Interview by Miranda McDonald
Photos by Andrea Hutchinson
You may already know a lot about Teddy Abrams: He is the music director for the Louisville Orchestra, he began playing piano at the age of five and he has a digital series called “Music Makes a City Now” that was picked up by PBS.
But what you may not know about the musical prodigy is that he owns a pair of Jimmy Choo sneakers, has an impressive collection of vintage pieces from various designers that he’s accrued over the years and a hardback copy of “Charles James: Beyond Fashion” – a tribute to America’s first couturier – rests on an end table in his home among a pile of music sheets and instruments.
It’s this unknown side of the conductor – the undercover fashion aficionado – that inspired us to sit down with Abrams to discuss how personal style is just another extension of how he expresses himself as an artist.
The Voice-Tribune: So Teddy, how would you describe your style?
Teddy Abrams: I will say that people don’t normally ask me this question. (Laughs.) I am not sure why.
Well, then this should be an easy interview for you.
(Laughs.) In my role, there are certain expectations of what a conductor looks like – particularly a young conductor. And in this city, I must remember that everywhere I go, I am always representing the orchestra and there is always a professional element to whatever I do. Even if the situation seems totally relaxed and with friends, I know I am always representing something that is much bigger than just myself.
Having said that though, I think that as a musician and as an artist I actually let myself go a tiny bit in the direction of creative dressing. Well, just enough to inspire my own ability to wake up in the morning and put clothes on. (Laughs.) Otherwise, I probably just wouldn’t care about it. So, I need something that inspires me when I get out of bed.
Have you always been into fashion?
No. As a young musician, I was totally averse to it. I thought it should only be about the music and the art itself.
About five years ago, I realized that things needed a serious upgrade. My clothes needed an upgrade. My hair needed a serious upgrade. I realized that my environments, including what I put on, had a certain dingy and depressing quality about them.
And in the artistic world, people do judge you on how you look and how you present yourself. I am not actually saying that is totally wrong. I just realized you should present yourself in a way that represents your own brand and who you are.
I saw this new awareness as an opportunity to really look at how I presented myself to others and to be smart about it. I started educating myself on what makes fashion interesting and what makes something work for the individual – not just if something is expensive, but if it works within an aesthetic that can be appealing and interesting while also comfortable.
I’m sure the comfort factor influences what you wear while conducting the orchestra.
Most people that need to present themselves in an artistic and fashionable way in their day-to-day jobs don’t also need to move 360 degrees with their arms, shoulders and back. As a conductor, that is exactly what you are doing. Not to mention that it is quite aerobic, especially the way I do it.
I also bike everywhere, and that is another element. So, I need something that can get me from place to place and I still look presentable for a donor meeting, staff meeting or even coffee with a cool new artist that we are trying to work with. Being comfortable yet professional is important.
This is very true.
I mean, I can’t just show up drenched everywhere I go.
So, what’s the secret to not being drenched everywhere you go?
As it turns out, I don’t sweat very much.
Teddy, I think that means you’re dehydrated!
(Laughs.) Well, I deliberately don’t drink much water. It’s good to stay edgy. You want everything in slight survival mode. The ultimate artistic productivity is the result of deprivation.
Anyway, that is when creativity really kicks in. That is why I limit myself when it comes to consumption of certain things.
How would you describe your personal style?
One thing I recognize about mass-produced clothing in America is that we try to take the common element in the way Americans look, which is widely divergent as we know, and create something that will fit most body types. A lot of that just doesn’t look great on my particular body type. The armpits are too low and the shoulders are often too wide. I never recognized that before. Then, I started to notice that I have a body that works with certain brands and one that doesn’t work with others. As soon as I recognized that, my perspective on dressing completely changed.
So, back to your question. I would say that my style is a bit edgy but always professional enough. It also has a European element to it because they tend to make clothes that fit my body better.
Yes, they tend to make clothes that are more fitted to the body.
Exactly. I am not at all trying to be Euro-ish; that’s not my thing as an individual. Their clothing is just generally cut to form the contours of someone with my body type, so the fit is better for me.
When I got my first job, I decided that I really wanted to get a suit that looked good. I did a lot of research on it and went to this place in New York called Michael Andrews Bespoke. They were a place where people could go and get an affordable bespoke suit. It was (still)pricey but also affordable for someone who wanted a great, custom suit. It was worth the cost.
I used that suit from the day I got it delivered all the way up until this year when it finally fell apart. It made it through seven years. That is seven whole years of sweating and moving a great deal at festivals and concerts. I recognize that it was a beautiful piece of clothing that was designed just for me. I customize music for our audience at the orchestra, so I love the idea of clothes being custom-made for people and actual thought going into them.
Instead of just being massed-produced and sent out to the shelves.
Exactly! I appreciate the idea of clothes being made to fit people and their different personalities.
I also have a lot of respect for brands like Hood by Air. I actually have a piece that I need to show you, but it is really out there for me. It is this tuxedo jacket that has short sleeves.
Wait, why are we not photographing that for this article?
I have worn it a few times.
I learned a lot from “The Devil Wears Prada.”
I should have known you’ve seen that movie!
The director, we did a show together in Miami. He is a supporter of my former orchestra. We did a show where he was the host for this big fundraiser concert for the orchestra and I was the conductor. (Laughs.) He made so many jokes about how I hadn’t yet had my bar mitzvah. His name is David Frankel. He made at least eight jokes about my age. He is a really nice guy, though.
Yes, they’re comparing two belts. The color they are discussing is actually cerulean blue. I’m also well-versed in ‘The Devil Wears Prada’-speak.
Of course, if Anne Hathaway’s character would have had a little more fire in her she would have just said: “So, I don’t care!” But she didn’t. She just sat there as if she had an epiphany, which was the whole point. (Laughs.) I get it.
That was a great scene for anyone who has questions about how much thought goes into the craft of real fashion design.
Yes, I agree.
So, do you have any go-to pieces you rely on or staples you gravitate towards?
Most of the time I am wearing some version of jeans with some version of either a polo or t-shirt. It’s funny though, because I really like to collect these weirder items or things that are a lot edgier than I would normally go. I get so excited as if I am going to actually wear them, but then I chicken out all the time.
Why? You should just wear them!
You know, I am kind of this clean-cut Jewish kid, so there is only so far I can go without seeming like a total buffoon. That’s not really the look I am going for. There are a lot of people who can pull that off all the time. I could probably pull it off with a lot of thought and effort for a very specific thing. But I would still have to have the confidence to wear it well, and most of the time I (have) zero confidence when it comes to dressing out of my comfort zone.
I think that if a piece of clothing makes you happy, you should just wear it.
Confidence really is a huge part of dressing. You could walk into a room with a beautiful designer gown on and still look silly if you are uncomfortable in it.
In the end, style is really all about confidence and how you wear it. VT