Men Used to Have Wives. Now They Have Stylists. - Kanebridge News
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Men Used to Have Wives. Now They Have Stylists.

By JACOB GALLAGHER
Thu, Feb 15, 2024 8:48amGrey Clock 5 min

Jay Buys’s wife changed his life with 10 words: “You know, you don’t have to just wear band T-shirts.”

Shirts from Nine Inch Nails and Thrice—for years, this was the bulk of Buys’s wardrobe. Were they awesome ? Yes. Did they make him look like the CEO of a successful web design firm? Not quite. “If I looked better, I would’ve felt better,” said Buys, 44, of San Diego. So he hired someone to teach him to look better.

For most, the term “stylist” brings to mind a celebrity dresser putting Timothée Chalamet in a bombastic red carpet outfit. But there is also an industry of white-collar stylists helping hapless corporate types find the right shirts and trousers for their daily lives.

For Buys, that guy was Patrick Kenger.

Kenger runs Pivot, a personal styling service, charging as much as $5,000 to remake your wardrobe. Kenger’s job is part Marie Kondo, part therapist and large part a personal shopper. He helped Buys retire the band tees at work, subbing them with Suitsupply blazers and Bonobos trousers.

The switch had a Superman-bursting-out-of-the-phone-booth effect on Buys. “​​I look like I know what I’m doing.” Strangers seem to think so, too. He was startled when a random 20-something at the grocery store saw his leather John Varvatos jacket and chirped, “I like your drip, bro!”

Today, strivers in tech, law and finance are wealthier than ever, but corporate dress codes have collapsed. The hoodie-clad billionaire has become a cliché. In the C-suite, Loro Piana sneakers have trounced dress shoes. Fleece vests have vanquished ties. At the same time, we’re in a new era of boardroom boasting.

Executives crow about their pay packages, their workout routines (looking at you Mark Zuckerberg!) and the rarity of their sneakers. To look like you haven’t bought new clothes since we all clutched BlackBerrys is to risk being lapped on the corporate ladder.

So, if you’re sitting there confidently dressed and accepting compliments on how well your pants fit, congrats! But there are many men who lack the skills to piece an outfit together. Stylists say their work has ballooned in the past decade as the range of options on what’s office “appropriate” has waylaid even confident corporate leaders.

“Men are very confused right now with the dress codes that have blurred the lines of formality,” said Jacci Jaye, a white-collar stylist in New York City for two decades, whose services start at $3,800 plus expenses. Jaye, who works solely with executives, said that many of her roughly 50 clients knew what they liked in terms of style, but had no idea how to achieve that look.

“I looked sloppy and I didn’t want to look sloppy,” said Raj Nangunoori, 36, a neurosurgeon in Austin. He spent working hours in scrubs, but out of them, he was adrift. “Even shorts, like I was never great at picking out shorts,” Nangunoori said.

Around a year ago, he googled in search of a stylist and hired Peter Nguyen, a former menswear designer turned $10,000 stylist. Nguyen’s entrepreneur- and tech-type clients are long on money, short on time and scant on clothing knowledge.

Nguyen’s first step is a lengthy questionnaire: What music do you listen to, what are your hobbies, where do you vacation? “I view my clients like they’re characters in a movie,” he said. They give him their background and Nguyen’s job is to outfit that character.

The pair landed on a neat framework for Nangunoori’s new look: What would Ryan Reynolds wear? Prosaic tees were swapped for polo-neck sweaters and James Perse chinos were tailored to fit properly. Nguyen got Nangunoori into a pair of Common Projects minimalist $500-ish sneakers. Most importantly, he convinced him to ditch his shopping mistake paint-splattered jeans.

“I can’t pull off what Travis Scott’s wearing,” said Nangunoori, relaying all his hard-bought wisdom.

Like working with a trainer, some clients are wary of admitting they enlisted a fashion guru. One CEO I spoke with who hired a stylist told his business partner he had done so, only to be mocked. After that, he decided “I’m not talking to anyone.”

“I never had my own confidence in going shopping and buying suits or dress clothes or even my weekend stuff,” said Nate Dudek, 42, an executive at a software company living in East Hampton, Conn. A “technology nerd,” Dudek wasn’t born with a strong visual sense. “That goes from everything from picking a wall color in my house to the way I dress.” His tees-and-jeans wardrobe was as spicy as a glass of milk.

In 2022, about one year before co-founding his own company, Dudek “set out to invest in myself” by hiring Cassandra Sethi, a New York stylist behind the company Next Level Wardrobe whose services currently start at $5,500. Dudek’s wife, who has “killer style” and occasionally shopped for him, took some warming up to the idea. “She was like, ‘Why? I’m so good at buying you clothes!’”

But Dudek wanted an objective outside advisor—someone who didn’t know him as intimately as his wife—to overhaul his closet. (His wife has come around, and is relieved to not be his unpaid personal shopper.)

He never even had to meet her in person. Sethi shipped him boxes of clothes and over a three-hour Zoom session they deduced what suited him best. The transformation, Dudek said, “was fairly obvious.” Colleagues commented that he was carrying himself differently in his new grey Ted Baker blazer, and Save Khaki United’s trim tees. “I felt it too,” he said.

It is a cliché—but a factual one—that in many relationships, the wife or better-dressed husband is the begrudging fashion consultant. Supreet Chahal, a personal stylist in Oakland specializing in tech guys, says many clients come in saying “my girlfriend tried to help me, my wife tried out on me, but she keeps dressing me the way she wants me to look.”

Marco Rodriguez’s former girlfriend didn’t shop for him, but did steer him towards Nguyen a few years ago. “She was like, ‘Hey listen, I know you hate shopping,” said the 39-year-old musician and entrepreneur in Austin.

And oh, he did. Rodriguez could never find pants that fit his “interesting physique.” When he needed new clothes, he had to force himself to buy them. His style was directionless.  I knew what I wanted but I just didn’t know how to get there.”

With Nguyen’s assistance, Rodriguez landed on a sort of “Soho boho, I hate to say rockstar” look of low-key Justin Theroux-style leather jackets, Chelsea boots and pieces from Parisian label Officine Générale. The experience “got me out of my comfort zone,” Rodriguez said.

The mindlessness that comes from working with a stylist is enticing to efficiency-obsessed tech workers. “I don’t want to spend a lot of time thinking in the morning,” said Michael Peter, 53, a principal architect at Google in cloud technology. Previously, he dressed like your standard tech worker—jeans, tennis shoes, the odd Batman tee—but a lightbulb went off during one meeting when he watched a better-dressed colleague take charge.

“He walked in the room, he had gravitas,” said Peter. Striving for that same effect, he hired Sethi of Next Level Wardrobe. She directed him toward a “refined elevated casual look” of slender-but-stretchy Vuori pants (which accommodate his gym-rat legs) and James Perse polos. Rather than his girlfriend telling him what to buy, he says, she’s stealing his clothes “all the time.”

To be sure, all of this comes at a cost. Businessmen I spoke with view the hefty fees as an investment, like renting a well-appointed office.

“The cost didn’t faze me a bit,” said Aaron Preman, 48, who owns a roofing company in San Diego, and hired Kenger at around $3,500.

“He taught me a lot in a short amount of time,” Preman said. He discovered that wintery colours suit his olive complexion and that he really likes Theory suits and Zegna ’s $990 triple-stitch sneakers—he now owns several pairs. The cost of everything—the guidance, the clothes—has been worth it to Preman. “He could’ve told me $10,000 and I would’ve said, ‘Okay, when are you coming over?’”



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Some chocolatiers and coffee makers say they will have to pass on the extra cost to consumers

By JOSEPH HOPPE
Sun, Apr 14, 2024 4 min

Global prices for cocoa and coffee are surging as severe weather events hamper production in key regions, raising questions from farm to table over the long-term damage climate change could have on soft commodities.

Cultivating cocoa and coffee requires very specific temperature, water and soil conditions. Now, more frequent heat waves, heavy rainfalls and droughts are damaging harvests and crippling supplies amid ever growing demand from customers worldwide.

“Adverse weather conditions, mostly in the Southern Hemisphere, have played an important role in sending several food commodities sharply higher,” said Ole Hansen , head of commodity strategy at Saxo Bank.

The spikes in prices are a threat to coffee and chocolate makers across the globe.

Swiss consumer-goods giant Nestlé was able to pass only a fraction of the cocoa price increase to customers last year, and it may need to adjust pricing in the future due to persistently high prices, a spokesperson said.

Italian coffee maker Lavazza reported revenue of more than $3 billion for last year, but said profitability was hit by soaring coffee bean prices, particularly for green and Robusta coffee, and its decision to limit price increases.

Likewise, chocolatier Chocoladefabriken Lindt & Spruengli said in its 2023 results that weather and climate conditions played a major role in the global shortage of cocoa beans that led to historically high prices. The company had to lift the sales prices of its products and said it would need to further raise them this year and next if cocoa prices remain at current levels.

Hershey ’s chief executive, Michele Buck , said in February that historic cocoa prices are expected to limit earnings growth this year, and that the company plans to use “every tool in its toolbox,” including price hikes, to manage the impact on business.

In West Africa, where about 70% of global cocoa is produced, powerhouses Ivory Coast and Ghana are facing catastrophic harvests this season as El Niño—the pattern of above-average sea surface temperatures—led to unseasonal heavy rainfalls followed by strong heat waves.

Extreme heat has weakened cocoa trees already damaged from heavy rainfall at the end of last year, according to Morningstar DBRS’s Aarti Magan and Moritz Steinbauer. The rain also worsened road conditions, disrupting cocoa bean deliveries to export ports.

The International Cocoa Organization—a global body composed of cocoa producing and consuming member countries—said in its latest monthly report that it expects the global supply deficit to widen to 374,000 metric tons in the 2023-24 season, from 74,000 tons last season. Global cocoa supply is anticipated to decline by almost 11% to 4.449 million tons when compared with 2022-23.

“Significant declines in production are expected from the top producing countries as they are envisaged to feel the detrimental effect of unfavourable weather conditions and diseases,” the organisation said.

While the effects of climate change are severe, other serious structural issues are also hitting West African cocoa production in the short- to medium-term. Illegal mining poses a significant threat to cocoa farms in Ghana, destroying arable land and poisoning water supplies, and the problem is becoming increasingly relevant in the Ivory Coast, according to BMI.

The issues are being magnified by deforestation carried out to increase cocoa production. Since 1950, Ivory Coast has lost around 90% of its forests, while Ghana has lost around 65% over the same period. This has driven farmers to areas less suited to cocoa cultivation like grasslands, increasing the amount of labor required and bringing further downside risks to the harvest, the research firm said.

The Ivory Coast’s cocoa mid-crop harvest—which officially starts in April and runs until September—is expected to fall to 400,000-500,000 tons from 600,000-620,000 tons last year, with weather expected to play a crucial role in shaping the market balance for the season, ING analysts said, citing estimates from the country’s cocoa regulator. Ghana’s cocoa board also forecasts a slump in the harvest for this season to as low as 422,500 tons, the poorest in more than 20 years, according to BMI.

Neither regulator responded to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, extreme droughts in Southeast Asia—particularly in Vietnam and Indonesia—are resulting in lower coffee bean harvests, hurting producers’ output and global exports. Coffee inventories have recovered somewhat in recent weeks but remain low in recent historical terms. Robusta coffee has seen a severe deterioration in export expectations, while Arabica coffee is expected to return to a relatively narrow surplus this year, said Charles Hart, senior commodities analyst at BMI.

The global coffee benchmark prices, London Robusta futures, are up by 15% on-month to $3,825 a ton. Arabica coffee prices have also surged 17% over the last month to $2.16 a pound in lockstep with Robusta—its highest level since October 2022. Cocoa prices have more than tripled on-year over these supply crunch fears, and risen 49% in the last month alone to $10,050 a ton.

“Cocoa trees are particularly sensitive to weather and require very specific conditions to grow, this means that cocoa prices are especially vulnerable to extreme weather events, such as drought and periods of intense heat, as well as the longer-term impact of climate change,” said Lucrezia Cogliati, associate commodities analyst at BMI.

Cogliati said global cocoa consumption is expected to outpace production for the third consecutive season, with intense seasonal West African winds and plant diseases contributing to significant declines.

Consumers hoping for a return to cheaper prices for life’s little luxuries in the midterm may also be in for a bitter surprise.

“There is no sugarcoating it—consumers will ultimately be faced with higher chocolate prices, products that contain less chocolate, and/or shrinking product sizes,” Morningstar’s Magan and Steinbauer said in a report.

“We anticipate consumers could respond by searching widely for promotional discounts, trading down to value-based chocolate and confectionary products from premium products, switching to private-label from branded products and/or reducing volumes altogether.”

The record-breaking rally for cocoa and coffee is likely more than just a flash in the pan, according to Citi analysts, as adverse weather conditions and strong demand trends are likely to support prices in the months ahead. The U.S. bank estimates Arabica coffee futures in a range of $1.88-$2.15 a pound for the current year, but said projections could be lifted if the outlook for 2024-25 tightens further.

At the heart of it all, climate change is set to play a major role, as the impact of extreme weather events could exacerbate the pressure on cocoa and coffee supplies, according to market watchers.

“I don’t expect prices to remain at these levels, but if we continue to see more unusual weather as a result of global warming then we certainly could see more volatility in terms of cocoa yields going forward, which could impact pricing,” said Paul Joules, commodities analyst at Rabobank.