Benny Castles WORLD – Issue 14

Designer and director at World and Project Runway New Zealand judge Benny Castles is very much his own man and has some ideas about how you can be yours and invent an ensemble that says just that.

What kind of gentleman are you, Benny? That’s an odd question and even odder paraphrasing from a Wes Anderson film that has little or nothing to do with this set of thoughts. However, it offers a starting point.

In 2016, famed British fragrance house Penhaligon’s created a new collection known as Portraits, and as part of it, archetypes of aristocratic English characters were personified in scent. Among them were patriarch Lord George, described as ‘masculine, elegant, full of panache… powerful, rich and ever-welcoming… honourable to a T, embraced by all…’, and a dandy known as the Duke, described as ‘eccentric and uncommon… a man of the arts… loyal to a fault… ephemeral and decadent… extravagant in his tastes…’

The notes for this set of fragrances included a key of sorts to ‘Find your Portrait’ – essentially to ascribe to an idealisation of a character to better present your own with the ultimate accessory of aroma.

The idea of dressing for an occasion and the prison of tradition in which we live can be suffocating for any man on the cusp of a wedding. Perhaps here is where we might take a leaf out of Penhaligon’s’ new tradition, that of looking back to find the character in ourselves.

Fashion is nothing if not self-expression. It’s a rather strong tool in any man’s hands, but also something of a responsibility – most importantly to yourself. I’d encourage you to find inspiration in your own interests.

I once had a groom-to-be ask me quite simply just to make him look “fuckin’ cool”. When I asked who he thought was cool, he paused then said, “James Bond”, so a sleek 60s Thunderball/Connery-inspired suit was created. To most – his bride included – it was just a black suit, but to this gentleman, it was a bulletproof piece of armour with just enough personal attention to be only his own.

After an initial discussion, another groom produced a picture of the Blues Brothers with Run DMC-era Adidas Superstar shell-toe sneakers, another asked for Serge Gainsbourg, and another Paul Newman – and that’s not to mention all the Bowie references.

The point is, in finding your own tradition, don’t rely on reinvention. Look back to find that little bit of yourself in a portrait that can be manipulated into a presentation of your own ideal. Unless you’re a royal, your outfit won’t be cast in time against the fashion of the moment. The trend of timing is meaningless in comparison to the necessity to have the day represent who you are when taking the spotlight to profess your love.

Formality and tradition shouldn’t be seen as something to fit into, but rather something to fit around you. The narrative is yours to control, and one with as many details as an entire outfit should be savoured in every little detail – the width of the lapel, the length of the blazer, the height of the waist, the shape of the leg. Because if we’re not bending history to create the portrait we want for ourselves, we’re really not deciding on the gentleman we want to be.

WORLD | Painting—Anieszka Banks | Fashion Photography by Garth Badger