This past January I heard rumors of a developing story focusing on the lives of two of London’s most notorious criminals. Some would argue the most ruthless villains since Jack the Ripper! Now I am surprised to learn that the movie is actually happening! The criminals in question- The Kray Twins- two of the East End’s most infamous and iconic Gangsters. I was even more excited to learn that Tom Hardy chose to portray the legendary British Gangsters, twin brothers Ronald and Reginald Kray.
The brothers are East End legends, having a near mythic status. Before John Gotti enamored the US Media with his dapper style and New York Wise Guy charm, the Krays were celebrity Gangsters and night club owners, rubbing elbows with the likes of Frank Sinatra and even European Royalty! Due to their brutish love for violence and calm yet charming exterior, the twins have been studied by the media, criminologists, psychologists, and mob buffs alike. Aside from the twins’ exploits in illegal gambling, extortion, and homicidal lunacy, they also were undeniably stylish. The twins’ style was not the posh look of the swinging 60’s, nor the proper gentlemanly garb of the Savile Row elite, the Krays pioneered the look that would become know as “Gangster Chic”. The look is characterized by a very intimidating, near menacing effect, in countenance, demeanor and garment. Preferring London’s SOHO tailors over those of Savile Row, the twins had their suits tailored to fit their style, attitude, and gangster egos.
Notice the over-exaggerated sloping shoulder, an effective method to make the twins (who by most accounts were every bit of 5′ 9) appear more intimidating and formidable. The other main ingredient of Gangster Chic is the very genuine feeling of dread imposed by the brothers. The dark hair, dark suits, and sinister looks all worked together to create an over tone that embodies the duplicity that is the twins- a charming exterior with a menacing and savage center.
Even though the twins owned legitimate businesses, violence was the at the heart of the Twins’ lives. Regaled by the boxing exploits of their grandfather, the twins were virtually raised on violence, becoming boxers at a young age. You may even argue that boxing played a role in the construction of their suits. Those loose shoulders would have certainly allowed for freedom of movement-more than enough to throw a punch! As with all style, the ultimate characteristic is of course attitude. Although a part of the twins style can be attributed to amazing tailors such s Mark Powell, whose SOHO Bespoke Shop still stands to this day, it is that distinctly British Gangster attitude that makes the style so enduring.
I can certainly see this film enhancing the tradition of previous British Gangster Thrillers like “Gangster No. 1” and “Snatch”. Of course Tom Hardy can always be relied on for an outstanding performance no matter the film genre, but what I feel is special about the upcoming film is the harsh reality of the story and the brilliant style portrayed on film.
Be on the look out for “Legend’ this fall. It will be worth the wait!
I was just a boy when my Grandmother would regale me with the stories of her youth. They mostly centered around the historic Jazz district in Kansas City known as 18th and Vine- stomping grounds for the youth of the 1940s. It was an amazing time for her generation, the US was victorious in WWII, and working class African Americans began receiving employment in northern factories, gaining entry into the middle class. Along with the socio-political change of the time came a cultural change in the mindset of young African Americans. For the first time, the Black youth defined themselves not in accord with White America, racist stereotypes, or even their own parents. They defined themselves according to how they wanted to see each other! As my grandmother told me, every woman’s ideal man is handsome, confident, and stands tall. The men of the time responded to this demand by creating a garment that would allow them to appear in such a way as to meet this requirement. The garment was baggy, with broad shoulders, a long, over-exaggerated drape, and gleefully loud! It’s name, the Zoot Suit! Looking back, I believe that my love of fashion started from these moments as a child when my grandmother proudly told me the history of the Zoot suit and the reet pleat and I would like to share my appreciation with you.
The Zoot suit is by far one of the most iconic pieces in Menswear history. It has been re-imagined more than any other archetype introduced to men’s fashion in the past 100 years. An invention of the “Hep Cats” and “Cat Daddys” of the 1940’s the over-exaggerated, outlandish, and painfully ostentatious Zoot Suit was the first uniform of the American Rebel. Before James Dean and Marlon Brando dawned those iconic black leather jackets, and before the Wise-Guys in Little Italy ever wore diamond pinky rings, before there was a such thing as RUN DMC or Adidas, there was the Zoot Suit. It was the symbol of the rebellious youths who had the bravado and panache to define themselves and inadvertently a whole generation! Let’s examine just how this happens and learn how a bunch of teens adapting to life during WWII created a fashion masterpiece.
Malcolm X once stated ” The Zoot Suit is a killer-diller coat with a drape shape, reet pleats and shoulders padded like a lunatic’s cell”. While I for one love the nostalgia of the archaic slang of Brother Shabazz, let’s examine this a little closer, and define the “drape shape” “padded shoulders” and “killer-diller”. In order to learn how the Zoot developed I think it is important to understand the mind frame of African American men at the time. They were asserting their masculinity and demanded to be respected as men-not relegated to the position of “boy” as they were often called in the American South. The Zoot suit was the physical manifestation of this change in attitude. Those heavily padded shoulders Malcolm X was referring to made men look commanding and more athletic, almost like a boxer (it’s no coincidence the Zoot suit rose to popularity around the same time as Joe Louis). The “drape shape” he refers to owes its entire existence to one characteristic common among all teens-rebellion. During the war years there was a ration on textiles in the US and a limitation as to what was considered appropriate use for clothing. The Zoot Suit flagrantly defied this notion with its bagginess and drape (drape referring to the way the suit hangs on a man’s silhouette). The excess fabric stated to the world you had an eye for fashion and dared to defy authority – in this case the government ration. This is how young Zooters became recognized as cool, they had the perfect blend of style, attitude, and bad ass! The Zoot suit was cut from the shoulder with a high-waist taper, with much of its shape being in the massive shoulders spreading like the hood of a cobra across the neck and deltoids. The origin of “reet pleat” is actually unknown. It’s commonly believed that “reet” is a corruption of “alright” probably misconstrued through a southern accent. The Zoot’s pants were extremely wide and loose, typically cuffed at the bottom resulting in a near ballooning effect in the break. The wearer usually topped off his look with a dog chain attached at the hip and a walk that we’ll call “cat-like” or as I like to think, a super cool cat. Once again this was due to a change in mindset, it was walking proud and standing tall, not walking in fear or shame. As for the term Killer-diller, it’s one of those African American phrases that is not meant to be taken literally. In line with “bad” meaning “good” and being outdoors and still “in the house” killer-diller essentially means to be taken seriously, not hurting anyone.
Above you see the full embodiment of the Zoot Suit- vivid, bold, and flamboyant! This couple reminds me of the stories my grandmother told me about the Blue Room and the Orchid Room in the 18th & Vine district. I’d like to imagine my grandparents somewhere in the crowd enjoying the juke and jive of the time. I didn’t know then, but, this imagery has had a profound effect on me, shaping my values, taste, and love for style. I hope you grow to love it as much as I do!
The double breasted suit has long been controversial in the realm of men’s fashion. Popularized by the gangsters of the 1920’s, the double breasted look was for many years associated with the likes of Al Capone and Lucky Luciano. The overall consensus was that look made one appear garish and showy. The DB saw a brief resurgence in the 1950’s and again in the 1990’s, but was quickly relegated to the sphere of “trendy” and passing fashion, not suitable for permanent style and entry to the gentleman’s staple wardrobe. Recently, and quite inexplicably, the DB has emerged yet again in menswear. Unlike previous revivals where the DB was considered an “everyman” style, the new ideology is that the Double Breasted suit is the exclusive domain of stylish men, I dare say the peacock. Let’s examine this look and discover just how the DB or as the Italians say “Doppio Petto” has risen yet again.
Having its origin in European military traditions, the DB was initially for Officers and those with High Rank. Legend has it that the reason the DB folds “inward” with the hidden button covering the left and the top folding over the right dates back to an era when the Officers “wore” swords with their uniforms. It was commonly assumed that most men were right-handed placing the sword on his left side and would draw his sword with his right, hence the necessity of placing the functioning button on the right so not as to get in the way or be cumbersome. It was also during this time that the suit developed its most enduring quality, the strong and authoritative V-shaped chest.
Nothing is more flattering to the male form than the V-Shape pictured above. It gives the appearance of a narrow waist and broad shoulders, the idealized masculine look. If you were to study the iconography of Ancient Egypt, you will notice that the Pharaohs all depict themselves having narrow waists and broad shoulders. The look that men have attempted to achieve for 3,000 years is perfected in the DB suit! The strong lapels again owe their presence to the military, being strong enough to support medals and badges. The modern trend in the DB suit is no doubt an attempt of the Alpha Male to assert himself as a leader in a sea of drab uniformity and the DB is the perfect armament to do so.
If you are interested in acquiring one for yourself, don’t expect to find it at your local retailer. Typically the DB is only available through SI MISURA or Bespoke arrangements. My advice, keep it subtle, look for solids or glen plaids, stay away from loud pinstripes. Remember, you don’t want to be mistaken for Sam Giancana, think more Clark Gable. Brands that do the DB well are Ralph Lauren, Brioni, and Brunello Cucinelli. If you prefer custom, Suit Supply is always an excellent resource or plan a trip to your local haberdasher-it will be well worth the visit!
The term “Made in Italy” instantly commands respect for the long history of prestige and craftsmanship associated with the art of Italian tailoring. Amazing brands like Brunello Cucinelli, Loro Piana, and Isaia have grown to achieve iconic status for luxury. Italian craftsmanship coupled with amazing quality materials have propelled these brands into the forefront of Italian Fashion. It is no surprise then to discover that such brands have a price tag to match their quality and design. For the discerning few who possess the means to indulge in such extravagance, the aforementioned brands are certainly capable of servicing your every “Su Misura” requirement. However, with current global trends in tailoring and more and more men understanding the necessity and true power of the suit, there is a new trend in Italian suit-making serving to make the look and style of “Classic” Italian more attainable. The company at the forefront of this new movement is Eidos Napoli. The name suggests the essence of Naples, and focuses on providing traditional Neapolitan tailoring to a younger, and I’d like to think, cooler clientele.
Eidos Napoli embodies the concept of Neapolitan tailoring and the quintessential Italian philosophy of Sprezzatura! It was the Neapolitan tailors who had the bravado to dispute the art of tailoring and openly defy the British-the progenitors of modern tailoring. Unlike the Roman tailors , the Neapolitan tailors did not “modify” suit-making for the Italian aesthetic, they “re-invented” suit-making to fit the Neapolitan aesthetic.
The image below showcases what is know as “Spalla Camicia” .
This is highly evident in the controversial, but, super cool “Neapolitan Shoulder”. It is a long debated component of the classic Neapolitan style. The shoulder is cut more like the shoulder of a shirt than a traditional British suit shoulder. This is referred to as Spalla Camicia. It “hugs” the body while allowing for a freedom of movement throughout the sleeve and upper torso, highly essential with a culture famous for “talking” with their hands. It is easily recognizable by its pleats and “soft” form allowing for a very comfortable drape over the arm and shoulder, unlike the English shoulder which is rooted in the military tradition and designed to be structured and rigid.
The overall effect is remarkably comfortable and adds a certain sense of relaxed authority , owning the night, and feeling good in what you wear. The drape of an Eidos suit is snug and hugs the body close without any restriction or discomfort. In addition to the many practical features of Eidos as a brand, what I have grown to love the most is the fact that the suit is remarkably stylish without trying. In my younger years I bought suits to look like everyone else and sought the security of a uniform among my colleagues. As a 31 year old man with the ability to appreciate a well made suit and coming into my own, I love the Eidos look and feel. I liken it to appreciating good scotch or cognac. In my youth the subtly and nuance of the scotch went relatively unnoticed. It wasn’t until I learned what to look for and the characteristics of a good scotch that I sought it out and enjoyed it. In the world of suits, now that I know what to look for, I have found it in Eidos – quality, style, and attitude for those with exquisite taste.
The term Zazou is believed to have derived from the above referenced tune by Jazz Great Cab Calloway. More than just a another cool phrase of the “hep cats”, it was adopted as a meaning of rebellion and resistance in Nazi Occupied France. In 1940, when the Nazis seized Paris, they immediately implemented a ration on textiles in attempt to reserve all resources for the German war effort. In addition to the numerous food and rationing efforts, the Germans also put into effect a prohibition on “Entartete Musik” literally Degenerate Music, commonly called Jungle Music-the popular jazz and blues music of African Americans. African American Jazz musicians had a long established presence in Paris since the mid 1920’s when artists such as The Great Josephine Baker relocated to France finding the audience more accepting of African American Entertainers. The youth of the 1940’s also gravitated to the Jazz and Swing styles and are believed to have established underground clubs for dancing to the outlawed sound of Black artists. They also adopted a style of dress similar to the “Zoot Suit” created by young African Americans. The Parisians modified the style adorning themselves in wildly striped, excessively long, sport coats with heavily padded shoulders. The style was intended to openly defy the Nazi ration on textiles and fabric.
Above you see the signature “quiff” hairstyle, thick cotton socks, and cropped trousers with overly wide cuffs. The slacks were cut short, too short, almost as if in addition to WWII there was also an imminent danger of flash floods in 1940’s Paris. Unlike the Zoot Suit, Zazou trousers were narrow and often worn in contrast to the extravagant sports coat loudly draped above the torso. In addition to excessive fabric, some zazous even went as far as to wear the Star of David to further protest against Nazi Occupation. Like all things, this era came to an end with the effort to rebuild in Paris in the 1950s,but, what a time it was. The legacy of the Zazou leaves us with the understanding of an ethos that remains significant to this day. The notion that the way you dress is a refection of your values, attitude ,and lifestyle. Seventy years after the age of the zazou, their legacy is still true.
If you’re like me and serious about style, you’ve heard the new buzz word Sprezzatura. It seems that now everyone is using it, and in my opinion when that happens it signals the beginning of the end. Whenever something intended for those in a subculture becomes mainstream that typically means the subculture loses interest in it. Like the cliche marketing terms “must have” or “the new fall look” they pass with the season. But, there is something special about Spezzatura, it is more than just a marketing ploy to push sales on unaffiliated consumers, it’s a philosophy, a code, an institution all its own. Let’s explore this concept a bit more.
The term first appeared in the “The Book of The Courtier” by Baldassare Castiglione in 1528. I liken the work to that of “The Prince” by Machiavelli. The large majority of the novel is now socially irrelevant, but, the main points of the work are so powerful and enduring it makes the author and the finer points of his Magnum Opus worthy of notoriety. The work touches on Cicero and the concept of manliness perfected, among other things. For the purpose of this post we will focus on its most enduring concept, that of Sprezzatura. Castiglione defines Sprezzatura as “a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it”. With that being said, making one’s own since of Sprezzatura visible to others completely defeats the purpose! The real concept of Sprezzatura is immensely esoteric, more like a fraternal handshake, or secret code only visible to those affiliated. You must “conceal” all art and appear so incredibly nonchalant that the mere notion of Sprezzatura would’t even interest you. Therefore upon reading this post and others on the topic, adhere to the code, don’t boast or proclaim knowledge of the philosophy, those who know will recognize it in you. In summation of this article I suggest to all of you, when asked if you know of Sprezzatura, kindly iterate the only appropriate response, “Sprezzatura, What the hell is Sprezzatura”?
La Gloria Cubana has long been one of my favorite cigars. I warn you in advance, they are not for beginners! The rich very robust flavor is smooth and also intense. It can be very bold, perhaps to bold for the novice cigar smoker. However, if you enjoy a good smoke and can appreciate a rich, spicy, blend of Nicaraguan and Dominican tobacco, La Gloria Cubana could suit you quite well. I prefer the Serie R 7 maduro. Aged to perfection, it’s the perfect blend of spice and full-bodied punch. The smoke itself is smooth and pairs well with a bourbon or spiced rum and the perfect companion to any cigar a great cappuccino.