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Men of Style
Seth Combs, Amy Finley, Gillian Flynn, Shelby Stanger and AnnaMaria Stephens | Photo: Robert Benson with assistant Scott Dusek | March 28, 2014
When looking for a true sense of style, it’s easy to spot the peacock. So we delved deeper to track down the guys who are really redefining San Diego in meaningful, interesting ways—all while looking their personal best. Beauty is only skin-deep for ladies. And guys, the same goes for you. When we’re on a manhunt, we look past the plumage to see what that gent is doing for our beloved city. Now presenting...
The Ground Breaker
Construction sites don’t exactly encourage high style—unless you count a hard hat as a must-have accessory. “When I get home, I need to wear something nice,” says Nima Nakhshab, who runs S.D.’s pioneering Nakhshab Development + Design with his older brother, Soheil. “It just makes me feel good.” The Dwell-featured design-build firm just finished a laid-back Encinitas looker with elements of European style for a Belgian couple who owns a clutch of SoCal boutiques. They’re also hard at work on a 17-unit contemporary eye-catcher in Golden Hill. “We’re hoping all our friends will move in,” he says. When he’s not traveling the world—he recently explored Europe and Thailand solo—Nakhshab hangs out at Union4, the NDD-designed multigenerational digs in Bankers Hill where the brothers live with their parents and Soheil’s young family. “We all have our own places, but it still gets very crowded,” laughs the bachelor, who almost became a musician, until his dad reminded him he’d likely end up broke—a sure style-cramper for a guy who recently went window-shopping for a “someday” Omega and favors a classy look with a pocket square-size pop of color. “The lines of a well-made suit are flawless,” he says. “You can relate that back to architectural design. Everything has to be perfect.”
Cowboy boots and cannonau may not be a common pairing. But Aaron Epstein—who counts a pair of size 16A (!) custom-made Anderson Beam sharkskin boots among his prized possessions—is no conventional wine snob. “I have a bumper sticker that says, ‘I don’t hang out with people who drink 100 point wine,’” says Epstein, the New York transplant crushing S.D.’s wine scene with Le Metro. The 1-year-old monthly subscription service is a cult sensation, thanks to Epstein’s eclectic bottle curation and Le Metro’s liner note-inspired tasting notes, custom illustrated by famed blogger Elaine Chukan Brown. “I’m taking people out of Napa cab land, but I’m cushioning the journey,” says Epstein, who lives steps from the ocean in O.B. with his wife and their newborn son, Micah. There, his boots share closet space with a case of Vesper Vineyards rosé. “Our house wine,” jokes Epstein, whose expertise and insight into small releases and boutique wines recently landed him in The Washington Post. “The vast majority of the wines I’m getting cannot be reordered,” he notes. An example: Enfield Wine Co.’s 2011 Haynes Vineyard Syrah, which recently starred in a six-bottle collection themed Seduced by Syrah. Also exclusive? His handmade suits (all in neutral colors so his blue Warby Parkers pop) from Thailand, and custom shoes by Piero Calzature in Bologna, where trilingual Epstein lived and first fell in love with vino. “Try finding a 16A in the shops!”
Not everyone in the S.D. music scene has played with him, but almost everyone has heard him. In fact, it’s hard to find anyone who isn’t reverent when speaking of Karl Denson. He’s been the go-to saxophone player for more than two decades, having played with everyone from Lenny Kravitz and Steve Winwood to local hitmakers Slightly Stoopid and Joshua White. If a band needs a sexy sax hook, a jazz flute solo or even some soulful vocals, Denson’s the man to call. His own bands—jazz-funk jammers The Greyboy Allstars and the more soul-heavy Tiny Universe—are practically legendary at this point, selling out local clubs or being flown out to festivals all over the world (not to mention playing A-list openings like the J. Craig Venter Institute, where Al Gore was the honored guest). Even with the bands’ collective spirit, Karl is decidedly the star of the show with his swanky attire and ‘60s-inspired style. “I’m a cross between James Bond and Mad Men. I love a good suit. My clothes might be shiny, but my horn is not,” says Denson, armed with his 1968 sax. When he’s not being a “bad vegetarian” munching on rolls at Sushi Ota, he’s probably catching Gilbert Castellanos at the trumpet player’s Wednesday night jam sessions at Seven Grand. Or he’s sitting in with the band because, as he puts it, “it’s a labor of love, but I’ve also got three kids to put through college.” And, yes, the kids all play music.
Between his irreverent hit blog Kale and Cigarettes, his East Village yoga studio Hale Holistic—which features free green smoothies—and a love of kickboxing because “sometimes you just want to punch something,” Kirk Hensler loves a good contradiction. He is also a modern-day Renaissance man, as adept in an astonishingly varied list of fields as he is on the yoga mat. He’s a professional photographer, videographer, blogger, novelist, hip-hop dancer, and even equity partner in a biotech startup company that helps people monitor stress. And that kind of multifaceted, real world experience lends the sometime model a no-BS edge that has made him a hit on the national yoga circuit—a refreshing change at Lululemon corporate retreats or Hawaii’s Wanderlust Festival, where it’s usually all sunshine and Sanskrit. Hensler’s no cynic, though. In fact, he’s driven to work with the underserved, especially kids. In S.D., that translates into martial arts, yoga and creative expression classes for youth through his Hale Holistic Foundation. As a volunteer with Seeds Training, he takes his act on the road, doing social leadership programs for kids from Malaysia to Africa. His goal: “It might sound corny, but I want to be a modern-day Batman, helping people that are struggling and fighting for their happiness.” Yoga superhero? He’s got the requisite physique nailed.
Mike Rosen has a foot fetish. “I don’t like going to a restaurant and seeing somebody in flip-flops,” says the owner of Little Italy’s highest-profile hot spot, Juniper & Ivy, sounding every bit like the Carlyle-loving former New Yorker that he is. “We’re not a white-tablecloth establishment, but I want a little bit of elegance.” The former investment banker practices what he preaches. “I still love dark suits,” he confesses. “That corporate-1960s look. Nothing makes you look more comfortable holding a cocktail.” If S.D. becomes the next big thing on the national culinary scene, Rosen may very well be fending off folks lining up at J&I’s hickory-topped bar, vying to buy the man a drink—his $5 million investment in the sleek, sexy Kettner space, coupled with his wooing of top talent Richard Blais to S.D., will be hard for the foodie cognoscenti to ignore. But at the restaurant, you’re more likely to find the La Jolla dweller—who also trained as a chef at Le Cordon Bleu (“I’m a better critic than cook,” he says)—kitted out in a patterned Isaia sport jacket with a fitted shirt and jeans, not a suit. “After so many years, I hardly wear ties. And I don’t wear socks. At business meetings in New York, people look at me like I’m infected.” That hardly bothers globe-trotting Rosen, who likens S.D.’s relaxed vibe to France or Italy, two of his favorite dining destinations—especially with 10pm rezzers starting to book up at Juniper & Ivy. “That’s dining. They’re not just fueling up for their yoga and Pilates,” he laughs.
Alexander Jarman is a bit of an old soul. “I’m an analog person,” says the artist and in-demand curator. “I like vinyl records and Polaroid film.” That explains Jarman’s penchant for natty bow ties and standout spectacles (paging Wes Anderson). “I’ll wear blue or white glasses,” he says. “Little details set you apart. Though working at a museum, I probably have more leeway with fashion than a guy at a law firm.” Jarman, artist-in-residence for SDMA’s Open Spaces, oversees a unique two-year public program that serves arts-starved neighborhoods in San Diego. “So often an institution decides on the artist, content and location,” says Jarman. “Sometimes that works, and sometimes we call it ‘plop art.’ With Open Spaces, the community drives all the decisions.” Case in point? An installation that literally shines light on “the four corners of death,” a Lincoln Park intersection known for gang violence. “They’re trying to rebrand it to be the ‘four corners of life,’” he says. Recently, the SDSU alum, who teaches modern and contemporary art at Point Loma Nazarene University, has been creating and exhibiting intriguing large-scale installations with his sister, sculptor Savannah Jarman. Not one to sit still, the multihyphenate arts phenom is also curating upcoming shows at Helmuth Projects and across the border at Tijuana’s CECUT.
The Big Splash
What happens when your job requirement includes wearing a suit and tie, but all you want to do is jump in the ocean? This sounds like a familiar dilemma facing countless San Diego men (you know the type), but for Matt O’Malley, it’s a legitimate concern—at least during the week, when the top environmental lawyer is duking it out in the courtroom over clean water issues as the newly appointed waterkeeper for San Diego Coastkeeper. “I only wear a suit in front of a judge,” says the sandy-haired O’Malley, who lives with his wife in Bay Park. “On weekends, I wear boardshorts and a T-shirt... and that’s only if I have to.” For three decades, Coastkeeper has been protecting fishable, swimmable and drinkable water on behalf of S.D.’s gorgeous coastline. Prior to joining the organization, the surfer and avid outdoorsman got his feet wet with the Surfrider Foundation. But his waterman days started early: He grew up back East in a time when waterways were plagued by pollution. “I remember going to the Hudson River and being told not to go into the water. As a kid, you go with the flow, but it started getting to me,” he says. When he’s not in the ocean, the self-proclaimed brewery enthusiast is an avid researcher of S.D.’s hop-to-it culture. “I don’t wear just any T-shirt,” O’Malley laughs, listing Coronado Brewing, Alpine and Ballast Point tees as part of his weekend uniform. “It’s good to support local business.”
The Chairman of the Board
When he was packing for the Sochi Olympics, Fernando Aguerre had nothing neutral in his suitcase. “For me, funky dressing is another way to build bridges with other human beings,” says Aguerre, who recently met with International Olympic Committee leaders on his quest to make surfing and stand-up paddling into Olympic sports. “And that’s a good enough reason not to dress in black, navy or gray.” Zany attire aside, Aguerre is a man on a serious mission. He started with humble beginnings in a small coastal town in his native Argentina, where he founded the original Argentinean Surfing Association in 1978 despite a military dictatorship ban on the sport at the time. Since then, the longtime La Jollan hasn’t stopped advocating for the sport. Eventually moving to San Diego to co-found Reef with his brother, Aguerre could have stopped working when they sold the iconic sandal brand nine years ago. Instead, the president of the International Surfing Association was awarded the 2013 Waterman of the Year, the sport’s version of the Academy Awards, for his tireless philanthropy and plans to help the ISA reach 100 member nations by the end of this year. The father of teen triplets and a new baby girl, Aguerre says it is more than waves alone that drive him. “Love is the most powerful force in life. When you think about it, it’s all about love.”
Phil Baran may be a seriously hotshot scientist—the recent winner of a MacArthur Fellowship, in fact—but he’s also a bit of a wise guy. The proof? The pinky ring he wears even while working in his synthetic chemistry lab at La Jolla’s internationally acclaimed Scripps Research Institute. “I really love The Sopranos,” says Baran, whose wit is nearly as impressive as his CV. The affable scientist earned his Ph.D. at 24 and trained with a Nobel laureate at Harvard. At SRI, Baran’s team finds cutting-edge and cost-effective ways to produce important pharmaceutical components. And, yes, he’s a Breaking Bad fan. “But instead of making meth, we make something useful,” laughs the resoundingly modest brainiac. His first reaction when he heard about the so-called Genius grant? “It was a vote of confidence for all the people I’ve worked with,” says Baran, who credits regular workouts and twice-weekly boxing sessions for his fit body and mind. “The blood flows to your brain, and you do better science.” Also stimulating: trips to the zoo with his two kids. “They see wonder in everything!” At home in Carmel Valley, his Spanish-born wife—a chemist who’s expecting the couple’s third child this summer—often gives him fashion tips. “She’s converted me into a human,” Baran says. “I’d be happy in a pink potato sack. But I do have style and artistry in
Styling by Ken Downing, fashion director, Neiman Marcus
Grooming by Gerine Coronado and Skye Moreau for Detour Salon
On location at The Westgate Hotel