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With W.E., the upcoming flick about the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, first-time director Madonna and her costume designer Arianne Phillips certainly have their work cut out for them. No slacker when it came to fashion, the man who would not be king “had style in every buckle of his kilt and in every check of his country suit,” according to Diana Vreeland.
Noted men’s wear historian and bespoke designer Alan Flusser, the author of Dressing the Man, goes a step further. “He was the first modern fashion designer who taught men how to dress, because he could set the rules and break them,” Flusser says. “There will never be another person of that kind of position or influence.”
Having learned as a boy how to dress for every flashbulb-popping occasion, the duke acted out against his fastidious father with his avant-garde clothes. Clearly not one for formality, he “Armani-ized” clothes, making comfort an integral part of his impeccable way of dressing even before the legendary Italian designer. The duke was the kind of guy who could pull off—and often did—such unconventional combinations as a glen-plaid suit with a striped shirt and shepherd’s check tie. Double-breasted suits and black tie were among the 20th-century wardrobe staples he helped usher in. His preferred technique for tying a necktie is another matter—Flusser says he would pay $1,000 to anyone who can produce a photograph of the duke actually wearing a Windsor knot.
Whether actor James D’Arcy can measure up to the duke’s caliber of style in W.E. will be determined in early December, when the movie is out. If nothing else, the Londoner seems to share the freehandedness of the duke, whose royal consolation prize was becoming governor of the Bahamas. “I don’t have any expectations as any actor, and being rich and famous is not my driving force,” D’Arcy once said. “I’m not really ambitious. I’m more interested in enjoying my life and looking after my family than being hugely successful.” Sounds like perfect casting.