Focussing on Freud’s fashion
From Savile Row suits to a sailor's sweater, the artist repurposed all kinds of garments to suit his own style
For years, a some Freud portraits languished in the archives of British Vogue. These weren’t by Freud, but photographs of the painter, taken by the American fashion photographer Clifford Coffin, in London back in 1947.
Freud was hardly decked out in the latest fashions; it was 1947, after all, and both Great Britain and the young artist were pretty threadbare. Still, the 24 year old did display a certain degree of stylishness.
“Freud, sporting a beflagged Merchant Navy sweater, stood and sat for Coffin in his Paddington room overlooking the canal,” explains the text in our new book, Lucian Freud: A Life.
He might have been wearing a slightly more fashionable shirt by the London menswear retailer Cecil Gee, but he had swapped it for a chicken a few months earlier, during a particularly lean period while painting in Greece, and so the artist fell back on his old wartime uniform. Freud had served in the Merchant Navy during World War II, and would have worn a sweater such as this; yet his willingness to retain the woolen jersey a certain ability to take clothing and make it his own.
On a trip to Scotland in 1943 with his friends Bettina Shaw-Lawrence and Nigel MacDonald, Freud sported a pair of claimed to have acquired from a soldier of a Scottish regiment in the bar of the Ritz. And at the Headdress Ball, held at Warwick House in the upmarket St James district of London in 1955, he stuck a tulip in a top hat and tucked daisies into its band.
This fine line between outlandish and conventional styles of dress remained with the painter for years, as his daughter, Rose Boyt recalls in a personal essay, reproduced in our book, responding to photographs taken by Freud confidant Harry Diamond back in 1975. “My father’s clothes in the picture are rakishly conventional,” she wrote, “he did not want to look as though he was part of the counterculture of the early 1970s, and was always beautifully dressed.
“He had suits made at [Savile Row tailors] Huntsman, and even the checked chef’s trousers that he wore for work – bought from Denny’s in Soho, belted at the waist and covered in paint – were stylish and elegant.”
To see all those images in full, as well as much more, order a copy of Lucian Freud: A Life here.