Elliot Aronow

Talk Show Host

photo: Michael Halsband
Interview: by Eddie Huang, Intro by Adam Rathe

Elliot Aronow is a one-man media machine. The New York-based creative director of RCRD LBL, a popular music website, has expanded his brand of punk-influenced, well-dressed know-how with “Our Show,” his modern take on the talk show that’s recently transformed to a publication featuring contributions from Diplo, Nick Zinner and more.
Coming out of the 1990s New Jersey hardcore scene, Aronow was aware early on how a guy’s look communicates information about him. Having outgrown traditional punk garb (for the most part), he’s become something of a dandy, developing a taste for bespoke suits, fine fashion, and living a stylish life without the stigma of square-ness that usually goes along with such trappings. 

By subverting the idea that the high life is for jerks, Aronow has succeeded in creating his own lifestyle brand and peerlessly speaks to sharp New York guys with a sense of style and little patience for plaid-shirt groupthink. 

The guests on his show and contributors to his ’zine are cultural creators that range from James Murphy to Chromeo, and he’s the one corralling them all, doing double duty as both ringleader of the circus of sharp-looking upstarts, as well as its mascot. 

Eddie Huang: You have a rep as a sort of sartorial shot caller for lots of musicians and also regular dudes. How did that come about? 

Elliot Aronow: I grew up in the punk/hardcore scene, so I’ve always thought of style as something you used to express what you were about. Even when I toned down the fierce punk looks, I would still wear buttons of esoteric hardcore bands like The VSS or The Locust to let people who were in the know pick up on the secret code: ‘I’m down! We should be friends!’ I think men have lost that sense of connection between who they are culturally and what they wear. A lot of my work in the fashion space deals with exciting the appetite to care about style and to have a more expressive attitude when it comes to clothes. I think it’s the best way to meet like-minded, interesting people. 

EH: Most men hate being told, “This is the way” when it comes to style. How do you manage to impart your knowledge without being a dick? 

EA: The fit is key, but to me it’s more the mismatching of elements and the anarchy of looking fly. I worship the wild out vibes of Johnny Thunders and Roxy Music, but I also love the sharp look of skinhead and mod culture. East Coast skating in the ’90s was really big for me too— dark crisp jeans, white sneakers and a shirt that fits are modern and neat. Plus, I caught on at an early age that when you look clean and proper you can get away with a lot more unsavory activities. 

EH: What’s your take on the men’s fashion scene? 

EA: I think it’s great that we’re hitting a moment where it’s not “gay” to be a dude and be really into clothes. Kanye [West] and “Mad Men” really helped pull some of those strings on a mass-culture level, so I have them in part to thank for the audience I’ve built. But, on the flip, there are so many shark biter Tumblr dorks all wearing the same Steve McQueen sweaters and Mark McNairy shoes. I have a hard time thinking dudes who dress up like Paul Bunyan to go to their jobs are like, ‘I feel like this is totally me!’ I’m decidedly not into the “heritage Nazi” scene. Like many good ideas in our city, it got overdone to death. 

EH: Tell me about “Our Show.” 

EA: “Our Show” started out as an underground Web TV show that debuted in 2009. I was bummed out and spent of lot of time smoking and watching old clips of the Smothers Brothers and Dick Cavett and programs like that—sort of schmaltz show business stuff that was very smart and had a lot of underlying counter-cultural content to it. Then I got put on to Glenn O’Brien’s “TV Party” and really lost my shit. For the first few weeks I was like ‘Why is nobody doing this?’ and then I was like ‘Why am I not doing this?’ My thinking was ‘I’m friends with tons of musicians, I like to talk and I have good hair: I should be on TV.’ I knew since I was not a musician it would be the best way for me to get girls given my limited talents and resources. I have a very historical approach to my work and I really wanted to connect with that downtown New York City history, in the same way that DJs would ride for Larry Levan and the Paradise Garage, or cats would copy de Kooning if they wanted to paint. Study the masters, learn the techniques and then go H.A.M. 

EH: How did the first few episodes come together? 

EA: I called up the most famous musician I knew, James Murphy, and asked if he would do it. We shot the first episode in the basement at Santos with about 60 of my friends in the audience, plus James and Pat Mahoney from LCD Soundsystem and Andrew W.K. during a blizzard. I got shockingly drunk and kept cutting off my guests, who were also very, very drunk. I did a bad job as a host, but James was fucking hilarious, talking smack on Bushwick and Los Angeles and disco beards and all this really specific NYC-centric stuff. I was so excited that an artist of his stature could just get loose and not speak the way he did when MTV or Pitchfork would interview him. After taping the second episode with Ezra from Vampire Weekend and Theophilus London, I decided to make it more of a production. Hisham Bharoocha was in charge of music and he put together a dope house band called Harsh Toke. We had a lot of guests come through to do tapings—TV on the Radio, Chromeo, Das Racist. Quite a run for a show I put together with no sponsorship and a team of friends. I think the O.G.-talk-show¬gone-mutant is a great lane to be in. I like the idea of being the permissive straight guy and letting my guests be freaky. It’s very important to set the scene so the audience and guests know that this is a space where it’s encouraged to get weird. 

EH: You also have a ’zine. My favorite part about it is that some goons at a think tank couldn’t have planned to have it turn out as well as it did. Shit is extra real and organic. It’s extra idiosyncratic

EA: I liked the idea of doing something physical that showed dedication. Copying images of Bob Dylan in a cool scarf and making a Tumblr doesn’t mean you have earned the right to tell people what’s up. Having a magazine meant people would take “Our Show” and what I was saying seriously. You could hold it and run your fingers through the pages, and leave it on your nightstand. Or just hang the centerfold on your fridge and hand it down to your little cousin in Detroit. Once print was the medium, I just said to myself, ‘Punk GQ’—something that was loose and amateurish to a certain degree, but definitely not on some trust fund/art school ‘Here’s photos of my friends in the woods, plus poems’ type thing. No one was talking to dudes in a real way, or at least in a way that my friends and I could relate to. It was either uptown-Tom-Ford-millionaire-in-the-clouds stuff or totally schlub-core-locally¬sourced-Park-Slope-gentrifier ‘I’ve given up’ vibes. So I thought it would be cool to articulate the life my friends and I were living, and create a sort of finishing school for dudes. Then we just sprinkled the “Our Show” sauce, made some phone calls and boom; we had Nick Zinner doing a photo essay from Morocco, a recipe from Justine D., and a joke piece with Diplo. The editorial process was getting high and texting my friends asking if they would contribute. 

EH: Where is your New York these days? 

EA: I was posted up in Chinatown/L.E.S. for eight years but just recently made the jump to Williamsburg because my mom told me it was a bad look with the ladies to own 20 bespoke suits and still have room¬mates. She was right. I was having “space issues” in Manhattan. You get a lot of emotional baggage living in one crib for eight years! Manhattan mostly kills me these days, though I still love some downtown pockets, and you can really never be mad at St. Marks Place. 

Elliot Aronow's NYC

photo: Michael Halsband
  • “Once my career as a TV/’zine personality comes crashing down, my backup is to be a haberdasher paleontologist, so of course this place is on my list. I’ve been coming here since ’84 and have eaten many Gummi sharks in its hallowed halls. Don’t sleep on the prehistoric beasts wing: some deep cuts in there, like giant ground sloths and armadillos!”
  • Graham Fowler
    “I decided my look for the fall/winter was going to be ‘skinhead English teacher,’ so naturally I went to Grahame Fowler, the one store in Manhattan where I want to buy everything. They have beautiful boots and vintage Barbour coats and the staff are super, super cool; so cool that I wonder where they hang out and why I don’t go there.”
  • “I can’t say I was there during the heyday of bands like Born Against and Go!, but ABC will always hold a special place in my heart. I went from drinking 40s with rich crust-punks in 1996 to seeing art-core bands like Le Shok and the Locust there in 1999. The Avail show from ’97 was dope. It makes me happy to know it still exists and the kids still come out.”
  • “Danny Lewis, the mastermind behind this understated storefront, is my main man when it comes to shirting and suiting. He and I have collaborated on about 18 bespoke suits, with looks ranging from one-button seersucker joints to grey/peach Glen plaids with peak lapels. This is the best place to buy a bespoke suit in NYC, hands down. The off-the-rack is dope too!”
  • “My foodie friends took me here when I was stoned and I had a wonderful time, but it was even better when I came back straight. What can I say? It’s my kind of place. Very loud, salty, well-staffed and each course is both surprising and comforting. It’s worth the hype.”
  • “A-Trak, Nick Catchdubs and I have been homies forever and so I was super happy when they finally opened this retail location/clubhouse. Not only can you buy 12-inches from Fool’s Gold artists, Duck Sauce rubber duckies and a wide range of T-shirts, if you catch them on a good day you may run into an art exhibit or a cooking demo. Good vibes!”
  • “This true-school kosher joint is famous (to me and my crew at least) for their hand-cut fries and substantial ‘mixed grill’ sandwiches. It’s a little pricey but totally worth it. Plus the waitresses are all very cute and only sort of dismissive when you ask them for condiments like mayo.”

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