Film has always been attracted by the possibilities of its own image, defining and re-defining moods and modes, styles and fashions in a playful, unusually discursive way. The overriding texture and impression of an era is often synonymous with the icons of the period. Think of Rudolph Valentino and Douglas Fairbanks Sr. in the 1920s, Clark Gable and Errol Flynn in the 30s, Humphrey Bogart and James Stewart in the 40s, Rock Hudson and Marlon Brando in the 50s, Alain Delon and Marcello Mastroianni in the 60s, Warren Beatty and Edward Fox in the 70s, Richard Gere and Tom Cruise in the 80s, Brad Pitt and George Clooney in the 90s. Tailored to perfection, buoyed by their own charisma, these cultural icons stand on both sides of the mirror, looking good. Below is our pick of the Top 5 most stylish, inspirational actors in their most elegant incarnations. What do you think? Let us know your own contenders in the comments section. And if you’re in need of a new style, you know where to go…
1. Richard Gere – American Gigolo
Quite simply, no-one has ever looked smoother than Richard Gere in Paul Schrader’s glaring film about the male escort industry. He sashays his way through the movie, enslaved by his own searing sexual appeal. Defined by a sly athleticism and self regarding arrogance, the scene where Gere prepares for a night out is beautifully voyeuristic and one of the most mechanically pleasurable scenes committed to film.
2. Warren Beatty Shampoo
Beatty’s poodlish bouffant, open-necked shirts and paint-on jeans combine for a look that Russell Brand seems to have transposed wholesale into his own rakish style. But Beatty gives these otherwise effeminate elements the macho sexual poise and threat he brings to everything. Shampoo is bursting with gorgeous people, but none more perfectly tussled, scarily of-the moment, than Beatty – a man ‘tragically’ locked within his fate of screwing everyone in sight.
3. Cary Grant – North-by-Northwest
Almost like a man with no origins, no future and no strings attached, Cary Grant eased through his years in Hollywood, nothing too grave that an ironic quip couldn’t fix. North-by Northwest is a film that seems to exist primarily to test the talcum-cool of Grant, who manages, despite being chased by a figure as sinister as James Mason, to score with Eva Marie Saint. Even the frenzied attack of the crop-duster doesn’t flap him entirely. His tidy grey suit needs nothing more than a brush down from room service to restore him to the arch-equilibrium he revels in.
4. Mickey Rourke – Angel Heart
Rourke has always carried with him a 50s-ish deadbeat punk-cool about him but it is in Angel Heart that he gets to show off his true bum-elegance: the dirty white vests, bulking overcoats and wide shouldered suits, by way of the private eye movies of the 40s, seem to perfectly fit the outrageous figure of the actor. His devious, buffoonish pug and greasy swept-back hair somehow come together to form an entirely vintage style, somewhere between Dan Duryea and Robert Mitchum – a man equally ill at ease, wherever he finds himself. He may look great but I’m not sure I’d like to smell like him.
5. Malcolm McDowell – A Clockwork Orange
The abstract aesthetic of the whole film – a kind of sprawling council estate dystopia surrounded by middle-class compounds – is imbued with a sinister, composed aspect, so typically Kubrick. McDowell swaggers through the opening half of the film like some, violent savage. The bowler hats and marine boots, prison-yard overalls and dandy-ish canes are a reasonable representation of future fashions: the gauche, provocative and conflicting mash of everything that has come before it. Jean Paul Gautier, by his own admission, owes his entire fashion career to this film.