If clothes make the man, then consider Coltrane Curtis' wardrobe to be filled with confidence. "I'm light-years ahead of people like Kanye and Jay-Z," the former Ecko Unlimited promoter (and vice president of marketing at 23) declares with a swagger. Regardless of his style independence, you might spot him runway gazing at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, the 33-year-old Queens native reluctantly admits. (Although we bet he’d contend that his look is fresher than most found on the catwalk.) From presidential dress to his preferred brand of undies, Coltrane talked style with nycgo.com on Inauguration Day between parties hosted by his marketing company, Epiphany. Get your look together with the fashion guru's help.
What do you think of President Barack Obama's style?
Coltrane Curtis: I don't know. [Laughs] I'm not trying to diss him—today's his day, and that's amazing—but I don't think he has that fresh of a style. But his are the best of the boring outfits. He looks better than everyone else around him! You have to look at old pictures—he could still bring it in some khakis, a blue blazer with gold buttons, a blue shirt and skinny tie.
What about Michelle Obama's look?
CC: Here's the problem: they won't let Michelle live! They're trying to put her in stuff that makes her look smaller, but Michelle is 6 feet tall. The woman wears an 11½ shoe! They put her in knee-length skirts, but it's too much fabric for her. Let Michelle live!
Aside from style issues, how do you feel about the inauguration?
CC: I come from a household in South Jamaica, Queens. My grandmother's Italian, from Augusta, Georgia. My grandfather's a hoodlum from Brooklyn. [I can't even imagine] what my white grandmother and black grandfather must have gone through. This is an amazing time. Amazing.
How did your upbringing influence your style?
CC: My family stressed education and sacrificed everything to make sure I was educated. Lifestyles become fashion trends, which is really great for me, because I consider myself an honorary nerd. My dad wears bow ties every day, so now that's my thing. It's like revenge of the stylish nerd. There's an understated elegance about being informed and smart. When everybody was wearing Jordans, I got into trouble for going to gym class in penny loafers.
Do you prefer experiencing fashion on the streets rather than on the runway?
CC: Yeah! That's where you see the flyest people. Fashion is born out of utility. I love backpacks and fanny packs—if you can find a hot one. Those things are cool to me—things that are waterproof and warm, that have all the seams sealed. Messengers in the City are some of the flyest people in the world. How can you drape a 10-pound chain around your neck and waist and make it work? They do.
What would you tell people who haven't nailed down their look?
CC: That you don't have to shop in the big stores. There are smaller, younger, cooler, hipper, hungrier designers that need and want your money more, and you'll get a better bang for your buck. The smaller brands have more of a story. [If you buy from them] your pieces become more like art.
But these are tough times, Coltrane! What about the people who can't afford it?
CC: I'm one of them. [Laughs] I don't spend a lot of money on clothes. I have my look, I know where to invest in what and I always look for sample sales. Living in New York, [you can always find] sample sales. I look good in colors [that pop] and crispy white shirts, so whenever I see them on sale and in my size, I buy them all. I was in a store yesterday, and I found tuxedo shirts from Ralph Lauren for $23. I buy things that I need when they're off-season and on sale.
What about the ladies?
CC: Ladies' looks are ill. If I could wear makeup and skirts, I would. It's just not my look. I like the understated items that women can rock. Like my wife—she wears shoes that tell a story, then simplifies it with a well-made jean and an $8 American Apparel [tank top].
How does your wife stay warm in the winter without sacrificing her style?
CC: She wears extra-long leggings. You can definitely do high heels with leggings and jeans and stay warm.
How do you keep warm?
CC: I spend as much money on my undergarments as I do on my other clothes. I wear 2(x)ist underwear and long-john sets—it's life changing. Plus, if you're slimming down your look, you don't want to have big, baggy boxer shorts on!