IGNACIO QUILES IN NEW YORK
An excerpt from MITT Magazine Issue Nº1
Words by Andrew Geeves
Photography by David Urbanke
Ignacio Quiles is all about the hustle. Born, bred and based in the Big Apple, this stylist, model, artist, fashion consultant, storyteller, designer, documentary star, blogger, vintage store owner, self-described dandy and collector has a motto: “Enjoy what you wear, wear what you enjoy and go out and show the world.” Quiles is a man who practises what he preaches.
The word “character” springs to mind upon meeting Ignacio Quiles. The East Village resident is immaculately put together, engineering a distinctly crisp, rakish look that makes him stand out on the street. His laugh is long and loud, he enjoys using the word “wow” (pronounced “wuh-owwwwwwwwwwwww”) for emphasis, and he isn’t shy about sharing anecdotes and stories from a life fully lived in New York City.
Growing up in Harlem in the 1960s as the son of Puerto Rican immigrants, Quiles has always been surrounded by fashion. “New York City was my playground. You realise early on that the city moves faster than the rest of the country. I moved fast. I grew up around clothing. My mum was a seamstress, so there was always sewing going on. I got to see the old garment district when it was in its height. The hustle and bustle and fashion was really, really big in New York. Fashion and tailoring and ready-to-wear was the number one thing. New York was the fashion capital of the world. I saw guys trying to knock people over because they were in the way of them getting their clothing carts from point A to point B. The city was super alive. One of my fondest memories is of the garment district; how alive it was and how many people were given opportunities there. My mum was able to build our house in Puerto Rico based on the money that she earned in the garment district.”
As he entered adolescence, the urban playground of Quiles’s childhood transformed into a training ground for acquiring street smarts. To survive life in New York City, Quiles had to learn quickly a number of important life skills. He was schooled in the art of the haggle on the Lower East Side. “I learned how to hustle down on Delancey Street. That was considered the bargain area. I learned how to negotiate with Harvey and Shlomo and the other guys. I learned the lingo of how to say yes and no and how to walk away and act like I wasn’t interested in something I really wanted. New York was good that way. No one taught me how to do this; I learned on the streets.”
Through his friends, Quiles learned how to educate himself about designers and current styles. “My friends took me to this French guy who was selling couture clothing in a little tiny shop on Atlantic Ave. We’d catch the train over there, and I’d go in and see a heaped pile of pants and shirts and have no idea what was going on. Designers, I had no idea! Then my friends showed me a place down the block where all these rich people threw out men’s magazines. I would make it my daily journey to walk down these little side streets and pick up my GQ and my Esquire. I’d go home and read them cover to cover. I knew that I’d hit the treasure trove. This was my first window into learning about designers: Gaultier, Valentino, any designer of that period. I would memorise all the brands. Then, when I went over to the French guy’s little shop, I would go in there and I would know these brands. I could identify them all and it was a great learning experience.”
Without the resources to support his growing interest in fashion, Quiles learned to tailor so that he could emulate the latest looks while sticking to a budget. “I was always a big fan of tailoring. Back then, there was something called ‘the continental style.’ It was all about having a tapered shirt, with darts in the back. I would go into one of the big department stores and look at one of these shirts I don’t know how many times. The guard probably thought I was trying to steal it! But I studied the shirt, really looked at it, and thought ‘I can do that.’ I didn’t know what darts were but I went and researched it. I’d end up ruining a shirt because then it was just too tight or I didn’t measure. It was a lot of trial and error. I figured it out along the way. I remember doing the tapering on the shirt, taking the shirt in, finding my zero, getting it all done and tapering these sleeves so that everything fit. I realised that I didn’t have to go and pay 50 dollars for the latest shirt. I could buy a cheap shirt for three or four dollars and turn it into a 50 dollar shirt.”
The resourcefulness Quiles was forced to learn as a teenager equipped him with a sense of fearlessness that influenced the evolution of his personal style. “It’s been a long sartorial journey for me,” he sighs. “I can remember some horrors and nightmares, buying something and then it wouldn’t work and I would be embarrassed. But I was never afraid to try. It’s not where you got it from; it’s what you do with it. It’s not where you were born; it’s how you shape your life that will really define you. You can take a simple piece, a garment, and really define it and really make it your own. I like showing my personal style by taking something and redoing it.” Quiles has a particular passion for a customised aesthetic that showcases the quality of a fabric. Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t love the skinny suit. “People have finally realised that a suit that is so tight that it is like Lycra is not going to look good. I’ve been a big proponent of the anti-super-skinny suit because it just doesn’t look good. What’s more beautiful than seeing the way a fabric moves? Look at the crispness on that fabric! Look at the weave, look at how it layers, look at the drape. When you have a skinny suit, you can’t see that.”
Quiles’s sense of style is inspired by a diverse array of influences. “I’ve always loved suit jackets,” he reveals. “I think I picked it up from a lot of the English musicians that came into the Village in the 70s. Musicians used to spend a great deal of money. They were basically doing the same thing we were doing but they were calling it bespoke and we were calling it tailor-made. I remember running into Mick Jagger and seeing him in a white jacket, with Warhol. I thought, ‘I wanna try that look out.’ ”