Legendary creative director Jim Moore has been part of the GQ family for some 40 years, and he’s just released a book, Hunks and Heroes: Four Decades of Fashion at GQ, that highlights his influential body of work at the magazine. But don’t mistake his longevity for nostalgia. He’s embraced Instagram, nurtured new designers, and found new ways to connect directly with the man on the street. In so doing, he’s ensured that, like a great white T-shirt, he’ll never go out of style. Below are edited excerpts of his conversation with Fast Company’s Stephanie Mehta.
Fast Company: Why did you want to write a book and organize 40 years of photos?
Jim Moore: I actually didn’t want to do it. And I was dragging my heels for quite a few years and [former editor-in-chief] Jim Nelson said, “You have to do this book.” And then [Condé Nast corporate photography director] Ivan Shaw, who ended up being my book editor, said, “Um, you have to do this book because you have that Rolodex in your brain of everything you’ve done. You have to actually put it out in the world.” And I think a lot of a younger generation probably doesn’t even know that GQ existed in the ’80s.
FC: What are the benefits that you have seen as a creative director as a result your 40-some years in the business?
JM: I had found my dream job, and probably early on was thinking, I’m not gonna leave this job because it’s perfect for my brain, which loves overstimulation in the lane of men’s fashion. So if you think about a magazine that comes out every single month, there was no reason for me to ever leave because it was a wild ride, and it was an adventure.
FC: What advice would you give to a young creative director [or executive] who is perhaps working in an industry that isn’t as dynamic as fashion or media on how to maintain that sense of curiosity and that sense of wonder?
JM: I think you kind of said it. It’s like you have to stay full of wonder. You have to trust your instincts, but you can’t be cocky because you’re doing this with a group of people.
FC: What are you most proud of?
JM: I’m most proud of the fact that . . . if a guy is well dressed, you [would] actually say, “You look very GQ.” And I think that I was part of that invention. You saw the double-page spread in the magazine, which is the before and after of a real guy looking like a movie star. [Readers would ask:] “How did he lose all that weight?” It’s actually just the suit he’s wearing . . . the haircut that we gave him. That can be transformative.
FC: And what were the misses? Is there a fashion trend you endorsed that turned out to be not so timeless ?
JM: The ’80s were not an attractive era, and I think it’s a lot of that kind of power suit dressing we got behind, of course it’s going to look dated now. I don’t think it ever really was, you know, the most flattering for guys, but it defined an era.
FC: How has social media, and Instagram in particular, influenced the fashion industry overall and your work in particular?
JM: I have a voracious appetite for scrolling through Instagram. It’s one of my guilty pleasures, but in a way it totally suits and serves the creative process because not only what’s happening in the culture, but you’re able to discover some designer who probably would never have a chance to show in America.
I am a big “screen grab” person. I have tons, thousands of pictures on my phone of things that I’ve seen on Instagram that inspire me.
I use it for inspiration. I use it to look for new talents, photographers, actors, models, designers. I use it to see the way kids will put something together, street culture, all that stuff. That’s really important to me.
FC: And how do you feel about the accessibility it gives GQ readers? You mentioned once that people might DM you or even stop you on the street. How do you feel about those interactions?
JM: Bring it on! I’m all about communicating with the general public and the guys out there who have [fashion] questions. I have a new venture that will be announced soon, and then it will basically, you know, be about communicating better with the real guys and figuring out what their needs are and their anxieties are, helping them understand how they can live in Milwaukee but wear streetwear. Or how they can still wear that blue suit they bought in 2008. I enjoy that. That’s really my favorite thing. And if someone stops me on the street to ask me a style question . . . I’ll usually try to engage with them as much as I can and ask them, do they buy the magazine? Do they look at it online? What do they like about it? What do they not like about it?
FC: As you venture into new projects and expand your portfolio, do you start to think less about what a GQ man looks like and more what a Jim Moore man looks like?
JM: Yes. I’m still at GQ [as creative director at large], but I’m able to do freelance [projects] and I have a good roster of clients. Hopefully what I can bring to a company is a vision, and really [help] modernize them. I feel like it’s not a matter of age, it’s a matter of experience. It’s a matter of kind of knowing that fashion is cyclical, and when things are going to circle back, they’re never gonna be exactly the same as they were.