Alan Flusser: Back to Basics
Alan Flusser? He is the man who dressed Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gekko character in the film Wall Street. He is an author of four informative books on men’s clothing and style. He is a dandy in the original sense of the term, a man who loves both clothes and to dress stylishly. I have always, admittedly, been a fan of his tastes. Recently, I had a special chance to meet up with Alan Flusser at his custom shop and play a different role than I had hitherto. It was special for several reasons. Not only is the man an award winning, industry driving force of style but he was also a heavy influence on my sartorial development.
It was also a different role for several reasons. In the past when speaking with Mr. Flusser I was ordinarily in the role of acolyte, fedora in hand, using it to catch as much of the cascade of stylish suggestions as I could manage. But this time, he was impressed enough to observe aloud that he had taught me well and that the sartorial circle was now complete. Many were the hours he would instruct me in the stylish ways of the dark side. Dark side because his style is aggressive, it has attitude; it is not for the meek. His tastes are the proverbial iron fist in the custom made, velvet glove. When you wear clothes designed or chosen for you by Alan Flusser, you are as a dandy wolf amongst sheep.
So here I was, in the Style Wolf’s lair, and eager to write an incredible article about my mentor, to put some back in the kitty, as they say. I had an entire list of advanced dandy-esque items and stances I wanted to discuss with him. Everything from the types and shapes of shirt collars suitable for pinning to the most beautiful type of cuff one could place on a suit jacket’s sleeve. Mr. Flusser, however, though always willing to discuss such stylistic minutiae with a fellow dandy was a bit vexed. He enlightened me to the fact that my questions were set in a selfish font, fit only for the interpretations of the already degreed dresser.
Advanced secrets about how to stay in front of the style curve may be fascinating for a select few, but what of everyone else? What possible use would the average but aspiring to “smart” dresser derive from my interview – from his words? We decided on reciting the mantra on the basics of dressing well that, once mastered, will enable anyone to get in touch with their sartorial chi and from there develop their own unique style.
People learn to dress well by observing other people who already dress well. It sounds so easy, and it is. However, in our modern era, the number of the walking well dressed dwindles constantly. It has reached the point that several large fashion houses have a very hard time teaching their employees to dress well because of a dearth of suitable examples for them to learn from. As a matter of fact, there remain only a handful of department stores in the USA where you can rely on the taste of both the establishment and their staff to guide you properly in an approach to classic dressing.
Midnight Blue hairline beaded pinstripe Voyage fabric from Dormeuil. White poplin shirt and woven necktie all by Alan Flusser.
The only other resources available are magazines, many of which have no committed interest (or ability) these days to teach men to dress both stylishly and timelessly. Perhaps that is why this age of the designer lasts so long. Similar to fantasy writing, there need be no research or analysis (or even taste) for designers to come up with “original” fashions; simple fancies of the imagination suffice to justify new, and often pricey, looks. Therefore, for the moment, unless a man is fanatical about clothes and style, it is rather hard to learn the basics.
And the basics, says Mr. Flusser, is really what it is all about. Although the basics should, theoretically, be extraordinarily easy for any man to learn, the information is not readily available. Thus that which should be easy to obtain has become painfully hard to uncover. Indeed, one has to be a veritable style Egyptologist excavating (in your single breasted three button vanilla wafer shaded suit, of course) long abandoned sartorial tombs and temples.
We now live in a world where there are so many different visions about what constitutes proper dress that it boggles the mind which tries to determine in what direction to go in or how to assert a sense of consistency. However, all current men’s tailored styles emanate from the common stem of having to wear a shirt and tie, even if the style ultimately arrived at by a man is tie-less. It seems thus plausible that a starting point revolves around the basics of getting everyone to do this well for themselves. The assumption is that the great bulk of serious men want to dress in a way that makes them look smart and not foolish. That is why it is best to have one common look for men, which they can use as a palette to mix their own stylish tints from.
According to Flusser, the business casual revolution is apparently over. Even the fashion industry itself is glad to rid itself of that garment guillotine if only because of the difficulties the industry already faced trying to teach men how to properly wear a basic shirt and tie. To make matters worse, the industry discovered that it was incrementally more difficult to teach men (and in fact define in their own professional minds) the basics of business casual. Business casual hasn’t a strong lineage and items had to appear both casual and business-like at once, and where were the experts for that coming from?
Now we understand that to be stylish does not just entail the buying of clothes, it is also about learning to select clothes properly and dress well. Mr. Flusser maintains that historical knowledge of the origins (or development of clothes) is both useless and of little interest to the modern man aspiring to dress both well and effectively for his purposes. There are rather certain things “of the moment” that need to be addressed, what suit silhouette (the pattern and scale of the suit’s cut) will look good on the wearer and remain useful over time.
Additionally, the color of a man’s hair and pigmentation play a part in what colors and combinations will look good on him. And seeing that he looks good in certain items, this will serve to excite him further about continuing on a journey to develop sensibilities about dressing well. Usually this type of advice on style goes to only those spending large amounts of money for custom clothes. However, Alan thinks this is a shame and that this information should be readily available to everyone. That is why he is offering a more affordable made to measure clothing service which includes advice on accoutrements that compliment both the outfit and the wearer. It is hoped by Monsieur Flusser that younger men will learn to thus command their own destinies when it comes to choosing articles of clothes in the proper patterns, fabrics and colors.
Does Alan think that having a large variety of outfits, or being able to or willing to wear a large variety of outfits makes one a good dresser? Yes, once a person has gotten the mantra of the basics down cold. However, we are talking Dantean 9th circle of hell cold. Additionally, the most important ingredient of clothes and dressing well is comfort, followed by fit and style for one’s build and occupation, then quality, design of the garment itself and, finally, color choice (depending on the specific coloration of the individual being clothed).
Although it is true that Alan dresses in the most modern way imaginable during his leisure hours, it must be pointed out that he was raised in an affluent East coast suburb, and attended an Ivy League school and thus was exposed to the natural shouldered/Paul Stuart look rather early. He has transcended this look but the ability to understand its basics and importance for the professional man remains paramount in his mind.
Medium Navy Blazer with white spread collared shirt and Art Deco style necktie reminiscent of the Charvet prints from the 1930s and 40s.
And he is of the mind that for the ordinary person who wants to learn to dress in a sophisticated way, the jumping off point will always be a navy (or dark) solid suit, white shirt, navy tie, navy socks, black shoes and white pocket square. This look must be mastered before branching out. It must be worn well, which means you must be firing on all style cylinders. These include: cleanliness, upkeep/condition, quality, design, fit, proportion, construction, weight and the texture of all items/elements must mesh with each other and be appropriate for the season or weather.
It simply cannot be stressed enough how important it is to achieve this classic and yet often elusive basic step. Alan maintains that if you do master this look, and it really isn’t hard if you receive the right information, you will be better dressed than ninety five percent of men walking around in midtown Manhattan. One would not think that Navy suit, white shirt, navy socks, navy tie and black shoes would be a stumbling block to style but there are a number of men interested in clothes who seem to gloss over this stylistic foundation and head right to the suede shoes, windowpane suit and boldly colored shirt counter. The result is that they fail to learn the importance of fit, comfort and design that flatter them eternally rather than give them that fleeting fashion fix.
The word is out now in the form of the first dandy mantra, that if you want to become a stylish dresser, then you must master the basics of navy and white. As pedestrian as it may seem when there are an abundance of patterns and colors in every clothing store, one’s first step is restraint and rejection of the sensational in favor of the handsome, dignified and important. Simplicity is seldom far from elegance. Perhaps to the western mind, it helps to approach this like an empirical scientific theorem, needing constant proof. Apply this proof throughout your sartorial pursuits and you will eventually find yourself well dressed. All you need really do to become a Lord of the Sartorial Sith is read the first four chapters of his recent book Dressing the Man to invoke the elementals of dressing properly and, in this age of plebian dishabille, well.
Photos courtesy of The Alan Flusser Shop, www.alanflussercustom.com
Photographer: Heather Oppelt, Heather Oppelt Photography.