LONDON — Charles Finch may wear many hats — Hollywood producer, worldwide chairman of Dean & DeLuca, entrepreneur and brand-builder — but he sticks, more or less, to a single uniform whether he’s in Los Angeles, Bangkok, New York or London.
The executive producer of the new Whitney Houston documentary “Whitney: Can I Be Me,” and an upcoming one on Cecil Beaton, Finch is also a founding shareholder of Chucs Dive & Mountain Shop in London, and head of the brand consultancy Finch & Partners.
He’s spending much of his time these days building up Dean & DeLuca, and has recently partnered with Pharrell Williams and The Williams Family Kitchen on a product line. He also throws regular pre-BAFTA and pre-Oscar dinners with a roster of guests including Cate Blanchett, Tom Stoppard, Danny Huston, Nicole Kidman, Naomi Watts and Mick Jagger.
Those parties, Finch said, are an homage to one of his idols, Irving Paul “Swifty” Lazar, the legendary talent agent, Hollywood host and socialite. “He had an office which was very small, with two assistants, and yet he made deals until he was almost 90, so I think he was pretty inspiring,” said Finch.
Son of the British actor Peter Finch and the actress and writer Yolande Turner, Finch said his style inspiration is an altogether different sort of man — photographer Gilles Bensimon. While Finch admires Bensimon’s look, he admits it’s difficult to imitate — at least for now.
“My ambition is to one day shed my wardrobe and figure out how to look like Gilles Bensimon — or a famous stylist — who travels with a Birkin bag and minimal accoutrement and somehow looks cool,” said Finch.
For the foreseeable future, however, he’s sticking to a wardrobe of luxury, tailored classics. Here, he talks to WWD about crisscrossing the globe and his go-to pieces.
WWD: How would you describe your style?
Charles Finch: I’m always jealous of people in the fashion business, especially women. I always feel like they look so light and chic. They figure out how to wear the minimal sort of outfit, whether it be the Prada uniform or a T-shirt with perfect-fitting Levi’s and Birkenstocks.
The reality of my life is that I have a tailor in Naples and another one in London called Anderson & Sheppard — they make amazing tweed. The tailor in Naples is Elia Caliendo who, being Neapolitan, is used to a hot climate, and as I spend 50 percent of my time in New York and the rest of the time on the road, he makes me very lightweight blue and gray suits, which I wear with white shirts that come from a shirt maker in Rome who has been around for years. I also get my shirts from Budd in London.
So, basically, I have this uniform, which is gray suit or blue suit, with a white or dark blue shirt, always with a good pair of black shoes and a pair of brown brogues with a stitched-in rubber sole. I always wear blue ties from E. Marinella in Naples and I choose the fabric myself. The uniform is very important to me because, essentially, it enables me to not have to worry.
WWD: Who does your black tie?
C.F.: Elia does that, and has for years and years. When I was younger I always had a dark navy, black tie and everybody would look at me like it was odd, but now it is de rigueur. I’m sure it’s my input.
WWD: In addition to your Italian favorites, do you have any other top shops or brands on the continent?
C.F.: There are two fantastic shops in Paris: One is called Crimson, which makes incredible lightweight cashmere, and the other is Arthur & Fox, which is owned by my friend Michel Barnes. He’s a legend and he makes very lightweight chinos, which can be rolled up into a bag with your brogues or sneakers.
WWD: You had a peripatetic childhood — living between London, Jamaica, Scotland and the U.S. — and you continue to travel so much. How do you organize yourself?
C.F.: I have to keep a wardrobe in New York, and it’s at The Carlyle. Many years ago, Louis Vuitton gifted me a set of trunks that are in New York. All the suits are in there and when I arrived they’re unpacked.
WWD: Who, in addition to Gilles Bensimon, is your style inspiration?
C.F.: My father was very well-known for his sartorial style. We were this gypsy family: My mother had a plantation with my father in Jamaica, and he then went on to buy another big plantation, so he was always dressed in khaki fishing outfits — which I still wear — so I think it’s a bit of that.
Then there was Whitney Straight, the man who kind of brought me up, my godfather, the most influential person to me. (Straight was a motor racing driver, aviator, businessman and a member of America’s Whitney family). He always used to wear cream silk shirts and blue ties and charcoal suits. He was a very big style influencer.
Jimmy Goldsmith (the Anglo-French financier, politician and socialite) was quite influential in my life in many ways, as a friend as well, he had a particular style, he always used to wear cashmere socks — he had them in abundance.
WWD: You’re a classic dresser in a world that is rapidly getting more casual — and sloppy — in its approach to dress. How do you feel about that?
C.F.: The big challenge is a suit not worn with a tie. To me, it’s a very odd look. David Cameron and many of our [British] politicians have adopted this look. I think it is challenging for men to look chic in casual clothing. Most people just want to wear T-shirts and baggy shorts and don’t really care, whereas in the old days people used to really dress well in their leisure time. The suit has become a victim of that. People tend to wear a suit without a tie but it’s a strange look, there’s something missing. Either you wear a blazer and slacks, or you wear a suit and tie. It is challenging today to dress in an appropriate way.
WWD: Aside from the suit-without-a-tie look, is there anything else that rankles about “casual” dressing today?
C.F.: On the plane the other day, there was man who was wearing a tank top, shorts and Birkenstocks — and I don’t think that’s acceptable. First class should have a f—ing dress code. It’s not about money. It’s about education. When you build an environment where people can study well, they’ll work better. If you teach people to dress correctly, to take personal hygiene seriously, when we teach them about culture, they will be greater.
I don’t think taste is about money. As your career develops, you’re able to decide what to spend your money on. I live in a really small apartment in London, and that’s a choice. I live at The Carlyle in New York, but it’s not big. It’s about making choices of style over flashiness. People’s style is subjective and mine happens to be around the classical because I feel comfortable with that, and because of my background. I’m probably living in the wrong time. I should have lived in the Thirties or the Fifties.
WWD: You’re an avid sportsman and spend weekends and holidays fishing, sailing and climbing. How do you dress for sport?
C.F.: I’m a big fan of Loro Piana for anything to do with technical outerwear. I like Lululemon, too, and there’s a company called Kühl that makes the best breathable hiking shorts, trousers and gear. They make fantastic stuff that I use for hiking and trekking. I use equipment from Patagonia as well.
WWD: How do you accessorize?
C.F.: I want usable accessories that aren’t too heavy, although I have two belts made by Hermès that are pretty heavy. My tote bags are L.L. Bean, and I bought myself a Bottega Veneta leather bag. I saw that Gilles Bensimon had one, and in a moment of madness I thought I should have one, too, but I don’t always have the courage to walk around with it. I have a briefcase sleeve that was made for me by a leather maker many years ago in Turin.
WWD: What about watches?
C.F.: I’m a Rolex man, 100 percent. My Rolexes are my staple and have been all my life, ever since my mother gave me my first when I was 13. For a brief period I had an Audemars Piguet, a superthin Royal Oak, their 1967 original, but someone stole it in Bolivia. They’re very hard to find, but then I was in Venice the other day and I went into the Audemars shop and bought one. That’s my new favorite purchase. As well as my 80-foot boat Gael.
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