A Conversation with Robert Ettinger and G. Bruce Boyer, Part 2: Style, Work, and Music

A Conversation with Robert Ettinger and G. Bruce Boyer, Part 2: Style, Work, and Music

We recently sat down with Ettinger CEO Robert Ettinger and legendary style writer G. Bruce Boyer for a free-wheeling discussion on the finer things in life. In this second of a two-part series we hear their thoughts on personal uniforms, staying focused, and greatest concert experiences.

Bruce Boyer by Rose Callahan & Robert Ettinger ceo of luxury leather goods Ettinger

Bruce Boyer (left - image by Rose Callahan) & Robert Ettinger (right)

What wallet do you use and how long have you had it for?

BB: You’re going to think this was planned and it absolutely was not, I’m not pandering to anybody, but I have this wonderful Ettinger wallet. A beautiful dark green with a London Tan interior. I only carry thin wallets because I put them in my back pocket. I don’t like thick wallets because no matter where you put them, they’re going to ruin the lines of your clothing. So I love this wallet. I got this about four years ago. It was given to me as a gift from a friend and when I first saw it, I said, “Boy this is just a beautiful wallet but it’s so smooth and lovely I bet you this is going to scratch like crazy. I’m going to end up with scratches all over it and it’s going to be all mottled.” But it’s not. I couldn’t be more satisfied at how well this is made. Sometime Robert, I want to ask you how a wallet is made like this that it doesn’t scratch and it’s as beautiful as it was when I got it.

RE: By incredible coincide, I also happen to have an Ettinger wallet. I have a lot of credit cards and loyalty cards and so I have the flaps open and it has a pocket as well to hold driving licenses and things, but this is fifteen years old and it’s incredibly polished from rubbing on cloth. It hasn’t scratched and I think it’s just because it’s very well-tanned leather. It’s got a good finish on it and a good color penetration and it’s almost like new. They tend to go after many, many years where it bends, where it opens and closes but what we’re doing now is we’re refurbishing wallets so we take the back of the wallet off under the stitches and we put it back on and then it’s like new again. It’s called the “green wallet”; it’s saving the planet.

Do you have a uniform, or do you still find yourself experimenting with your style?

RE: Covid has changed things. Before Covid, I did wear suits and ties and shirts with cufflinks much more. Because when Covid came I couldn’t go into meetings as much. I couldn’t go into central London or travel to Japan and China, so I didn’t need to wear the suits as much. I wore more casual clothes, but smart casual. Now that Covid is receding a bit we are going back to suits and ties and shirts, and I had an event this week at the Reform Club in London at Pall Mall. One of the very old gentlemen’s clubs and you’re not allowed in without a suit and a tie and a pair of dark shoes. You can’t get in with jeans and sneakers—they’ll stop you at the door. So, things are going back again.

BB: Being locked down and not getting out and about as much, I found myself wearing just old khakis and an old oxford cloth button-down shirt and so forth around the house. But when I think about my style of dress, I don’t think I’ve changed my style since I was 14 or 15 years old. I got into American Ivy League clothing and then I added certain British elements to that, and then later a little Italian color once in a while. But for better or for worse I don’t think my style has changed much at all, which makes me kind of dull and boring but there you are.

Boy this is just a beautiful wallet but it’s so smooth and lovely I bet you this is going to scratch like crazy. - Bruce Boyer

What is your next clothing commission or accessory purchase?

RE: I was looking at my shirt drawers this morning and a lot of my shirts are starting to go in certain places. I have my shirts made in Hong Kong. I’ve got a fantastic, small shirt maker there and whenever I’m in Hong Kong he comes to the hotel and he remeasures me. I don’t know why he does that; I’ve never put any weight on, but he says it’s better that way. I think he’s very diplomatic. He makes me a beautiful shirt at a sensible price. So, I need a dozen shirts, and that’s what my next purchase will be.

BB: Well I certainly don’t need anything. I’ve got more clothes than I can wear if I lived for another 50 years. But what I have my eye on and what I would like to get is something I haven’t had for years, a nice, tan summer suit. Whether a lightweight gabardine or a fresco fabric or even cotton, I really would like to have a tan summer suit.

What was your last clothing commission?

BB: The last thing was from a New York City tailor called Paolo Martorano, he made me a very nice pair of lightweight, high-twist trousers in a medium grey. The kind of thing that you can wear with anything in the summer.

RE: I had a suit made by Kilgour on Savile Row. I’ve never used them before but they have the Royal Warrant for the Prince of Wales that we have for leather goods, so I went in and they made me a beautiful suit out of English wool, single-breasted, and it’s just a very well-fitting suit, it looks good in any situation and that’s the last major purchase that I’ve done. What will I buy in the future? I’m not sure, I’ll have to see when I get traveling. I sometimes like buying clothes in Tokyo. Tokyo has some of the best tailors in the world—you know how the Japanese are into great detail. They almost sculpt a suit on to one. They’re brilliant.

BB: I would agree with that. I’ve found that the Japanese tailors are meticulous. When they take measurements and so forth the suit actually comes out to those measurements—which is sometimes with other tailors a little problematic.

Bruce Boyer. Image by Juhn Maing

Bruce Boyer. Image by Juhn Maing

Do you prefer working at home or in an office?

RE: I prefer working in an office. Even during Covid, I went in as much as possible. I just felt I could connect more with business in the office. I’m surrounded by the products and we’re designers and makers, and when you’re looking at new products you’ve got to sit around the table and pick things up and turn them around and get a feeling of the different levers. And we found during Covid when we were designing new ranges, trying to do it on Zoom or something, it took forever. And I remember I almost gave up at one point nine months ago, and then we came back to the office because Covid was subsiding and within a half an hour we were all sitting around the table we’d solved the problem.

BB: I’ve worked at home for 50 years or so and I don’t think I could actually write in a room or a setting where there were other people walking around and talking and so forth. It’s too distracting for me. I have a small study and it’s very dimly lit and it’s very quiet and my wife knows not to come into the room. She keeps the dogs out of the room, and I don’t play music or anything while I’m writing on the computer. Even when I go to a library to do some research, I can read things there and I can take notes, but I couldn’t actually write in a situation like that. I think for me I’m too easily distracted. if I see people walking around, I’ll watch them rather than doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I’ll watch them and say, “Aren’t they interesting?” or, “Aren’t they interestingly dressed?” or I wonder what they’re talking about. And so, I really try to keep distractions away from me… I have to be alone. I think at least for a writer, you almost have to be.

How do you stay focused?

BB: I wish I knew. The answer for me is you know everybody talks about writer’s block and what happens when you know you’re just looking at a blank screen or a blank paper and nothing happens. What I do is I look at the screen and eventually I’ll type the word “the.” And then I’ll look at it for a little longer and then I’ll type “hell with it” and go and make a cup of tea. What I discovered early on is that kind of thing you can actually work through. A lot of times when I can’t find what I want to say it’s because I realize I don’t know enough about what I’m trying to talk about. So, I either have to go away and get some information or I have to start really thinking about it on a deeper level.

RE: In a way I find it hard to concentrate for long periods of time. But if I know I’ve got to do a job I’ve got to concentrate, I’ve got to force myself, because then the job gets finished more quickly. I tend to have lists of things I have to do, and I tend to work through them fairly methodically until they’re all done. Then I can start thinking in a way that is more focused on things for the future.

Robert Ettinger CEO of luxury leather goods Ettinger

Robert Ettinger

How do you set your schedule?

RE: I still work with a week-to-view diary, one of these things with paper and you write on them (laughs). Everybody went on putting things on their phones and their iPads, but funny enough quite a lot of journalists I talk to now say they’re going back to writing things down because I think you remember things better. I set my schedule in the diary for the weeks or months ahead, and then every day when I get into the office or the previous evening I get a list of things to do for that day, the next day and I work through them and that helps me focus and know when things are done and finished—they get a tick, they get crossed out.

BB: I’m the same way. If I don’t make a schedule, if I don’t write things down, they’ll fall out of my ear and I won’t tend to them and things won’t get done. I used to keep two calendars: one was things I had to do that week and then at the end of the week I had another calendar and I’d write in there what I had in fact done and what hadn’t been done. But I don’t keep that one anymore. I do keep a daily diary of everything that I have to do that week and even going forward the next week and so forth. It’s very easy when you’re just by yourself to let the work slide. You know, a friend will call you up and say let’s go to the film or let’s go have a lunch or a drink or something and that’s a very bad idea… I knew any number of guys that started out writing when I did about fashion and they did get lost because it was too easy to let things slide. But I think for me the great motivator was fear, because I said to myself, “If I won’t do it, it won’t get done.” And if it doesn’t get done, I won’t have any money, and if I don’t have any money then I’m really in trouble.”

What accessories do you rely upon for work?

BB: My particular style is that I don’t write big things—I write little things. Somebody said some writers carve their portraits on mountains and others carve them on peach pits. And I’m a peach pit kind of guy. I write little things. But for me it’s important that every word that I get is the right word. So, if it takes me an hour to find the exact word that I want I’ll take that hour, and so I use reference books like thesauruses and dictionaries all the time… That’s another reason why I can’t really work outside of my study, because I have those books on my desk and I can refer to them easily. They’re old friends that I go to for help.

RE: When I’m traveling, I have my iPad with me, and that means I can communicate with the people back home in the office and it really helps. Before that kind of communication, you went away for two weeks on a vacation or a business trip and you came back and you just had a pile of things to do and almost so much that it was insurmountable… If I’m away on business or on holiday, I maybe spend 15 minutes in the morning and 15-20 minutes in the evening to go through things and reply and then I know it’s done. I find that more relaxing then worrying about what’s going on and what you’re coming back to, so I think that used in the right way these things are very, very useful.

Bruce Boyer image by Colin Coleman, True Style: The History & Principles of Classic Menswear by Bruce Boyer

Bruce Boyer (left - image by Colin Coleman), True Style: The History & Principles of Classic Menswear by Bruce Boyer (right)

What is the greatest live music performance you’ve ever attended?

RE: It goes back to when I was living in Germany. I was in my teens still and I lived in a town just outside Frankfurt. There were a lot of U.S. servicemen, and I got to know them. I joined their officer’s club and one day there was a concert in the woods. They couldn’t tell me who was playing, but they invited me, and Blood, Sweat & Tears were playing. There were only two hundred of us, and they were playing in the woods and its was stunning. It really was. A few beers were consumed, and it was just a wonderful evening.

BB: I’ll just very briefly go back way beyond that, when I was a teenager. There were a lot of dances where I grew up; you could go to a dance Friday night, Saturday night, Sunday night and they were usually what were at that time called “record hops.” They played records and pop songs and that kind of thing but occasionally we would get live music, and I did hear a lot of these acts that became kind of fabled in the history of rock ‘n’ roll. At one of the dances Little Richard and his band showed up, and I still can’t believe it. He was such a vivid, energetic performer and his band was so wonderful, they were a band from New Orleans, and they were playing for our local bands. I walked out of the dance hall that night and I couldn’t believe that I had even been there, it was really something. I wouldn’t say looking back that it was the world’s greatest music, but it was the world’s greatest experience, for me as a young man.

Robert Ettinger 1970s

Robert Ettinger in the 70s

What musical artist, whether living or passed on, would you wish to see the most?

RE: I like artists with very strong, powerful voices and that could be anybody from Pavarotti to singers like Elton John and George Michael. For me that’s very moving. So, I couldn’t say one artist but those sorts of people who when you listen to them it’s quite powerful.

BB: You reminded me of Pavarotti, and it’s funny because every once in a while, when I’m taking a break on my computer I’ll go into YouTube and I’ll type in Pavarotti singing “Nessum Dorma” and it just gives me a wonderful lift. It’s almost like I had a wonderful Martini and then I go back to work again. But I think the performance that I would have loved to have seen would be my three favorite jazz/blues singers, and that’s Jimmy Rushing, Joe Turner and Jimmy Williams. They all came to fame with the Count Basie band and Joe Turner was a huge man with a huge voice. If Joe Turner had been born in Italy instead of in Kansas City, I had no doubt that Joe Turner would have become a great opera singer. As it happens, he grew up in Kansas City in the 1920s and ‘30s and became a great blues singer and I would have loved to have been in one of those small clubs listening to a great blues band and listening to Joe Turner sing all night long. That to me would be heaven.

Interviewed & written by Eric Twardzik

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