Personal style is a difficult thing to explain; it takes a lot of trial and error to discover, and inspiration often comes in the least likely places. For me, it was looking at old photos of Francis Ford Coppola.
Coppola is a lot of things: one of our great living genius directors, a wildly successful winemaker, a person willing to take massive risks to see his artistic vision through. But people don’t often think of his fits. I didn’t either, until I saw a photo of him on the set of Apocalypse Now. There’s one specific shot where he’s in some white linen pants, denim shirt and desert boots, blowing a trumpet I imagine he found on set. He’s likely in his late-30s or early-40s, given the amount of time it took to make the film. When I first saw it, I was also in my late-30s and, to be honest, I look a lot like Coppola in that era. I’ve got the full beard, the same build. As a big guy with weird proportions, pulling clothes off the rack is always a gamble because, as I like to joke, I’m built for dealing with cold Eastern European winters.
When I was first venturing on my odyssey to shape my personal style, it took me a long time to understand that I was looking in the wrong places. I was looking at conventionally good-looking guys who, if I have to guess, haven’t had many problems keeping an eye on their weight. But when I looked at the picture of Coppola—hairy, a bit zaftig and totally owning it—I started to rethink things. I noted little things like how much room he had in his shirt sleeves or where he let jackets fall. This era has lots of good suit shots, but there’s one I particularly like of him in a great army jacket that stuck with me (though I’d probably want it looser in the middle). I started thinking how I could pull off the looks, but in my own way. Looking at that one picture made me realize I had to loosen up more—literally. I had to go a little baggier with the things I wore.
Bigger guys have always helped shape culture, and expand our definition of what we might consider cool. Take Oscar Wilde, a guy you’ll sometimes see described as “the first modern man.” Wilde was a dandy, but he was a big dandy at 6’3” and over 200 pounds. If he was alive today, he’d likely have to work extra hard to find clothes that worked for him. That’s partly what makes big guy style so unique: the struggle, so to speak. When you don’t fit, you find ways to make your own space.
The Notorious B.I.G. was a large guy who could rap better than anybody else, but the man had swagger. Orson Welles was always a fan of tailored suits, no matter where his weight was at. André Leon Talley, similarly, could wear the hell out of a suit, but also was a master at giving whatever he had on just the right amount of zhuzh, from clashing tie and shirt patterns to knowing how to rock a fur; I can’t help but think Rick Ross learned a thing or two. As Tony Soprano, James Gandolfini has been on many a moodboard because of his incredible knitwear game, but his turn as Bear, the bearded, Hawaiian shirt-clad tough guy, in 1995’s Get Shorty is also inspiring for summertime.