Artists are not like other creators. Whereas architects, product designers and even numerous fashion designers quickly assume a "look", a style of dressing, once they become known, artists preserve their independence through their appearance. Who isn't familiar with architects and designers in their unstructured jackets, all looking exactly the same? Who isn't a little bored by young fashion designers in their narrow "Artful Dodger" jackets and skinny jeans, apparently designed to let us all know that they have legs as shapeless and insubstantial as toothpicks.
The idea was that in joining the middle classes by assuming their time-honoured camouflage, it would be easier to get access to the drawing rooms of power
Of course, there's nothing at all wrong with any of these items of clothing. The trouble is that everybody wears the same elements with - especially in the case of architects - an almost perverse fear of being different. My theory is that this safe similarity comes from their antecedents. Until comparatively recently, the triumvirate of architects, designers and fashion designers was one of belonging to society; looking reliable and trustworthy and convincing clients that as an upright, downright, forthright man, you could deliver the house as required - and not too much over budget - produce a new vacuum cleaner that will function and, in the case of dress designers, never embarrass your female customers by appearing before them en deshabille. Think of Mr Frank Lloyd Wright - always dressed in a middle-class "shirt-and-tie" way - and you can bet that his shoes were polished and his trousers sharply pressed. Messrs Balenciaga and Dior always wore a formal suit, white shirt and sober tie - which they covered up in the atelier with a pristine white coveralls, crisply starched and in Mr Balenciaga's case, changed twice daily.
Artists create a world of their own which can influence ours. Such men often have a flamboyance of character that reflects not only their behaviour but also their dress
The idea was that in joining the middle classes by assuming their time-honoured camouflage, it would be easier to get access to the drawing rooms of power where, for all of the 19th and at least half of the 20th century, deals were done over the dinner table or over a glass of brandy in the billiard room. Think of the Forsyte Saga series of novels, written in the early 20th century, and you get the idea of life where money is king. And it is no surprise that Bosinney, the dashing architect commissioned by Soames Forsyte to build a house, causes so much alarm by his "artistic" dress and unconventional behaviour. For the readers (The Man of Property, the first in the saga, appeared in 1906), there would be a certain frisson of "rightness" than Bosinney died under the wheels of a cab. After all, he had seduced Irene, Soames' wife, hadn't he? Such shocking behaviour. And look at how he dressed!
But, had Bosinney been an artist, he would have been viewed differently. Whereas architects are trade, artists are free spirits. Architects and product designers conform; artists make their own rules. But they do more than that. They create a world of their own which can, and frequently has, influenced ours. Such men often have a flamboyance of character that reflects not only their behaviour (think of the sexual excesses of even bourgeois artists such as the impressionists) but also their dress. Artists rarely conform. Mr Pablo Picasso dressed like a field peasant; Mr David Hockney, when young, dressed like a walking tutti-frutti in deliberately wayward combinations; Mr John Singer Sargent was the perfect flâneur, with his moustache, silver-topped cane and wide-brimmed hat. These are not ordinary men, and nor should they be. They are artists: God's anointed.