Akief approaches menswear with the meticulousness of a craftsman. Everything has to be fit together just so. There are rules to follow, right ways to do things and wrong ways to do things, and other, more complicated and nuanced rules for the advanced practitioner. You have to "work your way up" to those, your charcoals and your pinstripes, your pocket square folding techniques. Better to start with the basics: a navy blue suit, in this case the Red Label from Saks Fifth Avenue, where he works, a camel overcoat, also from Saks Fifth Avenue (special ordered), because "you have to have that color, man," and a pair of light-brown leather shoes from To Boot New York, "probably one of the best shoe brands in America today." Born in Liberia and raised internationally, with the last decade or so spent largely in North Philadelphia, Akief is something of a menswear traditionalist. He learned many of the rules from his father. Others he picked up along the way. His pants, for instance, are "eight inches from the thigh up" then six and a half inches "coming up to [his] calf muscle." They are double-cuffed, because "double cuff is coming back, and it's something [he] saw [his] dad wearing back in the '80s." And they have to be exactly two inches. "You can't do one and a half," he said. "That's not right. They have to be nice and thick."
Menswear may be a largely prescriptive endeavor, but there are places for adding a personal touch, mainly in the accessories. "The vest," Akief explained, "is a double-breasted vest by SuitSupply. It was in the spring collection last year, and it's a navy, cream check. And I was thinking about doing, like, something underneath this dark navy suit. I want to bring out the suit, like emphasize it. Why not go with the navy check, double-breasted vest by SuitSupply? You know what I mean? 'Cause that would just bring that." The socks, the tie, and the pocket square are all by Hugo Boss. Here's what Akief had to say about his socks: "Your socks have nothing to do with your outfit. I mean, your socks is your whole personal style. It's your statement. Whatever statement you wanna make or whatever you want to do. You can express yourself through your socks. It's about socks expression." He dismisses the common idea that one's socks should match their tie. That's why he's wearing a dark, solid-colored knit tie, tied with an Amsterdam knot. "There's not a lot of guys who know how to do this," he said of the knot. He learned the knot himself from watching YouTube videos. "I tell people YouTube is the best university in the world." He had to watch the video some ten times over a couple of days just to get it right.
His watch is Burberry, and it's rose gold. "This is my everyday watch," he said. "This watch, this color, the rose gold, goes with anything, see what I'm saying. So this is like something that you're going to see me wearing everyday, even though I have other watches and stuff like that. I mean, it's nice. It's comfortable. I can go to sleep with this watch, wake up in the morning, wear my clothes, and I'm out, know what I'm saying. And I feel weird when it's not on my hand, 'cause I know something's missing." He's embellished his watch with accessory beads from H&M. "I love mixing highs and low together," he told me. The beads cost five bucks, the watch, well, a bit more. "Even though I work for a high fashion company," he said, "I still go to H&M to look around."
For Akief menswear is not just a passion, not just a means of self-expression (or is it self-discipline?), it's a career in formation. He's starting a blog called Elegant Men's Style, and is hoping to leverage it into a personal brand. Someday, he would like that brand to take material form, perhaps even as a menswear line of his own. Even dressing for Akief is a form of what my colleague at Temple Brooke Duffy calls "aspirational labour." Through clothes, he forges himself into an entrepreneur. This is what success looks like, his clothes seem to say. First comes the look of success, then reality rushes to catch up.