Melbourne’s Longsong bar was abuzz on Thursday evening, 28th March, 2018. Lofty ceilings echoed the suave-suited chatter of guests anticipating an intimate encounter with Van Heusen’s 2018 Mentors; a panel of four of Australia’s most accomplished sportsmen and entrepreneurs. The elite group featured Melbourne Victory A-league striker Besart Berisha, Hawthorn’s AFL champion Cyril Rioli, eminent tech entrepreneur Stuart B Richardson and Olympic snowboarder and medallist Scotty James. Held in partnership with GQ Australia, the cocktail soirée offered guests an insight into the career hardships, triumphs and life lessons experienced by each Mentor, while also presenting a glimpse into their personal approaches to style and grooming through the curation of their evening looks from Van Heusen’s latest collection. But what is the significance of the suit for four men who have spent the majority of their lives and careers in uniforms, team colours and training gear, one might ask? LAB caught up with each of them to find out.
Behind the scenes was a flurry of activity as 7pm approached. Between hair styling, photo opportunities and interviews, there was barely a moment for the Mentors to gather their thoughts. Each of them remained utterly calm, relishing the experience of selecting the finishing touches for their pristine suits from racks and tables of shirts, ties and cufflinks; essential tools of the modern gentleman. As though stepping out of a James Bond film, Besart Berisha embodied a sharp combination of classic grooming with a modern approach to dressing based on simplicity and ‘owning’ your own style.
‘I remember my grandfather telling me when I started playing football that I must always dress like a gentleman,’ Berisha reflected. ‘I’ve been inspired by him when it comes to my personal style; remembering to always shave, to wear a nice suit and to present myself like a gentleman on and off the field.’ Wearing a European tailored navy Van Heusen suit with complementary sky blue shirt and silk tie, Berisha noted two key figures of both past and present that he believes have perfected the art of wearing a suit:
‘I love the way Frank Sinatra wore his suits; when he added the hat it was his best look. Another from today is Daniel Craig, he looks really sharp no matter what kind of suit he’s wearing,’ he said.
Like Berisha, Cyril Rioli’s exposure to suits and formalwear coincided with his foray into professional sport as a young man. Dressed in a blue super slim fit jacket and trousers (no tie) and a white checked shirt, Rioli looked as effortless and relaxed as he does in shorts and boots on the football field.
‘One of my first experiences with a suit was when I moved down to Melbourne for school, I had to wear one pretty much every day,’ said Rioli. ‘In my early days playing football I preferred a really plain suit and I’m still pretty much the same now. A good shirt, a good tie; that’s me. Just something plain and simple.’
Even for high profile events such as the Brownlow Medal and other press appearances throughout the season, Rioli prefers not to over-complicate things when it comes to his personal style, despite the bombardment of brands, products and trends we see every day on TV and social media. And who does an AFL superstar look to for inspiration when it comes to suiting up?
‘My favourite NBA player John Wall looks really good in a suit when he arrives at his games. They have a pretty strict dress code over there. I follow him on social media and I like seeing some of the things he wears, especially the suits,’ Rioli said.
For entrepreneur Stuart B Richardson, a suit is one of the most powerful means through which an individual can express their identity; be it to a room of mates, colleagues or strangers. Dressed in an ink coloured jacket and trousers with a red twill check shirt and a bold spotted tie, Richardson reflected on the role of the business suit in his transition from a career in the defence force to the boardroom:
‘I went from a culture where everyone was dressed exactly the same in uniform to having the ability to use a suit to express my personality,’ Richardson said. ‘I look for something a bit left of centre in my suits; whether that’s a certain colour or texture of a fabric, or a detail in the accessories you choose. There are so many ways to make it your own.’ Richardson offered that in a business context, the right suit signifies professionalism, capability and confidence.
‘As an entrepreneur I operate in lots of different settings and ecosystems and it’s so important I match my dress to the environment I’m going to be in. If I’m addressing a board room full of executives I’ll dress differently to when I’m socialising with other entrepreneurs,’ he said.
As guests awaited the Mentor panel downstairs, Olympic snowboarder Scotty James had the final strands of his usually helmeted hair swept into place. He was every inch the effortlessly cool and humble young man we’ve seen all over the news and social media in recent weeks after his formidable performance in South Korea’s Winter Olympics. Unmissable in a Van Heusen Black Label slim charcoal check ensemble, James certainly has an eye for detail when it comes to his philosophy on style:
‘I tend to look around me in the public for style inspiration,’ James said. ‘One really awesome thing about travelling the world is that you get to experience different cultures and different styles. For example, style in Australia is so different to the style of dressing in America, and America is so different to Asia. I like to just pick out little details from wherever I am as opposed to having one person I look to for inspiration.’
With a swathe of Australia’s leading menswear influencers milling about among guests including Roberto Malizia, Shaun Birley, Dalton Graham and Larry Lim (an exceptionally suave bunch all donning Van Heusen attire) there was no shortage of examples demonstrating how a classic suit jacket, a sleek trouser and a crisp shirt can be styled to cater for both casual and evening looks. GQ Australia’s Editor Michael Christensen hosted the evening’s panel discussion; a relaxed chat that covered everything from the Mentors’ biggest career achievements to the toughest obstacles they’ve overcome to get to where they are. Courage, determination and self-belief emerged as the essential attributes required for both career success and personal growth, regardless of one’s profession. And what about the secret to achieving effortless personal style? That’s as simple as feeling good in the skin (or suit) you’re in.