Men's Fashion

Men of the cloth

Nick Foulkes checks out five sartorial types who feel the need for tweed.

October 15 2010
Nick Foulkes

The newly minted multimillionaire: Estate check

The newly minted multimillionaire (first picture) has been called “the Matisse of the markets” and, given that he earns many millions in an average year, you can understand why. These days he is taking it a bit easier, having created for himself the life of a country gentleman arranged around his new passion for shooting, a pastime to which he was introduced a couple of years ago by some City bankers who were courting him. He found he loved it and, never a man to fail at anything he sets his hand to, he has spent the past few years practising with his pair of Holland & Hollands, becoming a very competent shot. What is more, he has bought one of the very finest shoots in Northumberland and, at the height of the shooting season, the thrum of helicopter blades, as Sikorskys form an air bridge between his Northumberland acres and Battersea heliport, puts one in mind of the airborne sequences in Apocalypse Now.

Such is the excellence of the sport, and so superlative is the hospitality, that the newly minted multimillionaire has even managed to overcome aristocratic disdain for the recent origins of his fortune. Indeed, the grandest guns in England are even prepared to forgive him what he calls his “estate tweeds”: bright yellow with an emerald overcheck. In fact, they find it really rather reassuring that even one of the richest and cleverest financiers in England can make himself look rather silly in brand-spanking-new canary-yellow breeches, waistcoat and jacket with shooting back and bellows pockets… giving the impression that he’s off to play golf with Goldfinger.

The gallerist: Richard James

The gallerist (second picture) is a suave man with a toned and muscular body that belies a birthdate that is perilously close to the beginning of the 1960s. Having studied at the Courtauld and worked at Christie’s, he took over his family’s old master and impressionist gallery in Mayfair at the end of the 1980s, just as the art market crashed. And it was during the early 1990s that he started looking around for another way of selling art by opening a less formal exhibition space for emerging artists in what had previously been the storage facility and offices of his gallery.

During the 1990s, the gallerist became the cynosure of Cool Britannia. He dated a string of fashion designers, Britpoppers and Cockney models. He was a founder member of and early investor in Soho House, and celebrated his first marriage with a week-long bacchanal at Babington House. He also became known around town for his vividly checked lightweight urban tweeds tailored by Richard James. By the end of 1998, his YBA gallery was outperforming the traditional side of his business and he decided to open in cavernous new premises in Hoxton. And, demonstrating the impeccable timing characterising his career, he sold his east London gallery to one of the big auction houses in 2006 and invested a fair chunk of the proceeds in Chinese artists after meeting Beijing-based gallerist Fabien Fryns. At the time, people thought him mad but, given that he recently sold one of his Zeng Fanzhi Mask paintings at auction in Hong Kong for $2.5m, it turns out he wasn’t. In fact, he has a close relationship with Zeng, who’s painted his portrait; the Chinese artist was, of course, attracted by his bespoke polychromatic tweeds.

The 20-something art director: Dunn & Co

The 20-something art director (third picture) works on one of those cool magazines – the sort of thing that is left lying around design studios, metropolitan lounge bars and advertising agencies whose employees wish to appear younger than they really are. It might be called something like Ellipses or Quadratic, but it doesn’t really matter, as it is pretty much interchangeable with at least half a dozen other mildly pretentious publications, almost indistinguishable in their Identikit individuality, with their deliberately provocative “fashion” shoots involving dead animals, ugly models and no clothes, intersticed with lengthy articles about obscure Eritrean disc jockeys and photoessays on such cheerful subjects as the stairwells of Romanian towerblocks.

The 20-something art director lives in a pokey bedsit in Hackney or near Victoria Park, but spends the bulk of his time at Shoreditch House. You will have seen him at weekends at The Saatchi Gallery casting his critical and slightly jealous eye over the work on display, some of which was produced by his art-school contemporaries. And he is always at Haunch of Venison private views. Then again, you might have bumped into him at the various Fashion Weeks in Milan, London or Paris, where he is seated near the back, yet still feels he is part of something big. But the chances are that you will not remember him as he looks like dozens of other satchel-toting, stylish (the emphasis is on the “ish”) youngish men on the make.

He asserts his identity as a member of the creative class with one of those 1980s-inspired short-back-and-sides, long-on-top haircuts, pointed brogues – worn without socks – jeans rolled up just above the ankle, and a tight-fitting, breakfast-cereal-coloured Dunn & Co tweed jacket, sourced from a charity shop and which, he is ashamed to admit, was inspired by the wardrobe of the new Doctor Who.

The Aristocratic European hotelier: Brioni

As smooth as doeskin, the aristocratic European hotelier (fourth picture) is saddled with the unenviable task of safeguarding his family’s legacy for future generations. He may be in a Schloss on the Romantische Strasse in Germany, in a château on a lesser-known bend in the Loire, in a crumbling palazzo in Sicily… it does not matter – he is a man who cuts an elegant figure padding around the epic drawing rooms of the family seat, which he has turned over to paying guests, corporate seminars and expensive weddings. Outwardly, his life has few flaws.

But look closer and you begin to see that all is not as wonderful as it should be. Although there are plenty of photographs around showing a smiling wife and children, they are never to be seen and, if anyone ever asks to meet them, they themselves always happen to be elsewhere: skiing in Kitzbühel, or sailing round the Greek islands. In fact, sick of spending long, miserable winters living in a house straight out of Bram Stoker or Lampedusa, his wife has returned to her native New York, where she and their three children are living at a rate he can no longer afford. Then there are the paintings… In the past couple of years, gaps have appeared on the drawing-room walls. Even his special-order Brioni cashmere sports jacket is not what it was and is turning shiny with overuse.

He is not a bad man, but things aren’t going to end well. He’ll soon try to burn down his home and, in the ensuing investigation, will be identified by witnesses as the man in a vigorously checked sports jacket acting suspiciously. Even if he’d been able to get away with it, it would have done him no good, as his payment to his insurer has bounced.

The Oxbridge Don: Ancient suit

The Oxbridge don (fifth picture) is an endearing anachronism and the sort of man who ought not to exist outside an episode of Inspector Morse, or a TV adaptation of something by Waugh or Wodehouse. Yet exist he does – sauntering down the High Street or browsing in Blackwells. Once upon a time, the university was full of men like this, but now he is one of the last members of an endangered species in his Ducker’s suede brogues, checked brushed-cotton shirt, silk tie and a pocket watch worn through the lapel of an antique 20-something heavy tweed jacket, worn as part of a suit (whatever the season) and patched with leather at elbows and cuffs. He refuses to countenance using a computer and writes everything by hand, so it’s hardly surprising his jackets suffer from repetitive strain injuries. Perhaps the cleverest man of his generation, he is also the most old-fashioned. He matriculated some 40 years ago, when students at Oxford were demonstrating against Vietnam and the bomb. By contrast, he was already considered a real “square”.

The travails of the past four decades have passed him by – he has lived his life, intellectually at least, in the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign. He’s produced some of the best-written and worst-selling history books of the past 30 years, including the definitive work on Keble’s “National Apostasy” sermon; a perspicacious study of the 1839 Bedchamber Crisis; and, of course, his sympathetic, rather lyrical, study of the Young England Movement of the 1840s. As he nears retirement, he’ll have more time for his chef d’oeuvre, a magisterial survey of the collapse of the Tory Party over the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846.

It will run to three volumes and he’ll wear out the sleeves of three tweed jackets, repairs on which will eat up almost the entire advance from his publisher.

See also

tweed