Rufus Wainwright’s Personal Trainer Is Menswear’s Most Badass Jewelry Designer
From gym rat to folk music to flea markets—Mark Armstrong Peddigrew’s journey from Rufus Wainwright’s personal trainer to New York’s most badass jewelry designer.
His trio of initials spells out MAP. Then there’s that flexed-bicep-emoji of a middle name. So a résumé boasting both “personal trainer” and “world traveler” seemed assured for Mark Armstrong Peddigrew. Less obvious, perhaps, is the inclusion of “jewelry designer,” a job title the Newfoundland native added to the list when he founded an in-demand accessory brand, aptly named Cartography, five years ago in New York City.
If his evolution from Canadian fitness instructor to New York style star sounds unusual, Peddigrew is the first to admit it. And own it. “I think one thing that I’ve always had going for me in this industry was my outsider status,” he says proudly.
That status, on at least a superficial level, is made immediately apparent upon meeting the 37-year-old Peddigrew, who neither looks nor talks like a fashion designer from CFDA central casting. Instead, his burly-muscle to rugged-scruff ratio—particularly given his propensity for pectoral revealing tank tops—might have been engineered for a Grindr ad, while his vocabulary swings briskly from cerebral to salty (a hit collection of pocket-knife necklaces was dubbed “cut-a-betch”), and his extensive tattoos number 92. (The exact figure was eventually ascertained after he gamely stripped off his clothes to count them all.) Let’s be honest, this guy gets routinely pegged as a Bushwick DJ or even, say, one of those barely clothed Instagram “models,” a characterization I verbalize to Peddigrew. “I know I look like a meathead,” he forthrightly acknowledges. “I’m much more at home in a dive bar and a gym than at a fashion show. That said, I’m a folkie at heart.”
“Folkie,” a quick click over to Urban Dictionary reveals, is a sobriquet reserved for the highest echelon of folk singer fans, which would, yes, explain Peddigrew’s passionate references to genre luminaries Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell—and his occasional searching glances for Patti Smith during our breakfast at the noted Smith haunt 12 Chairs—but also those globetrotting inclinations his parents so wisely prognosticated.
Folk music, after all, is world music, Peddigrew reminds me, so really, it’s no surprise he doesn’t like to sit still. It’s a quality that led him to skip his graduation ceremony—“Ain’t nobody got time for that!”—from Newfoundland’s sleepy Memorial University and take the first plane out to London. “There were drugs to snort,” he says, and “men to bang and dance floors to find.” It also led him, eventually, to another dance club of sorts, the David Barton Gym on 23rd Street, where in his position as resident trainer, Peddigrew caught the eye of Rufus Wainwright, folk icon ne plus ultra.
One squat, as it will, led to another, and in 2008 Wainwright hired Peddigrew as a sort of trainer, nutritionist, and general guy Friday on two international tours. “The origin of Cartography can be linked back to sleepless nights on those tour buses,” Peddigrew says. “He showed me the world twice over.”
In all, they passed through almost 150 different places together, spending days off taking trips to antique markets, where Peddigrew discovered his fascination for old charms and oddities, and, in turn, his current profession.
“It was really a happy accident,” he explains. “Since I was often away for friends’ birthdays, I would make necklaces composed of these found objects.” Recognizing genius when they saw it, his buddies showed their buddies. Requests started pouring in. Peddigrew’s hobby might have stayed a hobby, except that there was also a boy to impress. What, he figured, is more attractive than a business owner? So, he stopped traveling with Wainwright (he still trains him when he’s in town) and turned his hand to original designs, the first of which was an anatomical heart necklace to give to his crush.
While the boy didn’t last, he did help inspire Cartography’s very first collection “in all the wrong places” (handily beating Rihanna and Calvin Harris to that punch). The range was a modern take on the traditional love locket, centered on the narrative theme of old boyfriends, intense affairs, and one-night stands; each piece, of course, was named after a guy from his past.
Four years and nine collections later (with another on the way), Peddigrew still considers himself a storyteller, a skillset frantically being mined by big brands looking to trick millenials’ bullshit radar. In today’s retail market, authenticity is in. Real stories must be told.
Of those, Peddigrew has plenty, which partly explains how Cartography has stayed so successful. Besides Taylor Swifting prior relationships, influences in his imaginative process include everything from favorite places to family, and, surprise, surprise, music.
“Talk to me like the sea,” a nautically themed range of chains, lapel pins, tie-clips, and cufflinks, took its name from a song by Everything But The Girl, and was created as a homage to the ghostly fishing villages scattered on the rocky coasts of Peddigrew’s childhood island home. The saint medallion necklaces in “Sisters of Mercy” (a Leonard Cohen song title) are all stand-ins for real women in the jeweler’s life and the saintly attributes that have kept his family together. He says his latest offering, “Weapon of Choice,” is “a big hug to the collective of musicians who have kept me company and crafted the soundtrack to my life,” while “Indian Summer,” Peddigrew’s upcoming collection, is based on animals that appeared to him in guided meditations.
So yeah, he has the mass chains beat when it comes to serving up backstory. But now that Cartography has grown, Peddigrew must contend with the ample resources of his rivals when it comes to sourcing materials.
“Bigger brands, like Ralph Lauren, are huge customers of my favorite antique vendors, so my only way to really compete is to be first in line when they remove the blankets from their cases,” he says.
However, when pressured, he will admit his considerable charm (pun intended) has scored him points with them. The owners, at this point, know his tastes and contact him if they find something he might like. “I think they have a soft spot for the underdog.” To be sure, favors also flow because they’re familiar with his customer base—a group of mainly guys (including Ryan Gosling and Bruno Mars) who Peddigrew calls “unaffectedly cool,” and who helped inspire Cartography’s tagline, “Folk N Roll: Badass Wares for the Nostalgic Soul.” After a period of reflection—and, damn, a fruitless scan for Patti Smith—he expands on that definition. “That means whatever you think is cool is cool. Who cares what other people are doing?”