Swellboy on… black tie dresscode

Our man takes a whimsical approach to red carpet propriety

Image: Brijesh Patel

One of the sadnesses of putting together the Washington exhibition was that I was unable to accept Caroline Scheufele’s kind invitation to join her in Cannes for the Film Festival. I have come to rather enjoy my sojourns on the Côte d’Azur at this time of year, and brushing up on my movie gossip. But occasionally I have to put in an appearance at home to remind my family what I look like, and as such the turnaround between DC’s Massachusetts Avenue and Cannes’ Croisette was simply too tight.

I am sorry to have missed it for two reasons, first because this year saw the first Chopard Cannes party dedicated to LUC, its male haute horlogerie, second because there seems to have been a backlash against the creeping informality on the red carpet.

I had heard that selfies on the red carpet were being discouraged; in fact, I am not at all against the discouragement of selfies on any sort of carpet or, for that matter, pavement, lawn, or mountain top. However, what I had not expected was the clampdown on dress. News spreads fast in the modern world, so even in the rural calm of the bosky glens of Shepherd’s Bush we got to hear of Larry Gagosian’s eviction from le tapis rouge.

Apparently, the fabled art dealer turned up for the premiere of Carol “looking downtown cool in a tux paired with stylish sneakers” – not my wording but the lyrical prose of The New York Post, which reported one witness as saying, “Larry missed the memo” about black tie. I take it that this was a figurative memo as most of the pictures I have tended to see of premieres in Cannes since the inauguration of the event after the war tend to depict people in dinner jackets.

But to be fair, they do things differently in the art world. Besides, he is not the only one to fall foul of the dresscode police – some women have been turned away for not wearing high heels.

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As a rule, I tend not to wear plimsolls with a dinner jacket. This is mainly because while I have a number of dinner jackets and dining suits I do not possess any sports footwear (unless you count the boots in which I shoot). I have been between trainers since about 1986, when I recall a pair of primrose-coloured Converse All Stars.

However, having heard of the New York gallerist’s new fashion statement, I am tempted to give it a try. It is the kind of ting that an absent-minded character in a PG Wodehouse might do, and I can see there is a certain relaxed charm about turning up in a dining suit with a pair of Dunlop Green Flash (the trophy footwear of my youth), accessorised perhaps with a tennis racquet stuck under the arm and maybe a sweatband worn jauntily around the forehead (think of it as a towelling tiara for men).

Come to think of it, I wonder what flip-flops might look like with evening dress (not that I possess a pair of those either). I suppose with this look it would be more appropriate to wear one’s silk Charvet pochette not in the outbreast pocket but knotted on the head, with the finishing touch imparted by rolled-up trouser-legs to indicate that one has just been paddling in the sea.

As you can see, personal interpretation of the words black tie is no easy matter. It is a lifetime’s occupation in itself and should not be undertaken by people with proper jobs – only layabouts such as myself with too much time on their hands and so little else in their lives need to worry about such things. Grown-up people are too busy, attending summits, broking power, making fortunes and exploiting the volatility of the world’s markets to have even a minute to devote to such nonsense.

Happily things ended well for Mr Gagosian. He got on the blower to his chum Harvey Weinstein, who was dressed in traditional black tie (commendably eschewing the trend for wearing a black day tie with a dinner jacket), and Harvey was able to assist the security in seeing this sartorial eccentricity as a piece of charming artistic whimsy rather than a calculated snub to the decorum of Le Festival de Cannes. After all, it is film festival and hardly dinner with the HM the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

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Still, this whole dinner jacket and sneaker thing has given me an idea and I have asked Mariano Rubinacci, who once made me an exemplary denim suit, to cast around for some black denim from which to tailor a three-piece dining suit. Sometimes I have two pairs of trousers of made if it is a garment that I envisage getting considerable wear and in this case I will commission a pair of Bermuda length black tie trousers too, just in case I ever acquire a pair of flip-flops and have to directly from the beach to a black tie event.

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