Saturday, 29 January 2011

John Dominis

On his way to
the studio's
fitness room (1963)
from the book
by John Dominis

I got a book called McQueen by John Dominis a couple of days ago. It's German and the title page reads, Steve McQueen: Fotografien von John Dominis. I don't mean to blow minds with linguistic intuition, but I think the middle bit is something like "photographs by" in translation*.

The date on the Amazon page says December 2010, and the book also has the year 2010. Amazon Germany says 13 April 2009. I've only recently noticed it at any rate.

I've mentioned John Dominis in other posts. He took pictures of McQueen for Life, the popular photojournalism magazine, and the book is a collection of images from that time. The bits of text you get are, as you'd expect, in German. It's improbably cosmopolitan of me, but I know somebody from Germany. I'll take the book to the pub when we meet next week and ask for a couple of pints of translation.

Plenty of people helped enshrine Steve McQueen. William Claxton and John Dominis are the most prominent names, though, far as photography goes. Claxton's book covers 1962-1964. Dominis photographed him at rest and play in 1963. The overlap makes that year a particularly good one for Steve McQueen images.

The formula for celebrity photography was less refined in the 1960s. The system was in place, the paparazzi and other standard promotional shots, but photojournalists had more freedom. William Claxton met McQueen when Life sent him to photograph Natalie Wood at work on Love With The Proper Stranger. The co-star initially waved away the camera. Claxton talked to Steve about the art of photography, though, and they became comfortable in each other's company. William Claxton thought photography "jazz for the eye". Perhaps that's how he described it to the actor. Steve was a fan of jazz, and Claxton had made his name with portraits of jazz musicians.

John Dominis had enlisted in the United States Air Force in his early 20s, and he'd returned to military scenes as a Life photojournalist. Perhaps this helped when the magazine sent him to cover ex-serviceman Steve. They'd both raced cars. That certainly helped. Whatever the reasons, he enjoyed the same freedom as Claxton to document McQueen's life.

McQueen made the occasional gesture to reject attention, as when he waved away Bill Claxton's camera. The Dominis book helps us understand just how keen Steve was for photographers to document his life, though. (We learn how keen he was for people to see him in the gym when we compare the William Claxton book with the Dominis, where he strikes similar poses.)

McQueen knew a Life cover article had practical benefits as, say, John F. Kennedy knew beautiful photographs of the family on holiday had political benefits. It's just that the intensity with which Steve McQueen played lead in The Ideal Male Life went beyond the practical. This blog, Free & Easy, all of us: we're obviously a funny lot. McQueen impresses us as the perfect representation of men's style in the headiest days of the US. A message of the John Dominis collection, though, is that's what McQueen went out of his way to do.

The book's cover design is lazy. I suppose the moral is judge the content, as ever. The other thing to note is the currently reasonable price of the Dominis book in comparison with the Claxton one.

*I've had to translate the photograph caption too.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Steve's Tops: Cardigans

Steve McQueen from the book
Steve McQueen: Photographs 
by William Claxton

Many designers have pored over this photograph and thought, "Now that is a cardigan. Oh, and that is Steve's cock." Come back when you can read paragraphs again if this is the first time you've seen the picture.

California Coast (1964) from the book
Steve McQueen: Photographs 
by William Claxton

You can open a cardigan at the front, fact fans. It's more versatile than a jumper. It's simply a preferable layer.

The Cincinnati Kid

A shawl design adds comfort. A collar button increases temperature control. The shawl collar cardigan with collar button is a vicious combination. It offers an impressive number of graduations between done up and undone. Steve McQueen understood the aesthetic and practical value of it all.


Blue, brown, double-breasted. Steve's worn a few cardigans in his time. What general rules does Steve McQueen Style draw? They should be simple. They should be free from logos and have a collar button.

Drakes cashmere cardigan
in charcoal grey

Drakes of London, founded 1977, exports 95% of its goods and primarily makes men's scarves, ties and handkerchiefs. It also sells the deluxe daddy of the Steve McQueen cardigan. It's four-ply ribbed cashmere knitted in the Scottish Borders. Yeah, the buttons are leather. "Think Steve McQueen photographed by William Claxton," the website says. "Ignore the cock," Steve McQueen Style says. £700. You can have a camel-hair version for half that.

Albam winter Irwin
cardigan in charcoal

Albam online began 2006. The first shop opened the next year in Soho, the second the year after in Spitalfields. Islington gained one last year. Albam sells casual men's clothes in classic styles. It's simple stuff made well, which is an honest miracle.

Two big influences are Paul Newman and the other one from The Towering Inferno. It sells out quickly, but spring and winter a McQueen-influenced cardigan appears. (They implement some revisions each time. Compared to previous versions, for instance, the most recent has lost tan elbow patches.) It's a heavy wool fucker, made in England by the Stevenage Knitting Co. Ltd. I read on the internet they knitted the actual classic McQueen cardigan and use the same pattern for Albam. If Steve McQueen Style has learned anything, it's whack information is everywhere. I say they make it from wool, they actually knit it from his hair.

The size system is funny. The cardigan and most Albam stuff goes from zero to four: zero is an extra-small, one a small, two a medium, three large, four extra-large. The Irwin is £189. Looks, feels, is well-crafted. I should obviously do something other with my time than think about which of my cardigans I like most, but it's the Albam.

Heritage Research Campus

Heritage Research makes clothes from classic practical designs. The company began in 2008. It followed in the footsteps of others when it concentrated on export to Japan, but owners Russ and Dan have sold here since last year. One day, mark my words, you'll be able to get all the best British stuff in Britain.

The Campus cardigan is seriously smooth and another heavy fucker. Based on a 1930s Ivy cardigan, it's woven on hand looms in the Scottish Borders from three-ply merino wool. Yeah, the buttons are leather. I've decided this is my favourite along with the Albam, actually. (If you wonder whether cardigans push me foul of my rule to own a sane number of clothes, I have a respectful half-dozen so get off my knitted back.)

Here's the cruel bit. It's sold out everywhere. I do try to ensure my primary recommendations are available, but the beauty of the Campus makes it a special case. It was £195. I dunno, look out on eBay or something.

White Of Hawick Lord
cardigan in green

White Of Hawick has made knitwear since 1968. The Lord cardigan is 100% double lambswool. It's the best value here, if several accounts are right, and possibly the closest to a McQueen in design terms. It's just the website provides a poor vision (see above). I dunno. Imagine the charcoal version at its best, go to the Scottish Borders or buy one. £95. If I owned one, I reckon it'd be my joint favourite.

Lands' End Shorewood
cardigan in dark grey heather

Lands' End (the website threatens the apostrophe is "a tale in itself") is a US company with a UK wing. It's primarily a mail order and online shop. It sold sailboat equipment when it began in 1963. Now the business covers clothes and all sorts. Sears, a huge US chain of department stores (founded 1886), bought it a few years ago.

Lands' End has a whiff of Ivy, a substitute L.L.Bean ambience. Get too sniffy and you'll miss the Shorewood cardigan among other prizes. The UK site has medium and large. 50% merino wool, 25% cotton, 25% nylon. £69. Remember to google for discount codes.

Casino Royale

Daniel Craig wears shawl collar cardigans (in and out of the Bond role).

Quantum Of Solace
He wore a black one in Quantum Of Solace. They were £800 or something when Tom Ford had them for sale. They're McQueen style, I suppose, but where's the collar button? OK Fordy, if you have a deadstock* piece you want to give me for free, I'll take it off your hands. That's only because I'm a fellow Christopher Isherwood fan, mind. It's been three days since I asked Onozato to send me his trousers, on the subject of freebies, but nothing.

Get in touch if you know of a cardigan that follows the Steve McQueen Style rules. It'll have to be special to compete with this lot. That said, it has an advantage if it's available.

*What does deadstock mean? Old stock in new condition. I'm surprised actually, Fordy, I thought you'd know that. (Another term for deadstock is NOS: new old stock. ILA: idiots love acronyms.

PS I mentioned, three posts ago, a theme behind the Heritage Research collection updates. Visit their website and read the journal entry dated 18 January 2011 for elaboration.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Steve Wears The Trousers

The Great Escape

The trousers this post will deal with come of course from the "uniform" of Captain Virgil Hilts.

Khaki. Chino. What is the difference between chinos and khakis? You can read all sorts of things about military origins, how chinos are smarter and khaki is just a colour. That last point in particular betrays a lack of understanding on how the English language works. The word fabric has turned up in dictionaries next to the word khaki for some time. Chino and khaki, as with desert boot and chukka, are often used interchangeably. They are, in essence, therefore interchangeable.

Bills Khakis M1

Bills Khakis, established 1990, makes decent chino trousers. They're based on US World War II articles, apparently. The problem, and every vintage style fan from here to Japan (and that includes the editor of Free & Easy) recognises it as such, is US WWII chinos are fucking massive. Bills M1s are $115/£75 excluding blah. They also sell a "trim" version, the M3, which is unflattering in a way that's all its own.

Buzz Rickson USAAF
(United States Army Air Forces) chino

Other companies closely replicate US WWII chino specifications, including Buzz Rickson, and naturally they have the same billowy problem. McQueen's chinos in The Great Escape are clearly different to what you'd expect from a film set during WWII. If you want to look more like "The Cooler King", you'll need something slimmer. That said, avoid the other extreme. Stop at skinny.

We learn in the book My Rugged 211 that Free & Easy magazine editor Minoru Onozato owns 1940s US Coast Guard chino trousers. They apparently have more of a McQueen "silhouette". You look about my size, Minoru, so when you've tired of them please send to me.

The 1980s was a bad decade. Steve died at the right time in that regard. Levi Strauss & Co. began to sell khakis in 1986, though, under the name Dockers. People can be a bit sniffy about Dockers. Perhaps they used to be poorly made. Perhaps they still are in the US. Regardless, the European versions are decent.

The kind of Dockers most likely to receive approval is the K-1 series. Let me save you the possibility of an exchange filled with wonder and confusion: if you meet an American and they talk about pants, they mean trousers. OK, the Dockers US website describes K-1s as based "on a vintage military pant". Whatever, the cut is more modern than your average pair of WWII chinos. It's still too generous, though.

Dockers D-1
(colour is "British khaki")

The D-1 is slim-fit, and you can get them from Buy Jeans for £50. Dockers continually launches new-special-limited versions of its trousers but, seriously, you can ignore most of that. The only others to consider, also available from Buy Jeans at £58 and £63 respectively, are the D-Zero and the San Francisco. Both have more of a taper than D-1, and D-Zero is extra slim-fit. Shorten them if they're longer than perfectly close, whatever trouser you choose.

Toys McCoy TMP8602

Predictably, Japan makes the most accurate versions of McQueen's inaccurate chinos. Toys McCoy TMP8602 are ¥18,900/£145 excluding blah.

The Thomas Crown Affair

The trousers in The Thomas Crown Affair are of a similar colour to those in The Great Escape.

California Coast (1964)
from the book
Steve McQueen: Photographs 
by William Claxton

He often wore similar elsewhere.

Quantum Of Solace

The McQueen-inspired trousers Daniel Craig wears in Quantum Of Solace are, according to Bond fans, Levi's 306 Sta-Prest. Levi's first sold Sta-Prest, wrinkle-resistant trousers, in the 1960s. They're out of production for the Western market at least.

I'll return for suits (The Thomas Crown Affair) and sweatpants (seriously) another time. Please forward alternative suggestions for suitable chinos, or if you have information on any Steve McQueen trouser (cotton, wool, whatever).

Style posts should be about 50 words a time. Nobody reads all this.

PS "Silhouette" in the sort of context used in this post means the shape the clothes give you. I suppose you speak Fashion and knew that already, clever clogs.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Free & Easy

Free & Easy magazine
number 110 (December 2007)

Free & Easy, launched 1998, has a cult following in Western style circles. It's a thick glossy Japanese magazine. Most of it appears to be a comically detailed report on the classic and casual style of the Western male. It's difficult for us to discern particulars, though. It has the occasional and mysterious English buzzword but, as my cosmopolitan friend puts it, "it's all in funny" apart from that.

US forces dazzled us in World War II. We never got over aspects of the culture they introduced, and it got to the point where we preserved what the US neglected. Our love for rhythm & blues, rock & roll and rockabilly led to the British Invasion.

US forces dazzled Japan after World War II. The country never got over aspects of the culture their captors introduced. Japan valued ever more what the US discarded. It's got to the paradoxical point where the best US clothes are Japanese. The reproductions are artefacts themselves, and North America covets even catalogues like Free & Easy.

The past is a mythic, better country. That's what Free & Easy implies, and that's one of the reasons I love it. Steve McQueen naturally tends to figure a lot as well. I do wish I understood it all more, though. Is it a bit homoerotic? I'm not gay, just confused. A salty sea dog on a Harley is a typical photo shoot, so it's at least the pictorial celebration of a spectacular midlife crisis. The cartoon diagrams that detail outfits make me laugh. I plan to sit down a lucky Japanese girl I know and make her read several issues to me.

My Rugged 211

Free & Easy editor Minoru Onozato put out a book last year called My Rugged 211, which features a couple of hundred of his favourite style things. (If repetition is anything to go by, rugged in the world of Free & Easy is the best English word ever.) It has genuine and intentional charm and humour in places, but it's repulsive compared to Free & Easy.

My Rugged 211 is sort of bilingual. Something's obviously lost in translation (I hate that film, by the way). The unfortunate thing is, that's only part of the problem.

Onozato explains how his childhood hero was an iconic Welsh rugby player called J.P.R. Williams. That rugby player's career, he says, is "far beyond mine". Onozato then describes himself in comparison as a humble "editor in chief ... fashion creator and ... executive officer of a listed company" (I make it sound as if there's huge amounts of text, but it's mostly photographs).

False humility aside, 50 of Onozato's 211 favourite style things are Ralph Lauren. Free & Easy also has its issues, so to speak. Both the book and the magazine have a soft spot for stupidly big four-wheel drives, and stupidly big racist Eric Clapton can turn up in the magazine.

My Rugged 211 is about £50 on eBay. The magazine upholds the belief you have to spend a good deal of effort and money to appear free and easy, that much is obvious. The current average price of a back issue on eBay is about £30. You can get the latest copy for £22.50 including postage from End Clothing, a Newcastle upon Tyne clothes shop, if you're fast. Too late, February's has gone. (If only you were in Japan, it'd be a mere ¥980/£7.50.)

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Corrections And Clarifications

First thing's first: rest in peace, Peter Yates. He directed a long car chase and an actor who got to react rather than act. Who'd guess such a combination could give so much happiness?

Ray-Ban Wayfarer 2140
(tortoise frame, green lens: code 902)

Somebody's challenged my assertion that Kennedy was a Persol fan. The book The Ivy Look (by Graham Marsh and JP Gaul) is full of great information, as I've intimated, but it threw me a wobbly there. His tortoiseshell Ray-Ban Wayfarers look similar to Persol in some regards, and I regurgitated the error. I read it in that book, but I also saw it on a couple of webpages. That's the trouble with the internet. Anybody can set themselves up as an expert. Anyway, welcome to Steve McQueen Style!

Now here's a terrible clanger. I said, in the heat of the moment in response to a comment, that the "Frank Bullitt jacket" available from Grand Prix Legends and The King Of Cool has "no darts". Bullshit. I don't know what I was thinking. Modern suit jackets and such usually have front darts (vertical seams that give shape). Steve McQueen's jacket in Bullitt has no darts. It's the digression from Ivy's unstructured style, from its natural shoulders and hang, that's the shame of the new "Frank Bullitt jacket". Steve McQueen Style information is occasionally, as Oscar Wilde would've had it, whack. We get there, though.

I've noticed people keen on the fashion "industry" tend to get a bit hot under the collar, so to speak, and term some things "too popular". Military style clothes are too obvious because so many men like them. Steve McQueen is too obvious because so many people mention him. I trust these hot-under-the-collars will studiously continue to avoid the self-evident. I'll do what I can to help. I tell you what's too obvious, in fact: breathing.

If you find McQueen's position as an icon a worry yet admire the way he looks I advise, as ever, you take elements of his style rather than the impossible whole. I wear the big Persol 714s even though my head is average size. (This is the literal size I talk about here. My head is metaphorically big as Jupiter, of course.) The effect of big sunglasses is more Jason Spaceman style and offsets the Steve McQueen thing. Jesus Christ. I bet this is just how characters in Sex And The City speak.

Sperry Top-Sider 75th Anniversary CVO
in natural

I overlooked a photograph of McQueen from the Unforgettable Steve McQueen book (2008, edited by Henri Suzeau) in what look like natural-coloured Sperry Top-Sider CVOs. The L.L.Bean Signature sale continues, and that's where you can find the 75th Anniversary edition in natural and navy.

I'll never quite let footwear go. I'm not the first person to give this simple bit of advice: change the laces in your Sanders playboys. I don't know why they supply shit laces with such beautiful boots, nor why I put up with them slipping undone for so long. I bought a new pair from Shoe-String for just over £2, and it's changed my life. They look the same. They're dark brown, 2mm thick and 60cm long. They're non-slip, though. I don't have to tighten them as much in the vain hope they'll stay, and my boots are a good deal more comfortable. Honestly, little things.

Somebody's commented that charity shops can be a great place to find a vintage bargain, but it mostly comes across as a boast to me because I'm bitter. Why's it everybody else who finds their dream tweed McQueen jacket in Oxfam? Seriously, though, good advice.

This is as good a point as any to reinforce a bit of the Steve McQueen Style aesthetic agenda. Even if you're a multimillionaire, refrain from buying all the Steve McQueen style clothing you can find. Be selective. A couple of pairs of boots for winter, for instance, allows you to alternate. You can account for it, because it falls on the side of sanity. They'll smell better and last longer. If you buy a dozen pairs of shiny winter boots, you're a moonwalk from Michael Jackson unreality. Footwear is at its most comfortable and looks its best when you've worn into each other. Swap boots each day for a fortnight and you'll look about as natural as the Beckhams must when they copulate (with each other).

Buy the best quality you can afford, be selective and remember to try to buy from your own country. We're lucky here to have, on the higher end of things and among other clothiers, Albam, Heritage Research, John Smedley, Sunspel and the bootmakers I mention. Some of the clothes with most Steve McQueen style of course come from elsewhere, from Vietnam and China, the US and Japan.

Heritage Research

I'll talk more about Heritage Research and recommend some specific stuff in time, by the way (and Albam, John Smedley, Sunspel for that matter), but I'd like to mention quickly the forthcoming spring and summer updates to their collection. Russ from Heritage Research tells me a theme is the attempts of servicemen to rejoin society after World War II, and the motorbike clubs and car clubs they started, which should suit us.

OK, in other news: Barbour will apparently sell a set of shirts, knitwear and jackets inspired by Steve McQueen.

Based in Devon and established 1984, Eastman Leather is a company that specialises in reproduction WWII flight jackets (they supplied them for the film Pearl Harbour). They now also stock clothes by Japanese company Buzz Rickson. You'll find, among many other great items, those M-43 service shoes (McQueen's boots in The Great Escape). £350. Grand Prix Legends and The King Of Cool sell "Great Escape" boots, while we're at it. They're apparently made by the same company that supplied them for the film Saving Private Ryan and TV programmes Band Of Brothers and The Pacific. £150.

Last, not least and further to suggestions in the previous post: another forum that might well be of interest to fans of Steve McQueen in general, rather just fans of his style, belongs to Steve McQueen Online. The site also features reviews, images and videos.