Glenn O’Brien began his career in the early 70’s working with Andy Warhol at Interview magazine. A creative director, art critic, and writer, he has created several iconic ad campaigns. He currently writes a column in GQ magazine called The Style Guy and recently published “How to be a Man.”
You’ve been GQ’s Style Guy and wrote a book on men’s style entitled “How to Be a Man.” What’s your best piece of advice?
Same as Socrates: “Know thyself.”
What do you think the next big trend will be for men? Is there a male trend you wish would disappear?
I’m hoping for red Liberty Caps like in the French revolution, and kilts and togas. I expect that suits with shorts will disappear, and formal flip flops. And I don’t want to see guys underwear sticking out.
Your personal style has evolved from downtown punk to dandy. Have you incorporated punk elements into your look now?
No, I was never a punk, although I did wear a motorcycle jacket. I might have been an anarchist but I wore slim lapel natural shoulder jackets and flat front pants and I have basically had the same style since I was 12. I guess I’m a renegade traditionalist.
You’ve come out of the closet as a compulsive ebay-er for menswear. What do you buy?
Actually I really don’t buy used clothes, except ties, although I spend a bit of money on a vintage denim barn jacket from Hickoree’s at a pop up flea market. I do cruise e-bay looking for a Brown’s Beach Vest ‘cause I lost the one I had in the eighties. I think my ex-wife nicked it.
Who’s your current favorite menswear designer? What are your current favorite shops?
I like Adam Kimmel, Thom Browne, John Pearse, Anderson & Sheppard, Lanvin, Dries van Noten. Shops? I like Supreme and Freeman’s Sporting Club.
You’ve been a creative director for over 30 years and were responsible for some iconic campaigns, including the J’adore Dior ads and the cK One campaign. What has been your favorite creation? How do you come up with your ideas? Who are some of your favorite photographers to work with?
I loved all the Calvin Klein ads I did with Steven Meisel and everything I’ve done with Jean-Baptiste Mondino for Dior, Dolce & Gabbana and so on. Working with Mondino is the most fun I can have while getting paid. I also love Inez & Vinoodh, Craig McDean, Wayne Maser. Where do ideas come from? The aether.
Your career encompasses fashion, advertising, art and music. How have you been able to make them work together?
That’s like saying how can you wear clothes, look at paintings and listen to music? It’s all life. I hate boundaries and genres. I’ll do anything they’ll let me do. I’m still trying to start a new band.
One of your bios states that you work as a “product namer.” What are some of the ones you’ve named? Do you ever keep good names in reserve?
I like Burberry’s The Beat, I named several brands for Calvin Klein—let’s just say I named the brands Calvin didn’t name. I named a famous Armani fragrance, the one Mr. Armani didn’t name. I named the brand Theory. I named Bomb magazine. And quite a few of my friends’ children. Naming gets harder and harder but I still have some good ones, if anybody wants to back a fragrance I’ve got a sure thing.
Many people don’t know that you also write a style column for Italian Vanity Fair called Il Grande Glenn. How did that happen? Do you speak Italian?
Vanity Fair italia liked my Style Guy column, so they set me up solving problems for Italians. But there I have a mostly female clientele. I love doing it. I feel like Montgomery Clift in Lonelyhearts. I studied Latin for 8 years so I read it pretty well. I speak some Italian, usually when I’ve been drinking wine, but my accent is still improving. My 11 year old is fluent. He’s my translator.
You’re a huge force in the art world, and personal friends with many of the artists you’ve written on. Whose work do you think is really underrated right now?
I love painting. I can be clever all by myself, but I can’t paint. A lot of famous painters are under-rated. David Hockney is underrated. Philip Taafe, James Nares, Bill Jensen, Robert Longo, Duncan Hannah… I like Tom McGrath. Jan Frank is one of the best painters of my generation and who knows him at this point? Daniel Newman is underrated but he’s still a puppy.