Sunday, March 22, 2009

Leading men of HOLLYWOOD and the silver screen have played a starring role in defining style and elegance in America and Europe through the decades...

Cary Grant's head size was immense. Fred Astaire was the original thin man. John Wayne was somewhat barrel-chested, even as a lad. Elegant as they may have been, the physiques of these Hollywood icons were less than perfect, yet one would never know it from the way they looked in their clothes. Grant, for example, would have his suits and topcoats made with squared-off, padded shoulders set wider from point to point to counterbalance his head size. Likewise, Astaire favored fitted, double-breasted suits with high armholes and virtually no padding to ensure his ability to move through the air with the greatest of ease. Wayne preferred a more structured shoulder, with lower button placement to offset his burgeoning girth.

Of course, legends such as Grant, Astaire and Wayne, among so many other stylish men of the silver screen, had the means to avail themselves of the finest custom tailors in London, Rome and New York. In the hands of these master craftsmen, with their keen eye for balance and finesse and innate knowledge of the classics, any man would look his best and come to understand intuitively the subtle nuances of fit and shape and how best to take advantage of both.

Hollywood and the movies led to enormous fashion directions that became American classics, including the two-button suit, the extended shoulder, high waist trousers (sometimes known as the “Hollywood” waistband), to name just a few. Perhaps even more importantly, it was the stylishly individual way these cinematic heroes put their clothes and looks together that is most noteworthy—Fred Astaire's and William Powell's impeccable double breasted suits with peaked lapels, always worn with pocket square and boutonniere deftly in place come immediately to mind. Or even James Dean's leather motorcycle jacket, worn with faded blue jeans and white T-shirt, a classic American combination if ever there was one.

Few in Hollywood could ever touch the personal style and consummate elegance of William Powell

In Hollywood's Golden Era, finely tailored clothing often played an integral role in building the powerful image of the various studios’ leading men. To be sure, these screen idols were decidedly aware of their appearance, on screen and off. Grant used to say about his acting: "All I have to do is point my suit towards the camera."

Hollywood also lent its hand in ushering in the popularity of certain suiting fabrics as well. Since its early days as strictly a southern garment, the seersucker suit traveled a stormy path to acceptance, but on the silver screen, the garment was looked upon in an entirely new light, so to speak. Who could forget the daring-do of James Cagney in "A Lion in the Streets" or the cool nonchalance of Tom Ewell in "The Seven Year Itch,” as they confidently seethed and swooned dressed in seersucker. Perhaps the real turning point in elevating the seersucker suit to popular status beyond the Bijoux came in 1964, when in the movie "Charade," Cary Grant wore his Haspel drip-dry version into a running shower to escape the pursuit of George Kennedy.

Fast forward to the modern era. The British government may have given James Bond a license to kill, but Dormeuil, Savile Row, and later Brioni, gave the secret agent a license to thrill. Outfitting Pierce Brosnan in the recent 007 movies has been overwhelmingly valuable to both companies, not just because Brosnan looked exceedingly handsome in clothing custom tailored with Dormeuil cloth, but because the image of sartorial suave and sophistication long established as part of the fabled spy’s image, instantly rendered fine English tailoring chic.

Apart from James Bond’s wardrobe, Dormeuil over the years has supplied fine fabrics to the Savile Row tailors of many a screen idol, including such American stars as Ben Afflek, Tom Cruise, George Clooney, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Robert Wagner and Marlon Brando, to name just a few. In the film, Austin Powers, Michael Caine’s elegant, English cut suits were made from Dormeuil fabric.

What began with Sean Connery, developed later with Roger Moore and now is in the hands of Brosnan, is a virile, masculine character that is, in a manner of speaking, tailor made for stylish clothing. But as far back as the Forties, custom tailors such as those of Savile Row and Rome-based Brioni, among others, were much in demand for their impeccable tailoring that wealthy, elegant Americans would soon covet led by Hollywood icons as John Wayne, Clark Gable, Henry Fonda, Rock Hudson, Johnny Weismuller and Anthony Quinn.

Pierce Brosnan's own personal style was perfectly suited to his roles as debonair spy James Bond

Today, the look of custom tailoring is more in demand in the U.S. than it ever was, from the back lots of Hollywood and the front lawns of Palm Beach, to the oil-rich Texas ranches and bustling cities of New York, Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia.

To many fashion observers, Italian style was re-introduced to America in 1980 on the back of a young actor named Richard Gere in an otherwise forgettable film called "American Gigolo." A less than memorable movie, the suits Gere wore as designed by a young unknown designer named Giorgio Armani presented new tailored clothing ideas that challenged the prevailing trends. If nothing else, Gere proved to a generation of style-conscious men that fine tailored suits could be at once sportive and, well, sexy.

Giorgio Armani's wardrobe design for Richard Gere in "American Gigolo" broke new fashion ground for men the world over

While "American Gigolo" may have been one of the first movies that enabled a fashion company to reap generous rewards from outfitting the man with the leading role, it certainly has not been the only one. American designer Ralph Lauren reaped huge rewards from his sartorial contribution to Robert Redford's title role in the film "The Great Gatsby." Likewise a few years later, American clothing designer and Anderson & Sheppard enthusiast Alan Flusser would win a lion’s share of accolades for the tailored clothing worn by Michael Douglas in the epic finance and corruption film, "Wall Street."

With the premier of “The Great Gatsby" came Lauren's most eloquent moment. As Robert Redford's remarkable wardrobe in the F. Scott Fitzgerald saga on screen attests, Lauren demonstrated just how rich and elegant men's clothing could be, emphasizing and underscoring the beauty in luxurious, classic and timeless clothing.

Gatsby’s perfectly fitted double-breasted suits, often with double-breasted waistcoats, Norfolk-inspired summer tweed jackets, pima cotton, colored spread-collar dress shirts, silk satin neckwear and cashmere surplice vests were impressive indeed. The clothes were nothing if not inspirational, especially to the younger generation of American designers who would follow in Lauren's footsteps.

No one but Ralph Lauren could have designed Robert Redford's dapper clothing in "The Great Gatsby"

In Wall Street, the Savile Row sensibility Flusser designed into the wardrobe for Gordon Gekko as portrayed by Douglas in the Oscar-winning film played an integral role in conveying the acrimonious financier’s arrogance and swagger, right down to the patterned braces, English spread-collar dress shirts and double barrel French cuffs. Few would argue the boost in sales that Flusser’s designs gave to the men’s tailored clothing business in general following the film’s success.

Likewise, Academy Award-winning costume designer Milena Canonero did such an outstanding job in designing the wardrobes for films such as "Chariots of Fire," "The Cotton Club" and "Out of Africa," that she parlayed her profound influence on men’s fashion in the early 80’s into a job with Norman Hilton Clothiers. A traditional American clothing manufacturer (now defunct), the Hilton company marketed a Milena Canonero Collection of hand-tailored suits, sportcoats, trousers and outerwear, all faithfully in keeping with the look of Thirties-inspired English country dressing so wonderfully showcased in “Chariots of Fire.”

The enormous success and popularity of “Chariots of Fire” occasioned renewed interest in fine tailored clothing and elegant fabrics, providing, in the process, an exciting new direction in men’s fashion. Credit was due the Italy-born Canonero, who artfully revived English style in all its cut, details and unsurpassed fabrications.

Given the current trends in fashion today, men’s wear designers would do well to once again turn to the silver screen for inspiration. Hollywood was, after all, always closer to home on Savile Row than Herald Square.