Take one look at No Chaser, the carefully curated print and online publication, and you get a sense that style is something deeply felt and thought about by its art director Ontario Armstrong. Nothing here is fleeting or a fad; instead you are drawn into stunning photographs of Native Americans in traditional dress, the comfortable craftsmanship of German sweaters, the world’s most sophisticated bottle of Peruvian Negroni and a tour of the impossibly romantic and artistic Italian town of Ginosa.
Featuring the aforementioned subjects not to mention gentlemen from places like London, New York, Lisbon, and Paris, No Chaser has a distinctly global feel but Armstrong’s background is much less flashy and fashionable.
“I grew up in North Carolina so I’m a southern guy at heart,” says Armstrong. But that doesn’t mean he’s forgotten his roots. “Growing up down South had a major influence on who I am today. A large part of that came from the work ethic that I’ve seen around me,” he adds. “There was certain pride that was felt from working hard and pushing through no matter the situation.”
Part of that upbringing included a mother who always stressed the importance of presentation and being the best version on yourself when you step out the door. “A lot of those things have stuck with me to this day in how I present myself as well as the presentation of my work,” he notes.
This combination of hustle and haute would serve Armstrong well as he went off to study at the prestigious Art Institute of Philadelphia. It was there that he not only learned how to hone his fashion instincts, but it’s when folks also started to take notice of this stylish young man from the south. Having become known for his dapper look with a touch of color and personality (like “tricky socks”, fun and colorful accessories which give an outfit “that extra wow!”), Esquire magazine named him one of America’s “Best Dressed Real Men.
Someone else who took notice was fellow Art Institute student, Clifton Wilson, another Esquire’s Best Dressed Real Men awardee. While working as sales associates in department stores, including Nordstrom, the two men would go on to create Armstrong & Wilson, a Philadelphia-based accessories company known for its pocket squares in fresh designs and bold colors.
The brand would make a splash with celebs like Nick Cannon and Mos Def, and was fittingly sold at high-end retailers like Nordstrom, proving that you can have all the style in the world, but it only matters if you have the substance to put in the work to make sure the world sees it.
CREATE YOUR OWN COOL
When you get called out by Esquire for how you dress, featured in publications like GQ, Vogue, and Miami Magazine and on television shows like The Today Show, people automatically want to copy you, thinking that’s the way they too can be “cool.” But Armstrong says that’s the wrong approach.
“Cool to me is your DNA. It’s something unique to you and goes beyond what you wear,” he explains. “Clothing is a small part of it. It’s how you move; it’s manners and it’s owning your personal style. Those are the things that say ‘cool’ to me.”
This approach is evident when as Armstrong speaks about his influences. “I’m an old soul at heart so my influence goes way back to Miles Davis, my style hero. When you talk about effortless style, he’s at the top of the list,” Armstrong says. “Also, I grew up in the 80’s so old school hip-hop has always inspired me in a sense of creating and building from the culture around you.”
When it comes to his favorites places, it’s a no brainer for Armstrong to call out the fashion epicenter, Italy, but not for the reasons you would think. "Being that I’m a man that appreciates craftsmanship there always seems to be a scene of love in everything the Italians do,” he explains. “Whether it’s food, clothing etc.. the final result always translates into something amazing. Something I can relate to when I’m creating.”
Take the classic style of Davis and add the colorful feel of the rap game and the passion and attention to the detail of the Italians, and you’ve got Armstrong’s style – something that’s unique and speaks to his depth of character and the thought he puts into who he is and where he comes from. It’s also what Armstrong says No Chaser is all about: “No Chaser creates a space that everyone can see themselves in. A publication that anyone can find something to connect with.”
HOW THE SATORIAL IS MADE
You’d think that someone who has such a strong ingrained work ethic and who started at the bottom only to rise to the top would have a creative process that was all about working harder and pushing through, but that’s not the case with Armstrong.
“It’s important to sometimes take a step back from everything and have those moments to reset and come back with a fresh mind,” he explains. “By doing that it not only allows me to prioritize things but also allows those fresh ideas to come to the surface.”
This approach has worked wonders for the creator, who has collaborated with many brands to create and develop content. How does he choose which companies to work with? “It’s all about connection and how I relate to the brand and if it fits into my lifestyle,” he says. “I’ve never considered myself a billboard for product so it’s important that it’s a natural fit between the people behind the brand and products I’m working with.”
Staying true to who he is has served Armstrong well in who he works with as well as how he works. “I think it’s always important to do what fits your lifestyle, and more than anything consistence is everything,” he says. What has been successful for him is to set small goals every day. “That allows me to motivate myself and creates a scene of accomplishment when I’m able to check things off the list,” he adds. “I believe little goals always add up to accomplishing big dreams.”
For the kid from Carolina who has started his own companies, worked with legendary brands, traveled the world and met all-manner of bold faced names, it’s easy for others to look at this accomplished, well-dressed man and say he’s a success, but for Armstrong it’s not so simple.
“Early on my definition of success was surrounded by having “things” but now, success is being able to inspire and build community around you,” he says. “It’s less about what you’re taking and more about what you’re giving to the world.”