Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Picture of Gentleman Gray

If you'll recall, a few weeks ago, I pondered the evolution of the modern gentleman. More specifically, the modern American gentleman.

It's a tricky area of discussion, sartorially speaking. Take the CBS show, How I Met Your Mother and Neil Patrick Harris's bro of a character Barney Stinson, who always, always suits up. There's even an occasional tuxedo night.

This is done in order to set him apart from the rest of the t-shirt wearing generation, but Barney Stinson - though he may enjoy his Scotch and fine haberdashery - is no gentleman. Britney Spears might even name him Womanizer.

The suit, it would seem, does not the gentleman make. Clothes do not make the man, but a man must possess style to make them more than clothes.

No, and though while I would love to return to a day and age in which everyman suited up and never left home without a hat, the truth is, these days, a gentleman of style is more sartorially complicated than coat and tie. It's about as being as effortlessly stylish in a henley and denim, as in fedora and gabardine.

There is a certain level of respect these days for the American-made tradition.

Take Made-In-America brand Rag and Bone. Started by English gentlemen Marcus Wainwright and David Neville, the designing pair began their creation with a trip to the land of high cotton, the Southern United States, to discover for themselves the tradition of of denim making:

Founded in 2002, rag & bone had one very clear vision in mind: to make clothes that they and their friends would love to wear every day. With no formal fashion training, Marcus Wainwright & David Neville set about learning how to make jeans. They believed that denim represented the history, authenticity and fundamentals of classic work wear that they would strive to reflect in their designs.
Beginning in Kentucky, rag & bone surrounded themselves with people who had been making patterns, cutting fabric and sewing their whole lives. Working with these kinds of craftsmen taught them the importance of quality, craftsman-ship and attention to detail early on.
These principles soon became the keystones of the rag & bone philosophy, the definition of what clothing can and should be. With these principles in mind, whenever possible rag & bone produces the majority of their garments in U.S. factories that still sew clothes the same way they did 50 years ago.

Which is why they partner with craftsmen and established businesses such as Martin Greenfield Tailors of Brooklyn, Norton and Sons of Saville Row, and Waterbury Button, "the oldest button manufacturer in US."

Which is why they're something of experts when it comes to a gentleman's aesthetic.

The fashion world is having something more than the normal fall and winter love affair with plaid   moment; it started with a hum as preppy went mainstream, grew with a low boom as hipsters collected the buffalo plaid woodsman look, and has all of a sudden become something you simply cannot miss; whether it's in lowly blogs such as this, in the pages of shelter mags such as Lonny, or in the pages of every fashion glossy from Nylon to Town and Country.

And, as the New York Times noted this week, the preppy plaid spread a widespread panic among moody chromophobes everywhere.

Rag & Bone's David Neville included.
“This is a gentler interpretation of plaid,” said David Neville, one of the partners behind Rag & Bone, who himself confessed to a certain aversion toward color. “Today I am wearing a combination of light gray, dark gray and black, so I guess I fit into that mold. But I can be a bit more adventurous — perhaps around the holidays. I wouldn’t wear a bold, bright plaid, but I would wear a shadow plaid. Subtle is good, you know?”
Shadow plaids. Gentle, subtle, yes, the colors allow a gentleman to remain distinguished, and un-dandified, yet the plaids add a pop, and betray him as a man of style and modernity.
“Shadow plaids are the new solids,” said Eric Jennings, the men’s fashion director of Saks Fifth Avenue. “They’re ideal for men’s suiting. From far away they read as a solid color, and up close the texture and fabric come to life. And they’re the perfect background for a pop of color.”
It is worth noting that “shadow plaid,” like many men’s-wear terms, has taken on different meanings. Mr. Jennings uses it to describe understated tone-on-tone plaids, like dark brown on medium brown. Others use it to describe gray-scale plaids. Still others use it to describe the ombré plaids popular in Western shirts in which two colors gradate from one to the other.
But there is no question that plaids in plain gray, black and white combinations are the ones that have come in this season."
Chromophobia, indeed.

If a gentleman is all class and polish, what does it mean for color?

David Neville may have an aversion to color, but as a gentleman of style, he has come to recognize this as his personal style (bravery, be damned) and owns it, and up to it. I've never seen Chuck Bass turn away from a purple, or a double-breasted suit, which is a personal style he holds true to season after season, trend after trend.

As I began work on this article this morning, I had the low hum of the television in the background and as I was re-reading the Times article, what should come on but Dolce & Gabbana's ad for their cologne, "The One," as in, the One True Gentleman.

Italian brand. American spokesman. Black and white. Miles Davis in the forefront. Take a look:

Interesting isn't it, how the mere absence of color renders a concept timeless? Yet, in the end, he is still a man, and the colors of his complexion are reflected in the cognacs and coffees of the cologne.

The classic trappings of gentleman-hood, are, in fact, often without color: Scotch, cigars, leather. Cliche though they may be,are they not what you picture when you call up Humphrey Bogart to memory? Or perhaps you see him in the silver time freeze of Casablanca, as I often do.

For now, though,
“It’s a part of the Americana vibe we’ve seen,” Nick Sullivan, the fashion director of Esquire, explained...This is a little step forward to something more sophisticated, and at the same time a step back to something more normal.”
But don’t go thinking that the emergence of shadow plaid is a sign that men’s wear is headed back to the Italianate ’90s, when Prada and Gucci put entire ZIP codes into sleek gray suiting with all the warmth of a charcoal briquette. As the retro-volutionary style of the gentleman continues to grow, its adherents are ready and willing to ferret out its less obvious manifestations. Kick it up a notch? A gentleman would just as soon kick it down.
It gives me pause: is it the gentleman's distinguished duty to leave the color to the ladies - and the dandies? Is the art of gentlemanly dressing in the power of restraint, in balancing sharp sartorial style while letting the lady grace the chromatic scale? Is it the art of modern gentlemanly dressing to do so?

I wonder.

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