Charlie Watts’ Uniform Cool


Charles Bukowski once said in a lecture, “Style is the answer to everything.” still floating in the air of YouTube. The pockmark award-winning owner of the underworld who churned Schlitz out of a bottle talked about one of the few traits one can have but never gain, as is well known.

Bukowski said that bullfighters and boxers have a style. He also dubiously claimed to have seen men with more style inside the prison than outside its walls. “It’s better to do something boring with style than to do something dangerous without it,” he added – and at least that much seems incontrovertible.

No one has ever accused Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts, who died on August 24 at the age of 80, of dullness. Yet he was so stern and unpretentious to his sculpted bandmates with their face paint, feathers, and feathers that it was easy to shy away from the indescribable Watts coolness that anchored the Stones voice and came from a bloodline far older than rock.

Mr. Watts was a seasoned session player, usually a trained graphic artist who learned to play after quitting the banjo and turning his body into a drum before joining the world’s biggest rock ‘n’ roll band. He saw himself as essentially a jazzman; its heroes were musicians like Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Lester Young, and extraordinary pop singers like the unjustly forgotten Billy Eckstine.

He worked on famous, well-dressed men like Fred Astaire, who found a style and rarely deviated from it throughout their lives. A famous story about the Stones recounts that they didn’t rush to join the band after starving to earn enough money to hire a drummer. “Literally!” Keith Richards wrote his excellent memoir of 2010 in “Life.” “We went burglary to get Charlie Watts.”

Mr. Watts was expensive at the time and, as it were, rarely chose for himself an image that seemed otherwise. “To be honest,” he said once told GQ. “I have a very old-fashioned and traditional way of dressing.”

When bandmates Mick Jagger and Mr. Richards began peacocking in Carnaby Road velvets in secondhand happy rags from Portobello Road, Moroccan djellabas, boas, sequined overalls, and dresses plucked from their wives’ or girlfriends’ wardrobes, Mr. Watts continued to dress sober. as a lawyer. In the late 1970s, when Mr. Jagger and Mr. Richards began adding suits to their wardrobes, their selections tended to be bright and flashy newbie Tommy Nutter’s clip-on waists, four-stripe collars, checkerboard patterns or Oxford bag pants.

“I always felt completely out of place with the Rolling Stones,” Mr. Watts told GQ, at least in terms of style. Photos have surfaced of everyone else in the group wearing sneakers and a pair of lace-ups from Mr Watts’ 19th-century Mayfair shoemaker, George Cleverley. “I hate trainers,” he said, referring to his sneakers. “Even if they’re trendy.”

Perhaps in some ways Mr. Watts was totally ahead of the other Stones and the rest of us in terms of style – he was more advanced in his sense of tradition and how to subvert it, a bit like a jazz musician improvising on core melodies. There might even have been something punk in his determination to give up on the likes of Mr. Nutter early on and instead patronize some of the more venerable Savile Row tailors in the 1970s who were still so discreet with no signs on their doors. It was his genius to shape what these tailors were doing to their liking.

For example, 1971 Peter Webb footage – 40 years lost before being rediscovered in the last decade – depicting young Mr Watts and Mr Richards from “Sticky Fingers” at the height of their fame. Mr. Richards is gorgeously dressed in zip-up black leather, black and white graphic print corduroy trousers, a contrast-patterned shirt, a tailored leather bandoleer belt, and pirate feathers. Mr. Watts, by contrast, wears a three-piece suit and a six-button waistcoat, apparently stolid burgomaster’s loden.

Or pick up the double-breasted dove gray dressing gown that mature Mr. Watts wore at another shot of himself and his wife, Shirley, at Ascot. (Double bred Arabian horses.) Beautifully trimmed for his compact body (he was 5 feet-8 years old), a pale pink vest and tie is worn with a shirt with the round neckline fastened under the knot, it is his style in the first place. A look at and replica of the cover of Dexter Gordon’s ambitious jazz classic “Our Man in Paris”.

Each of these suits was bespoke, with the last one sewn by H. Huntsman & Sons, a Savile Row institution that has been dressing British clothing since 1849. Theirs was one of two tailoring companies that Mr. Watts worked with throughout his life.

“Mr. Watts was one of the most stylish gentlemen I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with,” said Huntsman head cutter Dario Carnera in an email. “He instilled his own tailoring talent on every commission.” The Craftsman added that he has been ordering from the establishment for more than 50 years (a fabric of Mr. Watts’ design – the Springfield strip – still exists in the Huntsman catalog.)

By his own rough estimation, Mr. Watts had several hundred suits, at least one pair of shoes, too many special shirts and ties to count—in fact, there were so many clothes that Moda was the wife who complained that her husband was spending too much time in front of the mirror.

Mr. Watts rarely wore his tailoring on stage, but for concerts or tours he preferred the practicality and anonymity of short-sleeved shirts or T-shirts. It was in civilian life that he developed and eventually perfected the image of an impeccable tailoring, as graceful as drumming.


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