Don’t Knock The Rock

Years ago the Los Angeles Times asked me to write a story about a new men’s fashion trend that combined English gentleman tailoring with rock and roll style. Though it’s outside the boundaries of Tradsville, I thought it may serve as inspiration for freeing up latent energies, thereby having a therapeutic effect amid the social isolation and draconian measures brought about by coronavirus.

Today, for example, I’m wearing jeans, Black Watch socks, beat-up bit loafers, blue OCBD, and black cable cashmere crewneck. When I step out, I’ll either throw on my black velvet blazer with ticket pocket and lilac lining from Royal Male, or one of the two leather motorcycle jackets I got last year to stave off dystopian dyspepsia.

And while Rimsky-Korsakov is playing currently, later I think I’ll flash back to high school and put on some nice anti-government punk rock.  

Above is Mick, while interspersed below are a few images from Ralph. Rock on. — CC

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The Beau Brummell Stomp
By Christian Chensvold
The LA Times Magazine, 9/4/05

Decades ago Mick Jagger proved onstage that rock ‘n’ roll and classic English tailoring, while strange bedfellows, were not incompatible. No doubt Sir Mick got his knighthood in part because he was the first man since Fred Astaire to make Savile Row pinstripes seem hip and sexy.

This sartorial Jekyll and Hyde sensibility has emerged on fashion runways as variations on Beau Brummel meets Johnny Rotten meets Hank Williams by designers as diverse as Etro, Paul Smith and Jade Howe. Smith’s fall 2005 runway show epitomizes the trend. Above the waist are the traditional hallmarks of the English gent: a tweed sport coat with angled hacking pockets and extra ticket pocket, and a plaid waistcoat with gold watch chain and dangling fob. Below the waist are skintight python-print leather pants and pointy zebra-print boots suitable for stomping a Marshall amp.

Giving Savile Row a kick in the pinstriped pants has been English designer Paul Smith’s metier since 1976, but “the way we’re doing it now is more rock and roll,” says the designer’s U.S. general manager, Cliff Hunt. When the brand’s first West Coast store opens on Melrose this fall, Hunt expects L.A.’s creative types to embrace its blend of the refined and quirky: “I think it’s what L.A. needs.”

This fall, the muse for fashion houses small and large is Jagger, who, when he’s not sweating onstage in a ripped T-shirt, is rarely seen without a sport coat–even when wearing skintight leather pants. It’s a compelling melange of the buttoned up and the unleashed, with tremendous appeal for those whose career doesn’t require traditional dress. “It’s very old school,” says Tom Kalenderian, general merchandise manager for men’s fashion at Barneys New York, which drew heavily on the blend of classic tailoring and rock-star looks for the store’s fall catalog. “It shows a respect for the authority of traditional menswear with the irreverence of rock and roll.”

Smith’s isn’t the only fashion house to be haunted by the gentleman rock-star zeitgeist this season. At Burberry, where creative director Christopher Bailey sought to fuse “the well-traveled bohemian dandy and the pinstriped English gentleman,” there can be seen the influence of Jagger and ‘60s fashion designer Ossie Clark. Traditional English checks and regimental striped ties are paired with boho floral shirts in William Morris-inspired prints. Tweed hunting jackets, once likely paired with a Dunhill pipe, now seem destined to bracket a Jack Daniels T-shirt.

If clothes not only “proclaim the man,” as Shakespeare put it, but also say what kind of man he is, then Huntington Beach-based designer Jade Howe sees the blending of English tailoring with punk-rock attitude as the mufti of a new male archetype he calls the “indie executive.”

It was during a company meeting in 2001 that the founder of the eponymous fashion brand blurted out, in a stream-of-consciousness style, the prophetic “cowboy punk meets English country gentleman.” For the past four years he has sought to make clothes that embody those words. In doing so, conscious of it or not, he’s designed a lifestyle brand for a man exactly like himself. “The mascot of this company is an artistically minded entrepreneurial male,” says Howe, “somebody who’s not just a starving musician, not just a successful executive, he’s both. He’s the starving musician who became the high-powered executive, but doesn’t want to let go of his roots.”

Maybe the look is inspired in part by the fact that even rock stars reach the point where they no longer want to look like their own fans. Lords, a nondescript lower Melrose menswear shop, has spent the past decade proffering handmade clothing to music industry and Hollywood royalty. Though the novice client would never admit it, owner Nabeel Jaber can sense when they’re ready for a sophisticated makeover. “They want to look cleaner, nicer, better,” he says.

At Lords, that means putting them in custom suits that can hit $8,000 and jeans that can reach $750. Jaber, who was schooled in Birmingham, applies traditional English tailoring techniques not only to suits but to denim, leather and T-shirts. Next spring the brand will reopen in the former Le Colonial building in West Hollywood, where they hope to offer a full men’s and women’s collection and in-house restaurant.

For many of today’s rock stars, having an “edge” comes not from ripped jeans and a handcuff belt buckle, says Jaber, but an air of polish, like a Harley-Davidson motorcycle that is obscenely loud but impeccably shined. “They want to always be leaders,” says Jaber. “If you lose that edge, you’re not a star anymore.”

And if your star shines brightly enough, you can follow any caprice and no one will question your music chops. Last summer Eric Clapton, rock-and-roll hall of famer, rescued Cordings–a London gentleman’s shop founded in 1839 whose clients have included the Duke of Windsor–from financial straits by purchasing a 50% interest.

Call it an investment or an act of charity, but Clapton said he saved Cordings so he could continue shopping there. “I am a big fan of English traditional tailoring,” he told the BBC.

And aspiring rock stars everywhere stopped practicing their riffs and worked on their Windsor knots.

8 Comments on "Don’t Knock The Rock"

  1. I’m sorry to break the news to you, Christian, but a motorcycle jacket on a man over 40 screams “midlife crisis”.

    Suede is a better option for guys who grew up before the internet era.

    Ask any woman, and she will agree.

  2. Terry O’Reilly | April 6, 2021 at 6:59 pm |

    Nice little article(and nod to Discharge), but I agree with @Mitchell about the leather jackets. The style always comes off as very try-hard.
    Your description of your emsemble reminds me a bit of what I was wearing and listening to today: Bookster coffee herringbone tweed jacket, green brushed oxford cloth bd, faded 501’s, and polished Alden calfskin bluchers, listening to the 4-Skins and Blitz.

  3. Midlife crisis completed. Shadow integrated. Recommencing book project “The Philosophy Of Style.”

  4. elder prep | April 7, 2021 at 9:40 am |

    I like the inclusion of music as the capstone to a man’s fashion ensemble. As we all know, music sets the mood.

  5. Old School Tie | April 7, 2021 at 11:05 am |

    I’ve had a leather biker jacket of one sort or another since the 1980s. I find it the opposite to try-hard, that is, not having to try at all. Whilst as a youth it was everyday wear, nowadays it’s Saturday morning coffee shop or Sunday lunchtime pub wear. Motorcycle optional (prostate etc..).

  6. MacMcConnell | April 7, 2021 at 11:58 am |

    Mitchell | April 6, 2021 at 6:06 pm |
    “I’m sorry to break the news to you, Christian, but a motorcycle jacket on a man over 40 screams “midlife crisis”.”

    Unless that 69 years old man over 40 is knee sliding in the twisties in control of a Bonneville Thruxton. Dead bugs don’t come out of suede. Ask me how I know. 😉

  7. MacMcConnell is perfectly right, of course. If you have a legit reason to own a leather jacket, “own it”. No need to be frightful little beasts about middle age…

  8. Jack Hopkins | April 9, 2021 at 4:33 pm |

    In the Stones, Charlie & Brian quite often dressed very trad or prep, especially in the ’64 – ’66 period.

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