When the art of dressing is practiced and edicts of style are employed, therein follows a pragmatic approach for men. Whereas some aspects of tailored clothing lend a touch of practicality, others serve to diffuse seriousness; adding a touch of gentility at the same time.
There is a breast pocket. Naturally, something should fill it; either a hand-rolled silk square or a linen handkerchief, the latter pocket addition being utilitarian in nature.
The lapel has a buttonhole; some device must go there, one presumes. For the clothing-enthusiast, this is yet another area in which one may display either a flower or another personalized ornament or pin. Kofi Annan utilized a white dove pin, the symbol for peace and hope, in his lapel during his tenure heading the United Nations. Pierre Trudea, the late Canadian prime minister relied on the powerfully vibrant, and more dandyish, red rose. The imitable Fred Astaire swore by the quiet simplicity of the white carnation.
Lapel adornment beyond the established flower has increased in popularity in the past few years. Some of this can be attributed to a certain component of younger men hungry for a greater sense of formality in the art of dressing, and who readily embrace this sense of formality.
While the classic flower or boutonnière is still very much a staple, social media that modern gift and curse, has propelled felt flowers and other accouterment to the forefront, especially for the man looking to separate himself from the pack. A decade ago, before 'Like' and follows were part of the collective lexicon, when television and magazines were the source for style inspiration for the majority of men, there was hardly a lapel decoration in sight. Perhaps the dashing or dandy would add that final touch of gentility, but they were in a gross minority. Following 9/11, no politician would dare be caught without an American flag pin.
As cyclical as menswear is, clothing-obsessed men on Internet forums popularized little twists to the lapel adornment.
From silk knots to medals to whimsical pins, the adornments began to look similar, almost trendy. Enter By Elias, a menswear accessories firm founded by FIT alum Bevin Elias.
A Grenada-born turned Brooklynite, Elias was fascinated with menswear from a young age. That interest, according to Elias, is rooted in his West Indian heritage.
“My family always made certain we were put together; shirts and trousers always crisply pressed,” said Elias. “It was important in the Caribbean culture. They believed looking put together gave you a leg up.” This was especially crucial for blacks, emigrating from the West Indies to America. Elias maintained that sense of propriety. His time at FIT and subsequent positions in luxury retail only strengthened his focus on the what he calls “the finishing touches.”
Fueled by a passion for menswear and desire for something to fill the paucity of choices aside from the standard lapel flower, Elias came up with the idea for his own customized pins in 2013.
"When the conversation about the boutonniere began, I said I didn't want to take the traditional route," recalled Elias on a conversation with his then-fiancé. "I was thinking about something unique, something I could keep."
A stroll past a midtown NYC button shop proved serendipitous, as Elias spotted a silk button that resembled a flower and the idea was birthed for the wedding accessory he and his groomsmen would wear for the big day.
"I wore it around and to work and a lot of people liked it," recalled Elias, in between sips of a latte at the quaint Nolita patisserie, Ceci-Cela. "I started making a few as a hobby."
The hobby, and that initial silk button, has since evolved in the nearly two years since Elias first conceived the pin from silk button to metal bees, fleur de lis and rose pins. The initial response was a good learning experience, despite less than positive wholesale results. Elias presented the product to large retailers who liked the collection, but thought the product less than substantial.
“One upscale retailer said the pins were beautiful, but weren’t substantial enough,” Elias recalled.
With the advice, Elias and his team reworked the production and streamlined the selection. The rebrand proved successful. In the late summer of 2014 By Elias and A Custom, a quaint Greenwich Village atelier came to a wholesale agreement. This was the first step in widening the brand's audience.
Following that, Garibaldi Lavena, Director of Client Services at Paul Stuart, contacted Elias and a partnership ensued. An exclusive collection was produced for the upscale retailer and, for Elias, a spot in the vitrines of the one of the most respected men's shops in the United States.
By Elias now only produces pins in 14K gold and silver, with a renewed focus on the "elegant finishing touches of both male and female clients."
What Elias stresses throughout our meeting is the importance of the entire experience. From the personalized stationary to the cashmere-lined, custom-made box, no detail is ignored. Harkening back to his childhood rearing or the finishing details.
The hashtag, #100pinned began as an attempt to promote each new pin, to reach not only his social media audience, but the followers and friends of each person he snapped a photo of, wearing a By Elias pin.
Since its inception, Elias has made his way across the country and, most recently, the Atlantic, pinning clients in an effort to solidify his position as a top accessory designer gaining attention. At Pitti Uomo 87, the bi-annual menswear trade show in Florence, Italy, Elias was able to experience for the first time, the global response to the product as well as conceive a few as-yet-be announced collaborations.
"To see the global response motivated me to create expand, to create more." That more includes a foray into cufflinks and collar bars as well as the larger arena of menswear accessories.