“Suit Geek” is PRINCIPLE M’s original feature column where each month we reach out to one of our loyal customers & friends and ask him to share his clothing, life, and his unique point of view on gentlemen‘s style.
I’d message Tian Qi — “your suit is ready for a fitting”, and he’d reply “I’m in Dubai and on my way to Peru but I’ll be back next week”. Sure enough, a week later he’d show up at the shop with his folded up Brompton, ready for a fitting and ready to commit his next piece of clothing he has in mind.
His local upbringing paired with his international experiences makes for an interesting conversation about a breadth of subjects, as he even says himself he is a “jack of all trades but master of none”. In our 20th Suit Geek Interview, we talked to him about his first suit and why it was a big mistake, where he finds inspiration for clothing, and about some of his hobbies like biking and photography.
“My name is Tian Qi, I’m a local Beijinger and I do a wealth of things. I’m your typical jack of all trades but master of none.
I’ve been a documentary photographer, I’ve consulted on presidential elections… Currently, I’m a communications expert and I do investment-based merger acquisitions.
I work in a rather casual environment. We work with a lot of artists and creatives. My style is determined by who I’m meeting with on that particular day.”
“I went to a classic, old-fashioned-ish school; St. Andrew’s, and you do have friends and classmates wearing very different suits for various occasions. We have clay shooting, so people are wearing tweed, on everyday walkabouts people would wear a jacket and a Barbour over it, and for the more formal events and balls, we’d wear tuxedoes. ”
“That’s when these types of things would play into my consciousness. But I wouldn’t say I was able to conceptualize and bring that into my own life at that time. I started to wear Barbour only after St. Andrew’s but it was the unofficial school uniform. I didn’t get into it until after graduation for whatever reason I don’t know why, maybe it’s the Anglophile in me—I drive a Jaguar (not to mention his Brompton)…so there you go. I guess that’s the little bit of retrospect which started me on this sartorial journey.”
“I wouldn’t say I’m fashion-conscious, I never have been. Growing up, I’ve always been on the chubbier side of the spectrum. So, what to wear wasn’t really in my consciousness. I think it was when I started studying in the UK, I got my inspiration for my first suit, which didn’t work out. I consulted a friend who recently got into Central St. Martins, the fashion school. I thought she would know better. The first bit of advice I got was when choosing between a shiny grey suit that looks right out of a Guy Richie film —one the baddies would wear—and a black one that had a white hanky sewn into the chest pocket. The advice she gave me was “go with the more versatile one” so that I could get more use out of it. I went with the darker one, the black one with the hanky.”
“With a black suit, what I thought in my tender young age, was that I could wear it with a black tie. So I wore a black tie with a black suit in the UK a number of times. People would stop me and say “I’m sorry, who died?” That was when I realized what you wear can represent a little bit bigger picture than just an outfit and that the functionality or meaning of it can come into play, I think that was an awakening moment.”
“My body shape fluctuates and RTW doesn’t really accommodate that. I almost never had a good experience with RTW. With custom clothing, it will just fit, and if my body weight fluctuates there is a generous allowance in the seams to let out or take in a garment. So, I can get much more wear out of my custom clothing—the cost per wear is a lot less than if I were to wear off the rack.”
“I never thought I would take style inspiration from the person who actually inspired me to make this suit—Wes Anderson—but I saw him at a teleconference and the subtle sheen on the corduroy drove me to make that one. When I started wearing it, it felt unbelievable, soft, and very comfortable. It’s also a great suit because it’s the suit I can wear when I don’t have to wear a suit and that sits perfectly between dressy and casual, between both worlds, which is my sweet spot.”
“Spring or summer, fall or winter, I ride my bike to work every day. I’ve never actually driven my car to work, I’ve always ridden my Brompton, it’s just a better way to get around. The only issue I see is in the winter months when I have to wear a bigger or longer coat over my suit, which might restrain my body movement slightly. But other than that it’s just perfect, I think riding a bike is the best way to start and end a day. Other than the cost and fitness benefit, you get a massive boost of energy at the beginning of the day, and at the end of the day I tend to like to go fast and release my stress.”
PM: “Some people might have a misconception that wearing a suit hinders mobility while riding a bike, do you experience any issues?”
“The suit and the bike have to fit. If they fit, you won’t have an issue riding. Everyone from Boris Johnson to businessmen ride bikes.”
“Here is where my jack of all trade part comes in. I’m still a casual documentary photographer, I play the guitar, I draw, I read a fair bit and I enjoy cooking—a good mix.
“I read philosophy in school, which leads to no job. But given the amount of travel I’ve done, journalism—or something close to it— is something I eased into. When you go to Afghanistan or Pakistan or some of the farther reaches in the world, it’s harder to find travel companions in your normal settings, so I’d go by myself and my camera became one way of communicating during my journey. I guess with travel, the knowledge you gain brings different perspectives.
My photos were appreciated from my peers and that feedback encouraged me to explore further. So, right after university, I went to take a short course with Magnum photos, the kind of holy grail of the photo world. I met a number of top-of-the-line photographers and they gave me a lot of great advice, and I think that was a great way to see the world. I did that for almost a full year, and that launched me into the presidential campaigns. I tell the story, visual narrative, constructing narratives with the material you have—and the combinations of words, photos, and videos…this sounds common now in the age of tik tok, but in 2013-2014 Latin America this was cutting edge. It was an interesting launch pad.”
Do you still do photography?
“You know, sometimes when you do decent photojournalism, your family thinks you take crap photos for them on holiday, ha! So, it’s between that and getting back into documentary-style photography.”
A photographer friend of mine once said “the 5D is good for the job, but the Leica is good for the soul”. So, when I left [commercial] photography, I sold the ‘normal’ industry standard camera equipment and kept the Leica because it’s apparently good for the soul and also they last forever, so it’s a worthwhile camera to keep.
I appreciate when something that is so long-lasting, like a Leica, good suit or accessory…I find that comforting in a world that is always changing. □ PRINCIPLE M
Tian Qi’s Instagram: photogtianqi
Interviewer & Writer: Justin Photographer: Adora Cinematographer: Nicolas Schmmit Produced by PRINCIPLE M