Friday, May 21, 2010

Dressed for Success

"Try not to become a man of success but a man of value.
" -- Albert Einstein

I often ask myself what success means and am I truly successful? Throughout my career I have had many successes: great reviews, amazing selling seasons, numerous awards, and celebrity fans. To the outside looking in, this would feel like success.  But from the inside looking out, I feel that I have yet to be truly successful.
For years I have been haunted by what the fashion critics have said of my work (good and not so good), and how retailers have embraced or not embraced my brand. I have defined my concept of success from the outside, how others have viewed me. This is a trap, and it is only in the past couple of years that I have begun to understand what true success means (to me at least).
Success is not only determined by milestones and bank accounts. It is not defined by how others perceive you because, believe me, people move on and find the next big thing quite willingly. And it is not even making your dreams come true, because even that can leave one asking “ok, what’s next?”
True success comes with maturity and appreciation for what one has in their lives. It comes with a sense of how our values shape our lives and how one lives each and every day. When you pursue “success” you rarely achieve it, for like everything in the material world, success is illusive, much like wealth, looks, and even that damn six pack that us gay guys worship as an ultimate trophy.  The only thing one can count on is change and holding onto a concept of what success may mean today will hinder one’s growth and keep us locked in a definition of ourselves that disallows newness and expansion for tomorrow.
I remember my father's advice when I graduated from Harvard and wanted to pursue social work as a career. He said “John, if you do what you love, you will be able to effect more change than limiting yourself to traditional avenues of giving”. And he was right. Through my career and through my chosen field, I have had so many more opportunities to reach out to my community, whether that is the gay community, the west village community where I live, or the community of people, like myself, who are devoted to animal advocacy and ending the needless suffering of innocent animals.
I am heading to my 25th Harvard College Reunion in a couple of weeks and it will be interesting to see how "successful"I feel and how my classmates define success now, 25 years later. Conan O'Brien is one part of my graduating class and I would love to get his take on this elusive issue.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Style Guyde Interview with John Bartlett for Instinct Magazine

Written by Sean Krebs | Sunday, 25 April 2010

(Above: David Axell in a John Bartlett suit)

Within the first week of moving to New York City in the heat of the summer 16 years ago, I attended my first men’s fashion show. I wore a Jean Paul Gaultier cropped vest over a white linen tunic (both from his Spring 1994 collection) and a pair of high-waisted Dolce & Gabbana pants (from Filene’s Basement). Don’t laugh—it was 1994, after all—and my outfit was cool enough for Bill Cunningham (the man who single-handedly invented “Street Style” photography) to take my picture for The New York Times (sadly, it was the first—and only—time my picture would run in his “On The Street” column). The show was held in a raw, cavernous space (an empty warehouse?) in the far West Village on the edge of the now-fashionable Meatpacking District—and I was someone’s “plus one”. The show was John Bartlett.

I’ve attended many John Bartlett shows since—including one this past February for his Fall/Winter 2010 collection which was held during a major snowstorm (for that I wore a Ralph Lauren down-filled jacket and a Missoni cashmere hat). John (a Cincinnati native) has had a very interesting and exciting career since he graduated from Harvard in 1985—a career that has seen him launch his eponymous label in 1992 (after attending the Menswear program at the Fashion Institute of Technology), win two awards from the Council of Fashion Designers of America (the Perry Ellis Award for Best Newcomer in 1993 and the Best Menswear Designer of the Year in 1997), work as the Creative Director of (the Italian-based label) Byblos from 1998-2000, close his company in 2002 to take a sabbatical in Thailand and Cambodia (where he studied Ashtangha yoga and Buddhism), re-enter the industry at the end of 2003 and open his own store in the West Village in 2007.

Phew! Did you get all that? Well, it suffices to say that John is a super talented designer (and super charming too!)—and I am honored (and humbled) that he took the time out of his busy schedule to sit down and do “The Style Guyde Interview”:

What is your favorite piece from your Spring/Summer 2010 collection?
My favorite piece from Spring/Summer is my purple motorcycle belted jacket. It is cut from a glazed cotton linen. The purple is the perfect shade and you can wear it with navy, white and khaki! (See picture below)

What do you love most about designing men's wear?
What I love most about designing for men is that I am a man and I can relate to the pieces in a first person manner. Designing for women is more challenging because I have to rely on the women in my life to tell me what works and what doesn't. With men’s wear the experience is immediate and very personal.

Please describe "The John Bartlett Man."
The John Bartlett Man is ever evolving as I evolve. He is a smart dude, sexy but in a goofy sort of way, compassionate about the earth and animals, educated, and looks to his clothing to express himself not to define him.

What are the five items every man should own?
Every man should own a sexy pair of beaten up jeans, a gingham buttondown shirt, a denim blazer, a perfectly tailored navy pinstripe suit and a yoga mat!

What is the biggest mistake men make when getting dressed?
Men either wear clothing that is way too big for them or way too shrunken. When a man is swimming in his clothes, he looks out of touch with himself. When the clothes are too tight or shrunken he looks like he is trying to dress too young for his age or he looks like Pee Wee Herman, which is not a sexy look.

Who are your style icons?
My style icons are very random and kind of out there—UPS men, Hare Krishnas, Charlie Brown and Forrest Gump (I told you they were out there!).

Who or what has been your biggest influence?
My biggest influence has been my Dad, who passed away a year and a half ago. He inspired me to always be true to myself and to understand that if I am doing what I love, that I can contribute much more to society than if I were doing things only for the financial gain.

If you weren't a fashion designer, what would you be?
If I were not a fashion designer, I think I would be working with shelter dogs, teaching yoga or washing windows on the highest floors of the Empire State Building (I love heights!).

Let’s talk favorites:
Movie? Fassbinder's Querelle

Book? Dancer From The Dance by Andrew Holleran—a gay must read about NYC and Fire Island in the early ’70s.

Vacation spot? Parrot Cay

What's the one extravagance you can't live without? 
I can’t live without my beloved dog walker. My hubby and I splurge for her to come walk our three dogs twice a day, which really adds up. But knowing that the dogs are happy and have “done their business” is money well spent.

What's on your current Playlist?
Vintage Led Zeppelin
Vampire Weekend
Philip Glass
Stevie Nicks

What astrological sign are you?
Aries with Sagittarius Rising

What's next for you and the John Bartlett brand?
I am re-launching women’s for Fall 2010, which will be tailor-made for all the cool lesbian girls that continually ask me to make my men’s wear in their sizes. Maybe a book, a reality show or another store... who knows!

Photography: Greg Vaughan

Styling: Antonio Branco @ De Facto

Model: David Axell @ Click Model Management

Check out for more information.

Monday, May 3, 2010


For the past couple of months I have been experiencing a renewal like nothing I have experienced before. It has been extreme in its measures, but, it has been worth it and my whole core is vibrating at an entirely new level.

You see, after an incredible trip with my hubbie John Esty to Parrot Cay, an island resort off of Turks and Caicos, I felt the rumblings of an overhaul. For years I have been drawn to a more balanced spiritual life but have always gone in and out of it depending on my stress levels and attention span. When I finally got to decompress with my beloved in the holistic setting of Parrot Cay, I was able to jump start my yoga and meditation practice and felt inspired to start the journey of becoming vegan.

For those unaware of what being vegan entails, it is, simply put, not eating any animal products, including dairy. I had recently read Alicia Silverstone’s great book “The Kind Diet” and started to come to terms with the impact of meat eating on myself, on the animals who are being “factory farmed” and on the environment.

The personal renewal I have experienced through becoming vegan has been very powerful. I sleep better, feel better and am more connected to the world at large as well as to my inner world. With this change, I have also “renewed” my commitment to doing what I can to alleviate the suffering of others, which includes our beloved animal friends.

As a designer, I have always worked in leather and part of my identity in the fashion community has been associated with sexy leather styles. This part of my work no longer makes sense to me and I am foregoing further use of leather come September. The leather belts that I sell in my store and the leather styles I designed for my fall collection will be discontinued by then and I will seek out non-leather alternatives that resonate with my new found focus.

Becoming a vegan is obviously not for everyone and it is indeed extreme in its execution. For me, though, it feels right. My friends, who have seen me try on spiritual trends like hats, have been incredibly supportive hoping that this is not just another fad that I will abandon like last season’s must have! I promise to keep you posted…lovejb