By Josh Peskowitz, Men's Fashion Director at Bloomingdale's
Words by Jacob Kampp Berliner and Silas Adler / Illustration by Sine Jensen
Bloomingdale’s men’s fashion director Josh Peskowitz is a master of style and an all-around talent due to his work in many different places such as The Fader, Cargo, Esquire, Vibe, men.style.com etc. If you meet him in the streets without headphones, he’ll most definitely recite the Illmatic album by Nas. We met him to have a chat about heritage, his inspiration and the new generation in the fashion business.
Josh, you have a background in fashion and writing. How did it all start out?
I actually started in retail when I was 16, before I got into writing. I worked for a store to sell clothes because I couldn’t afford the clothes that I wanted. I was never trained as a writer in school or anything like that but I got offered to work as an assistant for Fader Magazine after I had helped out for a photo shoot once. This was around 2001. I still had a full time job at Urban Outfitters in New York at that time. My normal shift would start at 6am until 3pm in the afternoon doing window displays and building furniture, and afterwards I would go to the magazine and work until nighttime. The team at that time was small and I had some really amazing editors that helped me to tone my voice and understand what it was like to write for a magazine - something I took for me for the rest of my career.
What are you educated in?
I went to School for Fashion Merchandising. I took me a while to figure it out as a major but I am happy I did. I always dreamed of opening my own store, even before wanting to become an editor. To be a fashion editor, there is no real education. You can’t be like “Yo, I got a fashion editor degree”. There is no such thing; there is no playbook. It’s about your portfolio, your sensibilities, how you interact with people around you, those are the things that qualify you for the job, not necessarily what your degree says. I’m a lucky person; I have gotten a lot of great opportunities over the years and the chance to work with a lot of people that I could learn a lot from.
What did you write about back then?
Mostly products. Part of the job was to look for things that were small and weird, but also interesting and cool. If I saw something cool, like a new store that opened or somebody doing something interesting, I would write about it. The luxury of the Fader Magazine is that it’s meant for a very specific audience. Like the way blogs are now but back then in 2002 or 2003, there was still that sense of discovery. If you know about something that other people didn’t know about, you could tell them about it. Now you can’t do that anymore, everybody knows about everything.
Yeah, that is so true. What have learned from doing all of these things?
These years of my life have been a great experience because I have been trained in three categories: being a stylist, a market editor and a writer. Not a lot of people have that. When I started at Bloomingdales, the ability to tell a story and communicate with the buyers and help inspire them through language and visuals was natural to me from my training. Our marketing vehicles are a collaborative effort with the photographers, marketers and creative teams and I couldn’t have done without the training I received back in the day, as well. I am an extremely lucky person.
That’s super interesting. How would you describe what your job is about now?
My main job is to help figure out the direction of the men’s department at Bloomingdales. I am involved in a lot of decisions that the marketing team takes, in how the windows are displayed, the merchandise, what shop goes where, what brands come in, what our assortment looks like, who’s developing exclusive products for us. My job is to do anything and everything to make sue that our direction is one that will inspire the customer and provide them with anything they need if they walk in the door. But it’s very collaborative; we all work together as a team. The main thing will always be the product, that’s the most important thing. That’s why I work very close with the buyers to make sure that they are balancing what we buy for the stores between what is inspiring and necessary. Everybody wears clothes, thankfully, but not everybody wants to wear what other people wear. I try and buy a lot of clothes; I basically live in them because that is my job experimenting all the time to figure out what works and what doesn’t work. I’ve grown up a lot working in this store. I learned that you can’t alienate the customer by being too forward. Just because I like it doesn’t mean it works for him.
There’s always this balance of supplying and trying to push boundaries a little.
You always have to push because the most important thing is to know what the customer wants before he even knows what he wants. The difference is, when I was working for magazines my natural in connection is probably 1 year or 1,5 years ahead of the normal. A lot of it has to do with access and I am comfortable with a lot of things that maybe people aren’t but I’m also just a regular dude. Maybe it will take me a year to feel comfortable but it’s 1,5 years ahead of others. But at the end of the day I’m not super handsome or skinny or anything like that. But I like what I do and I like to have fun with it. I’m willing to try stuff that maybe another guy wouldn’t feel comfortable with because he is not as immersed in it as I am. And that’s fine. But I also have to make sure that I am not too far ahead of the customers because they might not be ready yet.
It feels like that over the past 5 years there has been a generation shift in fashion. A lot of people in big positions have a different heritage now, as opposed to how we grew up and the subcultures that crossed our lives. What are the advantages of this clash of generations?
Creativity comes from conflict. You probably know that from putting together a collection or trying to figure out what the store is going to look like, or when developing strategies for marketing. Both of you have strongly held opinions, you agree on most things but that 10% you don’t agree on and fight about, that’s the extra piece that makes it really amazing once you come to an agreement. It’s the same thing with any large corporation. No person alone makes any decisions; it’s all about getting people to feel passionate about their opinions and hashing them out. Sometimes you win, sometimes you loose. You got to know which ones are the important ones to fight. That’s any business.
What’s your inspiration from your upbringing?
I grew up in the city, in Brooklyn and Washington D.C. Those are the two places that made me who I am and both have a very strong culture. We listened to Hip Hop but other friends of mine listened to Hardcore, Punk as well as Reggae. These things influenced me, and the people that I grew up with. At work, I can speak for a certain subset what customers want, particularly for the people that have my background; they are also probably the ones driving the trends in the men’s fashion business that we see today. I grew up caring about my sneakers a lot and what the logo on my jeans was. This mentality is always going to be there. Presentation matters, and just because we have gotten older and have to wear a suit doesn’t mean we don’t want to look fly in it. All of these kinds of things speak to this generation and our cultural touch points are the ones that are moving the needle now. What we stand for and what we bring to the table based on our point of view is literally the baseline of the next generation’s point of view and that’s where it continues. It’s a building process.
Talking about the next generation, there is a discussion right now whether social media is good or bad for fashion. I am not saying it is neither but we are seeing that a lot of the show brands are starting to do the creative direction for the shows exclusively for social media.
That started with us, style.com, where I worked for a while. You could be at a show venue and it wouldn’t seem that special at the time but the pictures online would look spectacular because of where they seated the photographers. And vice versa. You could be at a show that was so moving and emotional when you were there and then you saw a picture and it doesn’t say a thing. That’s why the reviews were always important. For context. As the generation who is viewing these things is moving more and more visually, of course you’re going to cater to them to make sure you are making the most impact or statement you can on the pictures. Coming back to the generation, their second nature is social media. The difference is that the younger generation is able to take so many different influences. You lose a little bit of that sense of discovery of finding out about a new band or new subgenre; no matter what town you’re in you can order the clothes, you don’t have to try to make your own outfit out of the army surplus stores. You can get whatever you want whenever you want now and there is maybe some sense of DIY and creativity lost but they are finding new things to do it.
Isn’t part of getting old also fun not understanding. There is something happening that you are not sure of.
Yeah, the thing that I get the most enjoyment out of is watching these kids take different elements of different things that have meaning to me and don’t have meaning to them, it’s just pictures on a Tumblr feed or Instagram. A band logo that means something to me but not them; they can take these things and put them together in a way that for me would seem sacrilegious. You are going against everything that means something but to them it’s just source material, it’s just content to them. For me it is everything to see that they take things that have a meaning to me and make their own meaning out of it. Do I agree with it? – Not necessarily but it is always interesting to see it.
Yeah, for some of them Wu Tang is just a yellow logo.
They don’t know what it was like when the Parental Advisory sticker came out or being on the street and hear Biggie for the first time. I like some of what the young generation likes and it’s cool to see the transformation but it’s not Hip Hop. It’s all based on it but it’s a different thing.
Actually 20 years ago the luxury houses didn’t understand that the rappers were helping them.
Now the creative directors of those houses are my generation and they get it. Whether or not they are targeting a lucrative market or not, they are using that language that appeals to that consumer because that’s what they know and that’s what they love. There is that love for street culture.