Men's Fashion

Coat tales

For some fellows, outdoor wear is as much about the style front as the cold one. Just look at these, says Nick Foulkes.

October 09 2011
Nick Foulkes

The laird: ancient tartan cape (first picture)

Along with a more conventional baronetcy, the laird has one of those strange Scottish titles (something along the lines of the Elder of the Clan McThruttoch of Glenbuttoch) and is inordinately proud to be the 27th member of his family to bear it. His father died before his birth and he found himself at the centre of a lengthy, Jarndyce-esque court case to determine whether he had the right to his father’s titles. He won, but at a price; though a baronet and 27th elder of the clan, he is also the first one who has had to work for a living.

He has just retired from the law firm where he was a partner and quixotic presence for over 30 years. On occasion, he wore a kilt to client meetings (once rowing with security guards over the skean dhu tucked into his sock) and was invariably accompanied by his giant wolfhound, Baskerville.

Yet despite his affectedly dotty image, he is a shrewd businessman who turned the family estate around by identifying a market for organic beef from an old Highland breed that he nursed back from near extinction, while his salmon-smoking business is famous for its encyclopedic variety of experimental cures and flavours.

He counts Clarissa Dickson Wright as one of his oldest friends and in recent years has become something of a gastro-telly star – although the producers value him more for his theatrical tent-like tartan cape and ever-present wolfhound than for any insights he might vouchsafe.

The automotive artistic director: bespoke cashmere (second picture)

The automotive artistic director is neither very artistic nor really in the automotive industry; he was installed at a sleepy lawnmower manufacturer by a group of venture capitalists who acquired it by accident after a long lunch in 2007. When he arrived, he harangued the workforce with his vision for the firm. His aim was to make it into the Learjet of lawn care; the Bentley of the back garden. His business-school rhetoric was thick with terms such as “iconic”, “DNA” and the “seamless integration” of a “value-added proposition” that would “maximise the brand equity”.

It’s been downhill ever since. It didn’t help that his first mower design, which featured lots of carbon fibre and brushed-titanium detailing, cost about as much as a hybrid family saloon but sold rather less well – in fact, it has yet to sell at all. He has since retreated into his own fantasy land; while the rest of the building looks like a lawnmower factory, his office is an essay in what he thinks of as minimalist chic. His clothes are as derivative as his “design awareness”: dark suits with over-slim lapels notched a little too high, white shirts, slim black ties… “I tell my tailor to think Rat Pack.”

He describes himself as being fanatical about detailing, which is why – he says – his bespoke blue cashmere coat from a trendy London tailor took two years to finish. The delay has nothing to do with the fact that his performance-related pay has slumped so much that it took him 24 months to scrape together the cash to pay for it.

The country gentleman: tweed shooting coat (third picture)

The country gentleman is an unchanging type, seen in pictures by Stubbs and Munnings. The generations may have brought about changes in his wardrobe, but the ruddy complexion and weathered features are the same as always. You can still come across him at local point-to-point meetings, or at that Glastonbury of the green-wellie and waxed-cotton set, the Game Fair.

He once had a bit of family money, but the Lloyd’s crisis of 20 years ago saw to that, and having sold The Old Rectory, he now lives in a smallish village house and drives a battered Volvo plastered with Countryside Alliance and BASC stickers that would need to be carbon dated to determine its exact age. He could be a trainer of racehorses; he may be the estate manager of some newly rich magnate; or he might run the local office of one of the big property agents. His chief professional attributes are that he is a good shot, rides well and has that classlessness of the well-born Englishman that enables him to get along with anyone, be they a Kazakh plutocrat or a beater.

He dislikes buying clothes, as his fraying collars and patched elbows show. But once every 10 years his wife travels to one or other of the smart London gunsmiths to buy him a new shooting coat with a profusion of pockets. He grumbles every time she does it, spending the first few months apologising for its newness – although everyone is glad to see the back of its ragged predecessor. And when the first rainy day of the shooting season comes, he is secretly rather grateful.

The ever-youthful interior designer: Burberry (fourth picture)

You’ll have seen his work in magazines. He has done a country house for a pop star, all black walls and sofas in a colour he calls deadly nightshade; and the Holland Park villa of an oil magnate, all black sofas and walls in deadly nightshade. He’s now working on a boutique hotel in Paris with, yes, a palette of black and deadly nightshade.

Ever since he turned 45, he has been terrified of looking older than his clients, hence the starvation diet, punishing exercise regimen, Botox and hair dye. But it is worth it; across a crowded room he could easily pass for 44 and half. He spends hours every morning preparing to leave his Ledbury Road apartment: shoes so pointed that they could have your eye out if you’re not careful – check; drainpipe trousers rolled up to reveal sockless ankles even in midwinter – check; gravity-defying mass of carefully teased, moussed and sprayed black (with a touch of deadly nightshade) hair – check.

Of course, he keeps young by donning clothes that should only be worn by skinny models in ad campaigns: hence the Burberry pea coat (“Chris [Christopher Bailey] is such a close friend”). He feels that putting on this coat is like stepping into his own movie, in which, collar turned up against the chill, he trudges the lonely city streets like a 21st-century James Dean as shot by Dennis Stock in a cold, rainy Times Square. If only it came in that delicate, overlooked colour, deadly nightshade.

The conglomerate chief executive: Zegna (fifth picture)

For the past 30 years, the CEO has toiled tirelessly at one of the world’s biggest energy conglomerates. The firm recently went public and now, aged 52, he has become a billionaire. Not that this matters to him; money is only a way of keeping score.

His whole life has been a succession of career moves. When he realised that none of the board members was unmarried, he proposed to his girlfriend from university days because he simply did not want to waste time looking for a new one. He fathered two sons for more or less the same professional reasons, but drew the line at learning golf: it would’ve taken him away from the office for too long. He works for 17 hours every day, getting by on five hours’ sleep or less, and since rising to the very top of the company several years ago he’s been busy preparing the flotation, which he regards as his masterpiece, his Sistine Chapel.

The successful IPO saw him order a vicuña coat. It was an extraordinary extravagance that cost him one or two of his five hours of sleep (as well as a five-figure sum). You see, he hasn’t needed to wear an overcoat for a decade, as he spends his time in the ambient temperature of his offices around the world or in the company plane between them. However, this slipper-soft coat has shown him that there might be more to life than work and he’s even thinking of taking a family holiday (well, a long weekend somewhere chilly so he can wear the coat).

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Coats