A Mr Zaratsu Interview With Pedro Mendes
Updated: Nov 27, 2020
By Daniel Yong
I came across Pedro on a recent Hodinkee podcast and instantly connected with his highly disciplined approach to life’s materialistic objects. In terms of watches, I’m someone who regularly (I’m ashamed to admit) lets go of older pieces to try the next best thing, but listening to Pedro drop his wisdom was a wake-up call and I’m now putting into practice a few things he mentioned. I’m proud to say that after a few exchanges on Instagram, we didn’t hesitate to exchange numbers and we’ve now become good friends. I adore this guy for his warmness and intelligence, and you know what? I’m sure you would too, so read on and learn more about our guest!
Hey Pedro! Could you let the Mr Z readers know a bit about who you are?
I'm a radio and podcast producer and I spent thirteen years at CBC Radio. I currently work for Pacific Content, where I make podcasts with brands. My second career is as a men's style journalist. I've written for magazines and newspapers, have one book published a couple of years ago about Toronto's oldest tailor and another coming out in 2021, "10 Garments Every Man Should Own" about how to identify quality when building a wardrobe that will last. My two careers came together last year with "Unbuttoned," a podcast series I wrote and produced with my friend G. Bruce Boyer. He is the greatest menswear writer in print, hands down, and the series is part biography, part menswear primer. Within my career as a style writer, about five years ago, I added a deep appreciation and growing interest in watches.
What is it about men's fashion that fascinates you?
How slowly it changes. Which is the key to sustainability and personal style. If you find a classic look that is neither too in nor out of style, and you invest in quality pieces that fit well, you can wear that clothing for years and sometimes decades. That does require some work as well, in terms of maintenance, but in the end, you develop a relationship with your clothes. They become not only a part of your life, they become a part of your story.
Let's get into your watch collection, how did you get into the hobby and what are your current top three favourites?
I first fell in love with watches when my grandmother bought me a mechanical Timex when I was a little kid. But as I became a teenager and the market flooded with cheap quartz watches, I lost interest. About five years ago, while consulting with a Toronto menswear company, I met a couple of guys obsessed with watches, especially Grand Seiko. I couldn't see how special they were at the time, but they did steer me towards the gateway drug: entry level Seiko. My first "proper" watch was something I picked up then: the SARB017 Alpinist. It is still one of my absolute favourites; not only is the dial stunning, with the starburst background and gold markers, but I love the case design, with so much beveling and so many sweeping lines. My other two favourites are more recent acquisitions: the SPB143 which is not only the best Seiko diver I've ever worn, it scratches all the itches when it comes to tool watches because not only is the design classic and understated, the watch wears so incredibly well; and my vintage 1976 Lordmatic, which, I've discovered, was the standard-bearer for mechanical watches when it was produced, as the Grand and King Seiko's were years out of production.
Generally speaking, menswear enthusiasts tend to appreciate high quality craftsmanship. The same could be said about those deep in the watch hobby and I don't find it a surprise that you're also a fan of Seiko. Recently you recorded a podcast talking about the history of Seiko's internal competitions, if you were to highlight three key important points to a Seiko newbie, what would you discuss?
First is how Seiko has worked so many elements of Japanese history, art and philosophy into design. And that's not marketing nonsense. The company's first official designer, Taro Tanaka, very consciously drew from him cultural background to find inspiration. Second, in-house innovation. I find it fascinating and exciting that starting in the late 1950s, Seiko made a commitment to no longer use Swiss parts or technology as the basis for their movements, but to design their own, from the ground up. With the two factories competing against each other, Seiko developed in leaps and bounds over the next few decades, and the watches of the 60s and 70s are a testament to that. And third, value. I know that's a cliché, and not as true in the past few years, but there is still so much in the Seiko catalogue that expresses my first two points at prices that are far lower than the quality would suggest.
On a recent Hodinkee episode, you mentioned something that fascinated me. I was interested in your philosophy of battling the dopamine effect of purchasing a new watch, could you share your thoughts on this?
This is something I struggle with in my life. Because watches are available at so many price points, and selling (flipping) is so common, it is relatively easy to satisfy the desire to consume. To constantly have new, shiny things in our lives. To fill the voids caused by anxiety, loss, fear, depression and worry with overconsumption. To become addicted to the dopamine hit of getting something different than what we have. But it is a bottomless pit. We may tell ourselves we're just looking for the perfect example of something or the perfect variation of something else. But I've found that fundamentally, we're just looking for that next hit. I try to counter this by being as self-aware as I can, to give myself very strict criteria for buying something new, and to focus my energy on what I already have. For instance, every once in a while, I'll take a watch I've had for a while but haven't worn and just sit with it and appreciate the dial, the case, the craftsmanship throughout, as a way to rediscover and rekindle what I loved about it in the first place.
Another concept you discussed was the first scratch signifying the mark of true ownership. Why do you think people are so afraid of scuffing up their watches?
It's an irony of our age: our obsession with "authenticity" mixed with an aversion to blemishes. Part of it must come down to my previous point, that we are never fully settled with an object and the possibility of selling it in the future hangs over any scratch or wear. But it's also our age's inexperience with objects that last and therefore degrade over time. Most things now are disposable. Watches are some of the few items in our lives that we may have for years, if not decades. We may like the look of a vintage, patinated watch, but seeing it happen in process is something we're not used to.
Outside of menswear and watches, how else do you unwind?
I have two versions of yoga in my life: cigars and scale models. I've been smoking cigars for about fifteen years and they are a refuge of calmness, pleasure and introspection that I adore. I also build scale models, mostly of airplanes. And for me, it's a moving meditation. A way to work with my hands and concentrate on a challenge that is fundamentally unimportant. In fact, building models teaches me to let go: if I make a mistake, scratch a part or mess up my painting, I can remind myself that it's ok, perfection is impossible and that life is supposed to be a bit wabi-sabi.
You can follow Pedro on Instagram @pedro.mendes.hogtown