Gents of Style
The Bellwether Project
By Dorothy Santos
Published Nov 2013
In recent years, San Francisco has witnessed a burgeoning community of vintage retailers and stylists. This wave of fashion connoisseurs has brought much-needed life back to the notion of the dapper and elegantly dressed individual. Styling firm The Bellwether Project has taken it upon itself to reach out to the community of men (and women) interested in donning a sophisticated look without burning a hole in their pockets. From color to form and presentation, co-founders Dario Smith and Dante Wright embody what it means to be a gentleman and dress the part. Much like my father, their style and personalities are reminiscent of times when people cared about the way they presented themselves. Fashion is far too often associated with femininity and vanity, which should not be (and, frankly, is not) the case. Smith and Wright have reinvigorated vintage fashion as well as inspired people to put extra time and attention into the little details that always go a long way and that, more often than not, lead to the inexorable whip of the head for that second glance. Q&A with The Bellwether Project’s Dario Smith Where do you draw your styling inspiration from? I draw my styling inspiration from a lot of places, as all artist should. My favorite source is people watching. Though I haven’t done it in a while, I often pick a corner to perch with my camera and lurk at people... yes, lurk at people. I study the people’s patterns, fabrics, how they move, whether they look comfortable, mannerisms — everything that tells why they chose the outfit they did that day. Style is natural; you feel it before you see it. What are the seemingly ordinary things in menswear and vintage attire people take for granted but have become a part of The Bellwether Project’s signature style? A white collared shirt that has been tailored to your body might be the best purchase you will ever make — buying five of them will make your entire workweek a lot better. It is literally the base for every ensemble I put together, even if I don’t use it... even if the outfit involves a T-shirt. You need at least five in your closet at all times, pressed and ready to go. What did you see lacking in San Francisco Bay Area fashion that prompted you and your partner to create a personalized styling service? There are very few men trying to help men look like men in San Francisco. There are even fewer heterosexual men attempting to help these “presentationally challenged” individuals. Fashion in San Francisco has no focus, very few rally points, and everyone is in an unfriendly competition for an industry that feels nonexistent. We created The Bellwether Project to service two causes. First, to make sure that no man under our style counseling misses an opportunity because off an aesthetic fault. Second, to give the city something to look forward to when the notion of SF fashion is brought to conversation. We by no means carry ourselves as better than anyone, but we are also tired of the mediocrity of San Francisco’s fashion industry. That has to change, and we will be the leaders of it. If you could travel anywhere in the world and pick designers and stylists to work with, where would you go? Who would be a part of your ideal styling team? This is a tough one... Well, Mr. Kogi “Poggy” Motofumi of United Arrows would definitely be a part of this undertaking along with the Art Comes First group. Ozwald Boateng, Thom Browne, Riccardo Tisci, Karl Edwin-Guerre, Nick Wooster if he’s not too busy changing jobs. Esther Quek, Alessandro Squarzi, Alexander Nash, and the creators of the Public School label. The entire team would assemble in each person’s respective home town, trading off every month for a year. The collective would be produced in Ethiopia. Vintage is your primary focus in styling your clients. Does this stem more from an aesthetic approach or a sustainability practice or both? Definitely both. I learned how to shop thrift via my grandmother, and I was lucky enough to be one of those kids who didn’t need much more than my imagination to entertain myself. Creating something out of nothing is my niche. The idea of sustainability was already infused into my shopping habits before The Bellwether Project. That goes for all of us in the group. We are very good at finding deals without settling for cheaply made things. My vintage taste comes directly from my love of bebop and hard bop Jazz —1940s post-WWII era is my drug of choice. Looking back on the history of American menswear, how do you feel men’s style has changed, shaped, and affected culture? Culture usually affects the style. As Bill Cunningham stated, “Fashion (or style) is the armor we put on to face everyday life.” Menswear had been dead for a long while, especially through the ‘90s when men wanted more unstructured jackets and non-tailored suits, because it gave off the air of being relaxed. Relaxed style these days looks like Silicon Valley. The lack of the clothing standards when in the office seemed like a bad idea until men realized that they could wear a suit by choice. This phenom is breeding a new generation of self-expression through what used to be the attire you aspire to as a professional. For those individuals who need immediate styling guidance, would it be possible to name the fail-proof brands you recommend for men? I’m not sure if there are any fail-proof brands — Thom Browne will always give you the standard American feel of a gray flannel suit — can’t go wrong there. I want to reiterate that style is natural. You won’t find it in fashion; you express it in fashion. Research designers that have similar taste as you and not because someone told you to wear it. This is the age of branding yourself as yourself, so ask yourself what makes you look like yourself. And you can always visit me...