Do New Zealand men have bad style? These fashionable Kiwis share their top tips

Iron your socks, says Jason Sutcliffe.
Chris McKeen

Iron your socks, says Jason Sutcliffe.

In a salute to those New Zealand men who defy the hyper-casual Kiwi archetype, Jeremy Olds gets the fashion low-down from three stylish exemplars.

JASON SUTCLIFFE, 44, is the head of risk and compliance at Westpac bank.

There's no such thing as a typical work day for me. It could be chairing a steering committee. It could be strategic meetings. There's a lot of communication, and a lot of influencing. So you've got to be credible. In terms of dressing, it needs to complement that.

Jason Sutcliffe: "Here, the mickey can get taken out of you because you're a little too formal."
Chris McKeen

Jason Sutcliffe: "Here, the mickey can get taken out of you because you're a little too formal."

I make a conspicuous effort in terms of the way I dress. I always have a suit on, I always have a shirt and tie on. I've always got a pocket square in there. It's important to be well-shaved. It's important to have your watch set at the right time. If you've got specs, it's important they're polished and clean. You've got to have a good pen. You've got to have all of those accessories that support that you're entirely focused on creating the right impression – not only of yourself, but also your employer. You're always on-brand.

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I'll always have a jacket on – a sports jacket, something like that – on the weekend. In my work life, you never know who you'll bump into in the weekend. If you want to continue preserving your brand, you've got to be ready for anything at any time.

My interest in style came from living in Europe. That was in the late 90s, early 2000s. Working in investment banking in the UK, I had access to really good quality clothes. I turned up there, late 20s, thinking I was a bit en pointe with everything, and quickly found, actually, I was not. So getting that awakening was quite fascinating. In the UK, the mickey could be taken out of you because you're a bit sloppy. Here, the mickey can get taken out of you because you're a little too formal. But I think the mood here is changing.

My wardrobe is 50/50 business attire, private clothing. I've probably got about eight suits, and eight to ten sports jackets. I've got a few evening suits as well. One of my recent purchases was a really good white dinner jacket, the sort of thing from the film Spectre. When Daniel Craig wore his white dinner jacket on the train, I thought, that's a pretty cool look. It was hard to find, but I managed to track one down. Trousers-wise, I probably have four or five good pairs of jeans. Maybe eight to 10 pairs of good shoes. I think investment in good socks is key. Iron your socks. That sounds a bit mad, but ironed socks always feel better to put on and tend to last much better.

Not wanting to sound conceited about it at all, but you get encouraged. You get stopped on the street and people will say to you 'I just want to say, it's so nice to see someone putting so much effort in.' It does happen a lot, which is quite nice and encouraging. It's mostly randoms.

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Rufus Knight, photographed by Chris Skelton

RUFUS KNIGHT, 29, is an interior architect, who won the Purple Pin at last year's Best Design Awards. His current projects include work for the Architecture Biennale in Venice, and an 80-apartment building in central Auckland.

He was reading the news in an airport terminal last year, when he came across an essay in the New York Times titled: 'The Near-Impossibility of Assimilation in Belgium'. As he read, Rufus Knight felt a sinking sense of recognition. He had arrived in the Belgian city Antwerp earlier that year to work for a world-renowned architecture firm, but was finding it difficult to adjust to his new life. "I came back [to New Zealand] like six times last year. It was crazy," says Knight. "I was incredibly homesick."

Knight stayed just a year in Belgium before returning to New Zealand. While working there had seemed right in so many ways – he wanted to work for an international firm, alongside architects he admired, and he was enjoying being part of large-scale projects – ultimately, it was wrong. He found the cultural mores restrictive: "In Belgium, they have god-knows-how-long of a design history which they really respect, and do things in a very particular way," he says. "I found it really dogmatic. It was too strict and I didn't respond very well to it. What's ingrained in me from being a hokey New Zealander is you just sort of do it."

Interior architecture is something of an emerging industry here, with only a handful of well-known players. But in Belgium, and wider Europe, it's a well-established, well-respected business. Knight has difficulty articulating exactly what the job entails, but it boils down to communication – he liaises with a network of creative people (artists, furniture makers, graphic designers – whoever the brief calls for) to design an interior space.

An unexpected benefit of working abroad was that it brought Knight's thoughts about the industry back home into relief: "It made me question what New Zealand interiors could offer with the same approach, and what constituted a New Zealand interior."

The son of teachers, Knight grew up in Ohakune, then Hawkes Bay. His interest in design emerged as he discovered skateboarding – "Skate shoes or something [were] probably the first self-realisation that I liked one thing as opposed to another." Despite not taking art subjects at school, he followed his instinct and enrolled to study design at Victoria University. "There wasn't really any great major sign I would go into interiors," he says, but he fell into that branch of the industry while working at Fearon Hay Architects after graduation.

When it comes to designing, Knight is most considerate of a space's light and proportion. He's always been detail-oriented, with a liking for natural materials and New Zealand-made goods. But he has no hard-and-fast rules. "In Europe and the rest of the world there are rules but, here, there are no rules. [We] need to celebrate the fact that we are still defining the language of who we are creatively and how we present ourselves to the rest of the world," he says. "We just need to be bold enough to say something."

As for his personal style, Knight dresses as he designs: with a quiet thoughtfulness that prides quality over quantity. His wardrobe contains: "Four Saint Laurent coats, four pairs of Saint Laurent shoes, two Saint Laurent sweaters, a black and a white T-shirt, and that's it. I think that comes from travelling, relocating a few times. The crap just goes. That's my ethos – cut it."

Tim Blanks, photographed by Paul Mouginot

TIM BLANKS, 61, is one of the world's leading fashion writers. Born in Auckland, he now lives in London, where he works as editor-at-large of The Business of Fashion, a go-to news source for the international fashion industry.

You have a very distinctive writing style. Tell me about finding your voice as a writer. The way I learned to write was by reading. I loved NME when I was a kid – insanely elegant writing. Anybody who I loved, I would read about them. It was an easy way to see how people write about the things they love in a meaningful and substantial way, rather than just saying 'I really love this' like a boppy teen fan letter. I think my voice was formed in that crucible of breezy substantiality, or substantial breeziness. I always knew what I wanted to say, and I knew how I wanted to say it.

One of your writing influences is the New Yorker's Kennedy Fraser, who once wrote: "We have long had an interest in pretending that fashion is something more dignified and substantial than it really is." Do you agree or disagree? The thought of fashion being dignified doesn't really appeal to me. I like that it's protean and constantly shifting shape. I like that it can be vulgar as well as elegant.

Fashion is an industry that thrives on change, but stays the same to a remarkable degree. The substance of it is very resistant to change. On the other hand, it has changed a lot in the time I've been working in it. There's a lot more of it than there's ever been before, so physically it's a lot more substantial than it was.

A swift Google search reveals you're a fan of the short-sleeved, printed shirt. Explain yourself. People respond to clothes that tell a story. You find more and more designers talking about a 'narrative' in their collection. It adds substance, a layer, when you buy clothes that have a story. Well, my clothes have got a story – the shirts scream their stories from a mile away as I come marching toward you.

I always loved a bit of 'look at me' element. I find it so strange that men are so scared of colour and print. I have no idea why. I think a lot of men are, essentially, very insecure, and they don't really want to be the focus of attention – attention they can't control.

Any style rules you live by? I get hot very easily so obviously comfort is very important to me. It has to make me feel good and, to be honest, clothing that makes me feel good doesn't even have to make me look good. I just need to feel that if there was an emergency, I wouldn't be uncomfortable. I worry that sometimes I might have to jump from one building to another, and I mightn't be able to make it across. I wouldn't want to be wearing clothes that made me conscious of the fact I wasn't going to [make it].

You often return to New Zealand. Do you get the sense men's attitudes towards fashion are shifting? No. One word: jandals. A few weeks ago I was in Auckland and I was particularly struck – not in a particularly good way – about how casual everybody is. Karen Walker and I were having a laugh about it. You could wear jandals to the opera. I suppose there are other priorities. The weather's too good to be faffing around with clothing. But if you come from somewhere else and you land there, it's quite remarkably shabby. Here [in London], the weather isn't as good, so people are far more covered up and there are more places to get dressed up for. Though I don't think it's a particularly New Zealand phenomenon, this omnipresence of casual clothing.

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