The Bureau: David Coggins

The Bureau: David Coggins

Condé Nast travel writer and editor, author of Men And Style.

As a boy I was interested in clothes, though I didn’t think that was unusual. I was very particular about what I liked. There was always something I was obsessed with, whether it was a pair of red Vans or chinos from Polo Country (that was the Ralph Lauren line that evolved into RRL, which was just great, and it’s still sought after in certain quarters). For an American I was on the formal side, I never minded wearing a sport coat, my family liked to dress up (and still does). When I lived in Tokyo for a year after college I would go into Paul Smith and Barneys and patiently look at all the suits and decide which ones I would buy if I had more money. It was a real education. 

I eventually started to write about clothes, which was exciting for me. I wrote profiles about people and places I admired. Then I started writing more opinionated pieces, which suggested that men should dress better, like the best version of themselves. I still write about those subjects, though often in a more personal way now. You just adhere to basic principles: Are these clothes I want to wear or that the men I like would want to wear? That’s a good start. Respect tradition but don’t be beholden to it, gimmicks aren’t good and logos aren’t either. In general good design doesn’t announce itself too loudly, it takes a longer view.  I still like seeing well-dressed men, I think it’s reassuring to see a dapper man walking down the street of Milan or London or New York. If he’s riding a nice bike, then even better.

Writing gives you a sense of clarity and a better understanding of what you really think about a subject. You can refine your perspective on art, travel, whatever you write about—even your own character. And of course if you love of language it’s even better. Ultimately, writing is about self-knowledge, and so is dressing for that matter.

Reading helps you know an author, of course, which is very specific and personal. But it also gives you access to whole others worlds, and access to different eras—whether it’s Evelyn Waugh writing about World War II or Tom McGuane writing about fly fishing in Key West in the 1970s. I think we get locked into social media and our devices—I do too—but it’s good to get away from the hum and spend time with a book. It returns you to a more natural pace of mind. Writing is the same way. You slow down, you come to terms with what you think and reconnect with the analog pace.

I met some pilots late one night in a Scottish bar in Paris watching an American football game - already an improbable situation. One of them found out I was a writer and said he had a good idea for a story. A lot of people say that, and usually their ideas are not too hot (which is normal since a lot of writers’ ideas are not too hot either). Anyway, he told me about an airline, I think it was called Evergreen Air, and it was the private airline to the CIA. As he told it, some very accomplished pilots would basically sit around in a hangar and when the phone rang they would fly huge Boeings wherever the CIA needed them, often in intense situations. Completely amazing. So I went to my editor as soon as I was back in New York and told him about it. He asked “How did you hear about this?” And I told him. He said, “Well we have a writer working on the exact same story.” So that was tough, since the story was so great. Then he added: “And it’s already been optioned for a film.” That was even rougher. I don't know if the film ever got made, but that’s about as close as I ever got to Hollywood.

I’ve lived in Manhattan for twenty years. Your relationship to your city evolves as you get older, which is true of your relationships with most things. You don’t spend as much time in bars, you’re not meeting friends as much, since they have kids, you don’t go to quite as many concerts in clubs. But some things stay the same. I still go regularly to Film Forum, and to the opera and the Met Museum. I still have my favorite bars, though I’m there closer to opening time than closing time. The culture in this city is still thrilling. I live around the corner from the Village Vanguard, the great jazz club. Sometimes I’ll just walk over and see a show. What could be better than that?