At an art opening, a man gets to shed his work uniform and wear groovy clothes, and, for a few hours, behaves like an iconoclast in the splendour of a museum or gallery. There he flaunts his bold sartorial style with “indiscreet self-assurance”, to use the description from Edward St Aubyn’s novel On The Edge, and momentarily becomes a style icon himself – with champagne flute in hand.
The art scene provides an easy setting for any man to put on flamboyant clothes that he wouldn’t otherwise wear in his daily life. Yohji Yamamoto wrote in his book, My Dear Bomb, that “when the anything-but-fashionable man suddenly pulls himself together and strikes a pose, there is something delightful about it.”
This can only be achieved, Yamamoto elaborated, by adding “something playful” to any polished, coordinated look in a man’s clothing, since wearing something “attractive, classy and chic alone”’ is apparently not enough. To Yamamoto, a man “with a real sense of style will always combine a highly polished look with something a little less refined, thereby combining the sensibilities of the man about town with those of the country buffoon, mixing the sensitive with the clownish.”’
Men, if you are still unsure about what to wear to an art event, or what to wear in general – as not all men are made equal – we reached out to some of the most stylish men in the art world today for their advice. First we spoke to British auctioneer Alexander Gilkes, the dashing founder of Paddle8, an online auction house, and one of Vanity Fair’s best-dressed men.
This is what the 35-year-old Etonian and friend of Prince Harry, also once rumoured to have dated Pippa Middleton, now happily married to fashion designer Misha Nonoo, had to say about his style: “I once made the mistake of referring to my style as Urban Farmer, which, needless to say, became the subject of taunts in my brother’s best man speech. I suppose that I dress in a somewhat traditional and tailored manner with contemporary and art-world nods.”
And his advice to men who want to dress as well as him?
“Ensure that the colours complement oneself and that one pays attention to the shape and form of the clothes. I used to be a baggy mess until my wife taught me a lesson or two on how to find clothes that elongate stature. It is also important to pay attention to the details such as the stitching and buttons and avoid bumbags, unless you live in Williamsburg or E1.”
Gilkes also considers the Duke of Windsor as a style icon. “Whilst his style remains timeless he was a true sartorial innovator as he rejected the Victorian and Edwardian codes embraced by most other men of his day. He worked closely with tailors to define new forms and paid particular attention to his sportswear. Though more formal than my style of dressing, his clothes are the envy of every snappy male sartorialist.”
At a recent opening at the Guggenheim Museum in New York I asked Engels the Artist about his signature look. No one can miss his towering hair wrapped in cloth. His portrait by artist Patrik Graham was included in the National Portrait Gallery’s BP Portrait Award 2014 and the same painting adorned the banner on the façade of the building in London.
“My style is freestyle,” the artist told us. “Believe it or not, this style happened by accident. It’s more than that also, a style, but it’s also about where I’m from and who I am. It’s a statement about me as an artist. It’s about freedom also. I do not plan it that way, it just happened, it’s an accident. In art a lot things that happen are accidents.”
In Tokyo, we sought out the iconic, and very dapper, Japanese musician Tomoyasu Hotei for his advice on how to dress well as a man. The superstar’s song, Battle Without Honour or Humanity, was famously featured in Quentin Tarantino’s movie, Kill Bill. He related to us the evolution of his sartorial style:
“When I was young I was really into punk rock, wearing ripped up anarchy T-shirts full of holes. And then I’ve gone from quite mod style like Vivienne Westwood and Jean Paul Gaultier to more minimal looks like Yohji Yamamoto and Armani. Of course, I also really appreciate excellent tailoring and have had several suits made to order in Savile Row. I always like to dress for an occasion and choose fashion that reflects my feeling and attitude at the time. These days I’m often quite comfortable in black jeans and a leather jacket.”
Echoing Yamamoto’s sentiment, Hotei considered his style as “combining a bit of the wild and the elegant.” He said, “When I played together with the Rolling Stones earlier this year, I paired a long coat from Comme des Garçons with a Stones T-shirt that I’d bought at their Hyde Park concert. Given the memory of that experience, that T-shirt is really a treasure of mine now. This look combines something more casual and of sentimental value with a stronger tailored piece and an overall rock ’n’ roll edge.”
As he sees himself as an ‘electric samurai’, referring to his guitar, he said he loves Yohji Yamamoto’s kimono-style suits. “They project the essence and appeal of a samurai”. But he considers Vivienne Westwood as his all-time favourite. “If it hadn’t been for her influence I might never have cut the long hair of my seventeen-year-old schoolboy days,” he said.
“Along with the Sex Pistols, we brought a revolution! I often wear Lanvin suits these days as well. For my most recent tour this year, I’ve been wearing items from Yohji (Yamamoto), Dior and Ann Demeulemeester.”
We also consulted Taka Ishii, one of the coolest gallerists in Tokyo – his eponymous gallery is one of the most influential in the world – and he revealed to us in his characteristic pithy and brief manner the essence of his style as “smart casual.” His advice to men is to “dress down formal cloth in cool way, and pay attention on colour combination.” His must-have item of clothing is nothing special, he said, “but if I have to select an item, it is a jacket or a shirt with distinguish feature. It works as an ice breaker.”
In London the Dutch ceramic artist Bouke de Vries, a rising star in the contemporary art world and recently profiled in the New York Times T magazine, told us that he avoids dressing well when working in his studio. “For work, I don’t care – scruffy with apron,” he said.
“Inevitably, whatever I wear gets covered with glues, pigments etc. To my great regret, I have often popped into my studio for just five seconds and ended up besmirching my best clothes. This means that, when I have the opportunity, I like to dress smartly.”
His advice to men on dressing well is to “know the rules, then subvert them. Most people are used to seeing me in scruffy work wear and I like surprising them by wearing something so exquisitely well made.”
In the end, wearing clothes should be a liberating experience for both men and women. It should also be daring and creative. “I hate clothing that has some certain ‘look’,” Yamamoto wrote in My Dear Bomb. “Clothing that raises some eyebrows is far better than any exhibiting a ‘look’.”
by Peter Yeoh