Tag Archives: Paul Smith

Chesterfield!

12 Sep

Chesterfield

Last post was an examination of velvet and its inclusion into fall 2013 men’s collections. I discussed velvet’s history, influence on world economics, usage, and care, explaining the difficulty of keeping velvet in good shape. This post offers an alternative for men who want to include velvet in their wardrobe without the stress and high maintenance of owning a velvet jacket – it’s all in the details, as you shall see.

As we move into fall and cooler temperatures, it is your dress coat that can take on the sumptuousness of velvet. A simple velvet upper collar adds a touch of richness, style, and magnificence. But velvet shouldn’t be added to just any coat – it is a dressy feature best worn on the garment of its origin – the Chesterfield.

This timeless single or double-breasted topcoat is said to have been invented by George Stanhope, 6th Earl of Chesterfield in the mid 1800s. It is a straight cut coat with no waist seam, a full piece back, side pockets (usually flapped or jetted), and a velvet collar. (For more information on Chesterfield coats, see this excellent resource.)

Chesterfield’s Chesterfield evolved from the Regency Period’s “Tweedside” lounge suit that consisted of a long jacket with a matching waistcoat and trousers, jacket pockets and sleeves decorated with ribbon.

The coat changed to something called a Covert coat during the 1880s, which was popular for riding and/or hunting in the English countryside. The Covert’s cut is similar to the Chesterfield, but with side vents for easy movement, several lines of stitching at the hem, made in specific Covert fabric in earthy tones, perhaps to conceal the rider and have him blend into the natural environment. As with the Chesterfield, the Covert coat featured a velvet collar.

Teddy Boys

Teddy Boy, John aka Rockin' Nidge,  in Manchester.

John aka Rockin’ Nidge pictured next to the Horsforth Hotel near Leeds wearing a blue mohair three piece Drape suit made by the late Peter Smithard of Holbeck, Leeds.

The Chesterfield, now a mainstay in menswear, has taken a few styling turns over the years, lengthening, shortening, and tapering, but the most interesting group to embrace and interpret the coat mixed American rock and roll and Edwardian style to create a very interesting and very British look.

UK site, The Edwardian Teddy Boy, is an excellent resource for Teddy Boy history, done by an original Ted from the Teddy Boy revival of the 1970s (Nidge, shown here). The site author says that in 1953, “the major newspapers reported on the sweeping trend in men’s fashion across Britain,  towards what was termed the New Edwardian look. However the working class Edwardian style had been on the street since at least 1951, because the style had been created on the street by the street and by working class teenagers and not by Saville Row or the fashion designers.”

Teddy Boy Drape Coat

Teddy Boy Drape Coat

Worn with drain pipe trousers, waistcoats, and thick-soled brothel creeper shoes, the Teddy Boys created their own version of the Chesterfield, calling it a Drape coat because of the full cut that allowed the fabric to drape down the back.

The plainness of the coat, like a blank canvas, leaves it open to decoration, and the Drapes often had a traditional Chesterfield velvet collar and notched lapel, but some preferred to have their coats made with a long, shawl (rounded, unnotched) velvet collars. Some Teds got really fancy and added velvet to any bit of the coat they could, including collars, sleeves, and pockets. 

Teddy Boy historian, Eddie Adams, explains Ted culture and the importance of clothing: “I was in a gang called the Moorhouse boys. Our gang philosophy was to have the latest suits… I can remember having a dark blue one with herringbone material. Some people had a bit of velvet on the collar. Suits cost between £30 and £40, they were quite expensive and it used to take about 6 weeks before you got the suit. We used to wear bootlace ties, suede shoes with crepe soles… and quite a lot of hair we used to bring round the back in a DA*.”

*Duck’s Arse, more politely known in North America as the Duck Tail

It’s hard to believe that gangs of these well-dressed, style-conscious working class young men roamed the streets looking for trouble, causing fights, riots, and even murder. According to the Teddy Boy site, “When teenager John Beckley was murdered by a Teddy Boy gang known as the Plough Boys in July 1953 after a fight that started on Clapham Common, the Daily Mirror‘s headline “Flick Knives, Dance Music and Edwardian Suits” linked criminality to clothes.”

Paul Smith Chesterfield coat with velvet collar, fall 2013 collection

Paul Smith Chesterfield coat with velvet collar, fall 2013 collection – click for a closer look

To the doubtless delight of the modern gent, the Chesterfield is no longer synonymous with crime. Our beautiful Chesterfield is a classic in its own right, and will remain with us in some form or another. Recently, while wandering around Holt Renfrew, I was happy to see a beautiful Paul Smith Chesterfield with a velvet collar included in his fall 2013 collection. 

A piece like a velvet-collared topcoat is a keeper for years to come, so think of it as an investment and take care of it. To add a bit of simple but powerful style to an existing topcoat, visit your tailor and ask to have a velvet collar added to your coat, and don’t be afraid of colour to bring out the shimmer of your velvet collar. I mean, if you’re wearing velvet, darling, wear it!

PS – For those interested to learn more about Teddy Boys, have a look at this video, “Here Come The Teds”:

Naked, in disguise

9 Jun

Bowden as the Nike streaker in 2007. Click the image to watch the ad.

When people think of Mark Bowden, they might think of his 2010 book, Winning Body Language or see his techniques and coaching used by Stephen Harper in the 2011 election debates, or perhaps they think of his high-level training for high-level politicians and business leaders. But do people think of Mark beyond these terms?

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I do. When I met with Mark recently, we talked about things other than the obvious business stuff, things like clothing and theatre and how they have affected him in different stages and incarnations of his life.

Respectful dress

When I met him, we wore a navy pinstripe Etro jacket with a fabulous patterned lining. His garb was simple and elegant with minimal but bold accessories. He likes Paul Smith and Ozwald Boateng of Savile Row for suits and sides with me on the importance of tailoring.

Mark is deliberate and likes to draw attention to small but substantial details in his dress because besides being stylish, these details can actually serve a purpose. He likes weighty French cuffs that are visible under his jacket sleeves to draw the eye to his hands (he works with them, you know), and he loves to wear red socks and red cotton shoe laces to go with his handmade Jeffery West red-lined shoes from Jermyn Street in London – the bright socks keep people interested and visually engaged during long presentations, you see.

We agree that looking one’s best is not only a positive reflection of ourselves but it is an act of respect for others.

“I care for my audience so I make an effort,” as Mark puts it.

We have other commonalities. For instance, Mark and I actually come from the same place, the theatre, but I studied design and he studied performance. Though the disciplines might be different, we both understand that theatre is about illusion and potential (i.e. not what it is, but what it could be), and we both use these theatrical concepts in our work.

Theatre

Knowing about Mark’s performance training really adds a fascinating dimension to his professional body language and presentation services and I can appreciate the complex emotional power behind his work.

Mark studied performing arts at Middlesex University, London, under one of Europe’s leading practitioners of mask theatre, John Wright. As a performer, he describes his training as “liberating, using the mask as a tool to disguise yourself from the audience and subsequently feel more free to give deeper emotions and dramas to them.”

The actor uses the mask to acquire a deep connection to the character, a concept with very primal roots, back to the age of hunters who wore the heads of the animals hunted to absorb the spirit of the animal and as a disguise to trick the spirits.

While at Middlesex, John sent Mark to Philippe Gaulier, a performance master who impressed Mark with Melodrama, or “cheers and tears” as Mark described it.

This theatrical genre can give an audience clarity and perspective, causing people to “gain consciousness in the horror of their real lives,” he says. It also has the capacity to quickly change the way an entire audience feels with its pathos and big, passionate emotions. Mark learned how to master his emotions and the emotion of breath patterns to influence and interact with his audiences, so not only is he affecting the way people feel, but the potential for them to feel.

3 Roles, 3 Costumes

As an actor, Mark must incorporate costumes into his character as if he (as the character) really owns the clothes or as though he really is the embodiment of the creature he is dressed as and make it seem natural.

I wanted to know about his favourite roles and the costumes he wore for each to illustrate how powerful the costume can be not only to the actor but also to the audience. It so happens that his physical comedic roles are the stand-outs. Mark explained that comedy is about contrast, building tension, and then breaking the tension, and the costumes for these roles provided hilarious visuals.

The False Corpse: An ironic one-man comedy. His character in this play is a comedian who is going to commit suicide while on stage. For this role, Mark put together a jumble of iconic comedic costume pieces: large clownish collars, tights instead of trousers (to show the movement of the legs and their “speech”), and a proper gentleman’s tail coat as a topping contradiction.

Hamlet: Mark played a gravedigger, comic relief to the heavy play. His costume was another jumble of pieces, but this time of Viking armour! He said he put on anything he could get his hands on including breast plates, horned helmets, and several swords in an effort for the character to take on a “god-like soldier guise to give the mortals in the play a hand”.

The Hobbit: Mark played one of the trolls in London’s West End in the J.R.R. Tolkien story. The three trolls wore large, heavy, difficult costumes, built on football player shoulder pads that had to be lowered over the head (not unlike those animal heads that the hunters wore for disguise, I imagine). The second tricky piece of troll costume was the footwear: Cothurni. Cothurni are elevated boots originally worn by Greek actors to increase their height and visibility to theatre audiences.

So Mark and the other trolls lumbered around on the raised platform Cothurni, arguing over whether they should roast, mince, boil, or squash the freshly-caught dwarves into jelly, using large body movements, having fun with each other and knocking each other around. Often, the plat-formed trolls would fall over and the smaller dwarves would have to help them to their feet. The costumes here brought out a “playfulness and cheekiness” in the characters that I’m sure absolutely delighted the audiences.

 Less is more 

Having explained all that, sometimes Mark doesn’t wear any clothes at all. In 2007, he was hired for a Nike commercial to streak through an English football match wearing nothing but a scarf and Nike Shox shoes; “a celebration of being free,” as he put it. For those of you who have been to a nude beach, you’ll understand this concept of freedom and having done so myself, I can tell you that communal nudity is amazingly liberating.

But I digress.

Clothing, or costume, is powerful. It creates different feelings within us and without us, and the people who see us will interpret our visuals and treat us accordingly.

“People make judgements based on what they see, and we have a limited time to make a good first impression,” Mark tells me.

Whether our wardrobe is for business or pleasure, or to create emotion in our audiences, we have the choice in the visual messages we send, and this is a powerful opportunity that should really be taken seriously; it is another tool of influence.

 You cannot climb the ladder of success dressed in the costume of failure.

-Zig Ziglar, American author and motivational speaker