Some bartenders make their own bitters. Then there’s Johan Ekelund, a young Swede behind the bar at Happiness Forgets, located off Hoxton Square in the East London neighborhood of Shoreditch. On top of crafting perfectly balanced cocktails like his very own Dapperman Sour, or zipping around London on his powder blue Vespa, he’s also started a company called Sharp & Dapper that designs and makes a line of very stylish suspenders, which everyone knows is the key to mixologist style.
Food Republic first met Johan in New York, when Absolut Vodka flew him from London to participate in two rounds of Global Rematch earlier this year, where he blasted through his round in a very respectable time and declared each and every one of his cocktails: delicious. Later we spotted him in his signature “braces” (for translation purposes, the English call suspenders braces) at various cocktail events, and decided we needed to talk to him about his particular bartender style.
So we met up in London at the tail end of London’s Fashion Week at Protein, a fun coffee shop off the beaten path where they, of course, stock Sharp & Dapper.
Who are your style icons?
That’s a very, very difficult question, because I don’t like the new guys on the block trying to look good. The people I want to take inspiration from would be the old guard.
Right, tailored suits. Particularly the one picture of Steve McQueen that I love.
He’s standing in a grey suit with a martini glass.
There you go. Cocktails and style.
Exactly. If I ever get the chance to wear those kind of clothes, that’s what I’m going to go for. I’d like to think I have hair similar to him. I could probably pull off looking like him when I get a bit older.
What are your favorite brands and designers?
There’s a tailor here in London that I have a pretty good rapport with. They helped us quite a lot when it comes to helping develop our brand and gave us some ideas and stuff. They’re called the Cad and the Dandy. They do some stuff in New York from time to time as well. Like everyone else, there’s a dream to be able to go and buy tailored suits.
What was the inspiration for Sharp & Dapper?
I don’t know actually. I was lying in bed on a Sunday being lazy and thinking that I want to make more money. Because working in a bar in London, you don’t make enough money. And I came to think about these braces I’d been wearing for about three years prior, thinking why isn’t anyone in Europe doing it. I looked up all the different components and I thought: “You know what, I can do this.” I told my colleague the day after at work, and he went, “That is amazing, do you want a partner?” And I said, “Sure.”
So are you “Sharp” or are you “Dapper”?
I’d like to think I’m “Dapper.”
What clothing item would you never wear?
Never ever ever? Ummm… a wife beater.
What was your last big splurge clothing-wise or style-wise?
Probably shoes. A pair of Richard James brogues with a different colored toe-cap. They’re amazing. They set me back a bit, but they’re worth it, they look stunning.
Do you have any designer friends or regulars at your bar?
There’s a very young guy called Henry who has a company called Sir Plus that sells underwear. I wear his underwear. He sells boxers made out of “cabbage.”
Made out of cabbage?
Cabbage is a nickname for fabric that is not used by a tailor. So he goes round to Savile Row tailors and picks up the fabric that is not used for their shirts and makes underwear out of it.
Is it like patchwork?
No no no. It’s proper underwear, and they’re really really comfortable. He also does waistcoats (vests), handkerchiefs and socks. He’s a young guy, like 22 or 23, and I’m really impressed with what he’s doing.
What do you wear during service?
I generally wear a pair of slacks, is that what you call it in the States?
You can say trousers, it’s fine. We know what those are too.
Yeah, well, a pair of trousers, I do enjoy a nice pair of slacks. My braces that we sell. A [button down] shirt, I like to wear white shirts. I don’t know why, I just think it looks nice when you work. I like to wear an apron.
I’ve seen you in a bow-tie quite a bit.
I like bow ties and I like ties, spiff it up a bit. My business partner has a love-hate relationship with bow ties. He thinks they look ‘naff’ because [fashion magazine] Fantastic Man said it looks ‘naff.’ I think it looks naff if you don’t know how to tie it yourself. If you know how to tie it yourself I think it’s quite classy. I think I’ve taken some inspiration from Tony [Conigliaro] as well. He used to wear bow-ties quite a lot and he looks good in them. I like the look.
Do you wear a fragrance?
I do. Tom Ford, which is very very nice. Or I think so. Also, I was given a wet shave from the oldest barber in London – called Truefitt & Hill – and as a thank you for appearing on BBC World for the shave they gave me one of their fragrances: Sandalwood. It’s really nice.
Have you ever traded booze for clothes?
I definitely would. I have traded booze for haircuts, but not clothes, unfortunately. I think you’d need quite a lot of booze to get clothes.
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