can pull it off. They can wear women’s track pants and a fur top hat with a baby’s blazer and flip-flops, and it looks pretty good.

So you started this thing as a way of getting advertising. Was it mostly just do’s?
Yeah, and we’d have people wearing our advertisers’ clothes, and we’d try to make them look nice. That only lasted for a few months. Then we decided to do don’ts and rag on all the people that we wanted to rag on; then do do’s to show that we weren’t total cynics. I’m sort of contradicting myself when I say that fashion is for idiots because we do care when we do these things, but you should accept that your job is a scam and you won the lottery. I think that is the secret to good fashion commentary. [Spots a college student playing hacky-sack, wearing ultra-soft cargo shorts and a T-shirt.] Look at this guy. He’s literally dressed like a five year old. Union Square is filled with NYU students that miss home so much they’ve decided to pretend they’re in their backyard — shameless. The male fashion issue comes down to decorum. Just be a little bit uncomfortable. That is as comfy as you can get. You could nap in that.

Do you consider yourself a judgmental person?
Yeah, I’m a prick.

I don’t know why. My dad is a Scottish alcoholic, maybe that is an influence. I get incensed when I walk down the street. Doesn’t everyone, though? I think it actually comes from liking people, somewhere deep down. You just go, "Dude, you’re not a bad guy. You don’t have to wear your pajamas outside . . . " You want people to move out of their houses and become adults. And maybe that is why the do’s and don’ts is popular — because people get angry when they see that.

One of the things that I’ve always funny about Vice is that all the cool kids read it, but they read it to get beaten up on, rather than be reassured that they’re the best.
Yeah. The level of hatred with our readers is pretty high, but I think that’s sort of what we espouse. Like, ‘You suck, worst issue ever. I’m going to come and kill you,’ which I think has become a way of saying, ‘Hey guys what’s going on.’ Which is kind of refreshing. It’s better than having a bunch of sycophants.

But they’re being sycophantic in their own way. Does it surprise you that you are part of this style empire — that you have power to influence how people dress?
When I think of fashion moguls, I think of these Marc Jacobs scam artists where they sell you the most basic of shit and they convince you that it is this revolutionary new piece of body art. I don’t think we’re a raging authority on clothing. I think that’s what people appreciate. It’s someone in the fashion industry who is not gay, not female, and who doesn’t give a shit about fashion.

You think women sort of appreciate you giving a straight guy’s critique.
This fashion novice cantankerous drunk is really the majority of fashion critiques. Actually, I totally overestimate Vice‘s power. When I see trucker hats today or Von Dutch, I think, did he not get the memo? We made this perfectly clear. What is going on here? Maybe we don’t control the minds of the entire planet.

What sort of stuff is in your stores?
Vice stores have a lot of expensive shit in them. And we don’t recommend you buy head-to-toe Vice gear, obviously. What you’ve got to do with clothes is, you wear used corduroys, a dress shirt from some secondhand store that has something funny on it — like an embroidered thing that says "1974" that some grandmother did for her son — and then a $300 blazer. Or a $120 Seize sur Vingt shirt and then thirty-seven-year-old cords that are threadbare.

All right, those are your style recommendations?
And your dad’s shoes.

Yeah, if they fit you. Do you think people in New York have a particular fantasy when they walk around about how they look?
I think a lot of New Yorkers came here because they saw these paparazzi shots of Warhol and Jagger at Studio 54 and they thought, I want to be this generation’s guy at the table looking up sort of like, "What? You’re photographing me with a hot literati." And that’s lame, that’s so un-punk rock. The thing I liked about [the punk ‘zine] Maximumrocknroll is you’d have your Polish scene report, you’d have the Manitoba scene report. It would be some little city or state or province that would seem totally irrelevant. And what it taught us was — the reason D.C. seems like such a huge, integral part of punk rock is because all these rich senators’ kids had dark rooms and beautiful cameras, so it’s been documented exquisitely. But Poland had an amazing punk rock scene that didn’t have dark rooms.

That’s all New York is, it’s just the ability to record it?
You happen to have Nan Goldin and Ryan McGinley capturing all these people.

But Ryan made his name at Vice. Terry Richardson took your portait for this book. And you guys hang out with famous people.
Famous folks? I’ve never thought about that. I’m a funny guy. You can see the testimonialson the website. Tommy Lee, Johnny Knoxville, David Cross, Jimmy Kimmel, people like that. Plus, I always have really good coke.  

To buy Vice Do’s and Don’ts: 10 Years of Vice Magazine’s Street Fashion Critiques,
click here.

©2004 Nerve.com.