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How They Roll

Style-savvy auto enthusiasts become fashion icons

Jay Leno

You don’t have to be a car collector to love the hair-raising speed, the streamlined shapes and the romantic allure of fine vintage automobiles. Often auto enthusiasts express their love of cars through their savvy style.

“When you think of the many men of great style, you see that the car they drive and the autos that they’re attracted to are a reflection of their personal style,” said Neiman Marcus Fashion Director Ken Downing. “Cars represent a sense of glamour and a bit of danger that appeals to their masculinity,” he said.

“Automotivated: Streamlined Fashion and Automobiles,” a 2010 exhibit at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, illustrated the evolving links between car and clothing design, according to Leslie Kendall, Petersen’s chief curator.

“Your car, especially in Southern California, is your outermost layer of clothing,” Kendall said. “It’s what you put on after you get dressed.”

Some men instinctually understand that connection and have become style icons of the runway and the raceway.

Ralph Lauren goes Vintage
Ralph Lauren, the billionaire founder of the eponymous international clothing company, channels his design sensibilities and imagination into a cinematic lifestyle and prestigious car collection. Lauren understands the magical way cars and clothes help us inhabit an era and construct a persona. That may be why Lauren is frequently photographed beside his vintage cars dressed as if he were their original owner. He’s in racing leathers for his Ferraris, tweeds with a British Aston Martin or suited up like a Newport industrialist beside his $40 million Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic.  In “Speed, Style and Beauty,” Winston Goodfellow’s book about Lauren’s collection, the designer explained that he sees cars as moving art. As Downing said, “The idea of transportation to define a man and his style has long been with us.” And whether he’s in denim on horseback at his ranch or driving a moving sculpture, Lauren knows that cars and clothes are cut from the same aspirational, transformational cloth.

Paul Newman and the Rolex Daytona
Unlike today’s many celebrity-endorsed products, the Paul Newman Daytona began as simply a gift from his wife, Joanne Woodward, to mark the beginning of his race car career in 1972. That he wore versions of that Rolex Cosmograph every day for the rest of his life helped usher it into immortality. Named for the Daytona International Speedway, the watch wasn’t just for looks. Housed in a waterproof case, the 17-jewel movement was accurate enough for professional use and featured a tachometer to gauge miles per hour. The ever-evolving configurations of functions, dials and  lettering styles is the stuff of collector lore, with the rarest vintage versions fetching $1 million at auction. Though Rolex created a new Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona to be released this year, wait lists for the $12,400 watch surely will push the price higher.

Lapo Elkann and colored suits
Lapo Elkann, the Fiat heir and grandson of legendary trendsetter Gianni Agnelli, has emerged as a global style icon for his ability to mix the traditional with the avant-garde, the casual with the elegant. As founder of Italia Independent, a lifestyle and clothing brand, and Garage Italia Customs, a Milan-based car customization company, Elkann has established a personal style that redefines masculine elegance. He wears head-to-toe baby blue or vivid orange bespoke suits; loafers sans socks with impeccably tailored double-breasted jackets; and cobalt suede opera slippers with a coordinating suit and striped T-shirt. His singular style has earned collaborations with former Gucci creative director Frida Giannini, and served as inspiration for her successor, Alessandro Michele, to reinterpret Elkann’s intellectual romanticism. Following in his footsteps, men may one day be comfortable carrying orange briefcases or wearing bold plaid suits. The opera slippers in daytime may, however, remain Elkann’s alone.

Gianni Agnelli driving shoes
Though Gianni Agnelli famously wore lace-up hiking boots with his bespoke suits, like many of his rule-breaking style choices, necessity was the mother of invention. The magnate reportedly required the reinforcement of the sturdy boot after injuring his foot in a car accident. Though that look hasn’t caught on, his preference for loafers or driving moccasins without socks endures. Giulo Miserocchi claims to have invented the driving shoe, and made them for Agnelli. Today, however, Italian leathergoods company Tod’s is a leading manufacturer of driving shoes, including a collaboration with another historic stylish Italian, Ferrari.

Jay Leno and the denim shirt
Car collector and comedian Jay Leno may not be an international fashion plate, though his car collection makes him globally envied. Leno’s go-to ensemble for many decades has been double-denim—a denim shirt and denim jeans—something a mechanic might wear. Leno is teased on a regular basis for his “Canadian tuxedo” (mostly by fellow comedians), but this Western-style denim or chambray shirt with denim jeans is a classic combination sported frequently by fellow men of style Lauren and Agnelli. Leno’s laid-back look also speaks more to his interest in cars under the hood, not just their aesthetics. Whether he’s slinging wrenches with guys in the garage or driving a sexy 1967 Ferrari, his regular-guy attire makes him look equally at ease. When you’re driving a thing of such beauty, why compete?

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