So cool, it's criminal

In life and movies hard men have always been style icons, from the Krays to Reservoir Dogs and Snatch. You can get the gangster look - all it takes is a sharp suit, a dash of flash and a lot of attitude - but it'll cost you.
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The Independent Online

They may have been on the wrong side of the law, but my, they looked good. Gangster chic is arguably cinema's greatest contribution to men's fashion, and what with Guy Ritchie's film Snatch currently at No 1 at the box office, we can perhaps forgive men for wanting to indulge in a bit of fantasy (although last Friday's police report condemning such films for glamorising gangsters is a sharp reminder that the look is cool, but the lifestyle is not).

They may have been on the wrong side of the law, but my, they looked good. Gangster chic is arguably cinema's greatest contribution to men's fashion, and what with Guy Ritchie's film Snatch currently at No 1 at the box office, we can perhaps forgive men for wanting to indulge in a bit of fantasy (although last Friday's police report condemning such films for glamorising gangsters is a sharp reminder that the look is cool, but the lifestyle is not).

For those wanting a look more Kray than Kilroy, one should, of course, get the terminology correct - it's gangster, not gangsta - otherwise, dear reader, you may find yourself the proud owner of a string vest and sovereign ring.

"The gangster look is incredibly simple, just a three-buttoned suit with a plain coloured shirt and a slim tie, usually one-colour rather than patterned. It's classical almost, very sharp," explains a spokesman for Paul Smith. "We do a line called Paul Smith London which is a very simple, three-buttoned single-breasted suit, with flat-front trousers in different shades. At the moment we have plain black, which is that kind of look."

The key is a flash of ostentation, he says, such as tie-pin, cufflink or money-clip. The store currently has a number of such trinkets in silver. "But it's also a matter of attitude, the way it's worn."

Sean Dixon, managing director and co-owner of Richard James, the Savile Row tailors, says cut is everything. "The modern, enduring image of the gangster is that David Bailey shot of the Krays, which is basically dark suits, slim-fitted and well-cut, with white shirts and thin dark ties. It's all in the cut - it can't be baggy. You can't take the gangsters in Miami Vice seriously in their baggy suits. It has to be tailor-made, so it fits very well and gives the wearer a certain gravitas."

So how popular is the look on Savile Row? "No one has said they want to look like an East End mobster. I must admit, though, I think the Reservoir Dogs image was quite appealing to a lot of men. But no one has come in and said: 'I'd like to look like Mr Pink'."

Kate Kray, who was married to Ronnie Kray for five years while he was in Broadmoor, used to buy his clothes. "He always wore cashmere suits. And crocodile loafers by Fratelli Rossetti, which were £300 a pair, and you could only get them on Bond Street," she says. (Selfridges currently sell black Fratelli leather loafers at £175.) "He always had his suits made: he had a tailor go into Broadmoor."

Former gangster Dave Courtney, who organised the security at Ronnie Kray's funeral and spends a hefty £150,000 a year on clothes, says the dark suit is a thing of the past.

"The old-fashioned days of all gangsters wearing black, it ain't like that any more. You understand what I mean?" says, Courtney, 42 and from south-east London, who claims he was the model for Vinnie Jones's character in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. "When gangsters had to hide in corners and shady little places, maybe wearing black was the thing to do. But right now the gangsters are in Stringfellow's and walking along the prom on Sunset Boulevard, so the clothing has had to change. That old gangster image that the Kray twins wore? It would be very hard to walk round like that now. You'd actually look a bit of a prat, with everyone else in Versace, Hugo Boss and Armani, and you're sitting there with a black suit and a white shirt."

Courtney, who works as an actor and after-dinner speaker, even has some white silk numbers in his vast wardrobe of 100 suits. "I go to Thailand where they can make you something from a picture you've nicked out of a book. When you're in the public eye, you're worried about wearing the same thing twice. It sounds nancy, but getting caught in the same suit three or four times is awful."

The ex-con, who has served four years in prison and been acquitted of murder three times, spends around £1,500 on his suits. "First impressions do mean an awful lot. Clothes do make a man, I'm really, really sorry, I know that's an awful thing to say, but it's very important what you have on if you intend to move in certain circles. You dress to impress."

How can you tell a gangster from a city gent? "Two people can put the same suit on, but if you have an inner confidence in yourself, you wear it different," he says. "A gangster would be someone who carries himself with more than the normal amount of confidence, and it will show in his walk and face. It's a powerful look.

So what do gangsters wear underneath their suits - boxers or Y-fronts? "I'm afraid I'm a no-underwear man. I don't wear socks and I don't wear pants," he sniffs. And what about jewellery? "I used to go in for bigger is better, but the more actual money you get, you realise you can buy one nice diamond ring. I have a bracelet worth nearly £90,000 on one hand, and a bracelet worth 10 grand on the other. I have one ring, with three diamonds in a row, that's worth £40,000, and a couple of chains. When you were younger you would put on as much as you could to look as sparkly as possible, but as you get older, you just pick out nice pieces, don'cha?

"I've got a solid gold knuckle-duster with diamonds, one for round my neck, which is small, and one in my pocket which is big - and I'm sorry about the bits of skin in it. Just a joke. And I've got a Cartier watch."

Courtney's single most expensive item of clothing was a £7,000 cashmere, leather-trimmed, silk-lined Versace coat made for Ronnie Kray's funeral. "It was really beautiful," he sighs. "It touched my ankles. I looked like Darth Vader with it on, to be quite honest."

So where does he put his gun?

"Down the back of my trousers. I have a special holder for it, babe - but don't you worry about that, you cheeky monkey. I've got a couple of suits made with a special gun pocket as well. In one of them I've had extra lining put in my back pocket for a big wad - how's that? Is that cocky or what? The right-hand back pocket is longer than the left."

What's the worst thing a gangster could wear?

"White socks."

Despite Italy doing for mobsters what Spain has done for waiters, those looking to Gucci for inspiration this season will be disappointed. "Our look for men isn't terribly gangster this season," says a spokeswoman. "Everything is all kind of dad's cardigans." Now that is scary.

 

Dave Courtney's portrait of the rave scene, 'Raving Lunacy', is published by Virgin on 5 October

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