From left: Messrs Ronnie Wood and Keith Richards, Naples, Italy, 1982 Denis O’Regan/ Getty Images
We celebrate those who elevated and inspired one of fall’s big trends.
Bohemia may be a large region in the Czech Republic, but despite its expansive landmass the space it occupies is more psychological than physical. And while it’s easy to define the boundaries of a geographical region, it’s rather harder to pin down the cultural meaning of Bohemia in the 21st century. The term Bohemian was first used in the middle of the 19th century in France and Britain, referring to artists, actors and musicians who gathered and lived in areas of cities traditionally occupied by Romani people. At the time Romanies were mistakenly believed to have come to Western Europe from the Czech region. Those 19th-century origins now seem deeply romantic, despite the squalor implicit in such a precarious lifestyle, bringing to mind the early, rebellious years of the impressionist movement in painting. However, while we owe a debt of gratitude to the manner in which the early Bohemians loosened rigid 19th-century codes of behaviour (and the paintings weren’t bad either), it’s the output and style of recent Bohemians that feels more relevant today. Given the manner in which culture and commerce have become indistinguishable, Bohemianism is now more an attitude than a specific milieu. Here are nine Bohemians, each one a creator of works of enduring brilliance, with lessons to teach us about one of this season’s most notable trends.
Mr Bob Dylan
Mr Bob Dylan in Greenwich Village, New York, 1964 Douglas R Gilbert/ Getty Images
Some guys have all the luck. Not only does Mr Dylan have the soul of a poet, the heart of a musician and the brain of a literary genius, but somewhere along the way he got winning looks – and a sense of style we’d kill for. At least God never taught him to sing. In this 1964 shot the singer is reading in the Kettle of Fish bar in New York’s Greenwich Village (now, strangely, a refuge for Green Bay Packers football fans), where a beer cost 30 cents at the time. In the photograph, Mr Dylan sports a low-key workwear jacket, buttoned up almost like the jacket of a Mao suit, and reminds us that it’s impossible to over-emphasise the importance of a great haircut.
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Mr Bruce Chatwin
Mr Bruce Chatwin, London, 1987 Jane Brown/ The Observer
This late English writer was born to travel – one of his books is aptly called Anatomy of Restlessness – and his finely attuned appreciation of art, craft and antiquities meant that he had a successful career with Sotheby’s before he started to write. Mr Chatwin’s travels in Asia, Africa, Australia and South America all inspired landmark works of travel literature that are, in keeping with the nature of Bohemianism, as much about mental journeys as they are about physical ones. His relaxed, pared-down style corresponded with his taste in understated architecture – Mr Chatwin was an early client of the architect Mr John Pawson – and here takes the form of a rumpled Oxford cloth button-down and a simple wrist watch.
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Mr Allen Ginsberg and Mr Jack Kerouac
From left: Messrs Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Gregory Corso, Greenwich Village, New York, 1957 ©Bruce Davidson/ Magnum Photos
It’s one thing to dress like a Bohemian, carefully calibrating one’s appearance for the impact it will make on the people around you, but quite another to actually be Bohemian. In this shot, two men who were in the vanguard of American literature’s post-war expressionism sit on the floor of a New York gallery – not for them comfortable, bourgeois forms of seating. Mr Allen Ginsberg is most famous for writing the poem “Howl” in 1955, which relayed the unvarnished truth about the trials and tribulations of Bohemian life, while Mr Kerouac is known for his attempt to capture the rhythms and energy of jazz in his novel On the Road. In this shot, the poet is unexpectedly wearing the mother of all Christmas jumpers, while Mr Kerouac demonstrates the enduring appeal of the flannel shirt.
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Mr Duncan Grant
Mr Duncan Grant, self-portrait, 1920 Scottish National Portrait Gallery ©Estate of Duncan Grant. All rights reserved, DACS 2015
The Bloomsbury Group of British artists, writers and intellectuals included the modernist novelist Ms Virginia Woolf, the economist Mr John Maynard Keynes and the painter Mr Duncan Grant. Mr Grant combined a contemporary approach to art with a craftsman’s touch, and his approach to style extended to his wardrobe, which displayed a pronounced artistic edge. In this 1920 self-portrait, Mr Grant sports round glasses of the kind that later found favour with Mr David Hockney, a jacket with wide lapels and a rather bold striped tie. Nearly a century after this painting was completed, the outfit feels more suited to a formal lunch date than to a day spent behind an easel.
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Mr Serge Gainsbourg
Ms Jane Birkin and Mr Serge Gainsbourg at Heathrow Airport, London, 1977 Archive Photos/ Getty Images
Few men better represent the dangerous allure of the dissipated, Bohemian life than the French singer Mr Serge Gainsbourg. Born in Paris to Ukrainian parents, Mr Gainsbourg was a singer, pianist, songwriter and actor. Famous for his relationships with beautiful women – including Mses Brigitte Bardot and Caroline “Bambou” Paulus – he’s indelibly associated with the British actress Ms Jane Birkin (who is in turn associated with very expensive Hermès handbags). Mr Gainsbourg and Ms Birkin were together for a decade, and this shot shows the power of his legendary charisma. Ms Birkin’s chic look contrasts with Mr Gainsbourg’s rumpled style, which involves a tight pair of high-waisted jeans, an unbuttoned shirt with a disco collar and an inappropriately smart pinstripe jacket. You clearly don’t win the heart of a beautiful girl by dressing like every other man in the room (but then you already knew that).
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Mr Jimi Hendrix
Messrs Jimi Hendrix and Noel Redding, London, 1967 Bruce Flemin/ Getty Images
Rock’n’roll icon, trailblazing guitarist and a fearless dresser, Mr Jimi Hendrix might just have been the coolest figure to emerge from the 1960s. If this mind-blowing outfit doesn’t seem sufficiently impressive at first glance, please note that this photograph doesn’t capture a live performance, but a recording session. This was just another day at the office for the Seattle-born musician, and yet he’s sporting an extraordinary embroidered jacket over an equally bold sky-blue and white shirt. The fact that he’s wearing orange trousers barely raises an eyebrow, while his impressive jewellery looks positively subtle in this context. In his song “If 6 Was 9” Mr Hendrix sang, “Mr Businessman, you can’t dress like me”. It’s a challenge we’d like to see more men accept, even if Mr Hendrix was undoubtedly right.
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Mr Keith Richards and Sir Mick Jagger
Mr Keith Richards and Sir Mick Jagger, Laurel Canyon, California, 1969 Terry O’Neill/ Getty Images
The Glimmer Twins, as Sir Mick Jagger and Mr Keith Richards once styled themselves, hold out the promise that Boho glamour is attainable by every man as long as he tries hard enough. Having started out as blues-playing suburban wannabes the pair used their unique attitude to transform themselves into some of the coolest front men in rock. Here the pair strike a pose typically imbued with swagger, sporting long hair, soft scarves and, in Mr Richards’ case, a fringed suede jacket. Switch the boot-cut cords for slim jeans and you have an outfit that could have come straight from the latest Saint Laurent catwalk show.
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