Monday, 31 May 2010

The Yellow Tie "No"


   Neckwear of such hues has been a longtime plaything of mine and yet the odd comments regarding its ensemble incompatibility and its limited use amongst the iGentry and iDandies would make me the iconoclast that others consider me as

   Since the colour of my skin obviates the dreaded wash out effect, the only Don't working against me is which garment shades to avoid, which is taken care of through pure pragmatism

   Whilst I wouldn't recommend, say, a navy suit of any stripe on the grounds that the inevitable white shirt would create a strange mix of shiny and washing, my odd pinstriped waistcoat is fair use because it doesn't envelop my arms, thus leaving space on the colour wheel for my grey-brown topcoat. Not pictured is the pair of olive trousers I wore, which, in tandem with the other muted colours and the obscuring effect of the waistcoat, creates a restrained palette that flatters the tie. As long as one is skilled, the navy top with a different coloured lower half is aesthetically sensible, which my good friend, Winston Chesterfield, thoughtfully exemplifies

   For the blues adherents, I’d suggest settling in the ranges of medium, ocean or grey-blue and nothing stronger or deeper than the most moderate of that French hue

   I rather think the yellow tie has more of a habitat in the land of the lighter coloured suit - your khakis and tans and off-whites are very much its friends - but it appears as comfortable in the darker kingdom of the grey. Then you have the browns - I could see one bringing a showman's dash to a chocolate coloured double breasted or a lighter shaded tweed. Rust jackets seem almost mandatory

   The plain yellow silk or knit should be the preserve of the experts who can deploy it with a yellow shirt and the necessary impunity. For those who are not so inclined, stronger hues and tasteful prints are the idyllic entry level to toy with this not unappealing aspect of the palette kingdom

   Perhaps it's time to say "yes"

Friday, 28 May 2010

Stay Gold

Consider this evergreen image of Richard Roundtree when the Fall rolls around again

Gainsbourg x Houston: Naked Conversation


Straightforwardness' retirement may be traced to this excerpt from the last years of this Master of Uncontrite Provocation

Needless to say, this is mildly unsafe for work

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Peregrination, Or, By the Time I Get to Everywhere

   Peripatetics of the World Unite! Let's get on the Open Road

Globe Trotter photograph courtesy of AJ at The Forvm

   Men will always talk of escape but today, they omit to be escapist in practice. And yet we still nurture an ideal of a common language of travel: the donning of a mode that combined perambulatory-centric practicality with pure and polite gentility

   With no obviously rational reason in the world but for staunch refinement, my father yesterday left the 30 degrees+ environs of Accra on a flight to The World, clad in a double breasted, gilt buttoned blazer, a striped shirt, dark slacks and comfortable loafers and was easily the most dégagé and elegant human on board. And his self-possession remained steadfast in the face of a many hours-long check-in disarray, with its concomitant, envious griping of a ruffled economy class uncomprehending of, and unused to preferential dealings with this - or any other - airline, and a further confluence of errors that saw his arrival time gain an extra eight hours

   But travel has always had the capacity for metaphorical, as well as actual rectal distress; when arrangements disintegrate, it's a challenge to avoid bending, let alone breaking

   Good dress places some of the pleasure directly in the traveler's hands. Most Britishers' - amongst others - idea of comfortable journeywear is my idea of pyjamas, and if I'm to fall asleep on long haul transport, I'd rather not present as if I'd planned to do so since the night before embarkation

   In these post-jet set days, we have much to contend with where aesthetically unpleasant visuals are concerned - trashy "ass logo'd" casuals that overemphasise the "bottom" in "tracksuit;" nauseatingly displayed spray tans masquerading as the results of natural solar communing and jiggly flesh whose owners seem to wear it as proudly as one would a military medal or an attractive girlfriend. And that's only the staff

   It is its own reward to be a man for all locations; think of the leeway offered for mercuriality or for unexpected juxtapositions and the odd defining statement

Leavened with globetrotting aplomb, we have: Coward Leaving a Plane! Coward in Havana! Coward in Las Vegas!

 
 


'Sentimental Journey,' the 2009 Spring/Summer offering by Junya Watanabe Man, grounded the romantically chimerical notions of colonials and jet-setters past in the preoccupations of today's cropped clothes-donning, judiciously economising male, albeit of the kind suited to its pricing. Centered amidst the designs that spanned the gentlemen and farmhands of the 20th century, the enticing Tricker's collaborations and the ornamental, illustrative use of Globe Trotter cases was the collection's pivot: reversible jackets that sensibly doubled one's investment. Indeed, the craft was more revelatory in person; these doubled garments suffered no surfeit of bulk from inside-out transformation and the disparate fusions readily elicit protean usage and ensemble

And where Watanabe favoured the Western World Wise Vagabond, Kean Etro dreamed of Bottled Bohemia and Marrakesh:

An itinerant urge also emerged amongst Ralph Lauren's looks for the season in 2007; this was cultivated according to that Old World milieu that remains the stuff of bathtime fantasy for RL and his ardent adherents:
I'm uncertain as to how the sandals found themselves here

As for Bottega Veneta, leisurewear is functionally its Printemps-Été raison d'etre:

And to conclude; for boarding a plane, train or automobile, one could do worse than wear Hermés:

   Let's get out!

Runway photography: GQ

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things

I once met a Nigerian gentleman at the Crockett & Jones factory in Northampton and got talking to him since he offered me a ride to A&G Martinstone in London. He worked half his time in London and half in Lagos, and he told me he simply gave up on wearing his nice clothes in Nigeria. He told me how a dry cleaner took one of his Savile Row suits, kept it for several weeks, and eventually he tracked it down... and found the owner had washed it in a bathtub in his apartment

-- Fidel Cashflow, 25/05/2010, StyleForvm

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Print Run

   A sampling of our market-sold fabrics; these prints are intrinsic to the Ghanaian style of dress and cloth wear

   In more finely wrought materials, one could use these to great effect as idiosyncratic upholstery. There's a drawing room in need of these, somewhere:

Friday, 21 May 2010

Kahimi Karie - 'A Fantastic Moment' (1995)




   The charm of following a polymathic musician is in the phases they experience, always casting off their previous manifestations as definitive statements on their transitory fancies

   In 1995, Mari 'Kahimi Karie (カヒミ・カリィ)' Hiki and Keigo 'Cornelius (コーネリアス)' Oyamada were in something of a shared romantique nostalgia, or a relationship, to you and I. The Girlfriend was something of a sylph with a singing voice more incisively described as an airless, tranquil whisper, whose luminescent face, stoic demeanour and protean imagery that included Rococo opulence, French Mod Sex Kitten and Tokyo demureness made her a star; The Woman of a Thousand Fantasies, if you will

   The Boyfriend was running one of the trendiest yet most substantive record labels in the world - Trattoria Records - touring, remixing, producing and playing when he could and collaborating on portable record players, G-Shock models and other playthings that bore his brand. His latest incarnation at that time was an idiosyncratic bouillabaisse of 1960s psychedelia, 1970s heavy metal (he was a self-taught guitarist who developed through playing Kiss records), 1980s hip hop and 1990s electronic noise; at once the classic Japanese refiner of Western developments and the alien refractor of cultural traditions that he interacted with from afar

   Today's selection shows them in a very deliberate Gainsbourg and Birkin-like reverie; aside from their romantic status at the time, Karie can also speak French and English, and the 1960s and 1970s were rather a la mode in the Shibuya-Kei landscape of foreign musical history made modern day blended pop. Oyamada has long been an arbiter at home; his diverse musical knowledge threaded itself through every record he was involved in, no matter what year it was

   In either flavour, 'A Fantastic Moment' is probably one of the most beautiful pieces of music either has released. You barely even notice the Lou Reed sample


   A translation:

We run, cutting straight through the wind
Nothing can stop us as we head straight for hope
We might find it over on that hill maybe, I hope...

La la la when you gently take my hand
Everything around us changes to perfection
All of the world's sunlight shining just for me and you

...And the bugs, they laugh...
...Melting into the ground...

The two of us can do anything. Right?
See, we can even jump over that rainbow.

...And the time stands still...
...The flowers are waving...

The two of us are laughing high above the clouds
Our laughter leaking down as sun beams in the forest
Just now the rain of sadness is turning into a rainbow

Away with the gloom
The grass gently waves
And the birds peacefully fall to sleep

One day...everything...I hope...

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Beard

My beard and I in Nature:

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

The Talent Embargo

For I saw this and had high hopes

   Over the weekend, I attended the presentation of a number of indigenous fashion lines as a guest of my cousin, a dressmaker and cutter of no small aptitude herself. Constantly in thrall to my own cultivated cynicism, I nevertheless recognised it as an opportunity to potentially overturn The Dearth that characterises the stylistic modes here. For you see, there is usually more than one way around the pernicious effects of limited resources – I find a large helping of imagination in a vigorous threesome with refinement and wit often carries the day

   I’d certainly venture that selecting the relatively lengthy poolside at an ostensibly five star hotel next to a more appealing beach and serving questionable sparkling alcohol and something I believe to be called “Vitamilk” was some wag’s idea of a gag. The mode parade for the evening consisted of collections from Ghanaian – and the odd passing Nigerian – designers looking to balance the worlds of Necessity and Interest – which is to say, the worlds of Commerce and Craft, which would account for the spectacle of garment-based identity crises I saw. Now, Ghana is mostly a conservative society but when its sons and daughters approach “Baller” status, aesthetic modesty and restraint don’t enter into the uninhibited dive into profligacy that follows. They like it bold, flamboyant and often as tacky as possible, like citizens of most other countries with higher social positions and gatherings that they don’t truly know how to appear for. The difference is that there is a filter missing here that prevents questionable ensembles from appearing as the only option (then again, an import copy of Vogue costs the equivalent of almost £20)

   This attention to decorum applies to organisational structures, for whilst we arrived over an hour late, expecting to miss the speeches and emerge straight into the catwalk, we discovered that there was still another 20 minutes of oratory to be seated for. Also unanticipated was the revelation that the sashaying we were about to witness came with auctioneering as the designers sought different ways to raise their orders (the "Chinese - or was it Indian? - Auction" we later witnessed, which was predicated on the bidders paying the difference between their bid and that of the previous bidder, only sprang to life when the MC raised the bid to a more favourable level, leaving him holding the purse strings for 77 cedis (around $60) in the process)

   There’s always an alarm bell that rings when one attends an invite-only event in Ghana that is non-payable and yet asks for money anyway – there is always a tendency to presume that everyone, no matter what function they are serving in their invited capacity, is Rich. And in a culture that encourages the hire of dancers who expect guests to pay them on the spot, such is anathema to good will, which does help to explain why High Society here is partially founded on peacocking, inverse snobbery and bitchiness

   Even the young fellows proffering distinct shirts, redolent as they were of the long cut, Mandarin collared confections of prime Pierre Cardin, responded to my innocent inquiries about their range, pricing and collection with requests for my phone number – “I’d really feel more comfortable if I had [it]” – and my measurements. The pricing and detailing certainly proved to me that I was on firmer ground with the likes of W.W. Chan and Turnbull & Asser

   Meanwhile, it seemed the intent was that the event be timestretched for as long as possible. Whilst the organisers may have been in thrall to the hotel to add publicity, this was still a mistake, for they were to show enough collections to fill around 3 hours at the least, interspersed with auctions and without recourse to respite. I’ve never been a captive audience member when I can help it, so suffice to say, I left once I’d seen enough. Even so, my critical eye had much to take in

   I don’t demand craft on the level of a Saint Laurent or a Mainbocher or a Watanabe but I’d be curious as to how many women desire to be draped in long, bright yellow gowns with a transparent ribbon panel across the thighs and ornamental bobbles that resemble the haute couture fantasies of a Cantonments prostitute (“ashawo”) with a curious fetish for 1970s British lampshades, nor overly long dresses that sweep the ground with the efficiency of a cleaning unit, the grace of an exuberant shaggy dog moving on its joints and the freedom to hit any and all snags between leaving the bedroom and descending the stairs. Similarly, what male tailoring was displayed delighted in unorthodox cuts but lacked a true intuition in the patterns to create pieces that complemented even the mostly athletic models parading them, whilst continuing to perpetuate the grotesque myth that high shirt collars are flattering to the physiques of African men – our “length cliché” does not at all apply to our necks

   Speaking of which, the choice of models ran the gamut from acceptable to bizarre. Whilst some wholeheartedly captured the android/gynoid inflections intrinsic to this line of work, others interpreted swaggering as shambling and I may never be able to scrub the image of the girl who was half gazelle, half freeloading, bellicose alcoholic from my memories. I remain uncertain as to whether the 5'5" male model was involved to fulfill a proportional representation of some sort, but clothing him in double pleated trousers was perhaps the least of his ensemble's inadequacies. Also to their detriment was the coordination that required one model to wait in full view of the audience for up to 30 seconds at one end of the pool for the other to complete a single walk before taking their turn

   I thought that the magazine sold at the show, “In-Thing Maglogue,” was more valuable than the event itself, primarily because appealing designs could be sought in it, provided I scrutinised closely enough. Priestar Creations, for one, has a certain potential. Nevertheless, this assessment became all the more galling once I’d acquainted myself with various Nigerian labels in 20 minutes of Google searching

   At least I knew where the exits were

Schmatta


   Viewing Mark Levin's peppy HBO docufilm, Schmatta: From Rags to Riches to Rags, last night, I saw the Made in America garment trade fall from 95% mainland production in 1965 to 5% in 2009 in an hour and 12 minutes. For many involved through this decades-long history of the New York Garment District, their reversal of fortunes may have seemed a mere eyeblink to them, also

   In between garrulous soundbites from former sportswear emperor and reformed quasi-dictatorial hothead Irving Rousso and an industry pride oratory masked as a bombastic anthem sung by the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union in a televised spot, the film encompasses deregulation, outsourcing, the rise of designer personalities as embodied by Halston and Calvin Klein, the Kathie Lee Gifford sweatshop scandal, Reagan Red and concludes as a visual threnody for a once advanced embodiment of American enterprise, undercut and eventually dispossessed by the Reagan and Clinton administrations in particular

   But it is no spoiler to point out that whether American, Indian or Chinese, over the decades and the shifts of landscape, it is always the little guy who is shafted hardest

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Wedded Dress



   Ghanaian weddings favour a conservative mode in principle, but they are nevertheless as rife with egregious errors such as evening dress in the daytime as anywhere else on the planet. Still, the simplicity is the thing and bow ties are always welcome

   The suit was kindly lent to me as I had none of my own when I initially relocated. I've more than made up for that now

Monday, 17 May 2010

Museum Piece

The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Flapper Room

   Another negative regarding my lack of a New York City residence is revealed to me:

... Two outstanding examples of high-fashion exhibitions, mounted collaboratively, can be seen at major New York museums in different boroughs. “American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity” is the annual, widely anticipated extravaganza of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art... “American Woman,” which has been organized by Andrew Bolton, curator of the Costume Institute, benefits from, and celebrates, the exponential expansion of the institute’s holdings in one fell swoop in January 2009. That was when the Met took over the care and storage of a larger, older collection of fashion belonging to the Brooklyn Museum, which could not afford to maintain it.

On its side, the Brooklyn Museum has assembled “American High Style: Fashioning a National Collection” as a form of proud semi-farewell — semi because the transfer agreement allows the museum to borrow back works from its former collection. The show, composed entirely of pieces from the Brooklyn collection, is rife with what are justifiably being called “masterworks,” which have not been exhibited for decades, if ever. The collection includes deep holdings (even drawings) of genuine geniuses like the French shoe designer Steven Arpad and especially the inimitable Charles James, whose astounding “Diamond” evening dress is one of the show’s high points. But it is also rich in accessories, idiosyncrasies and objects steeped in history.

   A friend tells me that James - whose innovative sculptural couture would bestow upon him an iconic stature in any decade -  was believed to prefer teenage boys over women as fit models due to "too much 'hip'" - a practical consideration not unbelievable for a man who revolved each facet of a detail around in his psyche to the point of monomania and is noted for a large expenditure on a single sleeve

   Given that I've only ever viewed one or two garments at the V&A, I'm certain that the appearance of  his other works in the Brooklyn Museum's show would impel a gleeful edification on my part were I in the neighbourhood. James evidently understood that an Aesthetic is at its most attractive when there is artistry, care and thought on the parts of the creator and the wearer. Just look at the complex simplicity of his "Diamond" dress, included in the article's slideshow

   History to be swathed in

Sunday, 16 May 2010

His Summer Blue


   This fellow, photographed in mid-2008 by The Sartorialist, is one of the few living standards for Relaxed Suiting that I am aware of. Note that he is all Character, but not overbearingly so - almost every colour is unembellished except by a pleasing cycle of texture. His suit says something about him that is more meaningful than a thousand contrived idiosyncrasies: "I have Lived, I have Enjoyed, I have played within this traditional framework and I am more Weathered for it"

   The Doyens of Fastidiousness that are the internet's Nitpick Parade of Insecure Male Dressers would never forgive themselves for deploying an ironed shirt and tie with the rumples - no amount of pressing would rid them of the nightmares. Yet more pride in personal elegance can be discerned from the passing of the Test of Time that these clothes display than in exacting and dully "correct" men's clothing that is so less alive in its conformity

   As one of the last few vital male subjects captured by Scott Schuman, this man is to be treasured for the wrinkly bellweather of Offbeat Formality that he is. And yes, a three-button jacket does lend itself very well to the illusion of height

   Summer Blue to aspire to

Friday, 14 May 2010

Disco Inferno - 'Starbound: All Burnt Out And Nowhere To Go' (1994)

   A rare example of a fan complementing the pleasing harmonic dissonance of his seminal, Should Have Been Greater heroes with an appealing visual garnish:


   Their practice of playing their instruments through samplers and giving themselves over to a certain stylistic abstraction makes them something of an antecedent to other rock curios such as Battles. I highly recommend sourcing any of the band's work, including this selection's parent album, D.I. Go Pop

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Our Friends in Kowloon




   The eminent Hong Kong tailoring house, W.W. Chan, whom I've mentioned and interviewed in missives past, is returning to London for the dates of May 13th to 20th. A descendant of the Red Gang of Shanghainese tailors, itself a pivotal force in the region's technical development, it has outfitted members of Hong Kong's most cultivated for over 50 years. "The great and the good" of the menswear fora have perennially commissioned from Chan's operation and it has built up an enduring reputation based on quality, attention to detail and a facility for accommodating various requirements

   It's quite the sign of prestige that HK general manager and head cutter Patrick Chu undertakes the visits to the United States and Britain personally; he's polite and unassuming, but more practically, also exacting, analytical and flexible, aiding and enabling the process each step of the way. This is not your cheap, trashily designed Asian operation suitable only for Wall Street guidos and Billionaire Couture freeze-outs

   Here follows the pertinence:

May 14th - 17th, Friday to Monday

London Hilton Green Park
Half Moon Street, Mayfair
London W1J

Map - http://maps.google.com/maps?q=hilton...6&z=17&iwloc=A


To make an appointment, please e-mail or fax the shop in Hong Kong:


E-mail: sales@wwchan.com
Fax: (+852) 2368-2194


Appointments can be booked via e-mail/fax until May 13. Patrick Chu will start accepting appointment bookings himself from May 14 onwards and can be reached at the hotel at 0207 629 7522. The appointment hours are 9 AM - 6 PM
Pricing starts at USD 1,200 for a two piece suit using VBC cloth. Fabric bunches from all the major mills (Harrisons, Holland and Sherry, Scabal, etc) are represented but if you have a particular bunch that you would like to see, let them know in advance and they will try and get a hold of it for you. Garments are finished and delivered in approximately three months. Prices are charged in USD as this is Chan's standard measurement of exchange; these dollar prices will be converted to pounds at the point of sale
 

If fabric suggestions are necessary, the Harrisons Premier and Grand Cru books are good three season books for the UK, although they are a touch heavy for other climes. Holland & Sherry fresco as well, could try that in heavier weights though the texture is not always to everyone's taste. If you want a good value semi-luxe sort of fabric, the higher end VBCs in finer super numbers are nice too. Such a Minnis offering in navy has also proved popular. Dashing Tweeds is also amongst the books and is known for its clever, exuberant patterning


Shirts and suits all custom made by W.W. Chan

The typical order process for the London tour is:


1. You contact Chan and book an appointment. If you are a new customer, you will be asked to bring one of your own jackets which you consider "your favourite" or "a good fit"


2. Show up at the appointment and you will be able to browse the fabric bunches. Patrick and co. will be on hand to give you some advice about what might be a suitable fabric for your particular needs


3. Specify the style and features that you are looking for, i.e. single or double breasted, straight or hacking pockets, soft shoulder or standard shoulder, etc.


4. Patrick will measure you up. The Chan measuring system is a proprietary system that dates back to the original founder of WW Chan about 70 years ago and has been subsequently improved upon over the years by his son Peter Chan and Patrick Chu with special tweaks for tour use


The measuring system for the tour is extremely extensive and also includes slipping on one of Chan's "measuring jackets" to get an idea of certain features of the body that might not be easily captured in numerical measurements alone. Photos are taken of you in the measuring jacket for later reference. Your "favourite jacket" is also observed and measured to give Chan some idea of the sort of fit you like, i.e. loose, tight, etc. It should be noted that the "favourite jacket" is not copied in any way whatsoever


The reason why the measuring system needs to be so detailed is because Chan strives to make complete, finished and well fitting garments without intermediate fittings. This is also the reason why Patrick Chu himself goes on tour and does the measurements. Patrick, as the head cutter, is extremely familiar with the formulae and calculations that derive your measurements into your paper pattern and this gives everybody a much better chance of getting it right first time


5. Leave a credit card number. The full amount will be charged to your credit card once the cloth has been ordered. I know this may disturb or upset some people but unfortunately this is their procedure


6. Patrick returns to Hong Kong, the cloth is ordered, a pattern is made for you based on the measurements, and the cloth is then cut and tailored according to your pattern. Your completed suit will be sent to you three to four months later


--


If you were to request a fitting on tour as some people do, then this is what would happen:


6. You need to request a fitting while you are putting in the order. The cost of a basted fitting is now $150 (it has risen slightly from previous years) and it includes the cost of the basted garment being shipped to you. However, it will be your responsibility to ship the garment back to Chan in Hong Kong after the basted garment has been fitted


Rather than receiving a completed suit, you will receive a basted garment. This is a garment that has been cut according to your pattern and then stitched together with basting thread which temporarily holds the garment together. Next time Patrick is on tour, make an appointment with him and bring the basted garment so that he can see what adjustments might need to be made


There are pros and cons to this approach


Pros:


1. You get to have a fitting which may result in a better fitting garment(which can be a big Pro)


Cons:


1. You have to pay an extra $150
2. You have to ship it back to Chan at your expense
3. You will have to wait a lot longer. Firstly, you have to wait until you see Patrick next time he is on tour to get fitted in your basted garment. Then after the basted garment goes back to Chan, you will have to wait for them to finish it before you receive your completed garment. Given that the London tour occurs around every six months, you will be looking at a total of about eight months from start to completion. The US customers have it better in that Chan passes through every four months instead


There is an alternative to having a basted garment mailed to you and that is to go directly to the shop in Hong Kong during the intermediate stages. It's perfectly fine to put in your order on tour and be fit later in Hong Kong. Fittings at the shop incur no charges - just let Chan know in advance that you are coming


It is worth noting that there is no difference in the quality of workmanship and product; whether you go to the Hong Kong store or not, it is still the same Chan workshop making the garment. The benefit of going to Hong Kong is you can have additional fittings that may result in a better fitting garment

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Dictates

   In a trickle of hours, the GBP will have decided on the face that will be held responsible for its ills next. No matter the platforms offered, the glib slogans crafted, Politics will never truly offer something for everyone. This is a relief - to extend such a universal appeal to the world would render the system boring and wanting in what it thrives on: disagreement, conflict, uneven playing fields and manipulation. After a fashion, it's my kind of game

   Under the remit of this column, the sartorial facilities of the candidates bear no scrutiny - they're fit for the pristine surfaces of appearance that all media friendly corners of the 21st century proffer to society. Why pay attention to any or all of the party leaders when you can be diverted by the matching sheen of their ties to that of their overly effective hair product? No PR officer could convert this into a Good Thing

   With that in mind, I am not here to judge the policies of the World's Last Well Dressed Politicians; you have liberal newspapers for that. But I prefer world stage representation to be in something other than questionable bespoke or a High Street premature shot. The most favourable examples have a number of drawbacks, however; not least that they are all from times past and have a tendency to be soaked in blood and rumpus

In another life, I would likely have been his nephew

   El Hadj Omar Bongo Ondimba, who died last June following a heart attack and a short struggle against the cancer - or was it another incurable? - may have been the most stylish of this continent's politicians to have lived. Consistency ensured that he remained so even after the 1970s, my personal golden age of black style, had concluded and lent its remains to enduring mockery from future, less dynamic generations

   The frequency of Gabon on my radar has increased since Ghana's 2007 oil discovery; as I continue to acquaint myself with its socio-political nuances, I've started to consider the exertions on local and governmental African life that the resource represents. Nigeria? Thank you, but I prefer my oil rich neighbours to be of the Francophone variety

   Beyond the very obvious reason for an interest in African leaders, I am perennially interested in how they inspire admiration, love and fealty amongst the ordinary citizens they rule. By all accounts, Bongo was quite the incarnation of charisma, or perhaps I'm simply conflating that with power. From one tiny sub-Saharan country, he wielded a strength and influence in France that was normally reserved for dignitaries who were officially empowered there

   He was also stylish, in the sense that his non-model shape posed absolutely no barrier to a great taste in clothing and the nous to wear it. Like other post-colonial African leaders who at one point wished to remove all visual signifiers of their European yokes, he adopted the Mao suit, albeit alongside Western traditional tailoring that was worn as elegantly as his bespoke French cuts, which, during his first decade in power, paid slight lip service to the unorthodox detailing of the time. He and his entourage were exceedingly well served in Paris - Valentino would have them personally escorted during their excursions:


   Sharing a more direct relationship with my people was Félix Houphouët-Boigny, the Cote d'Ivoirian leader who aided in the ousting and exile of legendary independence-era Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah. The Sage of Africa, as he was known, favoured the aureate life, amassing as he did a sizeable personal fortune, shares in jewelry firms and urbane Parisian property holdings. Amongst his varied, swank displays of wealth, he funded the construction of the world's largest church and held a particular fondness for sculpted gold

   Houphouët-Boigny's leadership imbued the Cote d'Ivoire with outstanding prosperity during the bulk of his incumbency. His own relationship with France was a cornerstone of his national and foreign policies, influencing facets of his involvements across the entire continent. Indeed, he remains fondly remembered in his homeland, meriting the nickname of "The Wise," and also holds the dubious post-mortem distinction of appearing on a Lil Wayne record sleeve - but then, what is life without a little indelicacy?


   Françafrique Mode, indeed

   The markedly authoritarian and dictatorial Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire was known for successfully courting generous sums of foreign aid, policies that ultimately did the DRC little favours, public executions, kleptocracy and rather capricious opinions of his allies such as the United States. He was also known for his signatures of toques and tortoiseshell eyeframes, alongside a curious taste in leisure suits. Other purported proclivities included regular travel with a money-filled Louis Vuitton suitcase, Concorde chartering for regular Paris shopping junkets and flying in his hairdresser from New York to a personally commissioned airport in his birth village, where he had also built a palace:


   Haiti's late President for Life, Francois Duvalier, infused an extra dimension to his own vicious consolidations of power through his study and public acknowledgment of voodoo traditions and its houngan and bokò practitioners - Baron Samedi became something of a muse. Who knows what his decisions cost his loa; it is estimated that 30,000 political deaths were enabled during his presidency. He too treated himself to ill-gotten finery in his time:


   Finally, I submit as bonuses:

Jean-Bédel Bokassa of Central Africa, a Napoleon fetishist, alleged cannibal and owner of the world's most expensive shoes; a pair of bespoke pearl-studded Berlutis for his coronation, gifted to him by the French government

Francisco Franco

Kwame Nkrumah and Haile Selassie

Patrick Hurley, Chiang Kai-Shek and Mao Tse Tung

A monument to former Turkmenistan President for Life, Saparmurat Niyazov

   The United Kingdom may never quite approach such ostentation or indulgence of the self, nor would it be essential for it to do so. And it is preferable for a myriad of reasons that such leaders remain sui generis. But out of the lasting impressions these men have left on me, an old, persistent truism arises: "Aren't all the best fascinations paradoxical?"

Cigars to Bill, LK and Lasbar at StyleForvm

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