Friday, 20 April 2012

David Niven, Style Icon

Egad, it's gone all quiet again!  Time to roll out another style icon, methinks.

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David Niven is not only an icon in the style stakes, but is also the quintessential Englishman.  Cary Grant may have been born in England, Fred Astaire as near as dammit successfully carried off the English fashions (and both men shopped at Savile Row) but David Niven neatly encapsulates the stylish British gentleman.

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As with all my style icons thus far David Niven can manage a multitude of looks yet still retain his air of grace and sophistication.  He also possesses a type of gentlemanliness that is all his own; simultaneously the ladies-man, chevalier and all-round wit.  He was as much the raconteur, merrymaker and gentleman away the camera as he was in front of it.  I admire him all the more for this considering the many hardships he had to endure during his life - at 5 losing his father to the Great War, then a step-father who made no secret of his dislike for him; a difficult school life; an unhappy Army career (during one particularly boring lecture, when he was due to go out on a date, Niven was put under arrest for responding to the request for "any questions" with "Could you tell me the time, sir? I have to catch a train"!); the struggle to make it in 1930s Hollywood; the tragic loss of his first wife and his less-than-happy second marriage; an active role in the Second World War and finally his painful (and much publicised at the time) illness and death.  To accomplish so much and be so dashed... debonair despite all that is just marvellous.

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Like his contemporaries Niven was at home in the styles of his period(s), be they the casual off-set look (above) or the formal evening wear in which he would sometimes appear both in front of the cameras or at awards ceremonies and all of which he wore with effortless aplomb.  Who better to play Raffles, the gentleman thief?  (Well, OK, Ronald Colman, yes...).

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Of course in uniform he was equally at home and his time in the Army was obviously of great benefit whenever he appeared in military-themed films.  He was, in fact one of the few "Hollywood British" to return to the United Kingdom after the declaration of war in 1939 and saw action with the Commandos from 1940, as well as still appearing in a the films The First Of The Few and The Way Ahead.  During one heated battle Niven was heard to say to his men, "Look, you chaps only have to do this once. But I'll have to do it all over again in Hollywood with Errol Flynn!"

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The pencil-thin moustache is even now known as "the David Niven" and epitomises the well-groomed elegance of the earlier time in which it was so popular.  It is impossible to imagine David Niven without his upper lip adornment, and equally difficult to pull the look off successfully today.  I know - I've tried (and failed!  Spectacularly.).

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As with Fred Astaire and Cary Grant, for the average chap to even approach the look sported by David Niven or the charming and urbane nature he displayed is practically impossible.  Perhaps more so than either of my previous two icons it is the manners - and not just the clothes - that maketh the man.  All we can ever hope to be is...

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6 comments:

  1. Oh I just love the man! I have five pictures on my wall, another in a frame and one in brooch/locket….is that odd? I think he is grand in ‘The way Ahead’ and of course ‘Please Don’t Eat the Daisies’- what could be a more perfect combination than the one of Miss day and Mr Niven I say!
    Tupney x

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  2. Not odd at all! I think I'll watch The Way Ahead tonight to refresh my memory of Mr Niven's performance.

    I also forgot to mention that BBC Four will be showing the 1972 Parkinson interview with David Niven tomorrow (Saturday) night at 11pm (or on iPlayer here).

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  3. David Niven had the perfect style in my opinion. One rarely remember exactly what he was wearing, only that he was well dressed. And his friendly smile of course.

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  4. I love David Niven. It's his personality as well as his looks, it just works so well.

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  5. Oh I just adore David Niven. He was one dapper chap. Dashing, charming and a naughty little twinkle in his eye.

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