Sven Raphael Schneider on Gentleman's Gazette
All photos by Ward Rubrecht
Sven Raphael Schneider does not do things in half-measures.
"Early on I thought, 'Let's do this right,'" he says.
The "this" he's referring to is Gentleman's Gazette, Schneider's online magazine (and, as of late, online retail site) dedicated to classic men's style, with a focus on the aesthetic of the first part of the 20th century.
"A lot of people start on Wordpress or another free site, but I wanted this to be a serious thing, not just a blog," Schneider says.
In February 2010, Schneider bought his own domain, and drew on his existing knowledge to start penning blog posts. Pieces have included product reviews ("Albert Slipper by Del Toro in Velvet and Linen"), academic-yet-accessible explanations of men's fashion phenomena ("The Drape Cut Explained"), and discussion of classic masculine fashion in film ("Great Movies - The Damned").
The Gazette took off. Over the next four years, Schneider steadily grew the magazine, hiring a couple of editors, a small army of freelance contributors, and eventually taking on big-name advertisers. These days, the site pulls in 200,000 readers a month from all over the world, and about half his readership is from outside the U.S.
"The Sartorialist, one of the most popular [men's fashion] sites out there, gets one million [unique hits] a month. But I was always more interested in steady growth," he says.
Nowadays, the 29-year-old Schneider officially calls The Gazette his full-time profession. His site features guides to and discussion of everything related to gentlemanly conduct, such as dressing gowns, ballpoint pens, and even how to write a letter of condolence after the death of a friend.
Starting The Gazette was a big shift for Schneider, who earned a law degree in his native Germany and immigrated to the United States in 2009 to earn his LLM from the University of Minnesota. Despite the seeming gulf between the law and men's style, he says his education is serving him well in the tribulations of running a business.
"In German law, you have to cite very precisely. And I like details. When I'm into something, I dig really deep," he says.
It's clear from Schneider's St. Paul apartment that he's dug quite deep. One wall of his living room office -- opposite a desk overflowing with the technology he uses to run the site -- is dominated by a large pair of bookshelves filled with carefully organized men's fashion books and magazines from all over the world, dating from the present day back to the 1900s. The library is an ongoing project, the result of research he's been doing since he was a teenager.
Schneider's interest in classic fashion and the gentleman's lifestyle is so precise that he's had difficulty finding peers in the Twin Cities.
"I looked at the vintage stores here, and what they do is nice and they have a market, but what I was writing about was a step or two above that. It was very difficult to find people here who had that kind of appreciation," he says.
That might sound pretentious coming from another person, but Schneider's attitude isn't elitist, just passionate. He frowns on parts of the online fashion community that foster a judgmental attitude.
"I dislike that kind of behavior. If you have a different hobby or passion, I don't care how you dress," he says. "But I'm happy to show why certain rules evolve. My goal is to establish a place where people can learn and have an appreciation of quality stuff."
Schneider's appreciation for "quality stuff" isn't limited to reading fashion literature; his own wardrobe is staggering. A tour of the arsenal begins with the shoe closet, a storage space the size some might use for their kitchen pantry filled to the brim with footwear, from bluchers to Oxfords, longwings to Chelsea boots. Nearly all are Goodyear welted (a sole that permits easy resoling), and several were hand-stitched in Italy and elsewhere.
Down the hall past a wall-mounted pair of stuffed pheasants is an entire bedroom dedicated to clothing. Four Ikea Pax wardrobes line the wall, holding hundreds of ties, shirts, and pocket squares, and dozens of jackets, slacks, and hats. Schneider proudly shows off his collection, noting marks of quality on the jackets such as fabric feel, surgeon's cuffs, and boutonniere loops.
"For me the goal was to have a complete wardrobe. An overcoat of every kind, a morning coat, a tailcoat, a white dinner jacket, and so forth. I'm never 100 percent -- there's always something new I want to have. There's summer weight, winter weight, and the list goes on and on. But I work towards it."
Lately, Schneider says he wasn't able to find some coveted items in the quality he was looking for, so he branched out into design.
Using his extensive knowledge, he drew up plans and specifications of some of the items he wasn't able to find elsewhere, such as handmade silk boutonnieres and ancient madder silk ties made with a particularly thin wool interlining to afford a small knot even with a relatively wide tie. His office is piled with boxes of prototypes sent back from manufacturers at various stages of completeness; he eagerly opens a few boxes to point out little details on his ties, such as hand-rolled edges.
It was the logical next step to put the finished products on sale. So The Gazette expanded from guides and discussion into retail. The site now offers gloves, socks, boutonnieres, and ties under the label Fort Belvedere, all designed by Schneider. He hopes to expand to a full line of leather goods and suits.
As for what else the future holds for The Gazette, Schneider says he's got no plans to ditch the steady growth that helped him corner the internet market on classic style, but he's taking steps into the real world. This year he's collaborating with Goorin Bros. Hat Shop for a trunk show in March and will be putting together an educational event for Twin Cities style enthusiasts in April or May.
Running many aspects of the site single-handedly is getting difficult, so the biggest change this year will be hiring more help. Schneider says he's expanding his freelancer base so that the site's articles -- frequently 2,000 to 3,000 words long -- don't suffer in quality as The Gazette grows. Among other subjects, he says the new writers will specialize in wine, cigars, and pipes.
And with the Gazette receiving 300 emails a day, "time is an issue," Schneider says with a grin. He's acquired the surest mark of success in business: a full-time personal assistant.
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about arts and culture events in Minneapolis & St. Paul and offers you won't hear about anywhere else.