Q&A: Donald Sutherland, Still Dapper as Ever, Delivers a Masterclass in Men’s Style
The actor ruminates on the clothes, accessories and attention to detail that have come to define his signature style
Last month, I compiled a list of the 50 best dressed men over 50. My aim was not to simply highlight the men whose stylists outfit them well for red carpets or talk shows, but the ones who have dressed themselves with class, taste and intuition for decades, whether they’re making a public appearance or running errands. They’ve become fashion icons because they’ve learned how to dress in clothing that looks good on them and fits their personality — not because they’ve chased trends or played it safe.
Donald Sutherland was one of the first names I added to that list. His style is equal parts flair and refinement, the product of impeccable tailoring, timeless styling and genuine artistry. I have been a fan of Sutherland’s since I watched him play opposite Jane Fonda in the ’70s psych thriller Klute. He is the epitome of cool, with an effortless charm, an enviable head of hair and a scrupulous eye for clothing.
This is why I am so excited to feature him as the first subject in a series of interviews with men from the list, where we’ll discuss their personal mantras on style, the pieces they can’t live without and more. Sutherland was extremely generous with his time, detailing for us his favorite places to buy everything socks to hats, discussing his current must-have items (including a scarf from Nicole Kidman) and crediting his biggest style influence (his wife).
InsideHook: How would you describe your personal sense of style?
Donald Sutherland: Eclectic.
Name one or two items in your closet you would never go without.
Nothing other than underwear (Zimmerli), a handkerchief and a scarf or neck dressing of some sort — an article that would make sure I don’t get a chill. Most recently the Prada scarf that Nicole gave me when we were shooting The Undoing. And often, in the winter, a knitted Canadian choker (which, with its drawstring, doubles as a toque) that Paula Lishman has knitted by ladies in Southern Ontario.
How do you think your style has evolved over the years?
Horizontally, not vertically. (That’s a joke. As I’ve aged, my height has reduced and my breadth has increased.)
What do you think it means to be well-dressed?
First and foremost the impression of cleanliness. Beautiful fabric. Jackets that drape perfectly, no ripple on the suit back just below the bottom of the collar at the back of the neck, with the shoulders lying flat on the chest. There should be no separation between the suit collar and the shirt collar at the back of the neck. It should not ride up on one side or the other with movement. Anderson & Sheppard Haberdashery in London’s Savile Row used to have a room for Fred Astaire. He had his tailcoats built there and would come to London to try them on. They had a circular dais and, surrounded by all the tailors, Astaire would mount the dais wearing each tail coat. He’d pirouette and suddenly stop, as if in a dance with Ginger Rogers. If the coat fell perfectly on his shoulders, there’d be cheers. Otherwise, it went back to the bench. The trousers should move. When he was eight, our son Rossif was with his mother who was buying him a pair of trousers. He turned them down one after the other. His mother stopped him and patiently told him he had to choose one. He said, “I will as soon as I find a pair that moves like my father’s do.”
Years ago, John Lobb built pairs of shoes and boots for me. I don’t know whether it indicates that one is well dressed wearing them, but they sure have been incredibly comfortable these past 25 years. My sons steal them. The shoes must be well shined. The suits that I wore for years, the ones with the trousers that move, were tailored by Armani, and I wore them until he changed their template. They were a Size 42 long. I’d put them on in the shop, they’d repair the ripple at the neck, and they’d be perfect. The shirt was always Turnbull & Asser, French cuffs with Tiffany gold knots. The tie came from Hermes, preferably monotone, the knot should be a half Windsor; the tie’s point must land a little more than an inch below the belt, never higher. (Never longer, as in the fashion the recently defeated U.S. president wore his long red “made in China” ties.)
The suspenders, from Albert Thurston, are perfectly beautiful. My hats are made by Locke and Company in London. They’re a 63 long oval. A St. James’s Fedora and a rollable Panama. A Superfino Montecristo Panama kept in its box for special occasions. Socks by Gallo.
What is your favorite outfit to wear when you want to dress casually? What about when you’re getting dressed up?
Khaki slacks, a Turnbull and Asser casual shirt, button cuffs. A cashmere sweater (Loro Piana), and nowadays, a pair of Allbirds loafers. Dressed up I’m most comfortable in a tuxedo or a tail coat with a Turnbull and Asser pleated shirt and a size 18 tie-able tie, white for the tailcoat, black for the tuxedo, black silk socks and a pair of Lobb pumps.
Who are the people who taught you how to dress or have inspired your sense of style?
My wife, Francine Racette, has the best taste in the world and instructs and corrects me on every occasion. Federico Fellini’s costume designer Danilo Donati. The brilliant designer Milena Canonera. And the wonderful Judianna Makovsky, who created the clothes for Fred Schepisi’s film Six Degree of Separation. I loved being in them, so elegant they were.
What’s one piece in your wardrobe that has sentimental value to you?
A tweed suit that I wore in the Royal Court’s production of Edgar Lee Masters’s The Spoon River Anthology in Sloane Square, London, circa 1964. I can’t remember which of the many characters I played in that Anthology, but one of them kept hitting his right thigh with his right thumb nail, and over the run there was a thin thumb line cut into the trousers.
Of all the characters you’ve played, do any stand out as having memorably good style?
Giacomo Casanova (Fellini’s Casanova), Flanders Kitteridge (Fred Schepisi’s Six Degrees of Separation), Jay Molloy [in] The Disappearance (filmed by Stuart Cooper).
But all the characters I have played informed me with their costumier’s sense of taste, with their life, their dreams: from 1900’s Attila to President Snow of The Hunger Games.
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