Stephen Doig

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - STYLE -

Austin Pow­ers has a lot to an­swer for, and I don’t just mean for in­flict­ing his te­dious catch­phrases on the world at the turn of the cen­tury. The fic­ti­tious spy’s suits in heavy vel­vet only served to align the fab­ric with the seed­ier op­er­a­tives of the Six­ties and Seven­ties. But it’s time for a re-think.

In some ways, Pow­ers was on the right lines; there is some­thing in­her­ently sen­sual about the tex­ture and tac­til­ity of vel­vet; it pos­i­tively asks to be stroked. It’s per­haps the most louche menswear fab­ric of all, which makes it a nat­u­ral bed­fel­low for win­ter fes­tiv­i­ties. And vel­vet has long played its part in the wardrobes of the icons of men’s style.

The fab­ric gets its tufted tex­ture and lus­trous, gleam­ing sur­face from loops of silk or cot­ton bound in a dense pile. There are con­flict­ing the­o­ries about its ori­gin, but it’s likely that it was first spun in the Ori­ent be­fore mak­ing its way to Europe dur­ing the days of the Silk Road, with its com­plex weave turn­ing it into a lux­ury sta­tus sym­bol. By the late 19th and early 20th cen­tury, in menswear at least, it be­came the fab­ric of choice for the smok­ing jacket, a plush, soft-struc­ture af­fair that sits some­where be­tween a blazer and a robe, a piece that brings to mind a cer­tain co­gnac-by-the-fire dandy­ism and deca­dence.

Vel­vet has al­ways stood out by virtue of what it’s not; it could never be the stuff of cor­po­rate at­tire. It’s not the blazer of choice for worka­day life – which is per­haps why it held such ap­peal in the Six­ties and Seven­ties among style rene­gades such as Mick Jag­ger, Marc Bolan, Jimi Hen­drix and David Bowie.

For this win­ter, a host of brands agree. Tom Ford has al­ways been a cham­pion of sump­tu­ous vel­vet jack­ets; so too have Dun­hill and Favour­brook, who make beau­ti­ful jewel-toned ver­sions. It’s the ul­ti­mate fab­ric for win­ter soirées: heavy enough to be sub­stan­tial in colder climes, but ex­ud­ing a sense of fes­tiv­ity and glam­our. If you hap­pen to have one in the wardrobe, pep it up by brush­ing the vel­vet in one di­rec­tion to cre­ate a smooth patina. Then, all you need to add is a cock­tail and a raff­ish air.

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