Not only did gangsters of the 1930s know a thing or two about running bootleg liquor and peppering people with Tommy guns, they knew how to do it in style. Al Capone, Frank Costello, and Joe Adonis, may have been violent mobsters with a dubious sense of right and wrong, but hell did they know how to put together a razor-sharp outfit.
The sartorial elegance of the mob has been captured in the latest Autumn/Winter collection by M.J. Bale. Taking a sneak preview of the collection last week, it could possibly the best range yet from the homegrown label.
"To be honest we weren't thinking about gangsters per se when we came up with the collection," says M.J. Bale founder, Matt Jensen. "Rather, we were riffing masculine elegance from the 1930s, because that's when men were men and always visited the city in a tailored suit and a fedora."
"But in saying that, one of my favourite shows is Scorsese's Boardwalk Empire. The men's fashions are beautifully curated and it's hard not to like the way Nucky Thompson dresses."
Actually, MJ Bale's new collection wouldn't look out of place on Nucky and his henchmen. Think lightweight flannels in pure Australian merino wool, slightly wider lapels, and pleated trousers with baggier legs. "They have a definite vintage feel," Jensen says. "We were thinking Humphrey Bogart, Errol Flynn, and Cary Grant."
Hip to be square
The most distinctive element of the collection is the extensive use of windowpane and Prince of Wales checks. Jensen sees the faint accents expressed in each check as an interesting way to introduce colour into tailoring.
One piece that really stood out from the crowd was the Arturo Grey with a distinctive chalk windowpane check (also available in the Rondell Navy). Another highlight was the Vasco, which sees a return of the double-breasted and waistcoat. "From a practical point of view the double-breasted suit is slightly warmer in winter and you can layer up a bit more on it," Jensen says.
For something more eye-turning, the Ribiero blue velvet smoking jacket. Very Lucky Luciano.
How to wear it
As for what to wear with the new collection, it's hard to go past a crisp white shirt, but if you are feeling extra brave you could always opt for check on check, or even stripes on check. Throw in a jarringly mismatched pocket square and a medium width tie…you're ready to become a colourful racing identity.
MJ Bale has certainly captured the zeitgeist of the previous Pitti Uomo. The annual Florentine event saw mobsters take to the streets in broad checks and Mafiosa pin-stripes. We also saw a lot of peacocks in three piece suits, many of them double-breasted.
Stylist Annie Sophia, believes the return of the gangster look is well overdue and a welcome change from the past five years of super-skinny suits. "Let's face it, the 1930s was the pinnacle of elegant men's suits, and the men who had the money to dress the most dapper were the successful criminals," she says. "I've already had several clients who are looking to adopt the look, and it has certainly been a fun project."
All in the details
Sophia says is you really want to look the part, the secret is in the accessories. "Collar pins, silk hankies, suspenders, wingtips and pocket-watches," are all era appropriate. Just don't overdo it. You don't want people hitting the floor when you walk into a bank."