Allen Claudius George still uses Yahoo Mail. And, that is probably the only aspect of his life that is anachronistic. Everything else about this 34-year-old fashion blogger –his style statement, his blog, and his styling advice- is modern and edgy. Allen is the founder of the hugely popular blog, Bowties and Bones; one of the few Indian blogs that focuses on men’s fashion. Other than presenting sartorial advice, the blog is also a ready reckoner for everything related to sneakers. Allen’s personal style, understated and mostly monochromatic is amply complemented by his trademark beard and numerous tattoos. It is no surprise then, that he was named one of the best-dressed males by GQ, India’s foremost fashion magazine. In a chat with Cindrebay, the Mangalorean born sneaker fanatic speaks about his trajectory as a blogger, and his love for his partner in crime, his pet dog!
The international beginning:
Interestingly, the first blog of Bowties and Bones was written in Istanbul. “I was staying at this old, beautiful rented cottage. And, suddenly I had the urge to get started on the blog. Using the cottage’s wi-fi and my laptop, I got the domain registered and wrote my first blog post, then and there,” says Allen. The moniker of the blog also has an adorable story. “My dog is an integral part of my life and I wanted to incorporate him in the logo and name of my blog. Bowties and Bones just felt right because I thought that the bow resembled a rubber bone that dogs love to chew on,” he says. Thus, the name stayed, also as a tribute to his little pet.
Allen exemplifies the quintessential bad boy image through his pictures on social media and blog. But the tough exterior barely reflects his real self. He speaks about how his penchant for dressing well stemmed from his modest upbringing, in a disarmingly honest manner that is at once endearing and heartfelt. “We come from a very humble background, but my mom always ensured that my older brother and I were well dressed. Our white shirts were spotless, devoid of any stains, and our trousers were always well ironed. I guess my interest in style and the need to look well put together stemmed from that disciplined upbringing,” says Allen.
Interestingly, his obsession with sneakers was also born then. “While growing up, we used to get toys and new clothes only twice a year, on birthdays and Christmas. But a lot of my classmates had relatives living abroad who would get them fancy gadgets like G-Shock watches, and cool shoes. We wouldn’t throw a tantrum asking our parents to get us those things. But, we were children and we wanted similar stuff too,” he says. That child who wished for things he couldn’t have is still alive inside Allen, urging him to invest in new sneakers and products simply because now he can. “I guess, a part of me is trying to fulfil that childhood yearning by being able to not only collect sneakers but also write about them,” he adds with his characteristic nonchalance.
Being a sneakerhead:
To say Allen loves sneakers would be an understatement. The fashion blogger has 50 pairs of sneakers ranging from the latest Kendrick Lamars to Yeezys. If a new sneaker has been launched in the market, rest assured, Allen will have it on his nicely organised shoe rack. But he also follows a rigid rule. He ensures that, at any given point, he will never own more than 50 sneakers. The moment his collection goes beyond 50, he donates some of them.
His passion and in-depth information about sneakers are eloquently translated into well-informed, and coherent reviews on his blog; one of its main highlights. Allen points out, “The sneaker culture has been in existence for a long time in Europe and America. But it India, it has been gradually gaining steam for the last 18 months or so. It is now one of the hottest trends in Indian fashion.”
Allen tries to write or record a review of a sneaker as soon as it hits the Indian markets. Recently, he rode almost two hours to the only store in Bengaluru that had a pair of the just arrived, hugely popular Yeezy 350 V2 Black/Red, to be able to do an immediate review!
On his blog, one can find reviews ranging from Adidas’s latest “The Tubular” to Kendrick Lamar’s latest offering in collaboration with Reebok. His reviews attempt a complete dissection of the footwear, ranging from its colour, fit, texture, comfort factor, and whether it is a notch higher or tad lower than its predecessors.
He also explores the obsession men have with sneakers. “Women have a range of shoes to choose from, even for work. They can also make their outfits sexier by slipping on a nice pair of heels. For men, there are no such options. And, that is why a good pair of sneakers add that much-needed oomph factor to a man’s ensemble,” he explains.
“Male office goers, usually, have to adhere to strict dress codes. That leaves them with little room for experimenting with their footwear. On weekends, therefore, they opt for a more laidback look. And, that’s when sneakers come into play. Moreover, a good pair of sneakers can be teamed up with any outfit, upping the overall look,” he adds.
Interestingly, in spite of owning some of the best sneaker brands in the world, Allen’s favourite pair remains his old Converse Chuck Taylor Hi Tops. “They were the sneakers that I wore through my struggle and hustle, as I made my way through life,” he says.
The fashion Industry is probably one of the few industries that is predominately female oriented. Men including designers, stylists, models, who have successfully broken into the female bastion, are usually categorised as effeminate; a skewed and judgemental understanding of fashion that Allen tries to set right.
“I have often been asked if I were gay because I am a fashion blogger. Fashion, unfortunately, is neither taken serious nor is it associated with masculinity. That perception really needs to change,” he adds.
Although new trends and styles are being constantly created for women, men have not been so lucky in that category. Especially in India, male models are always seen walking the ramp in suits, shirts and trousers, and Sherwanis. Can this hesitation to experiment with men’s styles be blamed on designers’ lack of imagination, or their reluctance to move away from a time-tested formula? Allen disagrees and adds, “Culturally India has always played safe with men’s fashion, that is the truth. But I wouldn’t blame the designers for that. After all, they are forced to create stuff that will be marketed and accepted well. There is , of course, a niche male population that are experimental, but that group hasn’t grown big enough to dictate trends yet.”
He also vehemently disagrees with the gendered division of colours that society has been perpetuating for ages now. “This gendered understanding of colour ends up creating a lot of resistance among men towards certain colours. For example, pink is considered such a feminine colour. But I wear pink shirts, and when I do, I get a lot of compliments,” says Allen.
However, he is quick to point out, that the person often adds that they could never carry off the colour so well. “And, I completely fail to understand the hesitation. I tell them, I am as much a man as you are. If I can wear this, so can you! The problem stems from the world wide cultural comprehension of colours for different sexes; pink is for girls and blue for boys! This has to change, for more men to feel comfortable to experiment,” says Allen.
Additionally, there are three other aspects of an Indian man’s style that exasperate Allen. “Not paying enough attention to their shoes, being unconcerned about their grooming, and wearing ill-fitting clothes, are some of the things that really annoy me. Sometimes, I see men wearing an oversized coat, or an undersized shirt, and it just gives the impression that they are wearing clothes to just hide your body, not to look good,” says the stylist.
Allen understands that his brand of personal style- bearded and tattooed- is not accepted widely, but he refuses to compromise. “I am aware that acceptance for my style is less. Maybe I will get more viewers if I choose to wear Chinos with my shirt tucked in, because that style is more accessible to a large population, like college or office goers. My style is more apt for those in non-mainstream jobs. And, that’s alright, it doesn’t matter. This is my style, and I am going to stick to it,” he asserts.
He further adds that he understands he doesn’t have the conventional modelesque looks, but that is the least of his worries. “I love food and eat a whole lot every day. I do workout, once a while, but that is more from the perspective of keeping my heart and lungs healthy and building some endurance. Sure, I would love to be athletic fit but then biryani tastes better than six pack abs look,” he adds.
Allen’s unique take on fashion that also encourages men to break free from their comfort zones has found him many an admirer who look up to him for advice. “There’s this one guy who keeps sending me pictures of his clothes every now and then, asking for my suggestions. He calls me his inspiration! That is really sweet. But I feel fashion is more superficial, and I don’t really think I will have an in-depth emotional impact on anyone,” he says.
Struggling and hustling:
Telling Indian parents about leaving a comfortable job to pursue a vocation that is beset with uncertainties is never an easy task. Thus, Allen knew he had his task cut out when he broke the news of his starting a blog to his parents.
This decision did not go down well with them. “They were very hesitant. They couldn’t understand why I would leave a perfectly comfortable job and venture into something that offers no security or insurance cover. I don’t hold it against them. I understand their reluctance. It would be difficult for them to understand a life sans a secure job. At least, they are happy that I haven’t run into any financial troubles yet,” he adds.
Before becoming a full-time blogger, Allen worked with the Citi group and was in Client Servicing in Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). “While growing up, only two study streams were considered respectable, Engineering and Medicine. The common perception was, only stupid people choose Arts. Well, I had no interest in becoming either an Engineer or a doctor. So I choose to do Business Management” he says.
On completing his MBA, Allen joined the corporate world, and it was during this phase that his first tryst with fashion occurred. “While working at TCS, I was approached to write for a UK based men’s fashion website. A couple of my stories got the most number of votes and that’s when my friends started encouraging to me to start off on my own,” explains Allen.
Soon after quitting, Allen started growing his beard, one of his prized possessions. “I have been itching to do this since my client servicing days. I had a stubble then, and after quitting I just let it grow out. I think beard adds character to my face. Also, if I didn’t have a beard I think I’d look like an infant,” says Allen.
Even though the beard came later in his life, tattoos have always found a place in Allen’s heart and body. “I got my first tattoo done about 10 years ago. My elder brother and I got it together, and then I just got addicted to getting inked. I kept getting more tattoos. When I was working, I was always dressed in full sleeves, so no would notice it at work. But now I proudly show them off,” he says. He adds that the beard and tattoos are not an attempt to stand apart from the crowd, but an external manifestation of his personal style.
Allen is honest enough to point out that there are days when he questions his decision of getting into fulltime blogging. “A lot of the people only see the success and not the struggle, time, effort that goes into it. They tell me they want to start blogging because they think it is easy and all they have to do is wear some nice clothes and pose in front of the camera. It takes Rs 25,000 just to maintain the website. For a blogger, that is a lot of money. Many of the products I review are bought by me, and those are expensive. It is not an easy task,” Allen points out.
“Also, you can’t really have a day off. As a fashion blogger, I have to practice what I preach. I cannot simply step out in a shabby outfit with crocs on. I need to look the part I portray on my blog,” he adds.
However, things are looking up for Allen, as he is all set to launch his own apparel line in some time. “I have a few interesting collaborations coming up with a few brands, with my design inputs. I am really excited and looking forward to it,” he says
But there’s still one mystery to be solved. Why does Allen still use Yahoo Mail? “I had created Yahoo back in the day when it was still famous. And, then I created Gmail with an embarrassing and ridiculous sounding email ID. Now my YouTube and social media are linked to my Gmail, so I cannot change that ID. For official purposes I still use Yahoo, because I don’t want to look foolish!” says the founder of Bowties and Bones, swallowing a chuckle.
Pic Courtesy: Allen Claudius