Charlie Watts' cool uniform

“Style is the answer to everything,” said Charles Bukowski, among others, in a lecture that still afloat in the ether of YouTube . Swig...


“Style is the answer to everything,” said Charles Bukowski, among others, in a lecture that still afloat in the ether of YouTube. Swigging Schlitz from a bottle, the hailed underground laureate spoke of one of the few traits that, as we know, one can possess without ever acquiring.

Bullfighters have style, and so do boxers, Bukowski said. He had seen more men in style inside the prison than outside its walls, he also argued somewhat questionably. “Doing a boring thing with style is better than doing a dangerous thing without it,” he then added – and that, at least, seems unmistakable.

No one has ever accused Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts, who died on August 24 at the age of 80, of dullness. Yet he was so granite and inconspicuous to his band mates – in their face paint, thrift stores, and feathers – that it was easy to get distracted by the ineffable Watts cool that anchors the sound of the Stones and which is inspired by a line much older than rock.

Long before joining what is commonly referred to as the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band, Mr. Watts, a trained graphic designer who learned to play after giving up the banjo and transforming the body of one in drumming, was a seasoned session player. He considered himself deep down as a jazzman; its heroes were musicians like Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Lester Young and phenomenal pop crooners like the unjustly forgotten Billy Eckstine.

He studied famous dressers like Fred Astaire, men who found a style and rarely strayed from it throughout their lives. A famous story about the Stones describes them starving in order to make enough money to recruit a drummer and then in no rush to join the group. “Literally!” Keith Richards wrote in his excellent 2010 memoir “Life”. “We shoplifted to get Charlie Watts back.”

Mr. Watts was expensive at the time and, in this case, chose an image for himself that rarely looked otherwise. “To be honest” he once told GQ. “I have a very old fashioned and traditional style of dress.”

When his group mates Mick Jagger and Mr. Richards began peacocking in velvets from Carnaby Road, second-hand rags from Portobello Road, Moroccan djellabas, boas, sequined jumpsuits and dresses torn from their wardrobes. wives or girlfriends, Mr. Watts continued to dress so soberly. as a lawyer. And when, in the late 1970s, Mr. Jagger and Mr. Richards began adding suits to their wardrobes, their selections tended to feature cinched waists, four-way lapels, checkerboard patterns, or shiny and flamboyant upstart Tommy Nutter’s Oxford bag pants.

“I’ve always felt totally out of place with the Rolling Stones,” Watts told GQ, at least in terms of style. Photographs emerged of the group with everyone wearing sneakers and Mr Watts in a pair of lace-up shoes from 19th century Mayfair shoemaker George Cleverley. “I hate sneakers,” he said, of athletic shoes. “Even though they are fashionable.”

Maybe in some ways Mr. Watts was just ahead of the other Stones and the rest of us in purely stylistic terms – more evolved in his understanding of conventions and how to stealthily subvert them, much like a musician. of jazz improvising on fundamental melodies. There might even have been something punk about his early determination to forgo Mr. Nutter and hang out with some of Savile Row’s most venerable tailors, places still so low-key in the 1970s they never had. often no sign on their doors. It was his brilliance to mold what these tailors did to his own tastes.

Take, for example, the images of Peter Webb from 1971 – lost for 40 years before being rediscovered in the last decade – depicting the young Mr. Watts and Mr. Richards of “Sticky Fingers” at the height of their glory. Mr. Richards is fabulously dressed in black zippered leather, black and white graphic patterned velor trousers, contrast pattern shirt, custom leather shoulder strap and buccaneer shag. Mr. Watts, on the other hand, wears a three-piece suit with a six-button waistcoat in what appears to be the staid burgomaster’s loden.

Or grab the double-breasted dove-gray morning coat that mature Mr Watts wears in another photo of himself and his wife, Shirley, at an England social season event like Ascot. (The couple raised Arabian horses.) Beautifully cut for its compact size (he was 5ft 8in tall), it is worn with a pale pink waistcoat and tie, a shirt with rounded collars pinned under the knot, a style he first glimpsed and copied from the cover of Dexter Gordon’s driving jazz classic “Our Man in Paris.”

Each of these suits was bespoke, the latter sewn by H. Huntsman & Sons, a Savile Row institution that has been dressing British swells since 1849. It was one of only two tailoring companies that Mr. Watts has worked with. throughout his life.

“Mr. Watts was one of the most stylish gentlemen I have had the pleasure of working with,” said Dario Carnera, cutting manager at Huntsman, in an email. “He imbued his own sartorial flair. in every commission. “He had commanded the establishment for over 50 years, the craftsman added. (In the Huntsman catalog there is still a fabric – the Springfield stripe – of Mr. Watts’ design.)

By his own rough estimate, Mr. Watts owned several hundred suits, at least as many pairs of shoes, an almost incalculable supply of custom shirts and ties – so many clothes, in fact, that overturning an old sexist fashion cliché. , it was his wife who complained that her husband was spending too much time in front of the mirror.

However, Mr Watts rarely wore his formal attire on stage, preferring the practicality and anonymity of short-sleeved shirts or T-shirts for concerts or tours. It is in civilian life that he cultivates, and ends up perfecting, a sartorial image as elegant, serene and impeccable as his playing on the drums.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Charlie Watts' cool uniform
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