“A FEW days later he took him to Duluth and bought him a blue coat, six pair of white duck trousers and a yachting cap.”
And so, in one brief shopping trip, the poverty-stricken James Gatz – a man with no prospects and no connections, once dressed only in a torn green jersey and a pair of canvas trousers – becomes the enigmatic Jay Gatsby. A man with a wardrobe. A man with a future.
If clothes really do maketh the man, that has rarely been more clearly illustrated than in the case of F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, in which clothes and colours symbolise the deeper issues of class, wealth and power – Gatsby in his pink suit, luminous under the moon, reflected on the white steps of his mansion; the gold tie he wears when he has lunch with Daisy after so many years; the silver shirt that screams ‘old money’.
And, when he finally shows Daisy his home, taking her through the rooms one by one, he reaches his dressing room, where he takes out a pile of silk shirts – “covered the table in many colored disarray … in coral, apple-green and lavender and faint orange with monograms of Indian blue” and Daisy weeps because she has never seen such beautiful shirts before. It is in that moment she realises she loves him.
“You always look so cool,” she says. “The man in the cool, beautiful suits.”
This summer Baz Luhrmann will bring the Jazz Age to life once more in a hotly anticipated film. The Great Gatsby stars Leonardo DiCaprio as the self-made millionaire with a shady past, Tobey Maguire as its narrator, Nick Carraway, and Carey Mulligan as tortured love interest Daisy Buchanan.
It is about to inspire a major fashion moment. Drop-waist dresses, lavish beading and a froth of feathers were on the catwalks at Gucci, Marchesa, Ralph Lauren and Sonia Rykiel.
Oscar-winning costume designer Catherine Martin – conveniently also Luhrmann’s wife – was tasked with reproducing the gentlemen’s wardrobe so carefully described by Fitzgerald for the film, while Miuccia Prada designed the women’s costumes and Tiffany & Co loaned the jewellery – said to be genuine diamonds.
Martin, who also worked on Moulin Rouge! and Strictly Ballroom, has a tough act to follow. Theoni Aldredge (via Ralph Lauren) won both the Oscar and the Bafta for her work on the 1974 film that starred Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. For this year’s version of the novel, Martin went right back to the original source of inspiration for Fitzgerald, in the archives of Brooks Brothers, which she says the writer describes “as a representation of the ultimate gentleman’s purveyor of fine clothing to the American man of distinction. It is this most basic and fundamental distinction that has made our collaboration so authentic.”
Collaborating with the US’s oldest fashion retailer, she designed 500 day and evening looks for the cast and extras, as many as 1,700 pieces in total – striped blazers and flannel trousers, bow-ties, brogues and dapper walking canes, check waistcoats, tuxedos and, yes, that iconic pink suit. And, for the first time, that collection has now been adapted for a limited-edition range available in stores.
Some small changes have been made – lighter fabrics, for instance, than those heavy weights used on camera – but otherwise the collection stays true to the pieces seen on film. “It is a reflection of the immediacy and modernity of Fitzgerald’s work that the clothes in this movie based on his work can find a modern reinterpretation,” says Martin.
Signature pieces include the shawl cardigan worn by Maguire in the film, made in a vintage bottle green with red and white piping, and a bow-tie worn by DiCaprio that has a contrasting white outline when knotted. There is even a beechwood walking cane, two boater hats and two regatta blazers, iconic elements of the Ivy League style Fitzgerald – himself a Princeton graduate – describes in such detail. “Over the years Brooks Brothers has defined the collegiate style – the preppy look – which was so close to F Scott Fitzgerald’s heart,” says Martin.
“The Great Gatsby is probably one of the most anticipated films of the year,” says Lou Amendola, of Brooks Brothers. “There hasn’t been a theme as big as this for menswear in a long time. The Jazz Age was an era of opulence and decadence, and also one of great style and modernity. The clothes from this period continue to be a source of inspiration for a wide cross-section of designers today.”
But while, in the book, clothes were used to illustrate a person’s wealth and position in life, those rules are changing. Fitzgerald wrote, “Her porch was bright with the bought luxury of star-shine; the wicker of the settee squeaked fashionably as she turned toward him and he kissed her curious and lovely mouth. She had caught a cold, and it made her voice huskier and more charming than ever, and Gatsby was overwhelmingly aware of the youth and mystery that wealth imprisons and preserves, of the freshness of many clothes, and of Daisy, gleaming like silver, safe and proud above the hot struggles of the poor.”
But Amendola says, “Fortunately, today there is much more of a blurring of these distinctions due to a global awareness of style and the many resources available to achieve a great look.”
Fashion on film
The androgynous look comes and goes, but few women have worn it as well as Diane Keaton in Woody Allen’s 1977 film (above). Baggy trousers, fedora hats, waistcoats and oversized ties became a major trend in womenswear following the film’s release, though, in fact, many of the items worn on screen were actually from Keaton’s own wardrobe.
Audrey Hepburn may be most closely associated with Breakfast at Tiffany’s – and that timelessly classic black Givenchy gown – but it was the 1953 movie Roman Holiday that provided her iconic fashion moment, skipping up the Spanish Steps in dirndl skirt, espadrilles and cute neckerchief. At the end of production, the actress received her entire wardrobe, including hats, shoes, handbags and jewellery, as a gift.
OUT OF AFRICA
Safari style makes a regular appearance on spring/summer catwalks, so it’s little surprise that after Meryl Streep starred in 1985’s Out of Africa (above)opposite Robert Redford, we all went a big gaga for crisp white shirts, patch pockets and lots and lots of beige.
BONNIE AND CLYDE
They say crime doesn’t pay, but Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty (above) didn’t half look good in the 1967 film about the infamous robbers. Set in the 1930s, it features chic berets, tweed suits and jaunty scarves. Need further convincing? Kate Moss and the designers at Rodarte have named this as their favourite film.
The famous 1970 weepie starring Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal may have had us reaching for our hankies, but it also had women the world over turning to a wardrobe of bobble hats, pea coats and US college gear. Even Calvin Klein said MacGraw “exemplified this great American style”.
It was 1978 and the nation’s teens were 1950s daft, learning to hand jive and getting their mums to sew gang logos on the back of their leather jackets. Olivia Newton John’s transformation from ‘good Sandy’ to ‘bad Sandy’ was one of the most vivid illustrations ever of the power of clothes – from cutesy 1950s full skirts to killer mules and a skin-tight trousers she had to be sewn into.
• The collection is now at Brooks Brothers (www.brooksbrothers.com); The Great Gatsby is on general release from 17 May