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.
1. On Developing Style in Bed-Stuy
"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."
"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."
"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."
2. On #LiterarySwag
"I never grew up 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..."
"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."
3. On Keeping It 100
"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."
"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."
Thanks, as always, for reading and special thanks to Yahdon for participating.
Yours in style,