The Street-Wise Intellectual feat. Yahdon Israel

February 20th, 2015

Yahdon Israel was one of the flyest guys we met at the Liberty Fairs menswear shows, and he doesn’t work in the fashion business.

By day he manages data in an effort to help families affected by Hurricane Sandy in the Rockaways, by night he’s working on a master’s degree in creative non-fiction and a book about cultural prejudice in America. He was born in the Bronx and raised in Bed-Stuy Brooklyn, where he learned the importance of dressing with style as a vehicle to being a positive influence to the community around him.

He’s an inspirational young author who’s using his cool sense of street-wise style to encourage young people to show interest in quality literature. We recently had the pleasure to catch up with Yahdon in NYC, to share a little more about his style and story.

    On Developing Style in Bed-Stuy

    mensstyleyahdon (17 of 24)

    “The 90s and early 00s were all about ‘flossing’ and ‘stunting’. It was about showing of what you had… My brother, who’s twelve years older than me, was the one who got me into name brand clothes when I was kid: the Nauticas, the Tommys, the Polos, the Timberlands, etc.

    At the same time, my mother taught me about quality. Even though we were poor, she was against looking that way. She made all of my clothes until I was 10 years old. Every other week she would head downtown to the garment district and flip through fabrics, looking for the most durable cloth she could find… It’s fair to say that I was having “bespoke” clothes made for me before I even knew the word. Unfortunately most of them were dashikis and tunics with matching harem pants, so I was teased a lot.”

    mensstyleyahdon (20 of 24)

    “Eventually I got old enough to sneak my older brother’s clothes out of his closet and wear them to school. Everyone knew I was wearing my brother’s clothes; they were way too big for me, even by baggy standards. I looked ridiculous, but I didn’t care. At least I was wearing the right brand.

    [In our neighborhood] often times the people who complimented your style in the morning were also planning to rob you at night. For that reason my brother always preached The Frank Lucas effect: ‘The loudest one in the room is the weakest’. Although he wore all the brands that were in style, you’d never know… He taught me the value of understated luxury and avoiding flashy labels.”

    mensstyleyahdon (24 of 24)

    “I would describe my personal style the way Henry James describes literature: ‘It took a great deal of history to produce a little of it.’

    There were many years of missteps and minimum payments that went into the few things I have now… Now it’s about quality and longevity.”

    mensstyleyahdon (23 of 24)

    • Hat by Super Duper Hats
    • Turtleneck by Uniqlo
    • Pants by Theory
    • Slippers by by Barker Black England
    • Bag by Polo by Ralph Lauren
    • Gold tooth by Emperah Brooks
    • Book: The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds

    On #LiterarySwag

    mensstyleyahdon (3 of 24)

    “I grew up never thinking I’d be a writer. When I was young it never really crossed my mind because the people who were reading and writing didn’t look cool. The intellectual crowd usually didn’t dress in a way that made me interested in or inspired by what they did.

    We first learn to imitate our idols by dressing like them… Think about how many kids went out and bought the leather jacket from Michael Jackson’s Thriller video. Are how many carbon copy Kanyes are walking around Soho.”

    mensstyleyahdon (6 of 24)

    “I’m a a believer in the power of literature, as well as the power of style. Therefore, in an effort to promote the coexistence of literature and style (and encourage young people to pick up books), I’ve created the hashtag #literaryswag. It started when I saw this stylish teenage boy on the train reading To Kill a Mockingbird. I thought it was a powerful image – this kid in his cool sneakers with a flannel tied around his waist, engaging with literature in a real way.

    I uploaded the photo with #literaryswag and then developed the concept into a social media contest. The person who uploaded the most candid photos of stylish people reading to #literaryswag received $1,000 of my own money, along with a copy of Richard Wright’s Native Son.”

    mensstyleyahdon (7 of 24)  mensstyleyahdon (9 of 24)

    • Hat by Polo by Ralph Lauren
    • Coat by Theory
    • Hoody by Dolce & Gabanna
    • Shirt by Thom Browne
    • Raw denim jeans by APC
    • Bag by Fred Perry
    • Boots by Prada

    On Keeping It 100

    mensstyleyahdon (1 of 3)

    “You may have noticed…On every one of my jackets I wear these pins that I call ‘Essay Badges’. Every time I have an essay published, I have 100 pins made to commemorate the work. Every pin is signed, dated and numbered before they are given out to the first hundred people that come to the official reading of the essay.

    I only make 100 because of the idea that every essay written, published, and read is me “keeping it 100″. It’s creative non-fiction, so I only write about experiences that I’ve lived and have something honest to say about. My works centers around topics like race, class, gender and sexuality in current American culture.”

    mensstyleyahdon (2 of 3)

    “Over the course of my writing career, I plan to have my coats flooded with these ‘Essay Badges’ that represent my life’s work and the ideas I believe are worth spreading.”

    mensstyleyahdon (15 of 24) mensstyleyahdon (16 of 24)

    • Hat by Y-3
    • Scarf by Y-3
    • Leather jacket by Schott
    • Shirt by Zara
    • Watch by Hugo Boss
    • Sweater by The Kooples Sport
    • Jeans by PRPS Noir
    • Sneakers by Maison Martin Margiela

    Thanks, as always, for reading and special thanks to Yahdon for participating. 

    Yours in style,

    Dan Trepanier


    Photography by Alex Crawford.

    • Colin

      I like the first look a lot. Not finding a description of that fine mac coat.
      Any ideas?

    • J

      “He taught me the value of understated luxury and avoiding flashy labels.”

      It seems a little intellectually dissonant to say something like this and then rock these almost entirely designer outfits — particularly look 3, which is about as far from “understated luxury” as you can go.

    • Daniel

      Big fan of the first look and the last look, minus the beanie and scarf. Is nobody going to address the medieval hood thing in the first pic of the second look?? I don’t know whether it’s runway-inspired or whether Mr. Israel is a fan of Arthurian literature, but it sure looks silly.

    • VitaminCM

      Cool article. I like a lot of this guy’s story and style. And I guess the things that I don’t like make it “HIS” style and not mine. The badges part is really cool and inspiring.

    • JoeFromTexas

      I really enjoyed this one. Obviously there is a lot here that I would and wouldn’t wear, but that’s beside the point. I like the idea behind #literaryswag – of acknowledging when somebody is doing something important and/or of consequence and doing it with style. Style isn’t an end, it’s a means to an end. What good is it if we look great and that’s it?!

      I also really dig the idea behind the buttons. I find this idea a useful credo with regards to mens jewelry, at least for myself, wear jewelry with some meaning, just as the buttons have great significance to Mr. Israel.

    • Mark

      Does anyone have the first #literaryswag picture?

    • MN

      This is a great feature.

      Such a relief after so many #menswear bros out to make a “brand”.

      Love this guys story and style – seems like a creative and interesting individual.

    • Tat

      “I’ve created the hashtag #literaryswag”

      And the ghosts of thousands of black authors and philosophers cried out in pain.

      • Guest

        I have to think anything done with the intention of encouraging young people to read would be well-received by any author or philosopher…

        • Laney Bizzle

          Exactly what “guest” said. The word “swag” isn’t automatically awful just because it’s used by young black men, Tat.

          • Tat

            Oh I agree. The fact that it’s awful has nothing to do with the skin color of the person using it, brother.

            • Gues

              Your arrogance is appalling, Tat. You have a problem with the word “swag”? Why? Do you think language is static? That is doesn’t grow? That this young, published author’s use (are you a published author?) of slang says something bad about him? It doesn’t — but everything you type shows how ugly you are. On the inside.

      • Gues

        What is your problem, Tat? Really? Why on earth would “the ghosts of thousands of black authors and philosophers [cry] out in pain”? I think they would be thrilled that a young writer was using the technology of his day to encourage a love of literature. Hmmm. That word. Love. That is what YOU are missing. Your nasty comment makes you look petty and jealous. And stupid.

    • JArthur

      The first two look are perfect casual looks they are the perfect mash-up of street wear and luxury. The last one is OK but not up my alley with that heavy Y3 branding but those Margiela sneakers are amazing.

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