The former Managing Director of MrPorter.com talks us through his lockdown experience, his musical influences, the role of style and what the future holds for fashion…
We take it for granted these days that we can peruse menswear online, place an order and in a few days (or in some cases, hours) expect our new wardrobe upgrade delivered to our door. But this is a relatively recent phenomenon, and one presided over by Toby Bateman, who helped steer mrporter.com to become one of the world's very best online destinations for men. We caught up with him during lockdown to pick his brains on style, music, cuisine, cars and much, much more.
Hi Toby. We hope the quarantine wasn’t too taxing on you. Give yourself a mark out of 10 for how you’ve been living through it?
I would give myself an 8/9, I reckon. There is a caveat though. Since I’ve been in a state of what people refer to as “in between jobs” of late, I have spent more time than most at home in the past six months anyway. So you might say, I was used to operating like this. I am also lucky not to live in London – I have a pretty decent garden, which both allows me to be outside and not feel cooped up and also gives me stuff to do. Mostly cutting things and burning things.
Has isolation made you rethink life?
I would say that to some extent I went through a bit of a mid-life crisis last year anyway, so I re-thought life then. I think what lockdown has done for me is perhaps reinforce that the conclusions I have reached this past year are even more correct.
If you had to quarantine for the next 6 months but could only play five records, what would they be?
God that’s so tough. I listen to such a broad range of music and it really depends on mood, time of day, what I’m drinking or eating at the time, where I am…. I’ve been revisiting some old albums a bit – maybe it makes us reminisce. I will list what I’ve been listening to recently then:
Bob Dylan – Nashville Skyline: I love Bob Dylan and also secretly really enjoy country music (of a certain type). This isn’t my favourite BD record (which is probably Highway 61 Revisited on balance) but for some reason, I’ve just been into this one recently.
Abbey Road Re-Mastered: I’m not a huge Beatles nut or anything – like them of course – but I just really like this paired back re-recording. Here Comes the Sun is of course also one of the happiest songs ever made so that helps. Reminds me of a Junya Watanabe catwalk show too.
Guillermo Portabales – Aquellas Lindas Melodias.: Quite a few years ago I got into Buena Vista Social Club – and this is very similar. Fantastic Cuban music – I just love to sit and listen to this with a drink in my hand. A Dark and Stormy preferably.
New Order – Substance: What can I say? Every tune is a classic.
REM – Out of Time: See above.
What book have you read recently (or otherwise) that has had a profound effect on you?
I’m not sure that books really have a profound effect on me. Maybe I’m not well-read enough, or maybe I’m shallow. Most of my reading at the moment is done out loud for my children – I’m reading Minnie (aged 12) The Life of Pi and Henry (aged 10) The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Some people might think “Aren’t they a bit old for reading to?” – I think a lot of people stop reading to their kids when they get past The Gruffalo. But I like to do it – and they still like to listen – and it’s a good excuse for quality one-on-one time. I did read Hitchhikers quite a bit when I was a teenager so perhaps that had some kind of effect. Douglas Adams was a genius of course. I have re-read a couple of PG Wodehouse books as well recently (which is purely for escapism and the joy of the English language).
What items would you say define your style?
In no particular order: A Bengal striped button-down oxford shirt. Brown suede Alden derbies. A pair of RRL jeans. A Rolex 1016. John Lobb Lopez loafers. Navy cashmere crew neck sweater. Washed denim jacket. Tan suede unlined jacket. Knitted navy blazer. Nike Air Tailwind ‘79s. A white T-shirt. Thick cotton socks from Corgi. A velvet dinner jacket. Quoddy boat shoes. Chambray shirt. A navy corduroy suit.
And how would you define style in broad terms?
Strictly speaking, I would say style is a way of dressing – and most men develop this through their lifetime and usually enter some kind of groove of one kind or another by the time they reach their early 30s and then don’t tend to stray far from that. And I suppose what that adoption of a particular style does, is it says something about that person. Of course, it is also something we all judge, too. We say that some people have great style. Some are 'style icons'. Some are completely bereft of it - but that doesn’t make them any less of a person. So ultimately it is something we choose and something that some of us enjoy more than others.
Where is the most stylish place you’ve ever been to?
Having done what I have done through my career, I have, I suppose, been to lots of stylish places, enjoyed lots of stylish parties and met lots of stylish people. Almost impossible to pick one particular time or place. Generally, I think lunch is a very stylish thing – my favourites would be a summer's day at the River Café; any time of the year at St John; and August at La Colombe d'Or.
What will be different about the fashion industry post-coronavirus?
Hopefully, people will consume less but better, brands and retailers will re-think their reliance on selling at markdown, brands with genuine values will flourish, fashion shows/trade shows/pointless trips and meetings will reduce considerably.
What is the last thing you bought and loved?
A pair of pale pink corduroy trousers from the Japanese surf brand Remi Relief. I bought a second pair exactly the same because I love them so much. They sound horrible – but they are very very pale pink, super comfy and soft and stretchy, and look great with Nike Tailwind ‘79s.
Where is an unforgettable place you have travelled and would love to go back to?
I would like to take my wife on a road trip from Napa Valley, via San Francisco and down Route 1 / PCH to LA. I did it several years ago with work (believe it or not!) and would love to re-do with her – in a Mercedes Pagoda.
What objects would you never part with?
I’m quite open to offers…
What is one indulgence that you would never forgo?
Good food - and wine.
What are the most cherished pieces in your watch collection?
Well, if I could only keep one I suppose it would be the Rolex Explorer 1016.
What is your favourite sports car? Favourite 4x4? And favourite runner? Classics or otherwise!
If I was going to own a sports car – I’d go with an Aston Martin DB11. If I was going to drive one for fun it would be a Mclaren – any of them, but I tried the 600LT last year and it was brilliant fun. 4x4 is a Landy of course. I have a 2010 Defender as a daily drive and an ’81 Series 3 soft top for summer weekends.
Blank cheque: you can collect the work of one artist - who is it to be?
What website can you not live without?
I don’t know about not living without, maybe a bit strong, but I really enjoy Hodinkee. They do such an amazing job content-wise and have changed the face of the watch world – new and vintage – absolutely the benchmark for the whole watch industry online.
What is your Death Row meal? Breakfast, lunch and dinner, please…
Breakfast – sausage sandwich on thick fresh white bloomer with brown sauce and lots of pepper.
Lunch – our daily lunches on holiday in Provence. Tomato salad, celeriac remoulade, pate, cold meats, fresh baguettes, brie, gallons of Rose.
Dinner – Spag bol at home with the family – washed down with a good Chianti.
What is the greatest mistake/moment you got away with?
Probably not killing myself aged 17 when for some reason my parents gave me a Golf GTI as my first car.
What would 18-year-old Toby Bateman think about you now?
He’d say “how the fuck did you do that!?”
And what words of advice would today’s Toby Bateman impart on the young man?
Work hard and be nice.