Style Icon: Aristotle Onassis

I recently spent an enjoyable sojourn on the Ionian Sea, on the island of Lefkada, just south of Corfu and north of Kefalonia. While, culturally, the island is bereft of the kind of richness that other Greek islands afford, the place is surprisingly popular. Thanks, I have no doubt, in no small part to the proximity of the island of Skorpios and the lingering legend of Aristotle Onassis which pervades the area like an intoxicating fog.

Once, the island of Skorpios – formerly owned by the Onassis family – hosted the marriage of ‘Ari’ Onassis to Jacqueline Kennedy, the widow of JFK, who sought refuge away from the glare of American public life – and into the richly furnished folds of one of the wealthiest men on earth. Though now owned by Dimitri Rybolovlev, a potash multi-billionaire, the former owner still casts his spell; it is still ‘the Onassis island’, still a revered treasure of the local people – irrespective of the name on the title deeds. History, after all, is more alluring than wealth.

I must admit that, prior to travelling, I knew very little about Aristotle Socrates Onassis – a man who, by all accounts, did his very best to live up to his impossibly cerebral Christian names. Though most celebrated as the seducer of the famous opera prima donna Maria Callas and the First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy (and her sister Lee Radziwill), Onassis’ greatest achievement was his colossal wealth, built through a vast shipping empire. In fact, so connected was he to these three particular pieces of information that he would comment; “Everyone knows three things about me. I’m f*cking Maria Callas, I’m f*cking Jacqueline Kennedy and I’m f*cking rich.”

Like all rich men, Onassis did exactly as he pleased. And, when it came to style, he was no different. Though not blessed with the looks (or height) of contemporary fellow billionaire Howard Hughes – think Pacino’s “Big Boy” Caprice from Dick Tracy – Onassis was an enormous character, defined by his love of beautiful women and beautiful things. Most importantly, he was supremely comfortable in his own skin – which is an essential ingredient for true style. There is an image of him entertaining Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor on board the Christina, his super yacht. He is sat back, cross-legged, wearing white trousers, sockless loafers and dark glasses – with an unlit cigarette dangling rakishly from his lips.

Onassis was no dandy, but he wore his clothes with such louche disdain that the effect of his style was far greater than if he had worn daily buttonholes and polka dot bow ties. His was a deep, masculine style; less artful than Agnelli, but far more assertive. As would be expected of a man who lived most of his days chasing the sun, he was often seen in casual, open necked shirts – though his well-pomaded hair was always slicked back – and his pocket square would often waterfall out of his double-breasted jackets.

His sprezzatura was understated; his sunglasses were overstated. He was casual; but wore formal clothing properly – almost dutifully; apparently, when he once invited a woman to dine with him on Skorpios, he changed into black tie from his casual attire when he saw the effort she had made with her own costume.

Most significantly of all, Onassis wore clothing of the era with a timeless panache that recalls the ‘wear it and forget it’ advice of Hardy Amies; he wasn’t precious about the clothes he wore. Which is precisely why he looked so good in them.

Style Icon: Emperor Akihito

Emperor Akihito is the 125th Emperor of Japan. His ancient line have, according to legendary manuscripts, been on the Chrysanthemum Throne since 660BC, making the Japanese imperial family the oldest rulers in the world. And, like most of the other monarchs in the 21st century world, his role is now largely ceremonial. Though his ancestors would have led giant armies into battle, his duties are confined to that of grand ambassadorship; hosting foreign dignitaries and acting as the figurehead of his nation.

As “the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people”, the Emperor is the cultural guardian of Japan and the highest authority of the national Shinto religion. However, as a man, the Emperor is somewhat diminutive. Prince Charles, who is himself below the average height of a man of his age, practically towers over Akihito. However, this is where any feeling of superiority on Charles’ part must end. Not only does the pedigree of the Emperor’s Imperial family make the Windsors look like reality TV celebrities, Akihito also provides a fierce challenge to the Prince of Wales for the unofficial-but-extraordinarily-important title of ‘best dressed royal.’

In fact, I would go so far as to say that Charles is practically the only ‘world leader’ left who can walk side by side with Akihito and not suffer sartorial embarrassment.

Like the Prince of Wales, Akihito’s weapon of choice is the bespoke double-breasted suit. However, unlike Charles, the brilliance of his elegance is simplicity. Whereas Charles adorns his person with striped ties and shirts, patterned pocket squares and buttonholes, Akihito keeps embellishment to a minimum. Ties are plain or very subtly patterned, pocket squares are rarely anything other than plain white and I don’t think he has ever been seen with a flower in his lapel.

Normally, ensembles of such plainness do not attract my attention. I prefer maximalism and mixtures of colours and patterns. However, in the case of the Emperor, the overall effect is so exquisite and so individual, that I simply have to applaud the beauty of it.

Befitting an Emperor, the cut of his suits is magnificent. His jackets are never too big, nor too tight, and they are perfectly in proportion with his tiny physique. However, it is his trousers that define his style. There is no one who wears trousers like His Imperial Majesty. Completely and utterly breakless, they drape over rather than onto his shoes, leaving but a fraction of a toe poking out. Although the probable reason for this cut is that they were made in an era when wider, fuller trousers were in fashion – read: the 1970s – they look astonishingly appropriate for the ‘little Emperor.’

Manuel Vanni

Of all the Pitti Peacocks, Manuel Vanni is one of the most resplendent, and certainly one of the most controversial. His plumage is outrageous, fearless and full of contradiction; mad but coordinated, clownish but cool. After all, it takes something pretty special to be gawped at by everyone in Florence and there is no doubt that Vanni seems to enjoy the attention. However, there are those who consider his ensembles to be nothing more than plumage for the sake of plumage, that his dandyism is utterly out of control and verging on the vulgar.

It will be unsurprising to all that Vanni does not consider there to be any rules to dressing. It will be utterly shocking to some that he considers avoiding exaggeration to be one of the most important things about style. If Vannism isn’t exaggeration, that must make Lapo Elkann some kind of style puritan.

His three-year old brand, Manuel Vanni Spa, is his own personal style. He isn’t like one of those ultra-modernist architects who lives in Georgian splendour. He lives his own work and vice versa. If you see him at Pitti in some scandalous three-piece with suede tasselled loafers, it’s Vanni he is wearing. Unadulterated and unbelievably racy, particularly for a Florence where the well-dressed ‘background’ is largely restricted to navy, grey, brown and white. He is a statement-maker, not a conformist and when the statement is this strong, opinions are greatly divided.

To some, he is a brattish charlatan, a publicity-seeking fop with all the bravery of fine dress but none of the elegance of restraint – or taste. “He’s the reason I don’t look at the Pitti photos any more” one said “it’s so regardez-moi. There are so many characters who have wised up to street style and are just wearing costumes.” To others, he is a breath of fresh air. “Everyone else wears the same thing in Italy. Yes, it’s cut well and worn with style but their imagination and use of colour is non-existent. Vanni blazes through like a comet.”

When opinions are this diverse, it’s hard to call him a style ‘icon’. He’s a ‘renegade’, a ‘maverick’, a ‘dude’; an Italian version of E.Berry Wall. Whereas the rest of Florence look like they belong in a Mastroianni picture, Vanni looks more like he belongs in a comic book. Nothing is off limits, nothing is conventional or predictable. The photoshoots of his collections look like stills from a superhero movie, accessorised by Dick Tracy-yellow fedoras or a pink top hat. Despite the loudness of his clothes, colours in his ensembles are extraordinarily well coordinated, with even the buttons of his waistcoat matching that of his pocket square and tie.

What I like about him is that he manages to look sleek in ensembles that should make him look like he is wearing a Joker costume. Yes, it’s all a bit too much sometimes and I do think that some of the wilder patterns he chooses are unsuitable for suiting, but he still wears it very well. The other thing I like about Vanni is that he is experimental. He’s pouring the contents of one brightly coloured test tube into another – and letting it blow up in his own face. If no one pursued his path, everyone would be iGented and dull, drowning in grey flannel and navy ties. It’s the rule breakers that define new styles, not the conformists.

The Sharpness of Bond

Next month sees the release of ‘Skyfall’, the 23rd installment of the James Bond series. It will also be the third film to star Daniel Craig as 007 which, in films completed, sets him above Timothy Dalton and below only Pierce Brosnan, Roger Moore and Sean Connery. Not bad for a man people expected to flop worse than George Lazenby.

I must admit, I was a Craig sceptic. I didn’t really see how a gruff, blue-eyed theatre actor with the physique and charm of an Eastern European bouncer would play the role of the master spy; a discrete, sophisticated, dry martini-swilling cad who somehow managed to be the most valuable agent in the Foreign Office.

Of course, neither could the producers. Which is why Craig’s Bond is as far from the vaguely effete Roger Moore and the occasionally camp Brosnan as possible. Instead of being a walk-on-water superman who masters dangerous activities at the first attempt and winks into the camera as the credits start to roll, Craig’s Bond is a physically brutal killer who spends the same amount of time sprinting around in a polo shirt and jeans as Moore did exercising his eyebrows in a double-breasted blazer.

In truth, in the age of Connery, Moore and Brosnan, Bond was a rather implausible character. The books of Fleming had afforded licence to play up the spy to an audience ill-prepared for heavy-duty violence. One liners, beautiful women, sexual innuendo, silly names, fast cars and snazzy suits – the shaken-not-stirred Bond cocktail – made light of his occupation, and the genre. So much so that people expected other screen spies to retain the same level of cover-blowing glamour.

Craig’s Bond has gone cold turkey. There might be a fast car or two, but the drunken silliness of the series has been erased.

However, as well as the guns, the gadgets and the girls, there is another part of Bond that has continued into the age of Craig. One thing that sets Bond apart from other screen heroes that, incongruous as it might be, still manages to make his seemingly impossible existence more credible – the suits of James Bond.

When I heard that Craig was taking the role, there were whispers that the era of Bond in tailored suits was over. As a fan of the series, I felt a pang. As unrealistic as it is that an assassin of the British government should be prancing around the world in Brioni or Savile Row tailoring, the suits add a maturity and an air of diplomacy that could never exist in the Bourne franchise.

Though the current confection is not entirely to my taste, it remains true to the man’s occupation and the need for discretion. There are no garish patterns, striped shirts or paisley pocket squares and you can forget about looking out for a pair of Berlutis, but then this isn’t the arena for that kind of thing. Bond is a survivor, not an entertainer.

As silly, and as horrifying, as it is that Craig scrabbles around in the dirt wearing a mohair suit – he should in all honesty be wearing camouflage – it wouldn’t make sense otherwise. Just as he wrecks the gadgets and the cars, his use (and abuse) of the suits represents a will to overcome and a disregard for his costume, of which Hardy Amies would have been proud.

There is no doubting that with his seven-year old’s haircut, earpiece and Mad Men pocket square that Craig makes for an unlikely Bond. In truth, he looks more like a bodyguard. However, the Olympic stunt in an immaculate black tie ensemble proved that the suits maketh the spy. In terms of ‘sartoria exotica’, it’s no Boardwalk Empire, but the sleek, steely sharpness of the suits is still a joy to behold.

Jubilee Style Icon: Prince Charles

The Queen and Prince Charles

When it comes to popularity, Queen Elizabeth II – who has now been on the throne for more than 60 years – takes some beating. As much as small factions of republicans would like to persuade us that the monarchy is outdated and unwanted, the vast majority (well over 80%) of Her Majesty’s nation approve of her reign. No billion-dollar presidencies seem to be wanted here; no anonymous, small-living head of state. This is not a land people want lorded over by government any more than a land people want lorded over by a tyrant.

The Queen has little power; and that’s a good thing, as far as the people are concerned. What she has is grace of leadership and representation. She has no one to please, no sponsor or democratic lifeline and no political alliance; she speaks for everyone and no one at once.

However, there are concerns that Prince Charles, currently Prince of Wales and the next in line to the throne, will plunge the Windsors back into the dark days of the 1980s and 1990s, when their popularity was at a low. Unlike his quiet, reserved and conspicuously unbiased mother, Charles has been known to let the people know what he thinks about things. In this way, Charles has been decidedly unfashionable.

Politicians over the last 15-20 years have made a precise art out of erasing conviction from their public communication and have followed, more or less, on a path of inclusive neutrality. Not following fashion is Charles’ way. Charles’ approach is all about personal conviction and, especially where his wardrobe is concerned, personal style.

As the standards of dress have crumbled throughout the years, Charles has remained defiant. He refers to his sense of style as ‘timeless’, emphasising his continued use of 20-30 year old suits and repaired shoes. But for those who “don’t get” why Charles is consistently voted by fashionistas and editors alike as one of the world’s best dressed men, you only need to take a look at the photographs from the Jubilee ceremony at St Paul’s Cathedral and compare the confident and supremely elegant image of Charles to that of his smartly dressed but significantly outshone sons, Princes William and Harry.

Wearing a long-owned black tailcoat and matching waistcoat (he wore the tailcoat at his marriage to Camilla), Charles is one of the best adverts for Savile Row in the world. Here he is, a future King, in a decades-old number that still looks like it was made yesterday.

However, it is more than the simple perfection of good tailoring. Charles knows how to finish ensembles – probably one of the most criminally under-mentioned observations about his style. There is piping around the tailcoat; there is a pocket watch and chain; there is a tie-pin; there are slips for the waistcoat; there is the most subtle and attractive puff of patterned silk in the pocket and, finally, there is a bright purple buttonhole brightening up the lapel. There are a great many elements, but they all work together beautifully. Charles knows exactly what to do; and he is not afraid to do it.