Q&A with Junior Sartorialist Tobias Otting

The local pint-sized fashion plate and blogger dishes on style and about speaking at TEDx Cambridge. By Shina Neo

Tobias Otting at TEDx Cambridge / Photo used with permission

Tobias Otting at TEDx Cambridge / Photo by Laura Latimer (used with permission)

Tobias Otting is no ordinary fourth grader, at least where fashion is concerned—he wears a tie to class daily, puts pennies in his penny loafers, and uses a pocket watch (the day we met him, he had accidentally left the timepiece at school). Naturally, the up-and-coming Newton fashionista, 10, has a blog called the Junior Sartorialist, where he writes about style, food, and entertainment. Recent posts concern his doll clothing designs, his experience modeling in a Bloomingdale’s charity fashion show, and his opinion of George Balanchine’s “Jewels,” as performed by the Boston Ballet. Otting dreams of attending fashion school one day and becoming a designer and stylist, and he’s off to a good start: Just last week, Otting spoke at TEDx Cambridge about finding a voice.

We chatted with Otting (and his mom, Laura Gassner Otting) about plaid, fame, and one very special pair of blue cuff links.

Who is your fashion icon?
I don’t really have one. I dressed up in school as Ralph Lauren.

How would you describe your personal style?

Laura Gassner Otting: All of his ideas are coming out of his own head right now, so we’ve been very cautious not to show him how it’s done by others. I don’t want to define for him what creativity is if he’s got his own creative ideas. So he doesn’t really have specific designers or specific styles he likes. He doesn’t have names for any of it yet, so it all just kind of comes out of him organically right now. He has favorite items of clothing which I think we would label as a certain style but he doesn’t know what that is so we’re just trying not to box him in to anything in particular.

Why did you start blogging?
People that I know—friends, my family, my classmates, my teachers$mdash; always ask me for fashion tips and they’re like, “You should start a blog and give everyone fashion tips.”

Do you write all your blog posts?
She [Laura Gassner Otting] types them. I say I want to do a blog post. We just sit down and she types and I just dictate.

Are there times you don’t want to write a blog post?

LGO: He tends to sort of touch upon something and go, rather than think deeply about it. So the idea behind creating the blog—which, again, we never thought anybody would really read—was that he would be forced to think deeper about the issues important to him.

What are your current fashion obsessions?
A tie. A cardigan. A belt because I have occasional worries that my pants might fall down. Suspenders. A collared shirt. Blazers.

Which designers do you like to wear?
I rarely look at the tags. I see … what strikes me. I just get things on my travels around and my dad usually gets things for me, so I don’t really know.

Is your dad as stylish as you?

How is everything organized in your drawers?
The bow ties are folded, the neckties are folded, and then I have my cuff links. I have some very important cufflinks that my grandpa gave me. They’re blue.

What are the trends you’re seeing this summer?
Shorts. Seersucker. And seersucker shorts. What I’ve been seeing in stores is different types of seersucker.

What do you hope to see trending in the fall?
Plaid. I like plaid.

What challenges do you think you’ll face as an up-and-coming designer and stylist?
People not liking the designs I put together. Not knowing how to use a sewing machine, which I’m learning.

LGO: One of his teachers put together a “Project Runway”-style sewing and fashion design class that he’s been doing all year.

How did the TEDx talk go?
It was pretty good. I think I did good. I wasn’t watching myself. I was pretty nervous, but once I started talking I got less nervous. After, I was walking around, and every single group of people wanted to take a picture with me. It got sort of annoying.

What message do you want people to take away from your talk?
They should find a voice and that everyone can do it so there’s no reason that they shouldn’t. They should speak up.

How will you achieve your goals?
I want to go to a fashion college. I’ve heard of FIT. I’ve heard of Parsons, but I don’t think I’m going to go to Parsons. It’s really hard to get in.

What do you do for fun?
I dance. I find music to dance to. I remember to play drums—or, more like my mom yells at me to remember to play drums. I read a lot. I started Divergent. I finished the Harry Potter series a while ago. I finished the Hunger Games, the first, second, and part of the third, but it’s just bad. I play with my brother. I love doing ballet. We just got season passes for next year. I’m so excited.

How does it feel to be 10?
I feel older. I feel more responsible. People are going to expect more of me.

Do you want to be famous one day?
I mean, I already sort of am. A little bit. A tiny bit. An eeny bit. Right now I’m a weenie bit. I’m getting up to be an eeny bit. When I’m 12, I want to be teeny. Then small. And then lower-mediocre. Then upper-mediocre to good, then better, great, starring role. World famous. Right now I have a lot of ranks to go up until I’m world famous.

Tobias Otting in front of his closet / Photo by Laura Gassner Otting

Tobias Otting in front of his closet / Photo by Laura Gassner Otting

This interview was condensed and edited.