How To Choose A Signature Piece

Items With Character

Have a look around. Your furniture, your car, your shoes – what are their stories? I’m sure you can name a handful of possessions that say a lot about you. What made you fall in love with them? Is there a fragrance of choice, a scratched watch, a pair of faded jeans or a suit you could never part with and, if necessary, wouldn’t think twice about replacing with another of the same? I bet these wardrobe treasures know you better than a life partner or close friend. Nothing becomes a trademark like an all-time classic: inanimate objects with personalities of their own, stories to tell and loads to teach. If only we knew what will endure in our lives at the moment of purchase. To help identify these unfading style tools, we have produced some guidelines to consider when picking your next signature piece…

1. Agelessness

You can pull off a classic at eighteen, eighty or any age in between. In some cases, the older you get, the cooler they’ll look. Take converse trainers, for example. There are no age-appropriateness rules to them, but they will look their best if you’re either under twenty-five or sixty plus.

2. Idol Approval

A potential pièce de résistance is likely to have been worn (and documented) by at least one important figure in history – whether it be a politician, movie star, character or glamorous criminal. Endorsement alone doesn’t make a story, but we can’t deny it adds appeal. For example, the list of clothes and accessories Steve McQueen made iconic is long. Always looking slightly more casual than his entourage, ‘The King of Cool’ gave his signature items the fame and recognition they still enjoy. Thirty-four years after McQueen left us, you can’t go wrong with a pair of Persol 714s, a Baracuta Harrington jacket, a roll neck, Superga trainers or a chambray shirt:

Images Of Steve McQueen Wearing Some Of The Pieces He Made Iconic

  • Persol Steve Mcqueen 714 54 Folding Acetate SunglassesPersol Steve Mcqueen 714 54 Folding Acetate Sunglasses
  • G9 OriginalG9 Original
  • Farrell Shawl Neck Chunky Knit CardiganFarrell Shawl Neck Chunky Knit Cardigan
  • Mens Barbour Rexton Waxed JacketMens Barbour Rexton Waxed Jacket
  • J.crew Cotton-chambray ShirtJ.crew Cotton-chambray Shirt
  • John Smedley Judson Cashmere And Silk-blend Rollneck SweaterJohn Smedley Judson Cashmere And Silk-blend Rollneck Sweater
3. Timelessness

Great design has obligatorily passed the test of time but, at a glance, could date from the past (or future) fifty years, showing utter contemporaneity. Below are a few all-time favourites and their creation dates, for reference:

  • Trench Coat (Aquascutum) – 1850s
  • Cartier Tank Watch – 1917
  • Leather Biker Jacket (Schott Perfecto) – 1928
  • Ray-Ban Aviator Sunglasses – 1936
  • Havaianas Flip-Flops – 1960
4. Versatility

A good classic will balance out any questionable eccentricities you decide to give in to. A simple experiment can prove this theory: try approaching someone in their mid-forties with pictures of them in their teenage years. Foot-high, gel-sculpted hair, acid-wash denim, neon accents, punk accessorising… they’ll often be mortified and try to change subject. However, if you look closely you’ll spot a couple of details they never gave up, and that work extremely well within their current looks. Ray-Ban wayfarers or Dr. Martens shoes, for example. This happens to any decade, so make sure you integrate one or two pieces with enduring appeal into whatever you’re wearing right now. Your future self will thank me for this tip.

5. Indisputable Value For Money

Even if it means a momentary financial setback, the cost of a classic will always dissolve itself in wearing opportunities. At fourteen, I made my first fashionable purchase: Gucci loafers. The traditional ones, launched in 1953, worn by Francis Ford Coppola and Peter Sellers. I saved up for months before the day I pulled a big roll of small notes from my pocket, and left the shop with my new shoes. There wasn’t even any money left for the taxi back home. I was broke, but very happy. Over the years, these very loafers took me to job interviews, clubbing, dates, trips, and moved countries with me a few times, always adapting to changes in fashion, geographic differences and stages of life. Over a decade later, very well looked after, they still live in my wardrobe and come out whenever my attire can benefit from a touch of personal history.

  • Gucci Horsebit Leather LoafersGucci Horsebit Leather Loafers
  • Mulberry Clipper Leather Holdall BagMulberry Clipper Leather Holdall Bag
  • Burberry London Cotton-gabardine Trench CoatBurberry London Cotton-gabardine Trench Coat
  • Schott Perfecto Leather Motorcycle JacketSchott Perfecto Leather Motorcycle Jacket
  • Rolex Submariner Watch 1996Rolex Submariner Watch 1996
  • Sunspel Riviera Cotton-mesh Polo ShirtSunspel Riviera Cotton-mesh Polo Shirt
  • Orlebar Brown Bulldog Swim ShortsOrlebar Brown Bulldog Swim Shorts
  • Grenson Sharp Brogue BootsGrenson Sharp Brogue Boots
  • Ray-ban Clubmaster SunglassesRay-ban Clubmaster Sunglasses
6. Character

The best items always come with curious trivia, making them excellent ice-breakers. Whoever is selling it should be able to tell the story. If not, do your research. I’m a grown up now, so my roll of bank notes has been replaced by an overdraft, which allows for bigger splurges. My next shopping episode will star a Jaeger Lecoultre Reverso 1931, a reissue of the timepiece designed-to-order in 1931 for a very important polo player: subtle Art Deco lines and a curious mechanism that allows for the watch to close during a match to protect the dial, all in a very thin, understated box, wrapped around the wrist by a matte-black crocodile strap. I don’t play polo, and this trivia will not really matter to most people. However, the presence of purposeful, sleek design is always conspicuous.

Jaeger Lecoultre Reverso 1931 Watch

7. Innovation

Classics were born innovative, bold and unique. What looks like an established design formula today is very likely to have been revolutionary at the time of its launch. A good example is the 1930 Louis Vuitton Keepall. This soft-sided canvas carry-all was the first foldable piece of luggage ever designed. Lightweight and practical, it was a major shift from the heavy trunks people travelled with at the time. Yes, we’re living wheelie times, but I refuse to let go of my handheld cabin size Keepall, even though it makes me a bit cranky whenever long haul terminal changes are involved. They just feel right.

1930 Louis Vuitton Keepall Travel Bag

8. Quality

This is a key element, as a signature piece needs to endure and age beautifully to enable an evolving, long-lasting relationship. “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works”, said Steve Jobs. Keep that in mind. If it’s uncomfortable, impractical or there’s something awkward about what you’re trying, let it go. Would you marry someone who is not a perfect match?

9. Savoir-Faire

A true original cannot be replaced by lookalikes or cheaper alternatives. One of my favourite examples is A.P.C jeans. Tired of the baggy fashions of the time, in the heart of Paris, 1987, Jean Toitou founded a label that produced slim-fitting jeans with no apparent branding. Raw and dark, A.P.C jeans are designed to fade and acquire a denim patina determined by the contour and movements of the wearer’s body. No pre-washed lookalike pair can ever achieve a look the body has drawn. The older they get, the more exclusive they become.

  • A.p.c. Petit Standard Slim-fit Dry Selvedge Denim JeansA.p.c. Petit Standard Slim-fit Dry Selvedge Denim Jeans
  • A.p.c. New Standard Regular-fit Dry Selvedge Denim JeansA.p.c. New Standard Regular-fit Dry Selvedge Denim Jeans
  • A.p.c. Petit New Standard Slim-fit Dry Selvedge JeansA.p.c. Petit New Standard Slim-fit Dry Selvedge Jeans
  • Edwin Ed-80 Deck Jeans In Soak WashEdwin Ed-80 Deck Jeans In Soak Wash
  • Nudie Jeans Thin Finn Skinny Jeans Dry TwillNudie Jeans Thin Finn Skinny Jeans Dry Twill
  • Levis Vintage Jeans 1960 605 Slim Fit Orange Tab Raw DenimLevis Vintage Jeans 1960 605 Slim Fit Orange Tab Raw Denim
10. Consistency Goes A Long Way

This piece will become a recognisable feature of your persona, provided you don’t give it up for momentary flings. A signature transcends dress codes and trends. A while ago, at a swanky (borderline stuffy) dinner party, in which the black tie dress code was being enforced at the door (a distasteful practice in this day and age), a guest managed to make it through in leather trousers instead of dinner suit bottoms: a good look for the Grammys, but hardly conformist attire for such a bourgeois evening. I later learned leather trousers were ‘his look’, from day work to ballrooms. And he owned it. Best dressed man at the event, without a doubt.

Final Word

So there you have it, a few tips to bear in mind when you are searching for your next signature piece. But whether you’re sticking to the rules or breaking them, what are the trademarks of your personal style? And what do they mean to you? Let us know in the comments section…

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