Tag Archives: George Clooney

Become the Perfect Gentleman

12 Nov

The Perfect GentlemanI was lucky enough to have not one but two two-hour long interviews with Zacchary Falconer-Barfield, founder and 1st Gentleman at London’s The Perfect Gentleman, an operation that seeks to make the world a more respectful, stylish, and gentlemanly place, one man at a time.

The Perfect Gentleman runs courses and events to teach men the art of the gentleman, and includes dressing, how to dance, how to be charming, etiquette, romance, and modern chivalry. North America is fortunate to have the two-day PG event, Becoming the Perfect Gentleman, tour in early 2016 and visit five American cities: Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York, with one Canadian date (Toronto). For any of you who have fallen under the spell of Downton Abbey, you will agree that it is high time to resurrect the gentleman and all the niceties that go with him.

Falconer-Barfield explained to me that the gentleman is who he is and what he does. As a child, he spent countless hours watching old movies and was influenced by the most stylish and gentlemanly of gentlemen: Cary Grant, James Bond, and David Niven, among others. He was raised by women who gave him an understanding of etiquette, and he always dressed well. In fact, every Friday is Cravat Friday for our 1st Gentleman.

He explained that there have been centuries of gentlemen, but World War II saw the beginning of his decline. It was a time of austerity that saw the massive loss of life, the rise of women, and changes to the socio-economic world that urged men not to bother anymore.

“It’s been four generations since the war – three moved away from the gentleman and now we’re moving towards it again.” Falconer-Barfield believes that it’s just in the recent past that men have had style ideals to live up to and the social freedom to make an effort. He says that men are being held to a standard again, and cites George Clooney, David Beckham, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Hugh Jackman as modern icons of style and gentlemanly ways.

Please enjoy part one of my interview with Zacchary Falconer-Barfield.

Interview

LM: Do North American audiences/men differ from British audiences/men?

ZFB: Yes. English men think they’re already gentlemen – English women will disagree. North Americans wonder when we’re coming over! The difference between the response to learning how to be a gentleman is that there is no culture of self-improvement in the UK for men; the thought of a “gentleman” is perceived as elitist, but of course this isn’t true. In the UK, it’s immigrants who seek out self-improvement.

LM: Do men in different countries have different challenges?

ZFB: The same challenges seem to be generic across the world – dating, romance, but there are minor cultural differences: business etiquette and style. How do I approach a lady? How do I have a good date? Universal. Style? Cultural differences, but a suit is a suit. Male icons are fairly universal.  Confidence is king.

LM: What drives a man to be a gentleman?

These are general drivers: everyone wants to be better and have better relationships; dress smart, feel good, climb the social ladder, make more money. When men realize what they’re capable of, the world opens up. It’s a kind of enlightenment.

The next article will feature a gentleman’s attitude towards women and romance, and women’s attitudes towards gentlemen.

Click here for tickets for the Becoming the Perfect Gentleman in Toronto March 5 – 6 2016.

The Sting, among other things

6 Feb

I was lucky enough to see Susan Claassen’s wonderful A Conversation with Edith Head in Toronto last month. Ms Claassen’s 90-minute near-monologue was impressive, as was learning of Ms Head’s costume design work on over 1100 films. What really struck me, the men’s image consultant in love with men’s clothes, was that Edith Head, winner of seven other Oscars for dressing the most talented and glamorous actresses in Hollywood, named The Sting as her favourite costume work because she learned that she preferred dressing men to women (sounds familiar!). 

Oscar winning The Sting costume designs
Edith Head’s costume renderings for The Sting. Photo by Jason Hollywood. Used with permission.

Head was able to make her stars look flawless– “Accentuate the positive and camouflage the rest,” as she used to say. She had two men, the equivalent of today’s George Clooney and Brad Pitt to outfit in period costume, and I though I can’t imagine what would need camouflaging on Paul Newman or Robert Redford, Ms Head certainly accentuated the positive in these two actors.

Seen in the top rendering, Redford’s pinstriped suit nipped in at the waist compacts his torso and broadens his shoulders, boosting his masculine shape, and at right, note the photo of Paul Newman in the soft royal blue suit and dove grey hat playing up his brilliant blue eyes.

I watched The Sting last night and took note of the costumes which made me think of a quote from Savile Row tailor, Edward Sexton: “The man should wear the suit; the suit should never wear the man”. Similarly, Edith Head said, “My motto is that the audience should notice the actors, not the clothes.”

If you are part of the audience who didn’t notice the clothes, let me take you on a brief walk through the character, the costumes, and the celebration of the period, filled with timeless visual symbols and signs of gentlemanly demeanour.

The Sting

The time is 1936 in Joliet, Illinois. The first scene begins with a shot of a pair of fancy two-tone shoes walking past down-and-out men lying on the dusty sidewalk. The man in the shoes walks up the fire escape of a building into a busy gambling den– our first suggestion that despite the country’s Depression, there is money to be made and those who make it, dress fine.

The Sting

The man in the two-tone shoes is conned out of $11,000 by three men, one of whom is small-time con artist, Johnny Hooker (Redford), scruffy in his dust-coloured unmatched trousers and jacket, and tie-less shirt. The first costumes we see strike the contrast between small and big-time crooks.

The Set-Up

By the time Hooker meets up with Henry Gondorff (Newman) in Chicago to do the “Big Con” and swindle crime boss, Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw), out of half a million dollars, they’re getting their gang together to create a theatre of success and wealth in a fake betting club. Each new gang recruit is told to “go grab yourself a suit”. And so the set-up begins.

1930-era silk tie available at Kingpin's Hideaway.

1930-era silk tie available at Kingpin’s Hideaway.

High-rollers wear shiny shoes and three-piece suits with loud, short, wide silk ties. Hooker, the young and eager up-and-coming con-man, needs grooming, and we watch his metamorphosis from small-time grifter to big-roller. Gondorff takes him to a barber shop for a shave, a haircut and a manicure, then to a tailor who fits a high-waisted navy pinstriped suit with peak lapels and matching waistcoat with a short colourful silk tie.  This silhouette, especially in pinstripes, elongates Redford’s legs and exaggerates his masculine V shape, giving him added visual appeal and at the same time, reflecting his character’s youth, its impatience, and its folly.

Snap-together composite and mother-of-pearl cuff links available at Kingpin's Hideaway.

Snap-together composite and mother-of-pearl cuff links available at Kingpin’s Hideaway.

We watch the rest of Gondorff’s gang transform into “men of wealth” with the addition of pocket hankies, spats, shiny two-tone shoes, tie pins, French cuffs and cuff links; starched collars, braces, walking sticks, and gloves to their already fancy suits and waistcoats.

“Not only do these men look more the part by dressing dapper, they’re more confident,” says Jonathan Hagey at Kingpin’s Hideaway, a men’s vintage shop in Toronto, “They carry themselves with more authority and create the illusion that they are well-to-do types.”

When Gondorff’s gang changes from small-time to big-time, it isn’t only their wardrobe that changes, but their behaviour as well. When Gondorff first meets Lonnegan at a poker game, he wants to fool Lonnegan into thinking he’s an inexperienced and foolish card player. He bursts in, smelling of gin, and says, “Sorry I’m late, I was taking a crap.” Lonnegan has little patience for the unrefined dress of the crass newcomer. “This is a gentleman’s game and a tie is required,” he says sternly.

Though the gang plays it as close to Lonnegan’s look as they can, not all the details are the same. Enter the costumer’s insinuation of character.

Charles Dierkop, Robert Redford, and Robert Shaw.

Have a look at the above screen shot and notice the difference in lapel widths and shapes. During this period, lapels were high and often peaked. Redford, the “hero/hunk”, has rounded and upward pointing peaks on lapels in proportion to his body and suggestive of his young age but Shaw, the “villain” is always seen in wide, exaggerated lapels with straight, pointed peaks. In this shot, Shaw looks larger than the other two and particularly devilish with his sharp, massive lapels and waxed moustache.

The Aftermath

The Sting won seven of eleven Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director, and of course, Best Costume Design, but this doesn’t come without some dispute. Edith Head is fabled to have been a little ruthless in her career path, not giving credit where credit was due. In fact, she was sued by the costume illustrator who said it was she who actually designed Newman and Redford’s costumes (source), but I can’t seem to find the outcome of that lawsuit, so I can’t say if it’s true. 

What I do know is that when Edith Head, the most celebrated costume designer in Hollywood history, accepted her Oscar for best costume design for The Sting, she flitted onto the stage in her signature dark glasses and short bangs, in a long white dress with a matching black-trimmed vest.

“Just imagine dressing the two handsomest men in the world, and then getting this!” she said, holding out her award. Her joy and pride in the project cannot be disputed; it is a wonderful film on every level, and tells the story of elegant and ageless gentlemen’s dress and behaviour.

For those of you stylish and confident enough to blend 1930s elegance into your wardrobe, here are more period goodies from Kingpin’s Hideaway:

Dove grey beaver fur fedora.

Dove grey beaver fur fedora.

Two-tone leather spectator / correspondents shoes.

Two-tone leather spectator / correspondents shoes.

Grey double breasted wool jacket with oxblood pinstripe.

Grey double-breasted wool jacket with oxblood pinstripe.

The new royalty

10 Nov

The Canadian Press contacted me to do a piece on holiday wear for men this week, and the reporter mentioned something about pulling archive photos of people like Brad Pitt if I wanted to talk about a celebrity style. She needn’t go to the trouble of looking for visuals because I don’t encourage anyone to swipe another person’s mode of dress – to me, that’s like stealing someone’s identity. Why would we want to look like someone we’re not? We are our own people with  our own style, our own speed, and we are not Brad Pitt.

This got me thinking.

Why aren’t there more Brad Pitt types in the world? Why aren’t there more men confident enough to know themselves and laugh at themselves and illustrate themselves through their dress? Are we that uninteresting? Are we collectively afraid to do our own thing?

Throughout history, humans have followed the sartorial cues of influential people in positions of power.  Up until the recent past,  it was royalty that set the tone of dress to court and then on down to the common people. Kings were incredibly influential this way. To illustrate just how dominant royal men have been on society, I offer the following examples:

1.  Footwear during the Tudor period was soft, wide, and square. Some historians attribute the slashed, square-toed shoes of this era to Henry VIII who is said to have suffered from gout, a very painful arthritic-type of joint inflammation most often affecting the joint of the large toe.

A nice, soft, wide shoe would nicely accommodate this affliction,  often brought on by alcohol – wine, beer, and mead were the wet for the Tudor whistle, and high fat and cholesterol levels in the blood.  I have read that Henry may have been a binge-eater, taking much fatty red meat as a mechanism to cope with stress – his waist was 54″!

2. When Louis XIII of France went prematurely bald around 1624, the men’s wig was born. Louis’ choice of neat and wavy scalp covering swept across Europe and the fashion carried on into his son’s reign, when wigs rose in height and cascaded luxuriously over the shoulders.

The (extremely high maintenance) wig became a staple amongst courtiers and professionals, and the size of wig carried social meaning (“big wig”). Wigs even became part of military uniforms.

Wigs got longer, fuller, and astoundingly high; they changed to white and were powdered, then shortened to a simpler bob which morphed into tightly curled wigs. Wigs for men remained popular in Europe until the 1790s but were for various reasons abandoned however, British judges and barristers continue the tradition of wearing (strange-looking curled and tailed) wigs in court.

So we’ve got a fat guy with gout and a young bald man influencing the way men have dressed across the ages.

We’re well into the 21st century and royalty doesn’t really have the same pull that it once did, so what’s going on now? Who are the style leaders and who do men look to for cues? Entertainers.

Actors, musicians, and popular politicians have replaced royalty when it comes to setting trends. I ask my clients whose style they admire and often I hear James Bond, Cary Grant, George Clooney, and Brad Pitt. What is it about these guys that other men like so much?

Classy Simplicity

This group wears well-fitting and quietly cool clothes; clothes that aren’t stamped with logos and labels that shout out for attention, and busy, flashy accessories. Take Brad Pitt, he’s got his own cool style with a hint of cheekiness worked in through hats, scarves, sunglasses, and haircuts, giving him an interesting and fitting look even when he’s in jeans and a t-shirt.

It seems to me that Brad Pitt knows himself well enough to feel comfortable expressing himself and his sense of humour through his accessories; I like that he punctuates his simple, low-key wardrobe with cool pieces – not every man can pull off a knitted tam worn Rasta style with a long Van Dyke beard.

I’m always encouraging men to play with their clothes and the way they put themselves together. It’s important to find the right pieces that suit the individual in the right colour and the right proportion, even the right texture; something that suits the guy’s personality, things that they feel comfortable in, not what they think Brad Pitt would wear, for they are not Brad Pitt.