The Smooth Operator feat. Frans Nieuwendam

March 10th, 2014

I remember bumping into this very sharply tailored gentleman in NYC a while back when Alex and I were out shooting Street Style, but we had no idea of the incredible story behind the man.

Our friend DJ saw the Street Style photo and happened to be a mutual friend, so he facilitated a feature for us. We contacted Frans, set a date for the photoshoot, and met him at his apartment in the east village.

As soon as you walk into Frans’ apartment, you know this guy has a lot of stories, and a lot of style. With a background soundtrack of smooth Jazz from a far-off place we looked over some of the artworks & artifacts he’s collected from his travels around the world, had a couple glasses of whiskey, and took in a stunning 23rd floor view of Manhattan as he schooled us about NYC back in the day.

I wasn’t quite sure how to deliver this profile, since there is so much I could say about Frans. The guy has done a lot of living. Good news is, he also happens to be a good writer. So here is a breakdown of his personal style influences, a little history about NYC’s downtown nightlife scene, and how he was able to maneuver through the menswear industry, all in his own words (with some of my commentary, of course).

“I was born in Queens, New York to West Indian parents. My father received his MBA from Pace University and, at a young age we left to London because of his job. I was to spend most of my youth in England, Holland, Switzerland, Spain and Portugal with occasional visits to France and Italy. Later on I moved to Rio Brazil for about 1 ½ years and spent some time in the Caribbean, Africa and China. I have always enjoyed travel and my apartment is filled with art and other objects that reflect my itinerant nature and, to a large degree, impact upon my personal style.

My musical tastes were forged in London of the early 1970’s. Artists such as Roxy Music and David Bowie were influential not just in my musical proclivities but also my interest in clothing and style. Later on, a burgeoning interest in Jazz led me to the music and sartorial stylings of Duke Ellington and Miles Davis.

I returned to New York in the late 1970’s to attend college. I moved into the East Village (Alphabet City) where I still reside today. It was tail end of the disco era and the transformation of punk into post-punk, new wave and no-wave. I managed to squeeze in a visit or two to Studio 54 before frequenting clubs like The Mud Club, The Peppermint Lounge, The Palladium, and others too numerous to mention.

Upon finishing college, I started a retail buyers training program with the May Company (Lord & Taylor) before moving on to Federated Stores (Bloomingdale’s). After a 2 year stint in Chicago, I returned to New York to work a merchandising position at Emporio Armani. I was getting creatively restless working retail and began to do some editorial styling on my days off. I also began to help friends backstage at their runway shows at the then nascent Seventh on Sixth shows at Bryant Park. As I did more shows, I began to learn more about staging, casting, lighting, music, run of show, etc. I eventually started to produce fashion shows and events for small to medium design houses.

In order to support my freelance lifestyle, I made a break from a full-time retail job and started working guest lists for various nightlife promoters. Club owners began to hire me full-time because I was always dressed well and provided a good presence at the door or running a VIP room. I succeeded in this business and became well known in nightlife circles . The secret to my success was that I found the mid 90’s bottle scene so mundane compared to the prior decade and did my job relatively detached. Also, I was in my mid thirties and was not interested in partying or other nightlife indulgences. I had done all that in my twenties.  As some of my colleagues liked to say, it was a day in the office with the lights off.

I worked in nightlife through the mid nineties until 2009, when I hung up my clipboard for good. During that time, I sporadically held positions at Bergdorf Goodman, Jill Sander and Dunhill. Today, I do made-to-measure tailoring at Suit Supply’s flagship store in SoHo, and I continue to undertake freelance fashion projects when they present themselves.”

Here Frans gives us a taste of his day-to-day personal style; sharply tailored and sophisticated with a vintage twist.

1. Euro Vintage

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“This is a vintage overcoat from the 1970’s from my favorite East Village store, Rue St. Denis [where a lot of the vintage clothes are imported from France and Europe]. I had considered trimming down the super-wide lapels but opted to leave them as is. It has a slight military influence, a hallmark of British tailoring.”

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“I selected a Blue Donegal Tweed fabric from Ariston [the blue version of this fabric] and had it made into a 3-piece suit. Being a jacket fabric, I was concerned that it might be too warm as a whole suit but, given our current winter, it turned out to be a good choice.

I can wear this on a 40 degree day with just a scarf and gloves and be completely comfortable… This is something that I would wear to work particularly since the loft that I work out of can sometimes be bit cool and drafty.”

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What we can all learn here: shop in vintage stores owned by Europeans who import their goods. Better yet, go vintage shopping while traveling in Europe. They know about beautiful, high quality, long-lasting clothing.

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  • Vintage 1970’s Overcoat ·
  • Wool Tie Vintage ·
  • Grey Derby Shoes by John Varvatos

2. OG Weekend Casual

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“My days off are often spent in cafes meeting up with friends and colleagues or catching up on my reading (currently, The Book of Absinthe – A Cultural History). Here I am at one of my favorite Alphabet City haunts, Cafecito. It’s like my Cheers, but with rice and beans!

The jacket is a 60’s vintage piece, gifted to me by a friend. I love the fact that it’s a traditional pattern rendered in a bold, seasonally appropriate pumpkin color that sometimes elicits compliments from random women in the street.”

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“I typically take a more casual weekend approach with this jacket. I paired it with a denim cutaway collar shirt, a silk scarf, grey flannel trousers and brown pebble grain boots.

On my lapel is a black/gold African Dogon mask. I like to use accessories with an interesting provenance. I believe this pin was made by the American accessories company Swank, perhaps in the 70’s or 80’s. It was part of an African heritage series that pre-empted later forays into what contemporary marketers call the ‘urban market’.”

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What we can all learn here: Casual tailoredwear is a real thing (and has been for years). The denim cutaway collar shirt, wool/cashmere textured jacket, and soft flannel trousers are all considered casual weekend pieces to Frans. Believe it or not, that’s how they did it back in the day, before the mass production of the t-shirt ruined our relationship with “fussy”, “uncomfortable” weekend tailoring.

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  • 60’s Vintage Blazer ·
  • Denim Dress Shirt No Label ·
  • Silk paisley scarf Vintage ·
  • Copper rose bead bracelet from Rio flea Market

3. England to Italy

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“This one is slightly over-the top. It’s a hybrid of English Eccentric, Dandy and Banker. I don’t recall who said it but:  ‘the truly decadent dress like bankers’.

This is something I would restrict myself to wearing at a fashion event or a gallery show only since the slightly Victorian/Gothic sensibility  can come across as ‘costumey’. It does, however, reflect a more British sensibility in my Fall/Winter wardrobe. In the Spring/Summer, I do a 180 and adopt a more lightweight Italian palette. For whatever reason, in the winter I become more British and in the summer I become more Italian.”

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“The coat is a runway sample from my friend Nathaniel Christian’s menswear line about a decade ago. It’s a take on a classic cut away coat, rendered in raw-edge grey flannel.

The suit is a 3 piece grey/black check with violet windowpane, also from Suit Supply made-to-measure. I am wearing it with a lavender herringbone cutaway collar shirt, a grey pindot silk tie and a black rose tie pin. The gloves are cheap zippered driving gloves from St. Mark’s Place.

The lapel of my jacket has a pewter night owl (an emblem of my nightlife days). The pocket watch draws compliments or derision depending upon the environment. I had started to wear them about 30 years ago after seeing the Brideshead Revisited series and not the recent Boardwalk Empire.”

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What we can all learn here: Accessories are better with a story and a personal connection, like Fran’s night owl. Similarly, I love wearing my late grandfather’s tie bars or cufflinks; they remind me of my past and another time in my life.

Lastly, if you take nothing else away from this story, note that dressing with confidence and having style has opened doors for Frans and allowed him to move freely between careers, and around the world. Whether it’s as a figurehead of the nightlife scene, a sought after creative freelancer, or a member of the tailoring business, he starts by leading with his best-dressed foot forward.

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  • Overcoat Sample from Nathaniel Christian ·
  • Gloves from a street Vendor on St. Marks

 

Thanks for reading and special thanks to Frans for participating!

Yours in style,

Articles of Style

 

Photography by Alex Crawford