After Dark

Richard James has long been a pioneer in the ever-changing notion of men’s eveningwear, writes Stephen Doig in the Richard James book

In the Golden Age of Hollywood, there was a very definite sense of what ‘red carpet’ dressing meant for those MGM matinee idols: a classic tuxedo, a sense of formality, an expression of structured, solid tailoring. Skip to the present day and the rules – as with so many pockets of men’s style – have been entirely turned on their head; men today are as likely to don a lightweight polo-neck knit with a shawl-collar jacket as they are black tie. Frankly, today’s dress codes require a degree to decipher them and, if you lean towards a more outré style, wearing a jacket with nothing at all underneath is de rigueur – just ask Lewis Hamilton.

While this sort of behaviour might belong to the more theatrical end of the eveningwear spectrum, it would be fair to say that Richard James has always championed a more unique after-dark proposal for men.

An innate sense of glamour has always been integral to the label’s  James’ work – see the searing, bright tones and the showman ensembles for Sir Elton John, Sir Mick Jagger and P Diddy. And glamorous style is never more evident than in its his clothes for the evening. While Savile Row had traditionally defined that particular arm of menswear as a stiff black tie or white-tie-and-tails affair, with all the rigidity of a PG Wodehouse caricature, Richard James was quietly and deftly re-imagining how men wanted to present themselves when they shifted from daytime mode; a shot of metallic on a jacket for a discreet shimmer here, a T-shirt with a tuxedo jacket there.

The signature camouflage motifs on wool suits – part of the renegade approach that I like to think had admirals choking on their kippers on their morning saunter down the Row – were parlayed into silk tuxedo jackets in rich colours. Indeed, as if to prove that this style still has the power to subvert, British rapper Tinie Tempah lit up the paparazzi’s flashbulbs when he donned a khaki version of a Richard James camo suit in 2012, pairing it with a black vest and loafers.

The hallmark of Richard James’s evening tailoring has always been a dialogue between a kind of peacock exuberance and masculine propriety. A single-breasted, shawl-collar jacket with matching trousers might come in powder blue, but the proportions are pin-sharp – defined shoulders, a narrow waist and a long seat on the jacket to create a stately, solid torso.

A suit might come in plush, lustrous velvet, but the subtle tones of pale straw and dark teal temper the effect from venturing into "razzle dazzle ’em" territory. And, as a final punctuation mark, Richard James has long dallied with a more relaxed shoe – a matching evening slipper that reveals the ankle (the scandal), or even an espadrille. It is after dark, after all, that most rules are broken; a tenet that Richard James has long understood and celebrated.

Stephen Doig is the men’s style editor and assistant luxury editor at The Telegraph.

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