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August 17 2012

At the age of 37, you needn't start dressing like J*r*my Cl*rks*n | Charlie Porter

Men may lose interest in fashion in their late 30s, but a sense of personal style is another matter

Pity poor men. It has long been a curiosity why, after a certain age, men appear to lose interest in fashion. It is a conversation which turns menswear into a forum for mockery: those that have gone to seed are scorned for the inadequacies of their appearance, while those that still make an effort are goaded for vanity or self-importance. A recent survey has made this mockery specific: it has found that the age at which men lose an interest in fashion is 37. I am 38. Poor me.

Fashion is about identity. For many men, identity is something that matters most in their years of prolonged adolescence, from their teenage years into their 20s, even early 30s. It's especially true for men whose adolescence occurred pre-internet, before social media overtook fashion as a means to express character. In the late 20th century, clothing played a primal role in youthful identity, especially with the obstinacy of punk, the baggy of acid house or even the sharpness of mod that is still so important to 32-year-old Bradley Wiggins.

In their late 30s, the need for identity in men seems to wane, overridden by the individual male's growing responsibilities or life-changes: parenthood, employment or unemployment, changes in body-shape and health. The identity of adolescence goes. Fashion goes with it.

When fashion goes, what seems to remain for men are those unprintable words: "J*r*my" and "Cl*rks*n". Of course what no one realises in this is that Cl*rks*n uses his non-identity as an identity in itself. He makes great profit from dressing badly. It is his uniform for hammy belligerence. Cl*rks*n symbolises the male menopause as a return to adolescence. Sadly, it is an adolescence stripped of its need for style and difference. The Cl*rks*n look allows men to shift from identity to non-identity as they head towards the grave.

But this is not always the case. Most of my contemporaries not working in fashion still seem alert about their appearance. As the identity of adolescence has waned for me, what has become important is how I appear to myself. I do not mean by this self-image. As I'm typing this, I can see in my lower field of vision the white shirt I'm wearing with its blue and orange polka dots. I love it being part of my visual experience. I don't care if I look daft. As long as I like it, I'm happy.

There are obvious male celebrities over the age of 37 who could be listed now as examples of middle-aged male style, but these are red herrings, usually actors involved in profiting from image to further their career. Celebrity fashion is something separate from real-life fashion, and citing male celebrities as examples of how to dress is a futile, empty exercise.

Much more interesting to cite examples of men who retain personal style for whatever reason of their own:

Chris Dercon, the new director of Tate Modern, is an extraordinarily dapper man, now in his 50s. He has a particular way with wearing jackets and coats with an upturned collar.

Seventy-five-year-old David Hockney has long dressed his body in the colour that is placed on his canvases, or more recently selected on his iPad.

The 40-year-old Savile Row tailor Patrick Grant came to his profession from his love of clothing and his continuing interest in how garments are made. And it is clear from the severity of 53-year-old Steven Patrick Morrissey's obsessions that he would have dressed in his chosen manner even if he'd not become globally known by his surname.

Examples of such personal style go deep into the past. The recent male fondness for Breton striped sweaters always makes me think of Pablo Picasso. The multidiscipline of Jean Cocteau extended to the drama of his clothing. And examples of male style beyond the age of 37 will only increase in the future. Today's post-internet male adolescents take looking good for granted, their appearance ever Instagram-ready. Cl*rks*n already feels antiquated. When post-internet adolescents reach maturity, he will have been an aberration.


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August 06 2012

John Travolta's white suit to star in V&A exhibition

Saturday Night Fever's 'shining light' in 1970s polyester tracked down for museum's Hollywood Costume show

The most famous white suit in the world, a classic example of the finest 1970s polyester tailoring, has been tracked down by the Victoria and Albert Museum after an international search.

The three-piece suit was as much a star of the 1977 film Saturday Night Fever as John Travolta who played Tony Manero, or the Bee Gees, who provided the soundtrack for the story of a young man who disco-dances his way out of the ghetto.

Bought off the peg in a cheap men's clothes store in Brooklyn, the suit was last seen in public 17 years ago, when it was sold at a Christie's auction to an anonymous bidder for $145,000 (£93,000), three times the top estimate. The curators of this autumn/winter's exhibition on Hollywood costume were determined to find it and put out an international appeal – and to their surprise it has turned up in London, in immaculate condition, and the owner has agreed to lend it to the museum.

The owner, who wishes to remain anonymous but has let slip his age, is not a collector.

He said: "I was nine years old when Saturday Night Fever came out and before seeing the film I had already fallen in love with the legendary soundtrack.

"The ritual of [Travolta's character] choosing his clothes to go out at night, in a world of his own and disconnected from the reality of his life, particularly resonated with me. It was the first film I really loved,

and in essence it was part of my own rite of passage … When I saw the suit on sale, I wanted to buy it because of what it represented to me personally."

Professor Deborah Nadoolman Landis, a designer and historian of film costume – her own credits include Michael Jackson's Thriller video and Raiders of the Lost Ark – is senior curator of the exhibition. She said: "Saturday Night Fever was actually a very dark little movie, and this suit, made of completely gross polyester, was the shining light, the symbol of aspiration and hope that shone in the film in that heart-stopping moment when it all comes together, the music, the lights, the suit, and Travolta dances in it.

"It took me totally by surprise. I fell completely in love with him, as everyone who sees the movie does."

The broad lapels, tight waistcoat and high-waisted flared trousers – a 71cm (28in) waist which Travolta could never get into these days – have been endlessly imitated. But there is no doubt that this is the genuine article. The curators have already been to inspect it, and found conclusive proof in the actor's handwriting.

It was first auctioned in 1978 for charity, when the American critic Gene Siskel, who listed Saturday Night Fever as one of his favourite films of all time, paid $2,000. The actor signed it and the inscription is still faintly visible in the lining: "So here's to a classic, your friend, John Travolta."

Originally the character of Tony Manero was to strut in a black suit, but white was the inspired choice of the film's costume designer, Patrizia Von Brandenstein. "Heroes from Sir Lancelot to Tom Mix wore white in the great contests to express purity and single-minded devotion to the task at hand. So for me, white was the only choice for the suit."

She went shopping in Brooklyn where the character lived, with the director John Badham, and Travolta – who was then starring in a hit television series, Welcome Back, Kotter. As word spread that he was in the neighbourhood, screaming mobs descended on the small clothes shop where he was trying on the suit, beating on the windows and pleading with him to come out.

Nadoolman Landis said buying it off the peg was a piece of genius: "Even in a low-budget movie like Saturday Night Fever, they could have found the money to make Tony a suit – but the fact that it was bought from an ordinary shop that anyone could go into gave it a great truth, exactly the sort of garment somebody from his background would see and long to own."

Brandenstein actually bought several suits, two to dance in, and two that had to be turned up at the hem for Travolta's much shorter stunt double. The other suit worn by Travolta was stolen from an exhibition in the US, so Nadoolman Landis had almost abandoned hope of including the item in the V&A show, which includes costumes worn by characters including Pirates of the Caribbean's Jack Sparrow, Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany's and Darth Vader.

"The costumes in this exhibition are so powerful that each has its own soundtrack which the visitor will hear in their heads – but even in this company the white suit is special," she said. "It is the Turin shroud, the closest an ordinary mortal can come to the body of the actor."

• Hollywood Costume, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, October 2012 to January 2013


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January 23 2012

Why David Hockney is my style hero

With his brilliant use of colour, pattern and texture, the effortlessly cool artist shows us all how to wear clothes with personality

Wearing clothes just the right side of dishevelled cool is, I've decided, pretty much an artform. I should know because I've been trying to get it right for years – ever since I discovered David Hockney while doing my A-levels. How did he get that trench coat to look so perfectly lived in? What made him think that the trench needed a polka dot bow tie to finish off the look?

My Hockney love might have begun with the art – you don't forget the first time you see those super-sexy colours in his pool pictures, especially if you live in a small, grey market town in Norfolk. But it was the impact of Hockney himself, with that rebellious rash of scruffy, bleached, yellow hair, those hefty circular glasses and his unabashed clashing of colour in his outfits, that made him the coolest man I'd ever seen. A brilliantly intentional nerd, he's has been my all-time style hero ever since.

I love his candy-coloured cable jumpers, the American-style logo sweatshirts or the way he puts a cardigan with a knitted tie. I love how he wears them all with a slouchy air of bohemian fabulousness and boring old slacks. They are clothes with personality.

There are things in my wardrobe – a trench, lots of cardigans, lots of block colour, an old Burberry tank top – that definitely have a touch of Hockney about them. But it's not about copying the clothes. It's more about the mood, the ease with which he wore those clothes, those colours.

Jeremy Langmead, editor-in-chief of Mr Porter, which has featured vintage images of the artist as fashion reference points, says Hockney has always been totally at ease with what he was wearing. "He looked as if he had got out of bed and just found himself in those clothes: it didn't look too contrived, he didn't look in the least self-conscious, it just looked as if that was how David Hockney looked; that was how he was made. Remarkable."

"What is so cool about him," agrees Robert Johnston, associate editor of GQ, "is you know that he's not styled, whereas everything now has become so synthetic. You don't really believe any more that someone has gone to a shop and thought: Oh, that looks great. But you can imagine David Hockney in the Sue Ryder shop and finding a fantastic suit."

There is a picture of Hockney in front of a painting of his parents from 1975. He is wearing a rugby shirt – one of his signatures – with braces, ribbed socks and pair of battered old plimsoles. It is a perfect example of how he makes clothes that might seen ordinary look rock'n'roll.

In A Bigger Splash, a film about the artist from the early 1970s, there is a scene where Hockney is artfully slumped in a chair at his friend Ossie Clark's fashion show. It is every inch the artist-turned-rock-star pose. He is wearing a loud yellow shirt, paisley tie and cream suit jacket: pure Hockney-does-British-eccentric-with-a-side-of-pop. It is also a neat reminder of the circles he moved in during this time, which only "added to his aura of cool", says Johnston. "He was the British Warhol. His look is so instantly recognisable."

Now in his 70s, Hockney is less colourful than he used to be, though his clothes still have much personality. And he still influences fashion. A recent Romeo Beckham airport outfit – trench, hat, striped top – made me think mini-Hockney. Fred Macpherson of new band Spector wore Hockney's glasses in the NME. Topman's current sportsday trend (athletics tops with pleat-front slacks) and this season's Marks & Spencer's rugby shirt revival are all very Get the Hockney Look.

At the John Galliano spring 2012 show, Hockney was namechecked in the notes. There was talk of "the Bigger Splash with aquatic blues" and "preppy stripe tanks and waistcoats, bright greens and red are worn with Hockney's humour, bow ties, baseball hats and bold round glasses frames". It was hardly a subtle homage, given that these clothes will go on sale during the buzz of Hockney's new Royal Academy show, A Bigger Picture.

But Hockney had early sartorial form. In a picture of him as a teenager in the early 1950s, he is standing outside his parents' front door wearing a duffel coat, which reminds me of last season's Raf Simons, over a suit with a tie. He's sporting a thoroughly edgy bowl haircut. In one of his first self-portraits, from 1954, the artist imagines himself in a blue jacket, a red scarf, a check collar, a yellow tie. Hockney's skill as a colourist sings out of this early work.

For Burberry's spring/summer 2005 menswear collection, designer Christopher Bailey, who, like Hockney, hails from Yorkshire, presented an influential collection that nodded to both the artist's wardrobe – rugby tops, trench coats, cricket whites and striped ties – and his bold, clashing palette. It's impossible to talk about colour blocking in fashion without looking at the work of Hockney or this Burberry show. Hockney trailblazed the wearing of bold colour in the 60s. Bailey put it back on the runway in the 00s. When I see brilliant colour in fashion, I can't help thinking of Hockney. Raf Simons's acclaimed work for Jil Sander – specifically the spring/summer 2011 men's collection – springs to mind. A turquoise top with orange trousers reminds me of the way the sky in A Bigger Splash, 1967, contrasts with the yellow diving board at the painting's edge. The brightly coloured chairs – red, pink, yellow and blue – in the corner of Man Taking Shower in Beverly Hills, 1964, remind me of the collection's fantastic striped tops.

Hockney's portraits rarely disappoint when it comes to fabric, pattern or texture. From the ink lines of a shirt pocket with spectacles poking out in a 1968 sketch of Christopher Isherwood, to the Fair Isle pattern of a jumper worn by Ossie Clark in an almost smudgy crayon picture from 1970, clothes often feel part of the Hockney narrative or atmosphere. A Bigger Picture might not feature fabulous clothes but it still offers vivid colour combinations for wardrobe inspirations.


guardian.co.uk © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


March 06 2011

December 02 2009

Suits you, sir

Photographer Daniele Tamagni shoots the dapper dressers of Brazzaville who have turned their suburb into Congo's unlikely style capital



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