The success of the online shop MR PORTER has turned fashion director Toby Bateman into one of the leading figures of the industry. This year, the world’s trendiest gentleman’s outfitter celebrates its fifth anniversary. To mark the occasion, an exclusive special-edition BMW i3, available for purchase in the UK, has been created in collaboration with BMW i. For BMW Magazine, Toby Bateman put together a list of essentials for the gentleman setting out on a road trip. In this interview, he discusses common ground between BMW i and MR PORTER, as well as the significance of men being no longer bound by a real dress code.
- Hendrik Lakeberg
Mr Bateman, you often post pictures of cars on your Instagram account...
Toby Bateman: I like cars. Most men do, don’t they?
What does a car have to have for you to like it?
Bateman: Personally, I go for classic cars, icons of automotive history. I drive an old Land Rover Defender, a cult vehicle. I probably inherited this weakness from my father, who also collected old cars. And I love sports cars, of course – every man does. In that respect, I’m a typical MR PORTER customer. Cars often feature in the editorial features we produce for our website. Our public likes that – it enables us to combine the MR PORTER brand with a lifestyle.
You and the designers at BMW i created a special-edition BMW i3 to mark the fifth anniversary of MR PORTER. Was it the enthusiasm for cars of MR PORTER customers that sparked this collaboration?
Bateman: Car brands have often approached us in recent years. But we never got as far as a partnership deal until our negotiations with BMW i. Everything was different with BMW i – and not just in terms of the special-edition model for the anniversary. For a year before that, we were writing editorial content on features of the BMW i3. We were aware that BMW i identifies with our customers and vice versa. The BMW i3 MR PORTER Edition was just a logical extension of the partnership. What’s more, the BMW i3 isn’t just any car. Being electric, it is sustainable, and therefore the perfect vehicle for the urban environment, where most of our customers live. It matches their lifestyle. And the BMW i3 is so futuristically designed, it makes a fantastic contrast to the vintage cars people normally associate with us. Men appreciate the ultramodern aspects of a vehicle – they love technology.
To what extent is a car able to reflect a person’s style?
Bateman: Obviously, cars are an expression of style. When you drive an electric car, for example, you demonstrate that you are an early adopter of a new technology. It’s a statement that says you’re not indifferent towards the environment, that you’re an individualist, a free thinker. Cars in general say a lot about the person driving them. I would find it difficult, for example, to drive any old nondescript car… I would get bored by it.
How much does the design of the BMW i3 MR PORTER Edition embody the style of MR PORTER?
Bateman:Our aim was to work with materials reminiscent of suit fabrics and the colors of a tuxedo. But just black and white, as in a black dinner suit and white shirt, was not enough. One evening, while we were working on the design of the BMW i3 MR PORTER Edition, I had to attend an event. A tuxedo was hanging behind my desk: a midnight-blue jacket with a black velvet lapel and black slacks. I said, why don’t we use these colors? If you look back at the history of tuxedos, most of them were originally dark blue, not black as they are today. At MR PORTER, we had also observed a trend for customers increasingly buying midnight-blue dinner jackets. So we forwarded the proposal to Benoit Jacob, head of design at BMW i. He thought it was an inspired idea and quickly suggested how we might integrate the white highlight of the shirt. Suddenly, all the pieces of the jigsaw came together.
This year, MR PORTER celebrates its fifth anniversary. How much has the way men dress changed during this time?
Bateman: It has changed a lot. Not so much in terms of what men wear, but more the way men view fashion in general. That’s not just our doing: it has to do with the internet and the many new style blogs running features on traditional men’s fashion. A lot more men are now educated in matters of style. This fact, coupled with the social and cultural changes that have taken place over the last few years, has had a huge influence. In reality, there’s no longer a real dress code today. Fewer and fewer jobs expect a man to wear a suit five days a week. I always dress for the occasion. For example: if I have an important meeting, I arrive at work wearing a suit; but if it’s an ordinary day at the office, I’ll come wearing sneakers. MR PORTER became as successful as it did because we took this trend as our starting point. We don’t dictate to our customers how an item of clothing should be worn. Instead, we make suggestions: a blue blazer can be worn casually or formally, with a tie. We cover the full spectrum.
Even if men no longer feel obliged to observe the classic rules of style, are there aspects of clothing choice that men still get wrong?
Bateman: Oh yes. Many men still make errors with the basics – the dozen or so elements we at MR PORTER label as essentials. These are the foundations of a good wardrobe, and they can easily be combined with other garments that are more seasonal or fashionable. The basics include items such as a blue blazer, a good pair of jeans, white sneakers, good brown shoes, a white oxford shirt and a blue suit, for example. And I would always invest a little more in these essentials… that way, you get to wear your timeless classics for a bit longer.
MR PORTER has a global target group. How do tastes vary across different parts of the world?
Bateman: If we look at Europe, the stylish elegance you find in Milan is rather unusual. Many men there wear perfectly tailored suits in a casual way. You also find this in London, where we have our head office. But both in London and in New York, pop culture and streetwear also have an enormous influence on the way men dress. In California, particularly L.A. and San Francisco, virtually no one wears a suit any more; the style is extremely casual and relaxed. In Hong Kong, we’ve noticed that many customers are interested in designer wear – high-fashion sneakers really sell well there, for example. In Germany, the trend is more minimalist, more sophisticated, and luxury brands such as Loro Piana and Brunello Cucinelli are popular. But in general, I think that over time we are seeing the growth of a global trend in menswear that is progressively bringing itself into line. Our customers travel a lot and see the world, and are no longer inspired simply by where they live.
We asked you what equipment you would recommend for a road trip. Do you remember your last road trip?
Bateman: I travel a great deal, all over the world. One road trip I remember was from San Francisco to Los Angeles. To be honest, I hate flying. [Laughs.] I’ll do anything to avoid getting on an airplane! My business partner and I had some time to kill, so we decided to travel by car. We drove along the Pacific coast and stopped at Big Sur. The scenery was phenomenal. Our hotel was right on the cliff top, overlooking the ocean. I called my wife from the hotel to tell her where I was… she was in rainy London and had just taken the kids to school. For a brief moment, I felt pangs of guilt. [Laughs.] But, of course, it’s amazing to have the chance to experience moments like that as part of my work.