By Isobel Gladman
Joel Sernagiotto is sitting in the back yard of the house he’s recently moved into in Stoke Newington. The sun is shining as we perch on slightly grimy plastic garden furniture and I try to put him at ease. My task is made more difficult by the presence of his long-time friend and flat-mate Mickey cracking a few jokes about Joel being a fashion diva. I suspect that actually he’s rather interested in what I’m going to ask. If the average girl in her twenties has read countless articles on celebrity style, the average twenty-something boy might only have a foetus-like concept of what his personal style might be. Joel Sernagiotto certainly proves me wrong.
The first thing that you notice about Sernagiotto is his eye for colour. He has already thought up a colour scheme for decorating his room, having only moved in less than forty-eight hours before, and has managed to source some chic Farrow & Ball paint tins in complementary shades of white, green and grey. Today he’s wearing a faded navy vintage Ralph Lauren polo-shirt that contrasts well with his tawny beard and highlights the fact that his eyes are startlingly blue.
Sernagiotto’s taste for simple, basic colours is reflected in his style philosophy- the simpler the better. “Being overdressed is definitely worse [than being underdressed]. There’s nothing worse than when someone’s trying to do too many things.” He has veered in almost every life direction possible- from art college to architect to record label lackey to cocktail bar manager- which makes his words even more telling as he speaks from experience. Now he’s grown out of that silly-young need to prove himself inherent in all teenagers, he’s much more confident in his choices. Sernagiotto’s style has changed drastically since he was a teenager – “Ten years ago I used to wear maharishis, and Nike Riffs with a Roberto Cavalli shirt with beads on,” he laughs, shaking his head. “When I was studying fashion I followed the trends, but now I’m out of it, I’ve started to enjoy clothes more.”
Indeed it seems his family were the ones who got him interested in fashion in the first place – “Mum was a hairdresser, and so, super-fashionable – she decked me out appropriately.” One of his favourite anecdotes is when he was sent to play football as a boy in grey knee-length shorts and Doc Martens: “You can’t kick a football in Doc Martens! I could barely lift my feet!” His godfather was a sharp-dressing hairdresser as well so he received hand-me-down clothes of brands like Helmut Lang and Alexander McQueen. Sernagiotto reminisces about a suit he had when he was a teen, and here Mickey interjects: “A Kenzo suit at fifteen years old? If ever there was a sign of being groomed for luxury…”
Sernagiotto seems unusually confident for a boy in his mid-twenties – he knows what he likes and displays none of the oh-so-common self-deprecation that other boys of his age and means do. The best compliment he has ever received on his style is when he was scouted for T4’s style show Frock Me; “I wore a camel quilted suit jacket from Aquascutum, brown Sebago Docksides and – I’d say burnt terracotta, some might say salmon – chinos.” He clearly has a handle on the brands he admires and does not apologise for his love of the good things in life- refreshing in an age when public-schooled TV presenters adopt fake working-class accents. Sernagiotto admires the kind of simplicity in design whose only pretension is in being consciously unpretentious, name-checking Helmut Lang and Yohji Yamamoto as two of his favourite labels – fashion houses that are famed for their unadorned, raw designs.
Don’t think for one minute that his timeless and classic style is innate – even the über-tasteful sometimes put a foot wrong on the road to sartorial elegance. Sernagiotto regrets arriving at art college “wearing G-Star two-tone jeans, a tie as a belt and a John Smedley grey tank top. I still remember that day because I can remember being at college and thinking ‘I look like a total prick’.”
When asked to describe his style in five words, he and Mickey both look at each other in confusion and laugh. “Sometimes, I just don’t know!” he counts on his fingers, “There, that’s five words!” I suspect he’s playing a game with me and that he doesn’t want to give too much away. Yet Joel has the kind of face that looks best tilted back, chin up, reclining in a chair – the sort of head tilt that says “I’m in my element” and invites you to pull up a chair and experience the Sernagiotto way of life.