Smoke Speak: Austin Pollak of Passeggiata
The thing with Pitti is that it has a habit of introducing you to fast friends. You’re all there for the same passions, and there’s never more than one degree of separation between all in attendance, be it in the fair or at the post-Pitti soirees. One such gentleman we’ve had the pleasure of meeting this time out, is Austin Pollak. Having heard a lot from mutuals about how he was a fascinating character, and a charming one at that, we thought a Smoke Speak feature would be just the ticket. Without further ado…
Austin Pollak at our Pitti Uomo summer party with WM Brown Magazine
Share a memory of your first ever smoke…
I have my grandfather, Len Pollak, to thank for that. He was a rather prolific smoker, but for him, cigars weren’t a highbrow thing. Rather, they were something to enhance a moment or to mark an occasion, no matter how insignificant. For example, breakfast every morning was a cup of coffee, a handful of Oreo cookies, and a cigar — usually an Avo Classic No. 3. He lived to be 94. What a legend!
But, his favourite occasion for lighting up was when he was surrounded by family. I remember it quite well. One afternoon I was at his house just outside of Chicago, alongside my father, brother, and all my uncles and cousins. The older men were smoking as was customary when we all got together. Up to this point, I had always been too young to participate. I asked if I could have a “puff,” and after some hemming and hawing, was passed the cigar. With some instruction and alongside my loved ones, and under the watchful eye of my grandfather, I took my first ever smoke. I was just seven years old!
Austin smoke's our custom EGM-blend cigar at Pitti Uomo
What's your current favourite cigar and why?
My current favourite cigar is the My Father Flor de las Antillas. A few summers ago I was fishing with my dad when he handed me one to smoke. The sun was shining, it was warm, and we were catching fish. It was just such a nice moment that this cigar has become a favourite of mine. I’ve smoked many since then, and think of my dad every time I do.
What have you done recently, for the first time?
Smoked a slab of baby back ribs on my charcoal Weber.
You've gone from being a lawyer to a career change into luxury clothing. What prompted that?
I’ve never met a happy lawyer.
For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by menswear and handcrafted luxury. When I was practicing law, I found it so laborious to read a detailed case on some minute point of law or grammatical interpretation of a statute. But when it came to reading about the most mundane and technical aspects of tailoring…well, I just couldn’t get enough! I would devour all the literature on the subject.
I knew I would never be truly happy as an attorney. One evening after work, I came home and opened a bottle of Italian wine with my wife. We chatted about my future and she encouraged me to apply to fashion school. I did my research, sent out some applications, and ended up getting accepted to Polimoda in Florence, Italy, where I studied bespoke tailoring and luxury business.
Tell us about Passeggiata...
Passeggiata is the result of experiences that my co-founder and I shared when working in bespoke menswear. All too often women would come to the sartoria for a bespoke suit and be turned away because “it’s just not worth the extra time and complications of fitting a woman.” Similarly, women tailors weren’t allowed to make a man’s jacket because of some logic like “only a man knows how to make a men’s jacket.” Just ridiculous.
We perceived there to be a demand for women’s clothing that was made with the same ethos and handmade details as found in bespoke menswear. So, we set up Passeggiata to do just that. We started with the finest quality handmade pure silk scarves because we can inject a lot of those same “bespoke” menswear details into the product, and plan to expand into tailoring for women as the business grows.
But what makes Passeggiata unique is the storytelling. Each collection is rooted in a vivid story inspired by our very own memories and experiences of living in Italy.
What's your favourite city and why?
London, hands down. I moved here in 2020, and for me, it just feels like the center of the universe.
Which menswear brands are you enjoying right now?
Taillour/Fred Nieddu: everything coming out of his workshop is drool-worthy. L.E.J London: it’s just fun, really fun! It has traditional menswear roots, but is so much more colorful and playful that it just makes me happy. And that’s how I think your clothes should make you feel.
Cad & The Dandy: living in London now, I’m developing a sweet spot for English tailoring, and Cad represents a great value. I’ve gotten a few pieces from them that are now rotating wardrobe staples. Brycelands Co: what I love is that it combines several of my interests (tailoring, workwear, Americana) into clothing, and when you experience it in person you can just tell it was designed by someone who really knows what they are doing, and who is unwaveringly dedicated to their vision.
Finally, The Anthology – I’ve never seen them post something that didn’t look to have an absolutely perfect fit. I think they are really paying attention to how guys want to dress these days, and answering the call.
Something you regret not buying...
The damned extra insurance coverage on a recent car rental. Also, a seersucker blazer from Drake’s that I fell in love with last year. It would have been a fun addition to my wardrobe, and the fact that it was unlined would have helped beat the heat in Florence during Pitti Uomo.
What is something always worth paying for?
Good alterations. I’ve had hand-me-down jackets that were several sizes too large resized, and now they are my most beloved pieces. Especially one icy blue cashmere/silk number… it’s a real beauty!
What's next for you in 2022?
2022 is all about Passeggiata. Our end goal is to provide tailoring for women with all the same bells and whistles that men get to enjoy. The remainder of this year is dedicated to making that happen.
Keep an eye out for more from our Smoke Speak series, with some of our favourite people, and let us know who you would like us to feature next. For all your Cuban cigar needs, be sure to explore our collection now.