Garrison Bespoke's Michael Nguyen Interview
Garrison Bespoke's Michael Nguyen on levelling up your fall suit game
Words— Frank And Oak staff
Michael Nguyen is the owner and operator of Toronto-based tailor shop, Garrison Bespoke and has been trusted by the likes of Drake to get suited up. We chatted with Nguyen, a third-generation tailor, about his early interest in suiting, what he's learned from the icons he's dressed, and what the key elements are when it comes to finding the right suit for you. A good tailor is about as hard to find as an honest mechanic, we'd listen to him.
What got you interested in tailoring in the first place?
My mother worked as a dressmaker and my grandfather in the fabric trade. So fabrics and elements of tailoring were always around me in family life. Perhaps the defining moment, at least in terms of what fuelled my personal interest in suits, happened at a very young age. I was dressed in a pristine white suit for my first communion and I remember coming down the stairs to my family and friends. It was a really exciting thing coming from a big family, everyone was so happy and excited, telling me how good I looked. I guess at that moment I realized the importance of the way we dress, the feeling of confidence it can give you and how it can make you feel really special. Since that day I’ve been obsessed.
When did you start Garrison Bespoke and how has the evolution been?
I founded Garrison in 2007 at the beginning of a kind of renaissance in men being interested in tailoring and dressing well. The big menswear tradeshow Pitti Uomo in Florence really influenced men through street style shots being shared on social media and Instagram; through this men became more open to wearing colour, patterns, and a slimmer fit.
We’ve always been really involved in building wardrobes with athletes and artists who look for something a bit more unique while remaining versatile and comfortable; we’ve now seen this same style and approach with all our clients' wardrobes. We call it lifestyle tailoring. Tailoring you can wear to a business meeting or wedding then separates in the evening and weekends; the fabric choices are generally more distinct than everyone else given the texture or pattern. The construction is lightweight and soft and able to be worn casually, while it has some stretch that allows for ease of movement and versatility for your day-to-day.
Who are some of the icons you've dressed over the years? What have you learned from them?
We've dressed many professional athletes, actors and music icons. The Toronto Raptors team, Drake, David Foster, Robert Pattinson and so on. Each personality teaches you a lot about individual aesthetic and persona. I think our work with certain iconic characters for TV and movies is the most intriguing from a learning perspective.
Our work for the character Hannibal [for NBC's eponymous 2013 series] for example – getting in the creative process of who that character is and what he would wear from a fabric and fit standpoint and then see it come to life. We made the suits from vintage tweed in earth tones that we've never worked with before in burgundies, oranges, and greens and created a silhouette that I’d call a modern take on a Victorian suit. Or, our work on the series Suits. For the main character, Harvey Specter, the focus was to create sharp tailoring that makes him look strong in a subtle, yet powerful way. We do this through strong shoulders and the use of peak lapels on all his suits, with the combination of a vest to make him stand out. The vest adds that extra level of formality and uniqueness. I’d like to believe that through the popularity of the show and people loving Harvey’s suits that we’ve inspired a good amount of men to wear three-piece suits or try out a peak lapel.
What is your personal approach when choosing a suit? What are the key elements to look for?
Our clients and I are travelling a lot and packing a lot of different things into a full day. We are constantly on the go, so my focus is comfort and versatility in a suit, while still being looking unique in a room of suits. I want two-to-three suits that I can also interchange as separates with denim and a crew neck, for example. The colours I keep classic: navy and grey. Then I mix in a core colour for falls such as burgundy or green.
The key elements to look for, which I use in all my suits, are: performance-via-stretch for comfort and suit made deconstructed for a more casual feel. I also wear fabrics with a lot of visual interest and texture like sharkskin, chambray, or hopsack. The textured fabric makes the suit dynamic and rich looking on its own when worn as separates, and distinct when worn as a full suit, without having to work very hard.
Of course, the item that ties it all together for me this fall to keep me feeling tailored is a knit tie. It puts that extra level of finish to an outfit.
When you travelling around the world - what can't you live without?
1. A blazer with stretch fabric – To put all my travel essentials in like my passport, wallet, going through the airport and roll it up in my in the overhead; I wear it to dinner or when out in evenings if it's brisk.
2. A fresh pair of white sneakers – I'll wear them with a suit, but also with my jeans and a jacket in the evening. I'll also use them to sneak in a workout in the mornings or a run in the evenings.
3. The 5-Minute Journal – A good friend of mine gave it to me as a gift; I go through it daily in the morning to set the intention and focus for the day, and in the evening to think about how it unfolded. It's awesome.
4. A knit Tie – I travel to New York often and wear it when in a suit, and when I’m in LA I'll wear it loosely tied around my neck with a button up and a pair of jeans and sneakers.
Versatility is the name of the game. Nguyen has dressed the 6ix God himself and helped out with some custom OVO x Raptors suiting, but also elegant tailoring for Royal Wedding attendees (Suits' Gabriel Macht).
Favourite neighbourhood in Toronto and a few places you like to spend time in?
I spend a lot of time in the financial district where our shops are located; I like the fact that it has a blend of the hustle of the financial markets with a burgeoning tech and creative scene.
When I get a moment away from the office, I'm usually on Queen West doing some yoga or running in the park. I also spend a lot of time at Raptors and Leafs games as we work closely with the teams and the players and I’ve been a hardcore fan since I was a kid.
What are three must-haves for dressing well this fall?
A grey flannel suit. It’s the fall staple. Every fall-winter I treat myself to a new one; it is like comfort food and it signals to me the start of the season. When the temperature dips and the leaves fall it feels right wearing this textured fabric that helps keep you warm and feeling cosy. Grey goes with everything; I wear it with a crisp white shirt during the day and wear it with plaids if I’m out at an event or wearing it casually on the weekends. I always wear the pants on their own when the holidays hit and I’m out running errands.
A wool crewneck sweater. It’s the essential layering piece for our climate as evenings get cooler and as winter hits and you need to layer. Wool is the most breathable fabric you can wear and it feels so good to the touch. I wear it with under a suit with a fresh pair of sneakers, on its own with a pair of jeans on top of a button-up, or as it gets cooler wrapped over the shoulders cruising around on the weekend as an accessory.
A camel overcoat. Different from most peoples coats given you usually see everyone in navy black or charcoal. But it matches with everything. I wear it over my suits and on the weekends with layering underneath cruising around town. It makes me feel sharp, but at the same time casual and totally dressed down to go see family or cruise around and see friends.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. If you enjoyed our sit down with with Michael Nguyen, check out some of our other interviews.