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  • Jacob Victorine

Words Julia Ahtijainen
Photographer Joe Victorine

Jacob Victorine is a Jack of many trades: a poet, a speaker, a menswear expert, a critic, and just an admirer of the art of clothing and word. And just as Ancient Greek poets spoke about actual things, so does Jacob speak with LESS about his point of view on poetry and slow fashion. Winner of the 2015 Elixir Press Editor’s Prize for poetry, his debut book Flammable Matter is a collection of issues that burn deep inside and catch a flame on the outside. This is honest reportage of the things that matter in life. Born and raised in NYC, Jacob has been living in Chicago for the past few years. He says that the difference between the two cities is mainly in the energy: “New York has an energy about it that can be vitalizing or exhausting depending on the day or even the minute. It’s also highly competitive in nearly any profession or art form you can imagine.” Ironically, to describe the vibe of Chicago, he uses words from Queens native, Homeboy Sandman’s song “Musician”:

“I’m not concerned with being the best or being better than you,
I’m concerned with being better than me,
At the highest levels that’s the only better worth trying to be.” 

Chicago has given Jacob the space to develop, not to rush or compete with others, but to develop within himelf. He also says that, measuring his work against other poets’ has rarely been productive, whereas focusing on process—working on a craft on a daily, weekly, monthly basis has been generally way more productive. But as all native New Yorkers, Victorine too, misses the city, its constant stimulation and his family.

When still living in New York, Jacob developed a tremendous respect for Japanese designers. He says that he’s been lucky to work in a small boutique environment, where he’s been able to learn directly from business owners who are immensely passionate about the products they carry. Jacob also educates himself on garment production techniques and processes, both online and print, occasionally doing some indigo dyeing in his spare time. If asked about designing his own line of clothing, Jacob says:

“I’ve managed to maintain a fair number of the sewing and patternmaking skills I learned at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City), but design is more of a personal passion these days than a trade. Although, if someone offered to let me design an ethically produced capsule collection I’d be hard pressed to pass it up.”

Not a lot of people know that Jacob is also a Part-time Manager at Chicago’s best menswear store, MEYVN, which is, as Jacob comments: “The current incarnation of my nearly fifteen-year fascination with clothing.” And in terms of  “slow fashion”, Jacob supports the movement but is a little bit hesitant to embrace the name, explaining: “Because, from my understanding, it’s a reaction to the rise of ‘fast fashion’ and both strike me as labels created in order to sell products to consumers in digestible ways instead of engaging them in the process.” Being against global capitalist systems that value profit above all else and position people as consumers who must constantly be sold products is one of the major reasons why Jacob admires many Japanese designers and brands that aim to make well-designed, well-made, ethically produced clothing, and value those tenants far more than growth.

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Jacob Victorine has an eye. He is definitely attentive and extremely conscious about his environment, and besides writing and speaking his mind, he pays attention and listens to what is going on around him. Writing and teaching (currently as a Part-time Instructor in the Creative Writing Department at Columbia College Chicago). As an author he is both—a distant viewer and a person standing closest to the action, looking inside the lives of individual who have self-immolated. With his verses he shows us new ways to view these stories. We also learn through narratives, descriptions, and comparisons.

For Jacob, poetry is not just an art form, a way to express himself or simply tell a story; it is a lens that offers both complexity and clarity. “Poetry offers fissures and fragmentations that represent life in ways that are closer to lived experience. Straightforward narrative is a construct that many of us hold dear, yet I don’t think I’ve ever had a day in my life where every single one of my thoughts came out fully formed and moved in a single direction,” explains Victorine. 

Besides the written and spoken word, Jacob is passionate about the construction and design of clothing. Through his meticulous selection of clothing, he demonstrates a love and respect for style. 

“I appreciate brands that value the integrity of their garments and the intelligence of their customers because they often put process and product on an equal plane (for example Jun Takashi’s Undercover, or Daisuke Hamada’s Niuhans). I truly believe that garments that are designed with thought and passion, made with high quality materials, and produced by fairly compensated craftspeople will last longer and make the people who eventually own them happier. Now, I also believe once you own a garment made with integrity, you owe it to that garment to take care of it by washing it properly, repairing it when necessary, etc.” For Jacob, clothing carries an equal level of practical and intrinsic value, whether other people realize it or not: 

“I am in support of movements, such as slow fashion, that value transparency and quality. Hopefully, slow fashion will become impactful enough that, eventually, we will see the values proliferate throughout fashion industries to the point where the label is no longer needed.”

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