Literary Swag’s Yahdon Israel On Merging Fashion and Literature

Yahdon Israel happened upon the fashion scene in an unconventional way—through literature. It began one day on an NYC train when Yahdon noticed a notably stylish young man reading Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and was struck with inspiration. As a BFA graduate in the Creative Lit field, Yahdon always felt there was a pressured disconnect between intellectualism and style. He admired this stranger’s expression of personal swag using both literature and fashion. He snapped a photo on his phone, posted on Instagram, tagged it #LiterarySwag, and the rest is Literaryswag’s history.

Aside from inspiring people worldwide to embrace the expression online, Literaryswag also has an open book club that meets offline in Brooklyn. It draws members from New York and the surrounding states to discuss literature within an iconic clothing store in Boerum Hill, The Brooklyn Circus. You can check it out on the last Thursday of each month. Sign us up!

We teamed up with Yahdon, and BK clothing store Swords-Smith to showcase some of the best books and collections of Summer ’17. Keep scrolling to get to know Yahdon and his current reading list.

Biera Boxy Jumpsuit c/o Swords-Smith

CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT THE BOOKS YOU CHOSE AND WHY? HOW DO THEY INSPIRE THE CORRESPONDING LOOKS OR VICE VERSA? So the first book I chose to complement the Beira boxy jumpsuit is Maggie Nelson’s critical memoir, The Argonauts. It was the first book that came to mind when I looked at the Beira piece because The Argonauts is all about the intellectual, emotional, and in many ways, excursion it takes to find ourselves. And the bumps that go along with it. The Argonauts is also a book about navigating identity and our expectations of them—especially as it pertains to gender roles.

Biera Boxy Jumpsuit c/o Swords-Smith

When it comes to menswear there are so many expectations that are assigned to male bodies as to make us rigid in how we express our masculinity. Meaning, that in order for a piece to be considered menswear it “should” immediately communicates heteronormative vision of masculinity. 

But the jumpsuit blurs that vision and it reminds me of a section of Maggie Nelson’s Argonauts where quoting feminist theorist, Judith Butler, Nelson writes, “Performativity has to do with repetition very often with the repetition oppressive and painful gender norms to force them to re-signify. This is not freedom but a question of how to work the trap that one is inevitably in. This jumpsuit to me seems to offer solutions to the inevitable trap of the way masculinity is performed. That while I know what I’m wearing a jumpsuit, I have to also be aware of the perception that this jumpsuit is being read as a dress, and I have to be comfortable enough in my body to be okay with that—to not say—or convince someone that I’m not wearing a dress. Another way of reassuring someone that I’m a man. The swaggiest thing about this jumpsuit is its irony: only men who are really comfortable in themselves can wear it. It ain’t for the faint of heart—and neither is a book like The Argonauts.

Journal Grit Water Shirt c/o Swords-Smith; Journal Fine Brushed Pant c/o Swords-Smith

“You spent so much time explaining yourself, your work, to others—what it meant, what you were trying to accomplish, why you were trying to accomplish it, why you had chosen the colors and subject matter and materials and application and technique that you had—that it was a relief to simply be with another person to whom you didn’t have to explain anything: you could just look and look, and when you asked questions, they were usually blunt and technical and literal.” This is one of my favorite quotes from Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life. Boasting over 700 pages, it’s an audacious novel that journeys with four friends—Willem, JB, Malcolm and Jude—through their friendship, and completely raises the stakes for the term “growing pains.”

The particular quote describes the particular relief that came with being around someone who just understood without something having to be explained. This is a look that brings that sort of relief. On the surface the look obviously matches the book, but it’s more than that. The look has all the elements of leisure, and to me, there’s nothing more leisurely than reading a book where the page count is higher than your credit score.

Folk Combination Tee c/o Swords-Smith; Uniforms For The Dedicated Illusions Trouser c/o Swords-Smith

This third look is one that captures the subtle uniformity of New York City. We’re really only known for wearing one color—and that’s black. More recently olive green has made its way into lexicon of New York’s style dictionary. What these colors have in common is that they go with nearly any and everything which is important in a city where any and everything can happen. 

Talking about New York City, and its diversity, I also have to acknowledge how transient the diversity is. How income and tax brackets change in a matter of minutes. How living maybe a block over provides the capacity to live and lead a vastly different life. The question becomes, how do you dress for a city that is always changing? Unless you are traveling with a wardrobe, every piece and outfit has to be versatile and serve multiple purposes. John Freeman’s Tale of Two Cities is a book that only explores the good and bad, rich and poor, and have and have nots of the city. It’s a book that shows how these seemingly contradicting realities of the city shows that New York—though being one city—exists as many ways as the people who live here. And that’s the only authentic New York experience—the personal one.

Folk Combination Tee c/o Swords-Smith

WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR PROUDEST MOMENT SO FAR? My proudest moment(s) since I started Literaryswag has to be every month I host the Literaryswag Book Club (@literaryswagbookclub). Three years ago, Literaryswag was an online community. But to have that community actualize in real life, where people from all over the NYC—and from other states—come to talk about a book in a clothing store, the experience is more than words can articulate. And that was the point: to show that love for books and clothes is a real one. The meetings are open to the public, and I always encourage any and every one to come—even if you don’t read. I want to show that this book club is about the conversation and community.

WHAT ARE YOUR THREE FAVORITE SPRING 2017 MENSWEAR COLLECTIONS? Because spring is a season of renewal, I’d have to go with Pyer Moss, Margiela and The Brooklyn Circus.

Biera Boxy Jumpsuit c/o Swords-Smith

Visit yahdonisrael.com for more and follow @yahdon.

All photography by Zach Gross. Follow him @zachgross1.

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