The first time I met James Andrews was in the spring of 2014. We had a random conversation while he cooly sipped his iced-green tea. Coincidentally, that day he was was dressed from head-to-toe in different shades of green, and topped it all off with a beige Panama hat. Since that day James was on my radar, as someone who knew how to make classic styles his own.
Four years later, I got the chance to sit down with James and speak to him about his journey, which started 30 years ago. Truth be told when James moved from Rode Island in New York to work for Ralph Lauren, I was only two years old. Despite having no connection with New York back then, it was fascinating to hear about what life in New York was like back then. As James put it, it was more fun and exciting back then, and just different.
James Andrew settled down in the heart of grand old Manhattan in the 1980s. His fashion aesthetics tell a unique story, and his apartment showed me how he can transform a living space into a Gatsby-like fantasy. When he opened the door, I was blinded by a splash of green color.James wore a dressing gown over a tuxedo shirt and pants spiced up with leopard slippers—all this was more than what I was expecting from James. But if you follow his popular blog, his outfit made complete sense.
As he stated in our interview, he was always fascinated by style, fashion, interiors, architecture, art, and how people lived. As a child, he could not wait to devour the latest issue of GQ, or his mother’s abandoned issues of Vogue. He admitted that his escape from reality was imagination. He dreamt of a very different way of life that involved traveling the world, wearing superb clothes, living in beautiful homes and have fabulous parties. ''It’s not surprising that I became an interior designer!'' he said while he was checking out the make up touch ups in the mirror.
While preparing for the photoshoot, he showed me one the most important objects in his living room. It was a photograph of a young model. At first I thought it was just some alluring photograph that had enchanted him, but knowing James I guessed that there was some story behind it all.
As James explained while trying to adjust his clothes just a moment before we heard the first click of the camera, "we shared so much, and because of her, I am a much better version of myself!" I was eager to hear more about the mysterious model, the source of James’s inspiration.
He told me about a girl from Ohio who had the opportunity to study in New York to become a model. Her name was Adrianne Grayson, and she began her legendary career by wearing a Dior dress in a show she had only attended as a guest. The rest is just history, and she left a considerable impression. She was photographed by every major photographer, including Avedon, Scavullo, and Newton; and she graced the covers of Vogue and many other high-fashion magazines. James had kept this portrait, and when I see it now in his exquisite apartment accompanied by his great life stories, it spoke to me of a strong creative man. He inspires all of us who have come to New York to chase a dream, and seek fulfillment and liberation in this city. I spoke to him about his experiences at length.
What were your first memories of New York City when you moved here three decades ago?
That was a long time ago, but I can vividly remember that New York was a very different place. It had more of an edge to it. There were definitely more big dance clubs, and lots of lounges and bars. The City had more unique shops and boutiques. It was all very exciting and there was an energy that anything was possible.
You worked for Ralph Lauren in the Home Department at the beginning of your New York adventure. You stated that that job actually made you think about interior design. Based on what I had a chance to see in your living space, you have exact and decadent tastes. How would you describe your home?
My home is inspired by many things. That includes the influences of the legendary tastemakers of bygone eras, but mostly my mentor Albert Hadley, with whom I had the great pleasure of working, whilst in the employ of Parish Hadley as an interior designer.
What is the most valuable piece that you own in your home?
It is really hard to choose because every item that I own tells a story, and there is also the fact that some of them have sentimental value and monumental value. The most sentimental value would be paintings that were done of my whippets Rupert and Nigel, but monetarily it is a portrait of English hounds that belonged to Billy Baldwin.
I saw a lot of books. You practically have your own library. If you had to by any chance give them away, what would be the book that you would keep; the book you can't live without?
That would be an impossible choice. There are so many books that I could never part with. I honestly could not choose just one.
James, now one personal question. What makes you happy in life?
For me, happiness begins with me—with my thoughts, my perspective. We are constantly telling a story in our minds and I always attempt to tell the best possible story for myself. Then I try to be present. I want to be in the moment in the now. I am not trying to live in the past or look to some future scenario where all will be perfect. My goal is always to find peace and acceptance with my present situation. One thing that makes a big difference in that is gratitude. That's the key to happiness. We always have something to give thanks for, and this energy of gratitude creates tremendous shifts in our consciousness which determines our happiness. That is what makes my life happy and me being happy in life.
Going through life we are trying to collect as many joyful moments and memories as possible. Being a man with many great experiences, what was your most challenging episode in life and why?
Well, life is full of challenges, but as I said, we have to be grateful for everything, including the challenges. When it comes to my life, I might say that having one's own business can be challenging. We have to create an opportunity for ourselves and networks sometimes dry up, recessions hit, etc. I would have to say some of my most challenging times have been when there was no business and I was operating on fumes. I was on my last five dollars and everything was crashing. I felt fear and frustration but at the same time, I had to shift my energy to create the feeling "as if" I had all the funds I needed to live the life I had grown accustomed to living. Somehow it has always worked out, and now I am more conscious to not allow myself to go into a downward spiral, but to focus on things working out
Growing up in Rhode Island and realizing you are gay, how hard was to accept that and accept yourself?
Coming to terms with yourself it's never easy, and having a challenging and unsupportive environment doesn't help at all. The challenge for me is that my mother had become a Jehovah's Witness when I was a boy. My entire life we were taught that being gay was a horrendous sin, and so by denying these feelings, it created feelings of being less than, or not good enough. Luckily I had the sense to realize that the Jehovah's Witnesses were not for me, and I plotted how to escape from this life and live the life I knew I was destined to create for myself. Providence was very gay-friendly and the process of self- love, and acceptance finally began. I also can't deny that and a few years of psychotherapy were key for emotional healing.
Mr. Scott McBee and you are in a longterm relationship. Both of you are artistic souls as well. How important is it to have good supportive partner?
Well, the shared journey is one of the most joyous things in life for sure. Being able to find a sympathetic soul that gives you unconditional love has been rather sublime. We quite often fall in love with our delusional fantasy of people without even realizing what we are doing. Happily, I had developed enough awareness of that, so when I met Mr. McBee it was about the unfolding, the not needing to rush into the relationship. It was all about the acceptance of who he was without needing to change him to satisfy my own egotistical fantasies.
We know that in your case you didn't have the kind of support that the LGBTQ community has these days, but how supportive were your parents in the years after you moved to New York?
Unfortunately, the support from my parents was non-existent. My coming out to my parents was also an unfortunate event. My sister out of spite outed me to my mother. As a Jehovah’s Witness, she then disowned and disinherited me and said that unless I were to repent and become a Jehovah’s Witness that I was dead to her. I was however blessed with many friends here in NYC. These were the people that have been more to me than my own flesh and blood. And we also know that New Yorkers have always been rather accepting so there is a reason that cities like NYC have become a mecca for all of us who are “different."
When it comes to the political climate that we live in, do you think that LGBTQ rights are safe, or do you think that we live in a time when the gay community cannot be as loud and proud as it was before?
My opinion is that now more than ever we need to be heard. We need to get out and vote, or perhaps get into office ourselves. We must never be silent or afraid.
On social media, you are really voicing your opinion against the current establishment in the White House. How much did the 2016 presidential election affect you?
I still can't accept what happened on November 8th, 2016. Like so many, I feel there is a general malaise, a different shock every day as we see the destruction of our country and democracy. It was a huge blow to so many of us that this vile vulgarian could be the President of the United States. The disturbing part is that the Republican Party is silent and complicit with all of his deplorable deeds. The only solution is to get out and vote because we must take back the House and Senate and stop this Trumpocalypse.
Enough about serious topics. Let's switch gears and talk about your exquisite fashion style. Why did you decide on these three stylings today? Or maybe I should ask "What is James wearing?"
I thought to wear three different looks to showcase elegance at home. The other look is a less formal spring summer look, and in the end a classic suit and tie. I tend to always be a bit more dressed up, and want to encourage others to do the same by my example perhaps.
That also brings me to the topic of your blog. How did that happen?
"What is James wearing" happened rather reluctantly. It is an interesting story. I would go to the gym and one time I was in a pink suit and all the trainers there yelled out what are you wearing. My boxing instructor told me I should have a blog. I rolled my eyes at that suggestion, wondering, “Why?” He was relentless and every time I saw him he asked If I had started my blog yet. I told this blog idea to some trusted friends and they thought it would be a brilliant way to use this platform especially in my case. Eventually, I was able to persuade myself that this would be a clever way to share my musings on style and taste, and voila," What is James wearing" was born.
What is your writing process? Do you pick an outfit and then you try to write about it, or is it something that just happens spontaneously?
Thank you for asking that. In general, I approach my life like a cinematographer. For me, there are always places and backdrops, and then what I am wearing there helps to visually flesh out the narrative. The ensembles/costumes are an integral part of my story but at the same time, there is always some inspiration in the environment that I live.
How would you describe your style?
My style is elegant and eclectic. I make a point every day to put together complete looks that are both fashionable, and classic. I love a mixture of old school and fashion, trying to keep a vibe that is young, sexy, and fresh – appropriate for where and what I am doing. I usually lean toward being a bit more dressed up and elegant, without being overly formal. I also like to challenge staid ideas regarding menswear; pushing the boundaries a bit beyond what is traditionally considered “masculine.”
Where do you usually shop? Or the question is how does James shop?
Believe it or not, but most of my clothing now is acquired online, mostly eBay. You can find good and valuable pieces of clothes there.
I think that it is more than obvious that Tom Ford is your favorite designer. What is so attractive about his clothes that always makes you go to him?
For me, there is an elegance and a sexiness about Tom Ford's clothing, yet it looks like something I could have had my tailor make for me. There is a classiness about it as well and hopefully, I'll be wearing these pieces 30 years from now. I feel we live in such a disposable time. The clothing industry is very guilty of being one of the biggest polluters of the environment. I would much rather have less, but better pieces.
Tom Ford, or Tom Ford for Gucci or Tom Ford for YSL?
For me, it is no doubt what so ever Tom Ford. The reason for that is because is the purest incarnation of his aesthetic.
If you could get into someone else's closet and get their clothes, who would it be and why?
It is certainly Lapo Elkann an Italian entrepreneur who Vanity Fair listed in its International Best Dressed List in 2008, and to its Best Dressed Hall of Fame in 2009. I find him to be the chicest man on earth.
If you could have your dream dinner with three (dead or live) designers who would you invite and why?
I know you are aiming for me to immediately go to the fashion designers, but in this case, I will have to go to my first love, interior design, so to that point my dream dinner would be with interior designers I would have to say Emilio Terry, Stephane Boudin, and David Hicks.
We know that you love good and timeless clothing, but you are also a great writer that has the ability to take us on an exciting journey and show us great destinations. When was the last time you went traveling and where?
I was just in Boston, and then I visited Cape Cod for the weekend with friends. I would also love to experience Croatia. I've heard so many great things from you about the beautiful coast, but it won't happen this summer for sure. I am rather busy, so a series of long weekend trips will be in order to Newport RI, the Berkshires, and Miami. When things quiet down at the end of August, I think we will return to Tangier. My most favorite visit must have been to the home of legendary designer Laure Welfling and her husband Guidi de Richemont Salvy where we had a lovely luncheon hosted by Welfling and her divine daughter, India. Built in the late 18th century as Spain’s first legation in Tangier, the house, Dar Cherif, is the largest single-family dwelling in the old city. The place is magical and showcases the family’s endless talents. An elegant, eclectic, and fantastical mix – all that one might hope to find in Tangier.
In the end James, what is next for you? A better question for this occasion is: "What is in the air for you?"
As I said I am trying to live in the present, but I can't help myself and not dream. That is in the end what pushes us forward, so my biggest dreams are to acquire a country house where I can unleash all my decorating and garden fantasies!
You can find out more about Jame’s style and inspiration on http://www.whatisjameswearing.com/
Interview | Josip Majer
Photography | Marko Sovilj