I Woke Up Like This

There are two parts of my real world education I look back on with fondness. The first was learning about jazz (music, not the African alternative). The second was teaching myself about style. I came across two personalities who though from very different backgrounds, together taught me about one thing…

As I walked the hallways of be-bop, bossa nova, traditional, vocal, latin, big band and all forms of jazz, the name and person of Miles Davis stood out by several, well, miles. Any jazz education would be without proper footing if the music of Miles didn’t feature. Miles Davis was a genius innovator at the forefront of American jazz music and left the game as one of the most influential artists of the 20th Century, having played a pivotal role in practically every major developmental stage of jazz music since the 1940’s, through till his last days. He was a complex character who most considered the epitome of cool – both in overall demeanour and in aesthetic and fashion.

Miles Davis was a man of uncommon wit and few words. When he spoke, it was with sharpness and precision and this manner showed through in his music and his style choices. He was a man who chose classic pieces but could step out of his comfort zone with ease. Well aware of proportion, Miles wore fitted suits and didn’t run so much with fads even though in the seventies, he made some riskier style choices in consonance with his musical discretion and got away with purple bell bottoms and hexagonal glasses as only he could in the conservative world of jazz.

Miles was also known to wear understated casual pieces that looked completely effortless, but nonetheless spoke volumes. He knew how to make minor adjustments that took his look from the mundane to the “how did he do that” territory. Miles’ genius was the ability to be purposeful while keeping an eye on the tiniest details.

My journey into the world of style started when I had my first bespoke suiting experience. The actual detail that set me off on this particular course is what is known as the working cuff — the cuff of a suit jacket tailored with real buttonholes so that buttons can be fastened and unfastened which allows one to actually roll up the sleeves of said jacket. As I travelled down this road, I came across the Italian world of suiting and of course the name of Gianni Agnelli jumped out practically in large neon signage.

Gianni Agnelli was an industrialist who ran Fiat in what was known as the jet-set age. He also happens to be recognised as one of the most stylish men of the 20th century. His style was about more than clothes—it was an attitude. In Italy, they call it sprezzatura, making the difficult look easy. When Agnelli was not perfectly dressed, it was contrived—the imperfection was designed to look that way. Put another way, the accidental look made his presentation even more stylish.

Agnelli’s main ingredient was quality. He wore only the finest handmade suits and shirts. Like a modern architect, he would take a look apart and reform it much like repurposing an elegant building. His elegance was extremely studied. He was also much imitated by members of the jet-set.

There are three innovations that Agnelli is well remembered for and referred to as “Agnelli’s tricks.” The first is the watch trick. Agnelli wore his watch, usually a Fratello, over the cuff of his handmade shirt. This was actually due to the tightness of the cuff which could not accommodate a watch on the inside. The second is the boot trick. He would wear high top hiking boots with his expensive hand made suits. This was due to a wound from an accident that never quite healed requiring him to wear a boot on his right foot all the time. The third trick is the tie trick. In his middle years, Agnelli began arranging his tie so the skinny end was longer than the fat end. If a normal person showed up looking like that, it would be taken as an unfortunate accident. This might actually have been a political statement. In this configuration, the front of the tie was undercut by the back—as in the end times, the last will be first.

It has been pointed out that in trying to imitate Agnelli, his ethos is being violated and he becomes inimitable so nobody can truly imitate him. This is because for Gianni Agnelli much like Miles Davis, it is not the clothes, but the character. The elegance in a man’s mind can never be imitated.

To be a man or woman of elegance, you should be interested in all things that express beauty. Art, design, cars, sports, a turn of phrase… When beauty becomes that which you imbibe, one’s character will not only be enriched but elegance will naturally appear in one’s presentation. Then you can truly say “I woke up like this.” Make up (for the ladies) will be utterly passé with true mindsets of elegance? Ehm, all the women can stop laughing now please.

It must be said that quite a few of our Nigerian clothes makers, and I don’t mean designers as their work is much more personal and truly bespoke, get the concept of elegance. The work coming from the ateliers of the ladies demonstrate their understanding as they elevate the cachet of much of their female clientele when outfitted. One hears much about the concept of “waist snatching.”

For the men, we seem to be mostly made aware of show pieces in the forms of shawl collar/lapel tuxedos and brocaded/jacquard fabric though there is also ample evidence of well tailored suits. It can be said though that there is still a little distance to travel with regards to fit as compared to European tailoring. The positive developments are being watched with gladness given the wonderful exchange rates.

One area where the Nigerian design/tailoring scene stands head and shoulders above everyone else is in the use of local print fabrics. Tie and dye, also known as adire, along with ankara, have been elevated to superstar status with many an elegant lady adorned with exquisite bespoke creations. The wearing of print fabric trousers with blazers and in other even more esoteric combinations has created new Nigerian style icons. One that must be mentioned as much for his music and also his style is Adekunle Gold of “Sade” and “Pick Up” fame. The young man is effectively a cultural ambassador as he proudly wears local print fabric everywhere and with everything.

The one thing I was taught as I mentioned at the start is effortlessness but also with the understanding that getting there requires great effort. This is the hallmark of elegance. The effort taken to achieve elegance is first in the knowledge acquired and then in the effective execution to produce what is now in turn a thing of beauty. I would like to wake up like that every single day.

Written by Babatunde Olaoluwa Jeje for This Day Style Magazine