Men's Fashion

Robes of state

A dressing gown should put its wearer at ease, but can also leave him exposed. These five chaps have no idea their robes are so revealing, says Nick Foulkes.

April 03 2011
Nick Foulkes

The Hollywood Legend: Brioni (first picture)

The Hollywood Legend came to prominence at the end of the 1960s as both an actor and director who spoke for the hippie generation. He features prominently in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, Peter Biskind’s study of “How the sex-drugs-and-rock’n’roll generation saved Hollywood”. The thing is, the Hollywood Legend never really set out to save anyone or anything; he just wanted to have a good time.

He appeared in a few Westerns before getting his big break, playing a cocaine-fuelled, draft-dodging former Speedway driver hired by a drug baron to drive a consignment of narcotics across America. With its message of anti-establishment rage, its complicated use of split screens, flashbacks, frequent detours into psychedelia and its final gun battle at a settlement in New Mexico that borrows heavily from Sam Peckinpah and was supposed to make a statement about the killing of Che Guevara, it became an instant counterculture hit. Now it is almost unwatchable for anyone but film students.

Nevertheless, it set the Hollywood Legend’s career on a trajectory that’s included eight Academy Award nominations – and film buffs view his work as on a par with that of Jack Nicholson and Dennis Hopper. Alas, he has never won, something that delights conspiracy theorists who link his extreme pro-Vietcong, pro-Castro stance, his battles with substance abuse and brushes with the law to a plot to keep him off the winner’s podium.

Today, his hell-raising days are behind him. The strongest drink that passes his lips is green tea, but he still smokes cigars (Cuban, of course, keeping bands on to signal his defiance). They figure prominently in the Rolling Stone cover of him at the wheel of a golf buggy, wearing a brightly coloured velvet Brioni dressing gown with a Cohiba jammed into his famous grin.

The Aesthete: Charvet (second picture)

There are discount dandies, slaves to the cult of male elegance, the sort of men who do their best to perfect a Noël Coward aesthetic of flashy dressing gowns… and then there is the Aesthete. The Aesthete’s taste is so pitch-perfect that even the late Mark Birley deferred to him on the best place to get handmade silk socks. His verdict on the suitability of brown shoes in town is similarly final and incontrovertible.

The Aesthete lives a life surrounded by and devoted to beauty. Born in South America, he is the last remaining scion of a mineral-mining dynasty. Educated at Le Rosey, Winchester and Harvard, he moved to Paris in 1970 when he inherited a dilapidated château built by Mansart on the outskirts of the city. Photographs of the time show a gorgeous man in close-fitting white suits and flowing hair who was chased by the women of the beau monde. But his only real long-term lover is the château on which he has lavished the past 40 years and most of the mining fortune to create the perfect setting for a world-class collection of period furniture and paintings.

He was recently awarded the Légion d’Honneur for his painstaking work and his stated intention to leave the château to the nation on his death. When accepting, he bore in mind the advice of his old friend Guy de Rothschild, who told him, “Never ask for an honour, never refuse an honour and never wear it if you get it.” So the symbolic red stitching is absent from the lapel of his perfectly tailored suits. However, he has had a scrap of red ribbon sewn to the lapel of his Charvet dressing gowns. After all, only his valet sees them and he is well aware of the old maxim “Il n’y a pas de héros pour son valet-de-chambre” – which dates from the 17th century, as does his beloved château.

The Fun-Loving Fund Manager: Emma Willis (third picture)

“This young man is a disgrace to his school, his house and himself.” These words ended the letter the Fun-Loving Fundie’s housemaster at Eton wrote to his parents on his expulsion for running an illicit off-licence operation involving stolen booze. That was 30 years ago and he has never looked back.

His remarkable commercial acumen and questionable ethics have equipped him well for the City. He was there for Big Bang, made his first fortune on BT’s privatisation and was a regular at Tramp, where the waiters kept his duvet behind the bar, to cover him up for a couple of hours’ sleep before he headed back to the office. For a while his parents – an eminent QC and one of the last debutantes presented to the Queen – took a dim view of his working life, but he learnt his school lesson well and has never been caught since.

Though brought up knowing which side to pass the port, he lives it that bit too large: a boat just a few metres longer than is necessary, monograms just a little too high up his shirtfront and red wine served en magnum that is just a bit too good. He is, in short, cloaking his whole life in luxury. For instance, his matutinal espresso or first martini of the evening would be ruined if he did not take it wearing one of his dozen Emma Willis silk dressing gowns (ivory for the morning, navy with spots in the evening). The only time he has lost his temper with his wife was when she put out an ivory robe for him one evening. Ivory after dark? Some taboos even the Fundie dares not tamper with.

The Next Great American Novelist: LL Bean (fourth picture)

“The dotcom Don DeLillo”, “A Faulkner for the Facebook generation”: these are just two of the epithets attached to the scrawny young man who lives in a rambling old house (more of a cabin, really) on the outskirts of one of those small New England towns called something biblical.

The Next Great American Novelist was born in Wyoming to parents who never really understood him. How could they? His father is an outdoorsy cattle-feed distributor, his mother a member of a local church that feels Charles Darwin has a lot to answer for. The Next Great American Novelist was reading the poetry of Rimbaud aged 12. He knew he had to leave his home state when he told his teacher about this and his parents received a letter saying that Sylvester Stallone films were unsuitable for such a young person.

While studying at an Eastern university, he began his first (and so far only) novel: a 732-page study of an intellectual loner growing up in a Dust Bowl state, who is saved from running amok with his father’s arsenal of shotguns and hunting knives by a love of French Symbolist poetry.

By his mid-20s he was a sensation and now he has embraced that honourable American literary tradition: reclusiveness. Imagine a young, thin, unshaven Jeff Bridges in checked shirt and jeans shoved haphazardly into hunting boots, spotted fleetingly in the local general store, and you have the saviour of the American novel. In the five years since his epoch-defining work, the only thing he has published is the foreword to a new translation of Les Fleurs du Mal. He’s working on an even longer novel, about a reclusive writer in a New England cabin, wearing jeans, hunting boots and an LL Bean plaid dressing gown.

The Spare Man: Pellevävare (fifth picture)

The Spare Man is living proof that, after vast inherited wealth, charm is the most important genetic characteristic to be transmitted down the generations. To sit next to the Spare Man at dinner is to feel that you are the most important person in the world: his manners are perfect without being unctuous, his conversation amusing but not malicious, his wit ready but not lacerating. He shoots well, plays tennis excellently and, more importantly, knows exactly when to compete and when to lose by just a small enough margin to make his opponent feel good.

Perpetually single and with the looks of a 35-year-old, even though he is a decade older, he is the perfect guest or last-minute addition to a house party. The late Jimmy Goldsmith used to command him to come to his estate in Mexico when his gatherings of VIPs needed lubricating with a bit of grace and tact. It helps that he looks great. He always has the air of having just come from a particularly good massage or spa treatment, and strongly reminds you of the tousle-haired, clean-limbed man in Gruau’s advertisements for Dior Eau Sauvage.

This handsome, wholesome and fit (in all senses of the word) image is enhanced by the comforting yet manly Pellevävare dressing gown he wears while letting himself out of a female guest’s bedroom just before dawn, or after a swim off the back of Valentino’s yacht. Indeed, he got the Pellevävare habit from a fellow guest onboard – the handsome Mayfair gallerist Tim Jefferies, who, after marrying a Swedish wife, became an ambassador for this historic Swedish brand. If one person is more charming than the Spare Man, it is Jefferies, who is far too charming to make the Spare Man aware of his effortless superiority.

See also

Dressing gowns