Fresh off attending his first PGA Merchandise Show, Kevin Consolo, Co-Founder of FTI Brands (creator of innovative cleaning methods for shoe care, automotive cleaning and golf equipment), sits down for an exclusive discussion with Marty Hackel, former director of fashion at Golf Digest.
Marty, also known as “Mr. Style,” may be best known for dressing some of the world’s biggest celebrities and athletes on and off the golf course, but he is now lending his experience and vast knowledge to growing brands and products he strongly believes are the next big thing in innovation. He’s always had to stay one step ahead of trends in fashion and he still has his eyes on the future of style, and the game of golf.
For more information on FTI Brands (SneakERASERS, AutoERASERS and GolfERASERS), please visit www.ftibrands.com.
"Who's that guy in the red pants over there?"
Marty, one day you became known as the highly respected “Mr. Style.” How did you pull this off?
Just by hanging around, I guess! No. What happened was, right after September 11, 2001, I started to chat with an old friend who worked at Condé Nast. Condé Nast had just purchased the Golf Digest companies from The New York Times. I was very excited for him and picked up a few issues to give my critique. I realized that while all the information in Golf Digest was great, and accurate and helpful, the styling on all of the photography was...lacking. Guys with the wrong pants, the wrong shirt, the wrong fit, you know, the shoes that didn't look clean. And to me, it was a big miss. I went to my friend and said, "Hey, the magazine could look better!"
He said, "Well, look, telling me is one thing, but you've got to tell the editor-in-chief of Golf Digest exactly what you've told me." We had lunch and I met the people from Digest. One lunch turned into two lunches, turned into three lunches and finally, they came to me and said, "We sort of understand where you're coming from, but we believe you're probably the guy who can come in and fix this for us. So could you please do that?"
That was 2001 and that's when I started at Golf Digest and that first year, I tried to show up at PGA and LPGA events to watch, learn, and listen, as well as writing the column, “Ask Mr. Style.”
I didn't do anything else. I just became visible. And that first year, I remember hearing a lot of players go, "Who's that guy in the red pants over there? How come that guy's walking back and forth on the practice green?" I just sort of allowed it to happen naturally so the players started getting used to seeing me.
"You're Tiger Woods, not MC Hammer!"
Well, turns out that one of the big contributing editors at Golf Digest was Tiger Woods. I did a photo shoot with him for the magazine where we styled all of the clothes and I worked with everyone at Nike. In fact, I can remember saying to him, "Tiger, you know, the big, oversized, pleated pants that you're wearing, you would look better if you wore something close to your size. You’re Tiger Woods, not MC Hammer!” We did one or two shoots with Tiger and, from the first time we met, we got along really well. When you get along well with someone who is already established, like Tiger, a lot of other players take notice.
Pretty soon, other players started coming to me saying, "Hey, could you help me put together what I'm wearing? I've got a deal with this company, but they keep sending me this stuff and I have no idea what to do with it." So, pretty soon I started advising and helping players with their style.
Do you remember the first person to coin you as the acclaimed Mr. Style?
It was actually my editor-in-chief at Golf Digest, Jerry Tarde, who anointed me as “Mr. Style.” I started writing that column in the magazine and we started out asking people to just ask “Mr. Style” for advice. Soon, I started responding to people's questions that way.
You already mentioned some memorable moments working with Tiger. Do you have any other moments that stick out as the fashion director at Golf Digest?
Around 2002, I did the Today Show where we did the fashion forecast for golf and that was great fun. We did that with Katie Couric and everyone got a kick out of it. I also did a bunch of stuff at Golf Channel. We did a makeover program one year. I used to do some commentary from the various tournaments and talk about, not only the players, but what the fans were wearing and what was in the memorabilia shops and merchandise tents. We had a lot of fun with that.
What celebrities, outside of golf, did you work with or dress?
Michael Phelps, for one. I helped dress him for a bunch of things, particularly for the ESPY Awards. I also did the photo shoot where Michael was on the cover. It was kind of organic that he came to me and said, "Hey, I gotta go to the ESPY’s and my girlfriend and I need your advice." After that, I started styling a bunch of hockey players, like Erik Karlsson when he was in Ottawa. We had a great time, because most of those NHL guys, if they're not playing hockey, they want to be playing golf. It‘s always a blast working with them.
How did you get connected with the NHL the first time? Was it just kind of word of mouth?
Erik’s agent knew a friend of mine who connected us, and they called me. His agent said “Oh, Erik wants to get a watch deal and we hear that you know a lot about watches. Could you help us?" And I said, "Well, I'd be glad to help, but I don't help people unless I know them. I wasn’t comfortable recommending someone I didn’t know. So I suggested that the next time Erik comes to New York to play the Rangers, Devils or the Islanders, I’d be happy to meet him. And once I meet him, then I'd be comfortable, hopefully, recommending him to watch brands." Eventually, when he came to New York to play, I went to the game and we had a nice chat afterwards. That was how it started.
Then I was in Montreal, the Senators were playing the Canadiens and we had dinner. Soon, we started talking about watches, clothes and style. Pretty soon, a bunch of his teammates started to go, "Oh yeah, that's the style guy." And, of course, all of these guys in the NHL, they all think it's a fashion show because they all show up at every game in suits. There's a little bit of that “peacock” in all of these instances. It sort of organically just happens like that.
What are some of your all-time favorite golf courses?
To me, it’s not where I play, it’s with whom I play! I became good friends with Steve Elkington and one day he called me up and said, "Hey, how would you like to go to Augusta and play next month before the Player’s Championship? And we'll stay there and play a couple of rounds." Well, boy, I certainly wasn’t saying no to that!
I have a great friend, Mike Setola, who is a member at Baltusrol Golf Club. I always loved playing Baltusrol because of his company. The company means more than the location.
I love playing at LA North because I played with my buddy, John. I loved playing at East Lake Golf Club because of Bob, the belt guy, is in Atlanta, so I love that. I love going to Rio Secco in Las Vegas because Butch Harmon is there and he gives me a harder time than even Tiger would.
In the end, in all of these courses, the cool thing for me is the people that I was playing with. That's the key. And that's why I love golf!
Have you ever put down an ace on your scorecard?
The 11th hole, TPC River Highlands. It was downhill, 126 yards. I hit a pitching wedge (really), the ball bounced twice… and went right in the hole.
Oh, man, what a feeling. I’m still waiting for my first.
Yeah, it’s an experience. I think I’ve had better shots than that. I’ve holed out a few times from the fairway and that’s just as exciting. I guess it’s not quite as dramatic as having a hole in one, though. I love that!
So, what’s keeping you busy now in your life after Golf Digest?
Well, I'm still doing what I love to do. I want to be involved with people that I like, with projects that are fun, and you guys certainly fit that bill. I mean, I think it's an exciting venture that you're on. There are going to be a lot more chapters. A lot more than just GolfERASERS, SneakERASERS and AutoERASERS. There are going to be lots of other things that you guys are going to do, and it's great fun trying to share my experience and relationships and help you. I'm going to be in the stands cheering you all the way.
That’s awesome, I really appreciate it. And, we’re really looking forward to you being a part of these innovative brands. That’s the way it should be, being semi-retired, right? Just doing what you love.
"We're living in an age when innovation is something we see every single day. Golferasers and Sneakerasers epitomize that."
You sort of already alluded to what drew you to the GolfERASERS and SneakERASERS brands, which we're really excited about. Where do you think these products should be, in terms of being available to the right customers? And where do you see these emerging brands headed in the future?
Well, it’s all about innovation. We're living in an age when innovation is something that we see every single day. And it’s obvious GolfERASERS and SneakERASERS epitomize that. It's taking something very simple and making something better. There's a result from what you do connected to helping people look good. If you can help people do something that has a positive result, I mean, that's the key. That's a very positive thing. There's a tremendous market for stuff that people never realized could make their life a bit easier, a bit better, a bit more stylish.
When it comes to trends in golf, they're never ending. Honestly, I have countless golf accessories collecting dust in my garage, but these are different. GolfERASERS are on my bag at all times. It's one of those, "why didn't I think of that" products. Gone are the days of filthy towels and those rigid-bristle brushes that don't get the job done.
Well, what do you think of this athleisure trend in everyday fashion and in sneakers? And a follow-up question, how comfortable or relaxed should a golfer be able to dress in terms of the old-fashioned collared shirt, slacks and leather shoes versus what's happening now with the white midsoles in a comfortable, relaxed look?
I think what we're seeing is a change and it's an evolutionary change. You don’t need golf apparel to play golf. You need comfortable clothes that fit you properly, that you're comfortable wearing. That's really the future. People shouldn't be preoccupied buying golf clothes, they should be focused on buying clothes that they feel comfortable in, that maybe have some functionality. We've way overdone this “anti-microbial” or “anti-wrinkle”, or it never shows sweat, blah, blah, blah.
In all of that stuff, by the way, it's all polyester and polyester is a chemical byproduct. All of these people that are so sensitive about the environment are wearing clothes that are made with chemical byproducts. It’s like standing naked, pouring gasoline over yourself all the time. I mean, cotton is a wonderful natural product and it breathes as well if not better than any of those synthetic products. Now, it does hold moisture so it's going to show that you're sweating a little bit, but I don't play when it's 110 degrees, so I'm not terribly worried about that! I see golf fashion just becoming part of life. Players need to wear stuff that's comfortable and not overdo this whole thing.
You must be pretty excited about the athleisure trend. It has really led to a whole new trend of golf shoes where it's not just the brown or black and it's not just matching slacks. It's just colorful and different types of spikes, lending to a lot of versatility, right?
Hey, look at G/FORE, they have these really cool shoes to wear on the golf course, you can also wear those shoes off the golf course. You go into pro shops at a lot of clubs and you'll see the staff behind the counter who aren't playing golf and they're all wearing shoes like G/FORE shoes. So why not? They've got style and comfort, so good for them.
What do you see as the next trends in fashion and golf?
What you're going to see is this blending of comfortable clothes that people can wear on and off the course. We've gone through the past year of this pandemic where we've done so much from home. We're not getting dressed the way we got dressed a year ago. I haven't changed very much. I don't wear a necktie as much, but I kind of like to get dressed when I'm doing work like I'm dressing going to work, not like I've just finished a workout or just came from the gym, but I want comfortable, casual clothes. And I think I see a relaxed standard of what's acceptable, we see that with women on the golf course all the time. I mean, leggings should be perfectly acceptable on the golf course, go to the supermarket this afternoon and look around and you tell me what you see. You see people dressing so that they're comfortable.
That's a trend. This lululemon influence is: they are worn as much on the aerobic mat as it’s worn in everyday activities, like going to the supermarket. That's one of the major trends and we see that with everything from clothing to footwear, to accessories. Take a product like SneakERASERS, we see more people wearing sneakers all the time and you're right, Kev. I mean, now you can wear sneakers with a suit. And I know that if you watch the NFL half-time programs on TV, for example, you see these guys, they're all dressed up in a suit and tie. And if you look, a lot of times, they're wearing comfortable footwear… they're wearing running shoes! And it's the same thing if you went into a TV studio and you watched the newscast, you don't generally see the newscaster’s feet. And if you did, you'd see a lot more Nikes and Adidas and sneakers on them. The fashion landscape is becoming more relaxed and that’s becoming more accepting.
Well, I certainly think that's a good place for SneakERASERS and GolfERASERS to kind of fit in there with all these white midsoles and places on the shoes to keep looking brand new for wherever you are...on the course, or at an evening event. We look forward to working with you and learning from you, Marty. We really appreciate your time on this. I think it was great to hear where you’ve been in your career, your history with Golf Digest, and where we're headed in the future. Thanks so much, Marty, we really appreciate it!