As I continued to mull over who I consider real icons of style, I made an effort to look past the obvious. As one reader helpfully pointed out, while my fist two choices are certainly icons of style, they were not particularly unexpected.
I cannot argue with this; both President Kennedy and Mr. Clooney are well known in part because of their personal style. When I assembled this list though, I specifically sought out individuals from a variety of fields, points in time, and fame.
For this next round, I turn to a childhood hero and brilliant restaurateur. Neither is particularly well known for their wardrobes. The first is perhaps best known for a total lack of sartorial élan while the second is seen primarily in chef whites. Custom tailored for certain, but still just chef whites.
Yes. I said Albert Einstein. Why, you might ask; I mean he was not exactly known for his sartorial elegance. And that’s exactly why I put him on this list. He is the smart man’s anti-dandy. At least that is how he chose to have the world view him.
While his signature absentminded professor look became synonymous with brilliance unconcerned with the banalities of style, many close to Einstein tell of a man quite aware of his look’s impact. While no one would claim him to be overly interested in fashion, Einstein was very conscious with his public persona; using the rumpled suit and out-of-control hair to his own ends.
Einstein was quite deliberate with his dress, in part because it worked to his advantage. It was in fact a disarming tool, a shield that deflected expectations. It was also who he was as a person. Albert Einstein was in a sense the Bill Gates of his day; brilliant but sartorially challenged – or challenging, depends on your view.
In so many ways Einstein was his own man, and I think that is what always impressed me the most. Rising from patent clerk to heights of international acclaim, he never really changed who he was. Sure, for white tie ceremonies he would don white tie, but he never tried to be someone else. The hair still popped out at odd angles and the dress clothes had a slightly rumpled something about them. He was always just Albert; brilliant yes, but just Albert.
That is what I always admired about Albert Einstein; not just the mind bending intellect but the totally individual personality of which he was never ashamed. If he was cold, he put on a cardigan. End of story.
I actually had a little internal debate about listing Mr. Keller. I had trouble choosing between him and another exceptional chef and showman, Chicago’s Charlie Trotter. Both are epicurean technicians of the highest order, but Keller won out due to his remarkable ability to maintain unimpeachable standards in outlets spread across the country.
Thomas Keller is one of the world’s top living chefs and, if things keep going the way they have, one of the best ever to live. He is quite simply that good every day of the week and other chefs speak his name with hushed tones normally reserved for higher powers. He is also equally well known for not being an arrogant snob, which in his industry is equally remarkable.
Among his many accomplishments is the evolution of California cuisine to international acclaim and almost singlehandedly turning Napa Valley into a fine dining and luxury lifestyle destination. Keller has also elevated the entire dining experience – from food storage and preparation to coffee service – to a sublime and almost reverential experience.
Thomas Keller’s obsessive dedication to perfection, be it ingredients or wait staff uniforms, has placed him and his universe of restaurants – namely The French Laundry – on a wholly unique plain.
So exacting is his staff’s culinary skills that the French Laundry’s kitchen was replicated in the virtual world for the blockbuster animated film, “Ratatouille.” The movie’s restaurant characters and their culinary skills were all based on meticulous recreations of Keller’s chefs. It is no small honor that the movie was wildly successful in France – viewed as a loving dedication to the true wonders of gastronomy.