Upon learning that one of the city’s most notable up-and-coming men’s clothiers was staging his fitting room at Hour Haus Studios on North Avenue, a legendary rehearsal studio and underground music venue, I was slightly perplexed, albeit briefly. When the scenario is put into the context that considers the wildly imaginative and motivated populace inhabiting Baltimore’s core, it makes perfect sense. The fact that the man in question, Christopher Schafer, has owned the Hour Haus, with his two brothers, for fifteen years plays, drums in a band, and sports tattoos that sneak out from under his cuff from time to time makes him the perfect person to dress Baltimore. His sensibility was forged in this city and if anyone is well-suited to improve its outward appearance, it’s Schafer.
I recently met with Schafer at the Hour Haus to talk about his journey from Baltimore musician to clothier in London and back home again. Upon entering the Hour Haus and ascending the the long staircase that led many a musician and fan to many epic shows, one’s eye is immediately drawn to the line of posters and flyers adorning the wall that leads to Schafer’s space. He stopped at a Grey March poster from 1986 and related how it was the first show he’d ever seen at the Hour Haus when he was fourteen years old. This is rather coincidental since, on the same day this story is published, What Weekly is also publishing a story about the Grey March reunion show at Frazier’s after a twenty-five year hiatus. From there the conversation touched on how he moved to London and was hired by a company that taught him how to make clothes and how he sold his ’68 Triumph and ‘57 Ford convertible to help support his independent endeavors once back in the States. We talked of our shared experiences as starving artists and pondered the possibility of passing through those dark days as being a necessary rite of passage for some.
Christopher Schafer is confident but not cocky. When he speaks there’s an assuredness in his tone that can only come from believing, and having the courage to invest, in oneself. It’s not a surprise that in one year he launched a clothing line, started a tie manufacturing business with former Oriole Rick Demspey, among others, and launched The Baltimore Fashion Alliance, a non-profit that uses recycled clothing to personally dress folks at the Franciscan Center who are down on their luck for job interviews. The Alliance also provides opportunities for fashion professionals to network and share ideas and resources. As if that wasn’t enough evidence of his exceptional work ethic, Schafer has been awarded the title of “Best Men’s Tailor” by both The City Paper and Baltimore Magazine in recent years.
Somewhere in the midst of our conversation, I asked Chris, “Why is fashion important?”
“Because it’s how you express yourself. It’s another form of expression just like music is a form of expression. Any kind of art is an expression of who you are and I just happen to be someone who learned how to make clothes fit properly. I see the difference that it makes. What it comes down to is proportioning it correctly so people can look the best that they can look, so that they feel great. And when they feel great they’re more likely to succeed. I’ve seen it from top to bottom. I see the same thing at the Franciscan Center. These are guys who’ve never owned a suit before. I’ve seen them cry, I’ve seen them dance when they take a look at themselves in the mirror.”
I then asked, “So do you consider yourself an artist? I mean not as an occupation, but how you see your place in the world? “
“I think so. I definitely have a signature look that I’m known for. I take a person’s life, I listen to who they are, see how they interact with the world, and put that into the clothes that they wear. It’s the same kind of communication that happens when you’re playing music. You’re often communicating without words.”
And he’s right, he is an artist. Spending what seems like a lot of money for an original piece of visual art, rather than a mass produced print, because the artist’s story resonates and the work adds to your quality of life is no different than purchasing custom tailored clothing from a designer. There is value there that cannot be easily replicated. That’s why I’m going to have Christopher Schafer make me a suit.
The Baltimore Fashion Alliance, of which Chris is the Executive Director, is behind a growing annual city-wide event, Fashion’s Night Out, happening September 8, now in its third year. The event is designed to help bolster the local fashion industry by spotlighting boutiques, designers, and other businesses involved in fashion. The event will be centered at the Intercontinental Hotel and will feature forty of Baltimore’s finest designers, manufacturers and the like. Other celebrations will be happening at locations throughout the city in Hampden, Mount Vernon, Fells Point, Harbor East, Federal Hill, Greenspring Station, and the Shops at Kennelworth. Keep an eye out for parties and events in those neighborhoods well into the evening. The after party will be at Red Maple.