King of style

The ’70s Prince of Wales, Charles Wind­sor as Esquire’s icon of the sea­son.

Esquire (Malaysia) - - CONTENTS -

No­body, not Field Mar­shal Bernard Mont­gomery, not even Roger Moore in his 007 prime, wore a short­sleeved sa­fari jacket with quite as much panache as Charles Philip Arthur George Mount­bat­ten-wind­sor.

Pho­to­graphs of the youth­ful Prince of Wales dur­ing the ’60s and the early ’70s show a slim young gun at the very peak of his sar­to­rial swag­ger, tour­ing Africa in a va­ri­ety of raff­ish, cot­ton drill num­bers—khaki, putty and petrol blue—that are all bel­lows pock­ets and epaulettes. Sleeves rolled up, belt buckle fas­tened el­e­gantly care­lessly, bush hat beaten up just so, leather field glasses case draped around his neck like a ban­dolier. Damn.

Here he is, sweaty, hot and hand­some at the polo field, or Brideshead-ishly rid­ing a bi­cy­cle around Cam­bridge in tweeds, or on naval duty in the Caribbean look­ing like he just stepped off the pages of a Ralph Lau­ren look­book. Noth­ing he is wear­ing is par­tic­u­larly re­mark­able; there are no state­ment pieces or fash­ion-for­ward sil­hou­ettes, and there­fore, lit­tle in the way of re­gret­table, what-was-i-think­ing? sar­to­rial mis­steps. He just looks ef­fort­lessly… cor­rect.

While his younger, racier, pop­star brother Prince An­drew was busy mov­ing on to the denim shirts, golf sweaters and branded sail­ing at­tire we all as­sumed would be­come the livery of the very mod­ern royal, Prince Charles stayed true to tra­di­tional tai­lor­ing and a cav­alry-cut trouser. Now 68, he is the ev­er­green style maven be­cause he main­tains a (sub­stan­tial) wardrobe of clothes that never went out of fash­ion be­cause they were never really in fash­ion in the first place.

“The bril­liant thing about Prince Charles is the way he never fol­lows trends, but still man­ages to look so stylish,” says Jeremy Hack­ett, of the out­fit­ters Hack­ett. “He kept wear­ing dou­ble-breasted suits when ev­ery­one else had switched to sin­gle. It was a brave, if un­con­scious, move but one that paid off be­cause now he’s made that dou­ble-breasted style his own.”

Charles him­self ac­knowl­edged his ac­ci­den­tal sta­tus as a fash­ion icon at the launch party of Lon­don Col­lec­tions: Men fash­ion week at St James’ Palace in 2012. “I have lurched from be­ing the best-dressed man to be­ing the worst-dressed man,” he said. “Mean­while, I have gone on—like a stopped clock— and my time comes around ev­ery 25 years.”

But let’s not buy the heir to the throne’s blushing, handsin-blazer-pock­ets mod­esty whole­sale, shall we? As any­one who is se­ri­ously into clothes will know, to look as nat­u­rally born-to-it dash­ing and as louchely, mar­vel­lously, ca­su­ally spiff­ing as Charles does, re­quires a finicky ap­pli­ca­tion and nar­cis­sis­tic vigour bor­der­ing on ma­nia.

Young, stylish men of the 21st cen­tury are of­ten de­scribed as be­ing “de­tails-ob­sessed”. This usu­ally al­ludes to a my­opic fix­a­tion on fash­ion­abil­ity and new­ness, cer­tain de­signer la­bels, the right wash of denim for jeans, the box-fresh­ness of train­ers, an icky, quasi-ef­fem­i­nate thing for hy­giene and ton­so­rial van­ity. Prince Charles’ cloth­ing ob­ses­sion, mean­while, is on an en­tirely dif­fer­ent level.

To­day, his afore­men­tioned, un-mod­ish suits are made, (be­spoke, of course) on Sav­ile Row. He is said to have hun­dreds. His din­ner jacket (he’s had the same one for three decades; Charles was rock­ing “ar­chive” be­fore fash­ion blog­gers in­vented

the term) is cut, quite in­ten­tion­ally, like a slouchy cardigan. His neck­ties are al­most com­i­cally nar­row and tightly knot­ted to gar­rotte-like rigour. His morn­ing suit is a slightly gauche grey-on-grey called a “pick-and-pick” fab­ric; the lapels of his morn­ing suit waist­coat are ac­ces­sorised with dandy-ish, white “slips” or “demis”, which at­tach to the in­side of the gar­ment with but­tons. He some­times changes out­fits five times a day and em­ploys be­tween four and five valets to main­tain his gar­ments to starchy, sponged and laun­dered per­fec­tion in a se­ries of pol­ished ma­hogany wardrobes. He loves a ticket pocket and a tab col­lar (with but­tons) on his suit jack­ets that can be fas­tened in the event of a sud­den hur­ri­cane.

Charles prac­ti­cally in­vented ec­cen­tric, stealth-wealth dress­ing. Yes, the Lewis Hamil­tons of this tawdry world might be slaves to fash­ion, splurg­ing their money on de­signer-la­bel kit, showy ac­ces­sories and over­priced, fad­dish “lux­ury” tat. But even be­fore the credit crunch kicked in, Charles was fly­ing the flag for supreme qual­ity, beau­ti­fully hand­crafted in­vest­ment pieces. This is a man who ac­tu­ally prefers his footwear scuffed but im­bued with a deep patina of age and ex­pe­ri­ence about the uppers; one par­tic­u­larly un­usual and “to­tally in­de­struc­tible” pair is made from leather sal­vaged from an 18th-cen­tury ship­wreck in Ply­mouth Sound.

Whether in Saudi Ara­bia, Texas or Afghanistan, he dresses like a lo­cal. One of his tweed coats be­longed to George VI (ver­ily, the royal moth­balls must be Ch­er­nobyl-strength). He is ru­moured—get this—to have his valet steam iron his shoelaces. That, my stylish friends, is what you call be­ing “de­tails-ob­sessed”.

Cer­tainly, Charles has def­i­nite ad­van­tages when it comes to his style. Clothes hang well on him be­cause he in­her­ited his fa­ther’s rangy, wiry phys­i­cal­ity. The fix­a­tion with col­lars and cuff­links was prob­a­bly passed on by his clothes-mad great-un­cle Ed­ward, the Duke of Wind­sor (a pre­vi­ous Prince of Wales), who set the tone for pea­cock­ing, aristo style dur­ing the ’20s and the ’30s.

The la­bels-be­sot­ted Duke of Wind­sor would, no doubt, be de­lighted to see that the clob­ber depart­ment of the cur­rent Prince’s Royal War­rants list reads like the tran­script from one of P Diddy manser­vant Fonz­worth Bent­ley’s wet dreams. New suit? Charles can call on An­der­son & Shep­pard, Gieves & Hawkes, Ede & Raven­scroft or Ben­son & Clegg. Shoes are from Tricker’s, Crock­ett & Jones and, of course, Lobb. Shirts are hand­made by Turn­bull & Asser. Out­er­wear? Burberry and Bar­bour. He goes north of the bor­der—john­stons of El­gin—for cash­mere knitwear. To Lock & Co Hat­ters of St James’s for his head­wear.

Charles is a blue blood Mr Benn with open ac­cess to a fancy dress shop run by Sav­ile Row tai­lors and Bond Street out­fit­ters… and, in many ways, the fore­run­ner of the 21st-cen­tury menswear In­sta­gram­mer, with “likes” com­ing in the form of op­ti­mised lev­els of in­ter­na­tional trade and im­proved diplo­matic re­la­tions. (All that travel isn’t just for the pho­tos.)

As the most pow­er­ful brand am­bas­sador for Great Bri­tish menswear, Prince Charles should be kept steamed, sponged, pol­ished and wrapped in tis­sue pa­per… and aired in pub­lic as reg­u­larly as pos­si­ble.

The Prince of Wales is greeted by Chief Leo Pretty Young­man, left, and a medicine man of Al­berta’s Black­foot tribe on a tour of Canada, 1977.

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