It’s high noon, and I’m waiting at the casually elegant Merchant Tavern, excited about my appointment with the establishment’s co-owner Jeremy Charles. The plan is to review four local examples of menswear trends and get his take on them.
Arriving in matching tweed jackets, he and his young son Hank greet me warmly, and usher me into the private dining room so we can talk in a quieter atmosphere, lunch and wine are ordered, and suddenly I’m relaxing and talking about clothes with one of the most laid back, friendly individuals I’ve ever met.
Not talking about clothes like trend-maddened shoppers at some fast fashion outlet, but instead with a thoughtful tone reminiscent of Dick Hebdige’s 1979 cultural studies classic Subculture: The Meaning of Style.
We started with a picture of a wool cardigan from Nonia, a store that happens to be among his favourites. “I love cardigans” says Jeremy. “My favourite things to wear are cardigans and sweater coats.” “And pyjamas,” our server Kate jokes as she hands us the sort of charcuterie plate that dreams are made of. Jeremy’s demeanor with his staff will continue to impress me over the meal. So will his strong sense of who he is and where he comes from.
Back to the subject of sweaters, the man has an obvious reverence for wool. He lightly touches his marled grey blue hat as he speaks of it as if there were talismanic powers within, able to bestow the graces of whatever ancestral dieties were responsible for keeping the chill of the cold salt air at bay for all the fisherman and sealers of our past.
It is knit of Scottish wool, he tells me, and is a shorter tuque style called a watchman’s cap, favoured by mariners, and one of his trademark items. He describes the cardigan as “the ultimate Newfoundland accessory,” adding that he never leaves home without a sweater and wool cap tucked in his backpack.
Cowboy shirts are the next order of business, and Jeremy likes the style for relaxed occasions. “I wouldn’t wear one of these everyday, but it’s nice to break out a fun shirt that feels right for the moment. If you wanna feel like a cowboy, wear a cowboy shirt.”
Hank looks up from his colouring book and lunch to tell me how much he likes the Western shirt his dad got for him. I find it beyond adorable that dad and son wear the same looks. The boy is clearly his dad’s ‘mini-me’, a point reinforced when Hank goes on to explain to me how much better pasta is when it’s made fresh from scratch.
Our next subject leads us to a place where style and identity intersect, an identity born of place and of culture. Summertime seal is the look, and I have photos of seal belts and ties, fun pops of the texture for this warmer season.
“I have a pair of sealskin sneakers, which I love,” he informs me. “The seal harvest is a wonderful thing to celebrate, be it on your plate, on your feet, or as a belt around your waist. I even have a sealskin rug. We celebrate the harvest in my home. It’s a part of who we are and always will be. It’s important to celebrate the whole animal, not just the fur but the food as well.” We discuss this, and soon realize we both hail from the Old Perlican area, and may well be cousins.
Last in line is the colour trend of what I call “garden party tones.” Mint, seafoam, salmon, limoncello, and the king of them all this season, orange rind (which is just another word for peach, I’ve discovered).
His take on this is short and sweet. “I would never wear that in a million years,” then adding “but what the heck” and laughing when he realizes the item I have brought to photograph him in is a summery salmon t-shirt.
We all have our colours we feel right in, he explains to me, and for him it’s blues, greens, browns, and greys. The colours of the landscape he relates to so deeply.
I’m beginning to think of him as a Gerald Squires landscape painting come to life as a downtown chef. Searching for something nice to say about the colours he’s been presented with by me, he concedes they do make him think of his nan, which is nice.
“I prefer plaids and tweeds, though, I want to dress in a way that makes me think of the older times,” he concludes.
We sat for some time longer, discussing a love of wild foods and local produce, which comprise the heart and soul of his restaurants’ offerings. We talked of the loss of skills in using what is available locally, the importance of celebrating what this island has to offer, and of a tendency to destroy our jeans when out in the woods.
“I love lived -in Newfoundland apparel. I like to mix things in a casual way, like old jeans with a really nice shirt or tweed jacket”. This, I feel, is the essence of style, knowing who you are and presenting that visually in a way that fits your life.