The Rake's Lifetime Achievement Award: ALAN FLUSSER


Photo by Rose Callahan. Special thanks to The Polo Bar, New York


By Nick Scott

This article first appeared in The Rake, Issue 67, December 2019

When it comes to men’s dress codes, “the times” — as a Minnesotan folk singer of no little repute once rasped — “they are a-changin’.” In fact, we stand at “the precipice of a new era,” according to the sartorial polymath Alan Flusser. For those last in the room, Flusser is a designer, stylist, tailor, and the proprietor of New York City’s finest custom clothing outlet. He’s also the author of Dressing the Man: Mastering the Art of Permanent Fashion (and four other erudite, accessible, and edifying books), and a permanent fixture on Vanity Fair’s international best-dressed lists for the past two decades. In short, the winner of our Lifetime Achievement Award is a man whose view on the subject of dress codes we would no sooner doubt than we’d place snow upon the masthead lettering of this, our winter issue. 

“International relations, national politics, the weather, and gender equality are all in transition, and so is male fashion along with the dress codes that have long conditioned its relevance,” Flusser tells The Rake. “I would posit that not since the Peacock Revolution in the 1960s has there been such a cultural rethink about the occasion-driven standards and the situation-appropriateness of classic male attire. Unlike the American hippy or England’s Carnaby Street fashions that conspicuously broke with convention, today it’s the modern workplace and its new-age, youth-driven social norms that are driving the change.”

Flusser doesn’t merely observe such trends, he evaluates and deciphers their nuances and enigmatic whys and wherefores, and imparts his findings to those who share his passion but not his killer instinct. If you had to distill his raison d'être into two words, those words might be “instilling confidence.” 

“While the trend for dressing down for work has been around now for almost 30 years, its execution continues to confuse and frustrate many, particularly those men raised on haberdashery models of years gone by,” he says. “Of course, the real problem began once you decided to do away with the confidence-building uniform of the suit’s matching top and bottom. Now, the morning begins with a man’s having to coordinate the separates of a shirt, trouser, sweater or soft jacket, and so on — clearly, a more decision-demanding and therefore mistake-fraught activity than before.”

Learning how to learn how to dress, Flusser believes, is key. “Those who are determined to learn which are the best levers of information and how to navigate them will be the ones, like cream, to rise to the top,” he says. “What has long excited me was either to design, have custom made, or to come upon an item of such unimpeachable taste and quality that I can visualize wearing it forever. As my eye became more practiced, that which attracted me tended to become more idiosyncratic than traditionally stylish. 

“My dressing style today is much more eclectic and genre-mixing than 20 years ago, in my Savile Row years. However, while my personal style has evolved, the criteria governing any addition to my wardrobe remains much the same as before; is it a classic enough wearable and well made enough to become timeless and thus transcend the moment and fashion in general? For a man to continue to be inspired by the art form that is a part of male habiliment, he should aspire to effect a certain timelessness in his dress, and if it expresses a more distinctive sartorial personality, that much the better.”

As followers of Flusser’s career will be aware, he created a 1980s power guise for Gordon Gekko (and also did costume work on Scent of a Woman and American Psycho). How might he dress Michael Douglas for the part here in 2019? “As little as 10 years ago, my answer would be that the overall look would remain pretty much the same, with the exception that the cut would likely be a bit more fitted and the weight of the fabrics a bit lighter. Creating such a master-of-the-universe wardrobe would be far more challenging today. For one thing, its roots would no longer be able to wrap themselves exclusively around the custom-tailored, Old World cafe society paradigm, although an updated version might constitute one part of its overall modernity. Ironically, what would not change is its continuity with the original Gekko mindset — that being ‘I’m so rich and powerful I can wear anything I want.’ It would still be fun to try. I have a feeling my talent of knowing how to fold a handkerchief or pin a dress-shirt collar would not be held in quite such esteem.” 

Flusser jokes that his main aim for the future is “to be a part of it,” and posterity is clearly of paramount importance to him. “As an industry elder who has achieved a certain longevity and success, I feel a certain responsibility to become as much of a mentor to those in need of one as I can,” he says. “I’d like to spend more time putting my custom shop on a long-term trajectory so it can flourish well into the future without me. For 35 years it’s been my laboratory for understanding how men and women think about themselves and fashion.”

Like many a laboratory, it’s one in which much has been done for the greater good of mankind.