Director of Marketing, Los Angeles County Museum of Art
“I THINK AT MY AGE I WAS COMING INTO BROOKS BROTHERS WITH HOPES OF ONE DAY BEING WORLDLY, ONE DAY UNDERSTANDING THIS WORLD. [THE SALESMAN] KNEW I WASN'T THERE YET, BUT HE WAS GOING TO SET ME ON THAT PATH.”
“Cautious risk taker” and recent L.A. transplant John Rice, director of marketing for Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is a man about his new town and has sartorial flair to spare. Hewing over the years to a through-line of preppiness, his look has been influenced by a childhood summer spent matching tennis shirts to bubble gum flavors; a transformative first-suit-buying experience; and an ill-advised episode with clam-diggers—arriving finally at a perfectly polished mash-up of peerless taste and inspired style.
Vanity Fair Studios: What was your earliest memory of dressing up?
John Rice: It’s not so much a dressing up as a first memory of really being aware of the importance of personal style. I was 12 and my mom signed me up for tennis camp and bought me a bunch of the same shirt in different colors. I decided to match my bubble gum to my shirt color: a red shirt and strawberry-flavored bubble gum, a pink shirt and classic bubble gum flavor. She’d bought a green shirt that I never wore—there was no green bubble gum. Then, one day, I went to the local convenience store and there was a new flavor: spearmint bubble gum! I’m sure they had no idea how important this was going to be to a 12-year-old boy, but it just breathed new life into my summer and got me through the last half of camp.
And what was the response to all this?
The response, in my head, was that I was a sensation and everyone at tennis camp was paying very close attention to my bubble-gum-and-shirt combinations. The reality: I had a horrible serve that needed work. And that really was where all the attention went.
How has your style evolved since the shirt-and-gum experiment?
There’s always been a preppy thread through what I’ve worn, but having grown up in the ’80s, I was definitely influenced by New Wave and Goth and Punk and all those people questioning tradition. So I took preppy as the vanilla base to the ice cream of my fashion choices, and then I would layer on different flavorings. I would happily wear a button-down oxford with combat boots closed with safety pins. As I moved into my career, I got a bit more serious about my fashion choices and realized I couldn’t be as free and playful, but I could still throw in something unexpected.
Can you describe some of those twists you brought to your vanilla base?
Well, I’ve made some really bad choices in my life with fashion. There was that period when clam-diggers were so big. Now I find other ways to push it, even if it’s just a simple clash of patterns—a tie that has a broad stripe with a pinstripe shirt, for example—that I feel has the right balance. It’s like what Brooks Brothers does with its blue blazer. It’s constantly being reinvented.
I think Brooks Brothers is always willing to take the risk with a classic and do something new with it. And then people make it their own. You can wear it with khakis or a pair of shorts and do a twist on Bermuda style. But I think it looks great with a nice pair of really distressed, beat-up old jeans you’ve had in the back of your closet for 10 years. I think it’s one of the most malleable, relaxed ways to dress up.
Do you consider yourself a risk taker?
I consider myself a cautious risk taker. I think risk is essential to any kind of growth and to any kind of benefit that you’re going to get in life. I lived for 18 years in New York and very comfortably enjoyed the city and was always challenged and excited by it, and then had the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and thought about whether it was worth leaving my home. It’s been more than six months…and it’s definitely been worth the risk.
What has been your most defining style moment?
When I graduated from college, it was time for the interview suit. I didn’t know where to go or what to do, so my mom [took me to] Brooks Brothers. I was a little intimidated. My mom introduced me to a salesperson who read the situation perfectly. He gave me a real education on how to dress. He taught me about the difference between glen plaid and Prince of Wales plaid, about the different types of pattern on a tie, what venting was. I learned about peaked lapels, shawl collars, notched lapels, and where the knot should fall. It was amazing, and it’s a language that I am still using decades later.
That sounds like a pretty remarkable experience.
I was at a very impressionable age and feeling vulnerable about my sartorial choices and where I was going in the world. So when someone takes the care and recognizes that you may not be as worldly as you will be someday and helps get you on that path, it’s an extraordinary act of caring. And you remember that. I walked into Brooks Brothers and had that education in a matter of an afternoon. You take that with you—and you take it with you for a lifetime.
Broadway and Beyond: Brooks Brothers Marches North—Success led to the opening of another store in 1857, on Broadway and Grand Street, whose interior was described by one publication as “magnificent,” and, at 100,000 square feet, “the largest establishment of its kind in the world.” The flagship store at 346 Madison Avenue opened in 1915, following the completion of Grand Central Terminal.