When fashion photographer and costume designer Cecil Beaton died in 1980, it was not surprising that one of his tailors was telephoned with the news before Buckingham Palace, despite Beaton’s close association with the Royal Family.
Yep, that’s how famous and informational he was. From the moment Cecil arrived at Cambridge University in 1922 wearing an evening jacket, red shoes, black-and-white trousers and a large cravat, to his appearance nearly 40 years later at Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball, Beaton expressed a flamboyant sartorial nonchalance. He had accounts with the best Savile Row tailors; he bought his shirts from Excello in New York; and his clothes from Lanz of Salzburg. Clothes hound par excellence. Those duds now reside, along with other elements of his wardrobe, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Benjamin Wild’s luscious A Life in Fashion: The Wardrobe of Cecil Beaton (Thames & Hudson, $50) is the first book to showcase the evolving wardrobe of the famed fashion photographer and designer, whose brilliant style is being celebrated as classic tailoring comes back in vogue.
A Life in Fashion is a lively and informative study of Beaton’s style, which kept evolving over the decades, driving and reflecting the transitions in men’s fashion that followed World War II. Drawing on unpublished records and interviews with Beaton’s former tailors, fashion historian Benjamin Wild delightfully scrutinizes Beaton’s approach to fashion as well as his influence on such designers as Giles Deacon and Dries van Noten. “I don’t want people to know me as I really am,” Beaton is quoted as saying, “but as I’m trying and pretending to be.”
In his Introduction to the book, Wild notes “if the style and sartorial savvy of Cecil Beaton are significant, they have hitherto been sidelined by writers focusing on his accomplishments as a photographer and costume designer…
While renewed interest in Beaton’s wardrobe is part of a more general contemporary appreciation of vintage styles, it is his personal engagement with fashion, and his critical understanding of it, that makes him a unique and enduring figure in the annals of style.”