10 Menswear Icons on the Item They’d Save From a Burning Building

From a DIY sweatshirt to a British jacket with a great story

March 4, 2019 9:00 am

A hypothetical: presuming all the truly important things in your life were safely out of harm’s way, and that you were for some reason required to do so, what item in your closet would you run back into a burning building for?

For yours truly, it’s a pair of (fairly wild) embroidered dress slippers from Stubbs & Wootton. They’re certainly not the thing I wear the most, but they’re comfy, eye-catching, built to last and most importantly, I got married in them. A powerful index of inferno-risk compatibility.

Recently, we posed the same question to a group of notably stylish gents from the fashion industry and beyond. Below, you’ll find their answers, from a timeless timepiece to a DIY sweatshirt to a jacket with a nice bit of British antiquity baked in.

Plus, what you can learn from them about your own closet’s contents — never know when you may have to make a big choice.

Todd Snyder — Founder/Designer, Todd Snyder

“I bought this Rolex GMT Master 16700 for myself when I landed the Design Director job at Polo in 1998. It was a dream come true and I wanted to celebrate that achievement with something that I’ll have forever.  I’m planning on giving it to my daughters at some point.”

Our takeaway: A big life event/accomplishment is a great excuse to splurge on a timeless heirloom piece that you’ll hold onto. Treat yo’self.

Jeff Staple — Founder/Executive Creative Director, Staple Design

“Pretty easy. I would grab my original Staple x Nike Pigeon Dunks. For better or for worse, it might be the single item that best represents my career. First, there is the actual value of the shoe — it’s going for about $15,000-20,000 on Stock X right now. So if I need to rent a new apartment, I’m good!

But more importantly, it’s what the shoe represents. It touches on a special time in sneaker culture. Many people credit the Pigeon Dunk as the ‘Big Bang’ moment for sneaker culture — the event that really put it on the map. And for my brand to be tied to this monumental occasion? That is forever mind-blowing to me.”

Our takeaway: Value your achievements and hold on to keepsakes of them … and if said achievements are sneakers, keep them in the box for maximum value.

Billy Reid — Founder/Designer, Billy Reid

My homemade LSU heather grey sweatshirt. When I first moved to Florence (Ed. note: Alabama, not Italy) from New York, I shopped at a church thift-store sale and found an old athletic grey Russell sweatshirt — it was originally made in Alexander city, Alabama. It had a quirky slim fit, as many vintage things do. I had some twill letters (LSU) sitting around and stitched them to the chest and sliced the neck to give me some breathing room. Everyone would ask, where’d you get that sweatshirt? Living in Alabama as a Louisiana native and a lifelong LSU fan is not always easy, but I wear it proudly amongst the rabid ‘Bama contingent. The sweatshirt has resiliently been a good luck charm, seen so much life, traveled the world and has some great family and personal memories. A $2 sweatshirt with more sentimental value than any cashmere sweater in my closet.”

Our takeaway: Embrace the DIY — a little creativity and elbow grease can really make a garment “yours.” Also, f*ck Nick Saban.

Coltrane Curtis — Founder/Managing Partner, Team Epiphany

After thousands of sneaker purchases, overpriced must-haves and a closet full of things that really don’t define me (even though other people think that they do),  the biggest statement piece that I own is a class ring. Though I have a Class of ’97 Morehouse College ring, I wear my dad’s 1974 Queens College graduation ring every day.

Out of all the articles of clothing, accessories or sneakers that I own, my Dad’s ring is the one item that reminds me of how I got here and constantly inspires me to be great. It’s the one thing that I can’t live without. It represents sacrifice, struggle, dedication, commitment and selflessness.”

Our takeaway: Heritage is important — pieces passed down from generation to generation grow in gravitas each time.

Josh Peskowitz — VP of Men’s Fashion, Moda Operandi

For me it would be the only pair I have of the jeans that Levi’s made for me and my store in L.A., Magasin, which we recently closed down. I had some very specific ideas about how I wanted those jeans to look, and I reached out to Jonathan Cheung  — The SVP of Design at Levi’s  — on a lark to see if they would be into it. I really didn’t expect to hear back from him, but when I did, I sent him a sketch that I’d done on computer paper with a Sharpie. He liked the idea (the jeans are loosely based on Judo pants) and Levi’s had never made anything like it. In his email back he said that due to time constraints and the number of pairs I wanted to make (40), they’d have to re-cut vintage pairs of 501s and do it all in the Eureka Labs of the Levi’s offices in San Francisco. He was really sorry for the inconvenience; meanwhile I’m thinking to myself, ‘Are you fucking kidding me? This is insane!’ So we made them and they sold out quick. Most of the people who ended up with pairs are friends or acquaintances and they all loved them to death, just like I do with my pair. They are dope jeans, but they are also part of my personal history and as far as inanimate objects go, I would go back into the blaze for them.”

Our takeaway: A great creation story, especially one you were a part of, is a pretty damn good indicator of something you should hold onto.

Ross Matsubara — VP/Style Director, Nike Communications

I think every stylish man should own at least one solid piece of jewelry that transcends any sense of fashion, time, or season. Whether that’s a vintage watch, thin gold chain or pair of onyx cufflinks — you should be able to confidently rock it at 27 or 72. Needless to say, turquoise and leather necklaces need not apply. Fortunately, my timeless piece of jewelry — and the one sartorial item I would actually run into a burning building for — happens to also be my engagement ring(s).

My husband proposed with three gold rings, which I wear stacked on one finger. A Cartier Love Ring, with eight diamonds, sits between two Paloma Picasso Groove Rings from Tiffany & Co. The arts scion actually designed the band for her husband with eight notches. The number eight obviously represents infinity in high school math, but the ‘888’ formed by the stacked rings — eight grooves, eight diamonds, eight grooves — also symbolizes eternity and good fortune in Asian culture.

I love the eclectic effect and personalized quality of the stacked rings. Not to mention, I have three strikes till I’m out.”

Our takeaway: Pick a partner with good taste and the wardrobe benefits will follow. Also, classy man jewelry is very much a thing.

Matthew Hranek — Founder, The WM Brown Project/WM Brown Magazine, Author, A Man and His Watch

I would hustle back through the flames for my double warrant well-worn (with perfect patina that looks like worn leather and the perfect mushroom brown corduroy collar) Barbour Bedale. 

I bought it over a decade ago on eBay. The photos were blurry and bad. The description lame and the price perfect — £10. I took a chance. I sensed perfection. 

When it came, a few weeks later by Royal Post, there was note in the pocket (that I still have somewhere) telling the tale of the jacket. The owner told the story of how her husband bought it new in the early ’80s and used it in the field wing shooting until he got too fat for it, and how she got it as a hand-me-down and used it to walk her terriers in the country for years until she got too fat for it. She was happy to have someone else use it, enjoy it and give it new life. Of which I do, with joy.

Hopefully I don’t get too fat for it or burn to death trying to save a ridiculous vintage Barbour. But if I do make it out of the flames, I hope the next generation that finds it sees the beauty in it and creates their own history in it. Until they get too fat.”

Our takeaway: One man’s trash is indeed another man’s treasure. Secondhand sites provide not only great deals, but items with a story. When in doubt, pull the trigger.

Moti Ankari — Founder, The Metro Man

“When I was at Milan Fashion Week in January 2017, I attended my first Prada show — and I remember when this very yarn-dyed sweater came down the runway, I said ‘I NEED this.’

Perhaps I love it because it’s the first Prada RTW piece I ever owned, or perhaps because it’s the most expensive thing hanging in my closet (minus jewlery, watches and my tux). Or maybe I just love it because it’s a hand-dyed sweater that probably took more than just a few minutes to make. It’s absolutely beautiful — and I got to see this sweater come down the runway at my FIRST Prada show. 

Also, a lot of people think bloggers get their wardrobe for free, but I actually buy the pieces I love. I bought this sweater September 2017 and I still wear it, three seasons later — and that for me is rare.”

Our takeaway: When an item speaks to you, don’t ignore it. When an item speaks to you during an otherwise particularly memorable moment in your life, doubly so. 

Jeff Carvalho — Managing Director, Highsnobiety

“My vintage Levis Big E 507 Type III Jacket from 1960s. It’s a garment that reminds us of America’s great garment manufacturing era, when product was made not for hype, but as utility for everyday people. It went from blue-collar working class to kids in the streets well before words like streetwear were spoken — the Big E tells us it’s from before the early ’70s. I have three of them, so as long as I grabbed one from the fire, I’d be good.”

Our takeaway: Respect craftsmanship — chances are that if an item has been around for decades, it’ll most likely be around for a few more.  Also, if you love something, get an extra (or two).

Mickey Ashmore — Founder, Sabah

My absolute favorite piece of clothing is a linen jacket made by the now-defunct NYC brand Operation. My father bought the jacket for me when I was 18 or 19 at their Soho store. At the time, I liked it but had no idea how cool it was. 14 years later, I still wear it and have developed a real appreciation for the subtle details. It fits me perfectly, it’s minimally lined and the linen, being of high quality, has molded to fit me (and thankfully I’ve maintained my form!). There is a very subtle neon highlighter yellow trim that pops (subtly) and always garners some oohs and ahhs. The jacket is finely tailored — really intricately and with unique pockets and patterns. I love this jacket … and I love the fact I’ve been wearing it for over a decade. It’s my oldest piece. I really treasure it.”

Our takeaway: Anything you’ve worn enough that it fits you better than it would anyone else deserves serious consideration if the flames start to rise. Also, value the discontinued — getting another one ain’t usually in the cards.

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