Skin Deep

08.06.14

Are These Really the Best Dressed People in the World?

Be slim, wealthy, and tasteful—famous is optional. Vanity Fair’s best-dressed list is out, featuring only one black female face. At least Queen Máxima lives up to her name.

Who knew it was so complicated, so intensely evaluated, to be considered “internationally best dressed?” Vanity Fair’s 2014 list of the people who do not, as some of us do, feel a sense of achievement from merely leaving our front doors with things vaguely tucked into the right places, has been published.

The most delightful thing about this multi-categoried list of the “best-dressed” is that it contains quite a lot of people you may have never heard of: This is a celebration of the elite at its most polished and precise. The celebrated are being celebrated a little bit more by the celebrated. The list-ees are mostly posh, almost all wealthy, tastemakers in their field, but not all box office, Angelina Jolie-recognizable names.

They are also, bar one pregnant woman, thin or toned. “Best-dressed,” in Vanity Fair’s eyes, does not include “slightly bigger” or “fat.”

This morning I had no idea who Elie Top, jewelry designer at Lanvin, was. Now I want to dress like him, and have cocktails—us both clad in his favorite outfitter, Hilditch & Key on the Rue de Rivoli in Paris, dontchaknow—immediately. What a lovely smile Mr. Top has, but what really won my heart was mention of his vintage Cartier watch; it is square, made of wood and gold.

No, Daily Beast readers, you cannot join us for cocktails. I saw Mr. Top first.

My second cocktail will be with Miguel Baez, a “manager of family properties and retired bullfighter,” whose favorite items of clothing are some old Lacoste short-sleeved polos.

The list isn’t just a list; each chosen honoree has their own mini questionnaire, which, to appreciate, you either need to be just as rich and well-dressed to think, “Hmm, sure, I love my Vera clutch by the Muzungu sisters too” (the favorite accessory of Beatrice Borromeo, reporter and documentarian), or simply be content, peasant-like, to press your nose up against the Glamorous Boutique of Life You Cannot Afford and watch your breath flare pathetically on the windows.

Jeff Koons’ favorite tailor is Francisco Espinal at Dior Homme. You don’t know Francisco? Oh, my dear, everyone knows Francisco.

The lithe male and female list-ees are all, as to be expected, gorgeously turned out: They looked polished and buffed, the human incarnations of the most tempting oak benches or creamy leather. The women come first, a film star (Cate Blanchett) at their apex and quite right too, because she is well-dressed and also—in interviews anyway—witty, apparently intelligent, and grounded.

The other actresses on the list all merit their places: Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary from Downton Abbey), Lupita Nyong’o of 12 Years a Slave-fame (who subsequently had a rollicking, brilliant time on every red carpet she hit), Emma Watson pictured in a killer slim trouser suit. Nyong’o is the only black woman to make the list, which is utterly outrageous.

“There is no Christine Baranski, no Bryan Cranston, no Allison Williams. And definitely no Lena Dunham, who would presumably offend the editors’ inner weight scales.”

Away from the red carpet, Vanity Fair goes rogue and starts dishing up a load of European royals you’ve never heard of. Loving you, Crown Princess Mary of Denmark with your residences in Amalienborg, Copenhagen, and Frederiksborg Castle, Northern Zealand. I intend to memorize and recite at parties her “notable ensemble of 2014”, (trumpet flourish, please): “a white ruched gown with gold tulle overlay by Toni Maticevski worn in June to celebrate the 80th birthday of her father-in-law, Prince Henrik of Denmark.”

The second picture chosen for Princess Mary must be a very inside-track choice, because a shapeless white jacket plonked over a fluttery silvery cocktail dress looks a little too like “tragic middle-aged lush rushing for the elevators in The Towering Inferno” for me.

She is joined in the Euro-royal surprise derby by H.M. Queen Máxima of the Netherlands, who lives up to her ebullient name by rocking a red ball gown fringed in an explosion of fluffy strands.

As you scroll, you start to think of who isn’t on the list: Pippa Middleton, Jolie, The Queen (the real one, the fierce one, the Don, the British one). There is no Christine Baranski, no Bryan Cranston, no Julia Louis-Dreyfus, or Allison Williams. And definitely no Lena Dunham, who would presumably offend the editors’ inner weight scales.

There is no Bill Cunningham, or Lana Del Rey, or Andy Cohen. No (gorgeous) George Kotsiopoulos. No Carole Radziwill. No Clooney. No TV anchors, or media CEOs, or Silicon Valley operators, male or female. No one really on the fringes of anything. There are few American society figures, few exotic birds. The list is as capricious—its bounds known only to its mysterious conceivers—as it is precise. (And again, the lack of black female faces is appalling.)

Vanity Fair gives men equal space: Benedict Cumberbatch, in tails, looks as if he is ready to strike a serf for insurrection, Idris Elba is beautiful in a casual T-shirt and a dark suit. Neil Patrick Harris supplies one of the few comic lines about his fashion choices: “I spend a lot of time trying to track down wonderful underwear. Current favorite brand: N2N. Perfectly designed to honor the goods and not smash them.”

The men’s list also includes sportsmen like the New York Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist, and the truly stop-the-traffic handsome Victor Cruz. But although they, and Eddie Redmayne, in a brown trench coat, and the suave Vito Schnabel earn their places as smoothly well-turned out, they are outshone by Pharrell Williams.

Vanity Fair has chosen a glorious picture which conveys why Williams outclasses all male and female members of the list. He isn’t just well dressed, but genuinely stylish: The picture shows him in a jacket designed with a kind of camouflage meets jigsaw piece aesthetic. A white T-shirt, jeans, and orange bag complete the delight. He describes himself as a “student.”

Williams is one of the few featured on the list who has fun with clothes; the other choices are mainly conservative, with solidly consistent dressing prized above vivid plumage and inspired outrage. Isabella Blow would stifle a yawn looking at it.

If you don’t make the main list, Vanity Fair might put you in another section devoted to “couples” (like Colin and Livia Firth), or “Originals,” which seems the polite way of grouping together not conventionally good-looking people, who are by any standards good-looking, who are distinctively dressed.

Those selected include the author Donna Tartt (style icons: Louise Brooks and Harold from Harold and Maude), the King of Bhutan in his knee-length gho, and the wondrous St. Vincent (who has the best style icons of any list-ee: Einstein and David Bowie).

Another section houses “professionals,” which means good-looking people who work in fashion, and which mysteriously includes Amy Astley of Teen Vogue but not Vogue’s Anna Wintour. There may well be some counter-intuitiveness here (why include her again?), but it’s bogus. Wintour is, simply, a great arbiter and wearer of style: She should make the list.

The tidbits are sparse: Karlie Kloss likes the flea markets of Clignacourt, Andrew Bolton, the Metropolitan Museum’s brilliant fashion exhibition curator, shops at London’s Dover Street Market. This section contains the only non-thin person: the shoe and accessories designer Charlotte Olympia Dellal, who is photographed radiantly pregnant.

Exhaustion sets in as we get to the “editor’s picks,” Claudia Adaszweska and Kyle Hotchkiss Carone. Adaszewska is a designer and blogger, Hotchkiss Carone a restaurateur, but why they—or any of the others—have been hived off into categories is a mystery. Why doesn’t the list just exist as one?

The final needless category is “Hall of Fame,” occupied by Stacey Bendel, creative director and CEO of Alice and Olivia, who will be unfamiliar to many, and Karl Lagerfeld, familiar to all in his transfixing beaky, skinny fierceness. He mixes up scents (his own, he says) with a spicy-sounding set of others including “Terry de Gunzburg Ombre Mercure,” which we should all say 10 times after a couple of gin and tonics.

The “Hall of Fame” also houses the Duchess of Cambridge (aka Kate Middleton), which seems sad though spot-on. That hallowed position seems to speak to how she is dressing—now folded into the Royal “firm”—older than her 32 years in stiffly constructed coat-dresses.

The conferring of a “hall of fame” position seems premature: Yes, she is beautiful and beautifully dressed by the world’s best designers. But, in style terms, Kate has yet to adventure, surprise, misstep, or have some freakin’ fun. That she does none of those things makes her the perfect choice for VF’s conservatively conceived best-dressed list. At least she makes the list. Because, of course, it’s all about making the list.