Seven Men Who Prove Suits Are The Ultimate Power Move
From Mr David Bowie to Mr LeBron James, a look back at the finest examples of suave-as-heck suiting
Mr David Bowie in New York, 1973. Photograph by Mr David Gahr/Getty Images
Ever since Mr Beau Brummell helped popularise the suit in the 18th century, it’s been the cornerstone of the modern man’s wardrobe. A suit conveys both a sense of formality and a certain amount of sartorial finesse (when worn well). It’s an unspoken confirmation that the wearer is in control, and its ability to adapt and move with the times is one of its greatest assets.
Over the past decade, however, streetwear has come to dominate our wardrobes: hoodies have replaced blazers, sweatpants are worn in lieu of trousers and sneakers swapped in for brogues. The new generation of Silicon Valley technocrats is not bound by the classic blazer-trouser combo and, for that reason, many have abandoned the suit. RIP. Good news, dear lovers of the tailored garment. The suit is back (to some, of course, it never went away). And no, it isn’t replacing streetwear. It exists alongside it. Both are now integral and evergreen components of the menswear canon.
This season, a surfeit of suits was seen on the catwalks, from the soft romance at Giorgio Armani to the strong-shouldered dominance at Balenciaga and the downright maximalist opulence at Gucci. Each brand borrows from the past but subverts convention with modern twists. All pay a debt, in some way, to what came before, reaching back to Mr Brummell and his dapper days. Whichever way you go, there’s no denying that the biggest power move you can pull this autumn is to walk into a room – any room – wearing a suit.
Here, we take a look back at our favourite suit power players of yore and the lessons we can learn from them.
Mr Marcello Mastroianni
Mr Marcello Mastroianni on the set of La Dolce Vita, Rome, 1959. Photograph by Mr Pierluigi Praturlon/Mondadori Portfolio via ZUMA Press
Italians have always had a special relationship with tailoring, taking the formal ensemble and imbuing it with a certain rakish, louche energy – aka sprezzatura. The actor Mr Marcello Mastroianni, who starred in iconic films such as Mr Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita and 8½ and Mr Michaelangelo Antonioni’s La Notte, exemplifies the power of this casual elegance. Seen here with his jacket draped over his shoulders like a cape, high-waisted pleated trousers and slightly abbreviated tie, he looks debonair, at ease and undeniably cool. It’s an ineffable quality that designers still try to capture and that Italian brands, in particular, excel at producing.
Mr David Bowie
Mr David Bowie in New York, 1973. Photograph by Mr David Gahr/Getty Images
Suits have a reputation for being staid or, worse, downright boring. It takes a visionary such as Mr David Bowie to show you that’s hardly the case. At the height of his career, Mr Bowie took the classic suit and flipped it on its head, wearing versions that came in dazzling colours, bold cuts and decorated with gutsy prints. Today, that legacy can be seen in the work of Mr Alessandro Michele at Gucci, which has brought Mr Bowie’s brand of dandyism into the present day, proving suits can be just as daring as any buzzy item in your wardrobe.
Mr Robert Redford in The Great Gatsby
Mr Sam Waterston and Mr Robert Redford (right) in The Great Gatsby, 1974. Photograph by Paramount/Shutterstock
Mr F Scott Fitzgerald’s classic book The Great Gatsby chronicled the glorious excess and decadent debauchery of the Roaring Twenties. In 1974, a film adaptation was released, starring Mr Robert Redford as the enigmatic Jay Gatsby, who throws lavish parties to woo socialite Daisy Buchanan (played by Ms Mia Farrow). Mr Ralph Lauren famously provided the film’s costume designer Ms Theoni V Aldredge with two suits for Mr Redford, which embodied a monied, preppy style – a mix of old-world aristocracy and new-world ingenuity. It overlapped perfectly with Mr Lauren’s own obsessions, which mainly explored American archetypes through clothing. Mr Redford’s crisp white, faded pink and even brown pinstripe three-piece suits (plus the jaunty newsboy caps) were not only stylish and cinematic, they were symbols of the American Dream. To this day, much of Mr Lauren’s work paints the story of his country – its power brokers, its outlaws, its clichés and its complexities – with clothing as his brush.
Mr Richard Gere in American Gigolo
Mr Richard Gere in American Gigolo, 1980. Photograph by Paramount Pictures/Photofest
In many ways, Mr Giorgio Armani predicted our current fashion moment, where men would want suits devoid of stuffiness and ceremony. His signature look – fabrics that draped over the body with a casual ease, rendered in a mellow, understated palette – was a sensation. A savvy marketeer, Mr Armani knew how to make sure his brand was part of the zeitgeist. Take his shrewd move in designing the costumes for the 1980 film American Gigolo. By dressing its star, Mr Richard Gere, he reached an audience beyond the fashion crowd and showed that the power of tailoring comes in soft silhouettes and subtle shades.
Mr Michael Douglas in Wall Street
Mr Michael Douglas in Wall Street, 1987. Photograph by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation/Alamy
With his banker stripes, wide lapels, ties and braces, Mr Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko in the 1987 movie Wall Street was the avarice and extravagance of the 1980s incarnate. Which means he’s the ultimate avatar for the power suit. For better or worse, the 1980s are still with us today. From a voracious economy to a certain tabloid-regular-turned-US President, the Decade of Greed is a fascinating era that has transfixed fashion designers. No wonder some of them are channelling the swaggering silhouettes (think Balenciaga’s bold shoulders) of the uptown masters of the universe (as portrayed in Mr Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire Of The Vanities) and transplanting them to their catwalks.
The Reservoir Dogs
From left: Messrs Michael Madsen, Quentin Tarantino, Harvey Keitel, Chris Penn, Lawrence Tierney, Tim Roth, Steve Buscemi and Eddie Bunker in Reservoir Dogs, 1992. Photograph by Photofest
Minimalism is often overlooked for its simplicity and understated qualities. Today, when social media rewards the garish and effusive, there’s a certain power in paring back and sticking to the straightforward. Mr Quentin Tarantino’s 1992 feature-film debut, Reservoir Dogs, was a masterclass in cinematic finesse, and the burgeoning auteur – who’s come to be known for crafting exacting, indelible and nostalgia-tinged images for the big screen – was wise to dress his cast in black suits, white shirts and black ties. That brand of austerity, when executed well, has a startling and uncomplicated power of its own. Look to another image-maker par excellence, Mr Hedi Slimane, who is doing similar work, crafting uncomplicated, exemplary menswear at Celine.
Mr LeBron James
Mr LeBron James arrives at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, California, 31 May, 2018. Photograph by Mr Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images
In 2001, the designer Mr Thom Browne launched his eponymous label and centred it around the suit, or a version of it. He took tailoring with a 1950s flavour and shrank it down to create a look that appeared as if it had been left in the tumble dryer too long. It confused critics and thrilled a generation looking for new ways to understand the suit. In other words, it was a hit. Today, Mr Browne’s signatures – red, white and blue grosgrain trimmings, floodwater ankles, whimsical intarsia knits – have made him one of the most influential designers of the 21st century, one who dresses A-list celebrities, hip-hop musicians and, famously in 2018, the entire Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team at the behest of its star player, Mr LeBron James.
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