Elgar Johnson’s style and character are perhaps not quite what you’d expect from the fashion director of GQ Style. Whether it’s his tattoos, his casual dress sense, or his self-deprecating humour, most refreshingly Elgar is not the dandified image that comes to mind when thinking of the commercial gloss of GQ. Having cut his teeth assisting stylist Simon Foxton, and then heading up the fashion teams at i-D and Man About Town, he offers an original and far less affected take on men’s fashion.

In his work and his style, points of reference are all-encompassing. The shoots he styles are more often than not inflected with the 90s sensibility of his youth, and riff off a slightly more pulled-together take on grunge, as well as the street and sportswear he wore while growing up in Peterborough. Recently he was in Jamaica to do a fashion shoot involving Saint models for an upcoming issue of GQ. Hear more from this editor whose father is from Kingston Jamaica. 

Could you tell me a little about the ins and outs of what you do?

I started at GQ Style in May. Before that I was at Man About Town for a year and a half, which was fun, and before that I was at i-D. I guess I come up with themes, ideas for contributors, ideas for stories. I don’t take it too seriously, sometimes it starts off as a joke and then it sort of steam rolls into something more serious. If I’m in [in the office] I’m usually emailing, getting back to people, speaking to contributors, speaking to agents and prepping my own shoots. If I’m not here I’m on a shoot.

Are those mainly ideas for editorial direction or for shoots?

Both. I’m quite controlling I think. I don’t like to think I am but I’m a bit of a control freak. I think I’d like everything to be my idea but it’s not always.

What was your introduction to fashion when you were younger?

My sister was really trendy. We were brought up in Peterborough but she was really on it. Actually I’ve got two sisters, one of them was really into David Bowie growing up, and I didn’t really understand it. She really loved Boy George, and she used to have a Boy George wig. I didn’t get it but I was really fascinated by it… I think just the make-up and the colours, and men looking bizarre. My younger sister was into The Face and i-D, and Smash Hits and God knows what else, I sort of just read what she bought. She kind of dressed me. She used to say, “Oh you can’t wear that – you look like a dickhead.”

What did she dress you in?

Wallabees, which I still wear – I love Wallabees – Kickers, certain colours. She’d say “Everyone’s wearing purple so you have to wear purple.” So I’d go to school wearing purple and it was all ‘cause of her really. I didn’t really have a knowledge of fashion to be honest, I just listened to what my sisters said.

Have you kept any of those references with you moving forward?

Yeah I reference everything from my past. I don’t think I could do anything that I wasn’t around for because I don’t think it’s honest. There’s a lot of people who do things like referencing the 90s when they weren’t even born, and it feels contrived and not very real. Not everyone, but sometimes I just think, it wasn’t like that, I was there, I was part of that. I was part of the whole grunge scene. I had piercings, dreads, wore cut-off jean shorts with Doc Martens and listened to Soundgarden. There’s a lot of people who probably don’t even know who Soundgarden are.

What are some of the other big influences on your style?

Music. I love all sorts of music but that 90s Britpop style has always stuck with me, but my music taste ranges from all sorts. It’s quite bizarre from Suede to Cathy Dennis to Milli Vanilli to Pearl Jam – it’s all over the place but I think Britpop is a big one for me.

What about football?

It’s been so played out now and people who don’t even like football try to dress like they’re from some firm. Stone Island, which I love, has become so commercial now but it used to actually stand for quite a lot. When I used to go watch Liverpool, I used to wear Stone Island but I used to take the badge off because if you wore the badge it actually meant you were part of something and you’d probably get your head kicked in. I don’t feel like I need to do that whole terrace thing.

Tell me about your tattoos.

All my tattoos are purposefully quite naff. I used to work for my dad and he had a heavy haulage company so he used to drive lorries. I remember all the people that worked for him had these hideously bad tattoos that had aged really quite badly but looked great. I kind of wanted to be like that, so I think that’s where it came from. I also like darts players, darts players always have really good tattoos. They’re also things that mean a lot: that’s mum, that’s dad. My mum hated that, she thought it was a tribute to her like she’d died or something. I’ve got a Liverpool one I’ve got five roses here [on my shoulder], which is five European cups for Liverpool, I’ve got a sexy lady on my other arm – she’s got her boobs out – and I’ve got an England tattoo on my leg, and “EJ” on the back of my neck. They’re all quite rough. It’s not very Condé Nast really, is it?

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