Style Icon: Bryan Ferry

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Bryan Ferry and Jerry Hall in the Amstel Hotel, Amsterdam, in 1976 (Photo by Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns)

It might seem to us mere mortals that there is a very fine line between what is truly stylish and what is merely fashionable. It must, one thinks, be an exhausting sartorial balancing act, an all-but-endless tightrope that some men and women seem effortlessly to walk year after year, decade after decade. Then one realises, when one considers a man like Bryan Ferry, that this line simply shows his route: it is only visible, indeed it only exists in his wake.

Which is not to say that such individuals have been staggering around aimlessly; more often than not their high profile and accompanying bank balances simply allow them to indulge a pre-existing obsession.

In Ferry’s case, the seeds of this obsession (for obsession it is, however dégagé they may seem) were planted early. At 16, he was already working in a tailor’s: ‘I became infatuated by all these style books. I love fashion illustrations: gents with thin moustaches, trilbies and high-waisted jackets walking down Park Lane. They used to have names like "the Burlington style" and be next to glamorous women getting out of Rolls-Royces,’ he told GQ in interview. ‘I like fabrics and tactility; going into tailors and having shirts made. It's not cheap but I would rather have one great shirt than 12 that aren't so great.’

Well, quite.

How, then, does a man with such ostensibly conservative tastes come to wear such carefully considered, inimitable but unarguably out-there clothes?

Esquire magazine believes that Michael Bracewell has the answer to this question: ‘…for someone whose look is so steeped in the nebulous idea of "good taste", Ferry adores vulgarity and kitsch, such anti-style aesthetics "serving to frame and sharpen the decorum and poise of his other aesthetic enthusiasms, adding the vital grit to what otherwise might have been merely a rather precious assimilation of good taste."

It’s a sophisticated argument and an alluring one. Whatever its merits, perhaps Ferry’s own words summarise most eloquently at what sets him apart: ‘'Most bands wanted to wreck hotel rooms. Roxy Music wanted to decorate them.'