These days, people get their fashion leads from Hollywood superstars or Instagram influencers. But in the past, it wasn’t so simple. There were no magazines or websites for men or women to look to if they wanted to find out the hottest new trends. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t trendsetters, influential men and women who broke the sartorial rules of old and made new ones of their own.
Of course, there were plenty of women who were historical fashion icons. Women like Cleopatra, Marie Antoinette and Jacqueline Kennedy were all true fashionistas, helping change the way other women look and dress. But there were many male fashion icons too. In fact, here are some of the men who were true style icons of their time…
1. Count Alfred d’Orsay is considered by many to be the first metrosexual man, and both woman and men loved his sense of style
At a time when Europe’s aristocrats were, almost to a man, drab, short, plump and poorly-dressed, Alfred Guillaume Gabriel Grimod d’Orsay, comte d’Orsay was a true breath of fresh air. Indeed, while he was many things, the Frenchman was known above all as a dandy. Moreover, he’s also been credited with being the first truly ‘modern man’, comfortable in his attitude, style and sexuality. Quite simply, in 19th century European capitals, no man was cooler.
Born in Paris in 1801 to French and Italian aristocracy, the young Alfred looked destined for the normal aristocratic life. But, while he did indeed serve in the French army, he left at the age of 21 and travelled to London. It was here where his reputation started to emerge. He made friends with the Earl and Countess of Blessington and reputedly enjoyed affairs with both of them. Then, in the spring of 1823, he met the English poet and adventurer Lord Byron. No slouch himself, Byron praised Alfred’s immaculate sense of style, his elegance, his grace and his manners. It’s likely the two men also had a brief love affair.
It wasn’t just Lord Byron who admired, and indeed copied, Count d’Orsay’s style. Charles Dickens, for instance, approved of his long, flowing hair, his tight trousers and perfectly white overcoat. The newspapers would describe him as something of a ‘Greek god’, thanks in no small part to his notable height and chiseled cheekbones. As well as being a celebrated dandy, he was also a cultured man of the arts. So, when the Earl of Blessington died in 1829, he moved in with his widow – and his own former lover – and made the ancestral home at Gore House an artists’ retreat.
Lord d’Orsay died in the summer of 1852, having caught a spinal infection. By that point he had returned to Paris. After working as an artist, Napoleon III had appointed him as the director of the Institute of Fine Arts, a position he held until his death. Fittingly, he is buried in one of France’s most ostentatious tombs, a pyramid which stands out among the normal tombstones in the cemetery at Chambourcy.