THE BEST JACKETS…
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.