I remember hearing my mum often recite the words of playwright George Bernard Shaw, “Youth is wasted on the young.” And the older I get, the more I understand it.
There is a current obsession with youth which can feel tantamount to denying the wisdom and experience that is exponentially important. Yet tribes of all ages around the world have revered their elders, have sought their sage counsel and delighted in their stories and guidance. There remains great value in age if you’re open, intelligent, don’t care what others think and are curious to learn.
This week’s ‘Who the F** Are You?’ guest is a man who has stepped into the spotlight of a particularly youth-obsessed industry — that being fashion — and done so without apology and with an inimitable style that not only inspires his peer group but has also caught the wind and crucial following of the young guns too. With over one million dedicated social media followers, Nick Wooster, a boy from Salina, Kansas, has become a much sought after man-about-town, on multiple continents, an inadvertent, bona fide influencer at the age of 63.
Nick, who recognized his fascination with clothes even before he was in double digits, was blessed with great parents who informed him that if he wished to own beautiful things, he’d have to work to pay for them.
Nick tells us, “I only worked in clothing stores because my mom wouldn’t buy me a cashmere sweater and I wanted to have nice things. So I am grateful to her and my father for insisting that I have to work. Because I do have to work, and continue to work. If I’ve made one mistake, it’s not saving money. But I’ve been spending it on the things that I love, which is clothes.”
He thus began working in a local clothes store before following his dream and moving to New York where he soon became involved in the advertising world, working for various agencies and selling ad space for New York Magazine.
Switching to retail, he was a buyer at Barneys New York at the peak of its success, followed by a stint at Bergdorf Goodman, and later held the fashion director gig at Neiman Marcus, whilst consulting on design and merchandising for global clients like Calvin Klein, Polo Ralph Lauren, and Thom Browne.
Then, as the story goes, street photographer Tommy Ton took a photo of Nick at one of the shows, it ended up on the pages of Vogue, and that was it. As Nick recalls, “I have no idea how [becoming an influencer] happened. It feels strange, but at the same time I’m so grateful. It gives me the opportunity as a 63-year-old man, who’s worked a long time, to still be working in some capacity. What I’m doing today is in no means what I ever saw for myself. I would have never guessed that I would be talking to you, or to a camera, or having my picture taken. And yet here we are.”
Nick firmly established himself as the quintessential go-to for all counsel relating to fashion and retail. Blessed with a brilliant eye, a natural self-assurance and an original streak of sartorial elegance, Nick has morphed into a gentleman who is in major demand and has somehow bent the so-called rules, becoming a style pioneer, someone who is enjoying each day by dressing to win.
Those of us of a certain vintage will remember the traditional way our grandparents dressed. We can look back at photographs of them and marvel at how ‘old’ they looked when perhaps they were only entering their early 50s. I look at pics of my own father, who passed aged 45, and even in photographs taken whilst in his 30s, he looked and seemed much ‘older’. Yet today, thanks to the individualistic expression offered by a broadening fashion industry, there seems to be far more potential to extend the look and energy of youth.
Grateful for the opportunities that his substantive career, including this new digital chapter, has brought, Nick adds, “The fashion business — this life, this industry — has given me the ability to go around the world. And that is the single most important and interesting thing that I’ve been able to do. I’m not one of these people that’s been to a million places, but I’ve been to a few places a million times. I’ve got to know countries like Italy, cities like Tokyo, places like London and Paris. [I grew up] a kid from Kansas, never knowing that there was a fashion world that I could be a part of.”
Not conforming to society’s silent demand of being devoured by the beige, instead Nick chooses to celebrate his individual style with tailored pomp, sharp silhouettes, and a rebel yell that somehow never shouts “look at me” or is vulgar — so deft is his ability to look individual, modern, hip but never crass.
So we were delighted to sit down and talk with this silver fox about his unplanned metamorphosis from fashion veteran to fashion icon, while enjoying access to the street style guru’s incredible wardrobe for our photoshoot at his West Hollywood home.
Who the f*** are you?
I’m still trying to figure it out.
How are you feeling right now?
I feel great. I didn’t go to the gym today, which is unusual. Monday through Saturday, I always go to the gym, but I had a 6am phone call and then you guys at 9am. So I did not go to the gym. But in spite of that, I feel great.
Where did you grow up and what was it like?
So I grew up in Salina, Kansas, and to be a gay kid in the 60s and 70s, not knowing that my condition was not that unusual, was a pretty scary thing. I just couldn’t wait to become an adult. I always say that I was marking time as a kid.
I went to college at the University of Kansas, I was in a fraternity, knowing that I was different and needed to be not in Kansas and that as soon as I graduated, that’s what I was going to do — move to New York.
I was four [when I realized I was gay]. It’s so funny that the Barbie movie came out last week. I was obsessed with Barbie as a kid. I didn’t think I was a girl, I didn’t want to be a girl, I just wanted to play with girl things. And my parents were like, “Listen, dude, you’re going to be made fun of, and you’ll probably have a really hard life if you want to go down this road. But if you do it, just do it at home.” Which I think was them doing the best that they could.
And listen, I outgrew it. Maybe this is internalized homophobia, or whatever, but I recognized by second grade that I was gonna get a lot further if I didn’t try to be flamboyant and express myself fully. So what I did is channel that into getting dressed. I felt like that was the way that I could sort of express myself but not be too outrageous.
I think I was a naturally optimistic kid and person. My parents were also naturally optimistic. They didn’t have negative attitudes about people, or life, or politics. I was just raised what I would call ‘normal’. I mean, I’m the oldest of three boys and we used to fight, and make my mom cry, and do things you could say were horrible things to do to a mom. But we were so lucky that we had a mom who stayed at home and provided for us, and a father who provided for us, and were always married. That’s a blessing.
What excites you?
The prospect of travel, and waking up in the morning. I’m always anticipatory of a good day, even when things are not going the way that I expect. Because I know that even through tough times, they won’t last forever. In the same way the good things don’t last forever, the bad things don’t last forever.
What scares you?
Retirement. Or the financial ramifications of retirement. Heights. Crowds. I really get panic attacky at parades or big concerts. I don’t really go to those kinds of things. The men’s shows are more manageable than the women’s shows. I have thought about that somewhat too, that I don’t know how much longer I can keep doing this. Because it does get to be a little much sometimes.
What is your proudest achievement?
That I’m still here!
What is the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
At the time, telling my parents I was gay seemed pretty bad. I don’t know. That’s a hard one.
Who was your greatest mentor and what did they teach you?
Well, I’ve had a few throughout my career. There was a guy, Peter Rizzo. who was my boss at Barneys New York in 1987. Barneys was, in my opinion, the single most important store in the world at that time. And Peter, who ran all of menswear, was very demanding and difficult, but he literally taught me everything that I know. He scared the shit out of me, but I am so grateful of that two-year apprenticeship that I had with him.
And I know it’s cliche and corny, but at the end of the day, I think my dad is the single best mentor I’ve ever had, because he had such a strong work ethic, and he is such a good person.
Who are your fictional and real-life heroes?
I am obsessed with Fran Lebowitz. She’s so hilarious, and so 100% astute and accurate. She’s also my hero stylistically. She does not like to see men in shorts, so we completely diverge on that score, but with everything else I 100% believe in everything she believes in.
I’ve never done an auction in my life, but there was this auction to raise money and $5,500 is what I ended up paying to have lunch with her. It was worth every penny.
It was exactly what you could imagine. It was a little bit terrifying, hilarious, pleasant. She was everything that I could have imagined. At first, I could tell she was probably thinking, “Who is this queen?” But we both smoked. I smoked at the time, and she continues to smoke. So I think that helped break the ice.
I also wore a suit and a tie and dressed up for her. It was a respect thing, and I think she respected that. They say don’t meet your heroes, but in this case it was perfect.
[In ten years time] I would like to be retired in New York or Palm Springs. I feel like New York would actually be a great place to be retired. I just heard Fran asked, “Isn’t New York a terrible place to be an old person?” She goes, “No, New York is a fantastic place to be an old person. We have doormen!”
[For fictional heroes] I always wanted to be Holden Caulfield [from The Catcher in the Rye]. In a way I identified [with him] in that I felt misunderstood. But also, it just seemed like he had a super glamorous life. And the ability to go to New York as a kid would have been very appealing to me.
What is your favorite item of clothing in your wardrobe?
I have no clue. Everything that I’ve ever purchased in my life is because I admired the object. Sometimes it doesn’t look good on me, and rarely I’ve bought things that I’ve actually never worn. I will try to wear it at least once. I go through phases.
I can’t answer this question but I can tell you about the foundational things in my wardrobe: wingtip shoes, I only wear English shoes; good white and blue shirts; navy, gray and black cashmere sweaters. If I didn’t have those things that I wouldn’t know what to do. I call it a foundation. [See Nick’s recommendations for essential pieces here].
What music did you love at age 13 and do you still love it now?
In 1973, when I was 13 years old, Elton John was playing on the radio, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye. I gravitated towards Black music more than white music. There was so much good music on the radio when I was in my teens. And then I love disco and house.
What is the most inspiring book you’ve ever read?
I think that the most foundational books of my life were by Fran Lebowtiz. She wrote two books, Social Studies and Metropolitan Life. And when I read those books in the late ’70s and early ’80s, it was as though they were written for me, even though I had no idea about the references. I just inherently understood it.
The other book that was super-seminal for me was The Official Preppy Handbook. I still have the original copy that I had. Lisa Birnbach wrote it, and it was meant to be kind of a joke, but it was kind of a Bible for a way of life. I used it as, “These are the things that I need to say to the universe.” I do think that you have to do some work in that regard. You have to be signaling to the universe that you’re willing and able, and part of that is by keeping your word, showing up on time, having a job, and not waiting for it to happen.
What is the movie that left a lasting impression on you?
The movie that I’ve seen the most times in the theater is Moulin Rouge. I love that movie so much. The other movies that I watch virtually every time they’re available are The Devil Wears Prada, Crazy Rich Asians, and La La Land.
What do you want people to say at your funeral?
He sure dressed well! Which they won’t say!
Finally, a quickfire five favorites…
Not the one I drive. I drive a Tesla Model 3. The cheap one. It’s the Toyota Camry of [electric] cars — it’s so not special. They have no customer service. Although I think the actual machine is cool and fine, I hate everything that Elon Musk stands for right now. Although it’s amazing that we have electric cars, I think that’s the right thing to be driving. I would like a Land Rover Defender in olive green.
Steak, baked potato, shrimp cocktail.
Grooming by Heather-Rae Bang for Art Department, using Balmain Hair Couture and Dior Backstage
Check out Nick’s adventures on Instagram