Sharply dressed characters

Men are increasingly taking inspiration from the sartorial influences of the reel world and suiting up for the occasion, writes Steve Dow.

If filmmaker Baz Luhrmann delivers on his promise to remake F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic Prohibition-era story The Great Gatsby, he could be joining an emerging fashion trend.

The opulence of the 1920s has helped the New Jersey mobster TV series Boardwalk Empire make its mark on men's tailoring, both overseas and in Australia.

In the spirit of a cashed-up Atlantic City gambler, Melbourne designer and retailer Arthur Galan has bet on three-piece suits, rich fabrics such as velvet and, as an option, big bow ties. "Neo-preppy", he calls the look in his autumn-winter collections, but the pre-Depression era influence is unmistakable: one model, with slicked-back hair and a shearling fur-trimmed coat, has a super-fine woollen top over a shirt buttoned almost to his Adam's apple.

"There's been a return to dressing up and dressing with a bit more of a statement, where the Aussie male is not afraid to stand out in the crowd and look good," Galan says. "That brings the wider lapels on jackets and the stronger pinstripes; that return to 'the gentleman' … if you look at Boardwalk Empire or Mad Men it's all pristine and proper, very precise."

Quoting the dashing 1960s Madison Avenue ad men of TV's Mad Men as a fashion influence has become a cliche of recent times. Last year fourth-generation local tailor John Cutler brought some astute context to the trend when he blogged he was suiting many young Sydney men seeking sharper lines fitted to the waist and shoulder but suggested the anxiety of the global financial crisis might too have been an influence. This year, as we await word about season five of dapper Don Draper et al, 1950s and '60s men's tailoring remains strong.

Actors' agents and publicists have long loved the thought their clients might influence fashion. The mythology goes that in 1934, when Clark Gable flashed his bare chest opposite Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night, sales of men's undershirts plummeted.

Conversely, sales of black motorcycle jackets rose after Marlon Brando wore one as an outlaw biker in The Wild One in 1953 - Brando's was the Perfecto leather jacket made by American company Schott - while Richard Gere, as a male prostitute in American Gigolo in 1980, was a walking, talking advertisement for the clothing of Giorgio Armani, who kitted him out for Paul Schrader's film and later said his fashion career was as a result "linked for life" to Gere.

Film and TV costuming can have a strong influence on fashion and American Gigolo is a case in point, says Theo Poulakis, co-founder of luxury menswear store Harrolds. He believes the Gere movie "created that sophisticated, draped look that carried through for a good 10 years''.

Film and TV can take fashion trends to a much broader demographic than runway shows, which have a more limited reach. Italian fashion house Brioni, also known as ''James Bond's tailor'', has achieved immense success through dressing 007s from Pierce Brosnan to Daniel Craig, with the Bond character a "big influence on tailoring from the beginning", according to Poulakis.

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The beginning of the current movement towards renewed interest in men's tailoring goes back a decade to the runways rather than the airwaves when French fashion designer Hedi Slimane created the Dior Homme range of slimline suiting best worn by waifs and rock stars.

"Tom Ford [then] took that range and made it more masculine, more tailored and stronger," Poulakis says of the former creative director of Gucci. "Now Mad Men has come through and reinforced that tailoring."

The strongest direction today is "Tom Ford meets Mad Men'', reflected in Ford's meticulously art-directed 2009 debut feature film A Single Man, starring Colin Firth. In the feature set in the 1960s, the careful rituals of removing cuff links and rolling a tie were as important as the fashions themselves for setting the mood and tone of the film.

Calibre designer Ty Henschke concedes Mad Men has influenced men's fashion but argues there is also an element of coincidence, given that fashion designers tend to plan their ranges well before what's seen on film and TV. He says there's definitely a 1920s-early 1930s influence coming through at present for men, including wide lapels and double-breasting.

"Is it a sign of the times?'' Henschke asks. ''Maybe people are a little more conservative now and there's a swing back [to the 1920s-early 1930s era].''

Galan is deliberately stepping away from the minimalist Dior, waify sort of look and sending down the runway male models with bigger chests and shoulders who fill out their suits a little more, much as Ford has done.

"It's a little more standout, the slightly bolder pinstripes and finer wool,'' Galan says. "The Australian bloke is not straight up and down."

It could be a diplomatic way of saying he's not wafer thin but then nor is Leonardo DiCaprio any more. DiCaprio, as Jay Gatsby, will be the chief suit-wearer, along with Joel Edgerton (playing Tom Buchanan), in Luhrmann's 3D feature. Once the sun sets on the Jersey boardwalk, the pair could well prove the next dashing gentlemen role models in film.