Azain Brito used to be a very patterned man.
"My motivation," he says, "was to be as loud as possible. I would wear patterned pants with a patterned button-up and throw a patterned bow-tie on top. It was very Marc Jacobs three years ago."
Last summer, the 19-year-old moved to Tempe from his hometown of Prescott to begin school at Arizona State University. After doing some styling around the city and immersing himself completely in all things fashion, the industrial design student found himself diverging away from colors and patterns and toward a lot of neutrals. "I know now," he says, "that basics pay off."
Brito began his freshman year at ASU as a biomedical engineering major. Math, he says, has always been his favorite subject, but the deeper he got into his major, the more clear it became that he couldn't see himself doing it for the rest of his life. After looking into different programs at the university, he decided that industrial design was the closest thing to what he wanted.
"I want to be around clothes for the rest of my life," Brito says. "So I felt like learning the ins and outs of production design is the best segue into that."
While his new major is a much better fit, the looks he gets around campus still remind him that he dresses a little differently than everyone else. "Around here," Brito says, referring to the Maple-Ash neighborhood of Tempe, "walking around dressed how I dress is fine. Around campus, I find myself having to tone it down just a bit, which is annoying."
However far away the student population may be from fully accepting the way he dresses, Brito's hopes for the future of Phoenix fashion in general are high.
"I feel like Phoenix is really moving forward with fashion and the notion of expressing oneself through clothing. There also hasn't been much of a Southwest influence on the fashion scene yet, so I feel like it's coming, and we'll play a big part in that. It's a work in progress, but it's exciting."
The evolution of Brito's day-to-day style has a lot to do with new influences he's been exposed to in recent years. "Because I work at Buffalo Exchange, my style has really changed," he says. "I have to be well-versed in current trends and styles, so I've found myself spending a lot of time on Style.com, and there I've found a couple of designers that I fell in love with."
Two of the designers in question, Alexander Wang and Rick Owens, brought about Brito's love of neutrals and basics. Brito now finds himself trying to emulate their stripped-down, put-together style.
"Most of my closet is filled with pretty neutral colors: olive, white, beige, and black. On a day-to-day level, I tend to focus more on fits than patterns. Sometimes I'll center everything around one awesome piece, like this houndstooth DKNY blazer I have. I'll try to do things that I haven't seen done before, or if I've seen things done, I'll put my personal touch on the look," says Brito.
Right now, Brito's dream job is continuing to style for friends and designers. In the future, he'd love to work on costume design for a TV show. Whatever it is, Brito wants to pick looks for people to wear for the rest of his life.
"Clothing is about feeling good about yourself. It's personal expression, so when someone else feels that way about themselves when I dress them," Brito says, "it's awesome."
"What you wear says a lot about you. If you care about how you present yourself, to me," says Brito, "it represents your image of yourself. There's nothing wrong with liking that.
"I had a few conversations with people who think clothing is such a superficial thing, and a facade as far as trends go. Here's the thing: we all have our different interests, and for me, clothing is a way of self expression, just like art is. Some people don't like art, some do. I just think it's an awesome way of expressing yourself, and you can't really do that on a daily basis in any other way."
What are you wearing? My sandals are Marni, pants are Burberry London, and I got this top from Buffalo Exchange. It's tagless, but I love it.
Where do you usually shop? Buffalo Exchange, Fashion Square, and Last Chance
What's the last item of clothing you bought? These sandals.
Name five items every man should have in his closet. 1) A messenger bag, because it's a nice addition with any outfit 2) Fitted, basic tees 3) Black pants 4) Accessories like rings - Attention to detail can really push an outfit. 5) More guys should wear over-sized, kimono-style sweaters.
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What's a trend you can't stand? Honestly, for Tempe at least, the Coachella vibe is killing me right now. All that fringe everywhere... Fringe done right, like on a leather jacket, looks awesome, but on the end of tee-shirts, well, that's terrible. Military style also needs to go. I know it's been here for a couple of years, but both the prints and the fits... I feel like we should let that go.
Give us a childhood memory of you and clothes. I remember going to Target with my mom and just running through every aisle. I'd hide in all the clothing racks and look at all the clothes. That's one of my most vivid memories.
What is your one piece of fashion advice for Phoenix? Simple is better. Sometimes the people who do try end up trying way too hard, in my opinion. You can still be put-together and at the same time, tone it down a bit, go with simple colors and fits, and stick with basics. You can make a basic over-sized tee with a crew neck look really nice. Your style doesn't have to be overwhelming.