Great Gatsby is great again: F Scott Fitzgerald's hero is inspiring this season's menswear
Saturday 06 April 2013
Ready or not, gentlemen, the season's sartorial signs point to pre-Depression high society. You can thank the May release of Baz Luhrmann's highly-stylised remake of The Great Gatsby. The rags-to-riches-to-revenge story, F Scott Fitzgerald's best, is set in decadent jazz-age New York, and hasn't seen a big-screen update in 40 years, not since a young and dapper Robert Redford, in the title role, razzle-dazzled Mia Farrow (a coy Daisy Buchanan) out of her gilded wits.
As Jay Gatsby in the new movie, a high-rolling man of questionable means but unquestionable polish, Leonardo DiCaprio is decked out in impeccable black tuxedos and spiffy bow ties. How else would the mysterious millionaire welcome the endless stream of Charleston-stepping guests to his sprawling Long Island estate, where they partied like it was going out of style? And eventually, with the stock market crash of 1929, it did. But that's not the concern of these blissfully-unaware flappers and their moneyed suitors, who look like they've sprung to life from a Monopoly board.
If by night DiCaprio's Gatsby is the very image of a glinting dark glamour – prompting those around him to ponder aloud: who is this Gatsby? – by day he dons an array of raffish three-piece suits in light, summery colours in shades of cream, pale peach, and dusty rose. "You always look so cool," says Daisy, played by Carey Mulligan, taking a long drag of a cigarette. "The man in the cool, beautiful suits."
At times Gatsby's double-breasted demeanour takes on a gangster vibe – surely no mistake as it's presumed his vast wealth derives from that most unsavoury of Prohibition-era sources, bootlegging – when in the company of the film's other leading men. Tobey Maguire exudes a wide-eyed elegance as Gatsby's gullible neighbor, Nick Carraway, while Joel Edgerton smoulders as Tom Buchanan, Daisy's philandering husband and, ultimately, her accomplice.
Where menswear in movies usually serves as a backdrop to a woman's glittering wardrobe, in Luhrmann's latest it takes up a surprising amount of screen time. The emphasis could very well spark a frenzy for 1920s tailoring when the film opens worldwide, much like The Artist and HBO's Boardwalk Empire. Labels including Gucci, Alexander McQueen, Marc Jacobs, Canali, Paul Smith, Alfred Dunhill, and Hackett are cashing in, channelling the Gatsby guy for spring. The message seems to be: if we're not yet past the Great Recession, perhaps putting on the ritz will nudge us into another roar. One can hope.
Given the current escapist mood, it's worth looking at how the contemporary man can work the Gatsby style revival into his wardrobe. The 1920s saw radical changes in men's suiting, in keeping with the eclecticism of today. Sports jackets, often double-breasted, with wide shoulders and tapered waists were worn with waistcoats and baggy, high-waisted trousers.
Suit colours were also softer, in bold recreational pastels. Dress shirts were essential, and while short sleeves were not yet acceptable, long sleeves could be rolled up on hot days. Shirts often had detachable collars and cuffs for easier cleaning. Particular attention was paid to hats; the wider the brim the better. In the evening they wore fedoras and in the daytime they wore jauntier straw boaters and panamas. Glasses, especially those with horn or wire frames, were just as popular with the men of the 1920s as they are today.
That a return to waistcoats, pocket squares, hats, and tie pins could be in the offing this season, at least for the more adventurous of men, is certainly not lost on Catherine Martin, the film's costume designer, a production designer, and wife of the director. While Ralph Lauren is credited with outfitting Gatsby and his milieu in the 1974 version (along with Theoni Aldredge, who won both the Oscar and the Bafta for her costume work on the film), Martin went to the source, Brooks Brothers. Martin – also an Academy Award winner (Moulin Rouge), as well as Bafta winner (Strictly Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet) – worked closely with the New York men's clothier to produce more than 500 day and evening looks for the cast and extras, estimated to be 1,700 pieces in total.
In interviews, Martin points out that Brooks Brothers is often mentioned in Fitzgerald's writings. He considered it the ultimate mark of the gentleman's refinement. Complementing the Brooks Brothers man, Miuccia Prada designed the costumes for the ladies and Tiffany & Co loaned the jewellery, said to be real diamonds and gems. Nothing is too good for Luhrmann's reinterpretation of a literary icon. As Gatsby incredulously proclaims in the film, "[You] can't repeat the past? Why of course you can!"
Lee Carter is editor-in-chief of Hintmag.com
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