Hollywood puts out hits in fashion


January 02, 1991|By Valli Herman | Valli Herman,Los Angeles Daily News

THESE GUYS are definitely dressed to kill.

The mobsters are back, and they aren't content to rule movie screens. They're gonna get you guys in your closets and stuff you back into sharp-as-knives suits.

Gangster glamour has been shooting from screens with summer's cartoonish "Dick Tracy," fall's stylish "GoodFellas" and this season's "The Godfather Part III." In a chicken-or-the-egg scenario, the exquisitely garish tailoring of many mobsters has subtly influenced current men's fashions, which have been looking rather like the 1940s, say industry observers.

"Movies often influence fashion," said Chip Tolbert, fashion director of the Men's Fashion Association in New York, a group representing men's fashion designers and manufacturers.

" 'Wall Street' was a good example of that. (The movie made slicked-back hair and pin-stripe suits a staple.) And all the 'Godfather' movies had a strong effect. That whole gangster influence is evident in a lot of fashion today the broader shoulders, wider lapels, fuller chest and tapered jackets with generously pleated pants. That whole look was taken from the '30s and '40s," Tolbert said.

At Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills, one of the top-selling suits by Hugo Boss is called the Al Capone a broad-shouldered suit with wide lapels and full-cut pants.

"It gives you the look of what really stylish men in the '30s wore," sales associate Kevin Gardner said.

Many of the top costume designers in the trade have interpreted the gangster look for the current crop of mobster movies, including two-time Oscar winner Milena Canonero, who outfitted Godfather III." (Canonero's work for "Chariots of Fire" influenced international fashion trends, so she designed a collection of classic menswear that brought her the coveted Coty Award for fashion.)

Some New York boutiques are showing the exaggerated collars designed by Richard Bruno for "GoodFellas."

The movie, which spanned 25 years of New York mobster activities and, consequently, their fashions, is considered an accurate portrayal of the period, despite Bruno's admission that his creations often are adjusted to suit modern eyes, even "the horrible '70s with its disgusting polyester."

Bruno joked about his inspiration for "GoodFellas," "I think in a former life I may have been a gangster."

Bruno's characters exhibit excesses in fashion that match the depths of their violence. Leading bad guy Tommy (Joe Pesci) clings to the deep-collared, steep-pointed shirts. To anyone who didn't grow up in Italian New York 30 years ago, the nearly Napoleonic collars may seem to be one of the mob's most unusual fashion affectations.

Dino Certo said the fashions in "GoodFellas" were "almost perfect."

Certo who has opened an Italian men's fashion store, Via Manzoni, on Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles remembered the extreme mobster styles from his New York childhood.

"We used to call that the scissor collar. It hid the top part of the tie," Certo said. "They would knot the tie and skip the last step in completing the knot, so the tie is connected but overlapped differently."

Bruno added a tab to the double-lock collar to more precisely line up the steep collar points. He also revived a peculiar tie-wearing style.

"The things they paid particular attention to were their ties and their shirts," he said. "They criss-crossed their ties a lot at about midpoint and tucked them into their belts. They do it now in Brooklyn," Bruno said.

While he and most movie costume designers say they rarely notice how their cinema fashions affect the mainstream, Bruno said he heard the specially collared shirt is showing up in major cities.

It is just such extremes of fashion that help provide everlasting fascination with gangsters.

"I think evil has always been in a way more attractive than good things," said Richard Hornung, the costume designer for "Miller's Crossing," the 20th Century Fox film that was released briefly this year for Oscar consideration and will hit screens again next year. He also didn't have to stretch the truth much to create the larger-than-life look many mobsters sported.

He gave the "Miller's Crossing" characters a purposely powerful look, dressing them in long, columnar topcoats and fedoras for an imposing, stiff appearance. The colorful neckwear in the movie is from Hornung's personal collection of 1,200 vintage ties.

The dark, menacing feel of "Miller's Crossing" is enhanced by the creator's choice of colors, a palette of umber and gray.

"A lot of times, I would take the suit and dye the shirt to more closely match the color of the suit," Hornung said. Dark shirts were a signature style of many notorious mobsters, especially in the 1920s, when dark shirts and white ties were the epitome of elegance. Intentionally or not, the look is cropping up. Tolbert of the Men's Fashion Association said Italian designer Luciano Franzoni is showing dark shirts with suits in medium fabric tones for spring.

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