Style Icon: Leonard Cohen

  • Posted on

New York, circa 1968. (Photo by Roz Kelly / Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images)

‘I don’t consider myself a pessimist at all,’ Leonard Cohen told the Telegraph in 1993. ‘I think of a pessimist as someone who is waiting for it to rain. And I feel completely soaked to the skin.’

In fact, he goes on to say, he feels that he actually a closet optimist. Perhaps, to over-extend the metaphor, that would have prompted him to buy his Famous Blue Raincoat.

Embed from Getty Images

‘I had a blue raincoat. It was a Burberry,’ he told another interviewer back in 1966. ‘And it had lots of buckles and various fixtures on it. It was a very impressive raincoat. I'd never seen one like it. And it always resided in my memory as some glamorous possibility that I never quite realised.’

Embed from Getty Images

It’s a sentiment not dissimilar to one of the poet’s most famous lines: Act the way you’d like to be and soon you’ll be the way you act.

Without delving too far into the psychology of it, it seems that Cohen was very much alive to the idea that who a person is and what they wear are, if not exactly analogous, definitely linked in some fashion that’s more profound than mere… fashion. He sees no contradiction between surface appearance and true meaning. If anything, they’re complementary; one informs the other.

Embed from Getty Images

The image of a Buddhist monk meditating whilst dressed in an Armani suit would be laughable if the monk in question wasn’t Leonard Cohen. (He was ordained in 1996.) Whether he’s wearing the caps and roll-necks favoured by the Beat poets of the sixties or the more sombre suits and trilbies with which he would later become so attached, there’s a seriousness about the man and a gravitas about his wardrobe that seemed uncontrived. Natural. Almost inevitable. In a word: iconic.

Embed from Getty Images