Remember that meme with Jared Leto and the Gucci coat? It’s a three-parter: a Joker-hair-green Gucci coat passes Leto on the runway, Leto’s face erupts in delight, Leto shows up to a movie premiere in the same coat. Leto ended up shooting down the viral narrative (“Sorry to ruin your meme,” he told Vanity Fair), but for a moment we believed we were witnessing something rare: a celebrity acting on a genuine style impulse. In the Hollywood stylist era, when a celebrity discovers a garment, obsesses over it, wears it, and actually looks great—well, that’s as rare as the Issey Miyake bomber Robin Williams wore to the “Flubber” premier, and it’s worth celebrating.
It turns out that we were watching such an event play out in February, when Kanye West showed up to the Vanity Fair Oscar Party wearing a leather blazer and pants made by British menswear label Dunhill. The cropped, kimono-style blazer wasn’t necessarily an unusual aesthetic choice for GQ’s May cover star, who wears advanced leather like the rest of us wear denim. But when Kanye isn’t in Key Work Wear or sweats of his own design, he’s likely to be found in garms designed by his “earth mom” Miuccia Prada, his friend Riccardo Tisci, or his former creative director Virgil Abloh. Even for someone whose brand is confounding expectations, a low-key British label with a pedigree that stretches back to the reign of George V felt like a surprising choice.
Or was it? It turns out the week before the Academy Awards, on the set of his GQ shoot in Cody, Wyoming, Kanye took to a similar Dunhill blazer, a creamy, formal version in wool. He liked it so much he’s wearing it on the May issue cover, which dropped today. After the Tyler Mitchell shoot wrapped, Kanye’s team got in touch with Dunhill to source the Oscars suit, and the rest is Big Fit history. “I was super excited about it. Having someone of his notoriety and his place in the fashion world, if you like—to have him be into what we’re doing is fantastic,” Dunhill creative director Mark Weston told me of Kanye’s fondness for the brand.
If Kanye were only one of the most famous artists in the world, his stylistic choices would be worth obsessing over. But he’s also designing and selling over a billion dollars worth of sneakers with Adidas. He’s designing “couture” at Yeezy, and raising sheep so that he can create farm-to-table garments. This is the guy who describes everything he does as an art piece. He understands better than anyone that what he wears means something.
And as Weston notes, Kanye’s affinity for Dunhill is a sign that what the brand is doing is working. Dunhill was founded in London in 1893, and became known for its luxury motoring accessories and, later, tobacco products and classic tailoring. Its identity is deeply, almost psychotically British. When Sean Connery introduces himself as “Bond, James Bond,” in “Dr. No,” his lips wrapped around a cigarette, he’s lighting up with a Dunhill lighter.
The Richemont-owned brand began to shake its tweedy, Jaguar-driving associations in 2008, when a young designer named Kim Jones joined as its first creative director, establishing the label’s fashion ambitions before leaving three years later for Louis Vuitton. After a revolving door of designers failed to leave a mark, Weston landed at Dunhill in 2017 from Burberry, where he had spent nine years working under the beloved Christopher Bailey.
Some creative director jobs are considered tougher than others—some ateliers are haunted by the ghosts of designers past, while other jobs simply come saddled with overwhelming commercial expectations. The gig Weston took on might have been one of the toughest. At the height of the streetwear era, he was tasked with breathing new life into a brand associated with a different century that hadn’t yet been a major player on the men’s fashion scene. “From a distance, Dunhill felt very classic. It was a really particular take on Britishness that I felt probably wasn’t relevant for a more contemporary context or place today,” Weston told me. “But there was a very clear message about quality, and it had beautiful bones.”
The first version of Kanye’s favorite wrap-blazer appeared in Weston’s Spring-Summer 2019 collection. “For me it was about taking tailoring and making it relevant for today, giving it a point of view,” Weston said. The kimono-like design is a nod to Dunhill’s history as one of the first western luxury brands to enter Asia, a piece of inspiration from the extensive Dunhill archive that Weston mines for spiritual guidance. But, beyond accessorizing the occasional runway model with a Rollagas lighter, Weston is more interested in tinkering with new forms than he is in dusting off old house codes from a bygone Britain. “I’m obsessed with process, and engineering, and construction,” Weston told me. The blazer was developed through repeated fittings until Weston felt the proportions and drape were perfect. “It was a real process of reiteration until it felt like the right point. Adjusting it on the body, assessing it, recutting it.”
Kanye isn’t the only celebrity on the Dunhill tip. Cole Sprouse was at the Vanity Fair party in Dunhill, too, wearing a creamy white kimono-wrap dinner jacket and high-waisted split-hem trousers. By the end of the night, I hadn’t seen anyone in a better fit. In a sea of tight, stiff shawl-collar tuxedos, Sprouse, cigarette in hand, looked downright elegant, a louche king in his perfectly-draped blazer and silk shirt. “A really important thing for me was Dunhill’s got to be relevant,” Weston told me. “There’s still a beauty in timelessness and classicism done the right way. But it’s also about introducing it to a new customer.”
So how does Weston judge the success of the wrap-blazer? “It’s done what I hoped it would do,” he said with a chuckle.