Best-selling author Todd Babiak knows exactly how many suits he owns.“30 in total. 11 in rotation.” The man who identifies as overdressed on his professional Facebook page has a passion for fashion. That’s why we’re meeting at the Fairmont Palliser in Calgary ahead of Wordfest, which starts Monday — not to discuss the new book he released September 25th, with promo billboards coming soon to a city near you.
“There’s a stereotype of writers that they’re frumpy and they don’t dress well,” he says. “Because writers aren’t supposed to have any money, they’re supposed to be struggling and they’re supposed to be counter-cultural.”
His penchant for personal style is a rebellion to that — and growing up poor. He started off doubling preppy polo shirts in high school, collars up, and moved on to suits. Still, he’s embarrassed by his numbers, as if it might be a tad too extravagant. As a former news anchor, I think 11 sounds woefully low, especially for someone who wears them almost every day, even when he’s skateboarding to a business meeting in Edmonton (his home base). But then I remember he’s a guy. I ask him how many ties he has. “Oh, zillions.”According to his latest count, he also has a zillion shirts. Todd favors Banana Republic shirts for their slim fit and French cuffs. Which, in turn, can only mean a zillion pairs of cufflinks. These ones are from Artworks in Edmonton.With accessories like this conversation starter at the top of his fly, no one will ever notice if Todd wears the same suit twice. He picked up this Flightpath Designs belt buckle at the Art Gallery of Alberta.
Dressing up is the great divide between his books and his business — a marketing company called Story Engine. ”I have a psychological switch in the day. I work on novels in the morning wearing comfortable clothes, even PJs. Then I shower and get ready. Even if I’m going to stay at home, I get dressed up to work on Story Engine.”
He’s color-blind, but he knows the J. Lindeberg suit he’s sporting is brown. He’s got a thing for Swedish menswear designers (Tiger is another go-to for Todd) who do that slim Euro fit. ”It works for me because I’m little.”A new round of drinks arrive, distracting us from a lengthy digression into the history of pleated pants. The Oak Room’s cocktail menu had so many delectable creations it was a tough choice, but I settled on the Green Park, because of the basil, and substituted Hendrick’s Gin for Bombay. Lemony and refreshing, it also part of the same color palette as the cover of Come Barbarians. But as delicious as it was, those floating green bits made me nervous. I ducked out to the loo to make sure nothing was stuck in my teeth.Which gave me a chance to appreciate the sumptuous lobby. With centennial celebrations in the works for June 2014, the Fairmont is one of the few old-school places in Calgary where you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. The lobby is usually bustling, yet hushed. The perfect place to rock my new skinny crops that I stole from the Gap for $16.99. Who cares that they were on the summer sale rack? The fact that it’s not snowing yet in YYC is the ultimate excuse to bare some ankle. Purse, Gucci. Shoes, MICHAEL by Michael Kors. But back to Babiak in the Oak Room, where he was still focused on fashion. “You can’t wear bow ties all the time,” he says. “They’re too whimsical. So I’m probably 20% bow ties.”He looks for ones that are hand-made in small batches. Last time he was in Brooklyn, he discovered a boutique where he picked up this Pierrepont Hicks bow: 100% cotton and 100% hipster.“Also, I like the way an untied bow tie looks.”
So do I Todd, so do I.Did you notice the vintage polo photos on the wall behind our table? Of course this is now my favorite nook in the Oak Room.You’ll have plenty of opportunities to acquire your own autographed copy of Come Barbarians at the 18th annual literary festival in Calgary this week. With three Wordfest appearances, we’ll see if Todd ups his bow tie ratio. And if he wears one, will it stay tied?