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Why I Go To the Fashion Shows

Of all the familiar faces at the fashion shows, Justin O'Shea is one of the most consistently striking and stylish. He looks like the leading man in an as-yet-untitled Guy Ritchie Australian gangster project. Or a rogue member of Justin Theroux's biker club. He's got a sandy blonde beard, greased-back hair, and tattooed hands sticking out of mohair suits that you can visibly see to be custom-built for him. Upon introducing ourselves to O'Shea at the Jil Sander show in Milan, we were surprised to discover that the guy with the toughest look in town is actually a womenswear buyer. So we asked him what the hell he's doing at the men's shows, what it was like working in the fashion industry in Kuwait, and how he packs his suits.

You're a buyer for a German womenswear retail site called mytheresa. What's the site about?

It's designer-oriented luxury womenswear. I'd say the thing that's most important to us is that we have a much bigger offering from fewer brands. But those brands are the most influential.

Do you always come to the men's shows?

I started coming to the menswear shows a lot more in the last two or three seasons, just because I'm noticing that menswear and womenswear are coming closer together. There's greater synergy and much more crossover. What I'm seeing in the menswear shows is then following in the womenswear shows, especially with brands like Valentino and Saint Laurent. You can almost pick up on what the womenswear show is going to be about by seeing the menswear.

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That's interesting, because people usually think of womenswear as being on the cutting edge, but you're saying that men's is setting the tone.

Exactly. I think that's because menswear's having a big resurgence. It's the most aspirational product at the moment, and I think what women want right now is to have sex appeal, but in a masculine way.

How did you become a women's buyer?

Well that was pretty accidental. I come from Australia. I grew up in a very small mining town in the middle of god-knows-where in the Northern Territory. No traffic lights, no McDonald's, and needless to say no fashion.

After that I moved to Perth, in Western Australia. Worked in a friend's sports clothing store. That was the first job I ever had in fashion. Eventually I moved to London. And because I didn't go to college and didn't know what the fuck I was gonna do, I thought, fashion seems pretty cool. It's more about personality than education. So I moved to London and worked in showrooms for a while. A few years later, I went back to the mines, and worked with my dad and drove trucks for a year. That's when I got a call asking if I wanted to be a buyer for a group of stores in Kuwait. They had forty stores—the franchises for Chloé, Balenciaga, McQueen, Stella, Lanvin, Marc Jacobs.

What was it like living in Kuwait?

It was the worst experience of my life. No offense to any Kuwaiti people. I was just working. Basically had zero contact with anyone. I was going fucking mad. My best friend was a Malaysian guy that worked at the Starbucks, because he was the guy I saw every morning and we'd talk. But it's just such a strange community, because it's so rich, and so goddamn hot, so there's not that many people around. But there are giant malls, and the women are power-walking for exercise in the malls, then driving around in Lamborghinis. Super bizarre.

Now for the important question: What's your approach to packing for fashion week?

Neatly! I think being a proper German now really helps with my packing. Everything in its right place. I've really got it down to a fine art. It's really all about the suitcase. I was using a Rimowa, but they suck. I bought the really cool reissued flight case—metal, leather handle—and the bastard's broken in two months. So I found this really amazing Samsonite instead. It's a hard case, and a bit round. You can practically climb in there and move stuff around. There's a Jacuzzi in there [laughs]. Then to pack, what I do is, the pants go in first, and then I get all of the jackets and put them all together, fold them in half, put them in, and keep it loose. It seems to work. The other thing is, all my suits now are mohair, so they don't crease. And my tailor in New York has a great collection of mohair.

Who's your tailor in New York?

Doyle + Mueser on Christopher St. in the West Village. He makes suits for me and Waris [Ahluwalia] and a couple of other people. He's a super cool English guy, Savile Row trained. He's a bit more old school tweedy English, and I'm a bit more Wall Street fashion gangster, and I think we meet in the middle.

What's grabbing you from the shows so far?

It's funny, there have been a couple of dirt runways. There seems to be an earthy feeling at the moment [laughs]. Also, it seems the heritage menswear brands are really focusing on the sartorial, the very English, the tweedy. Then you go to Jil Sander or Calvin Klein, and you've got the polar opposite. The brands are saying, This is who we are. We're not going to try to mix it up, or to try and be Givenchy. Maybe they're realizing that they need to stick to what their brand is all about, and just promote their own identity, rather than trying to capitalize on the trends that are happening. I think that's better. So I'm very interested to see whether that continues in Paris.

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