“I also advise to wear a tie more often as it will make any suit (or even a slacks-and-sportscoat combination) infinitely more elegant.” – Alexander Kraft
Who are you?
I am the Chairman & CEO of Sotheby’s International Realty France – Monaco. I am 44 years old and am based in Monte Carlo, Paris, Provence, Berlin and Palm Beach, Florida. Originally from Berlin (Germany), I studied law at the universities of Goettingen, Berlin, Cambridge and San Diego to become a diplomat, but after receiving my doctorate (LL.M.) and passing the New York Bar, I started working at the Sotheby’s auction house instead. I became European Managing Director of Sotheby’s International Realty in 1998 and acquired the company in France and Monaco in 2004.
You have been described as one of the best dressed men in the world, often appearing in very prestigious media outlets. How would you describe your own style?
I would describe my style as “classic with a connoisseur’s twist”. In my view, truly great outfits, especially when made bespoke, should have a timeless quality, and ideally they should look as elegant today as they will in 40 years from now. Thus, I always try to create outfits that will (hopefully) stand the test of time. I like a classic “grown-up” look with a suit and tie, but always try to add interest by playing with the details, e.g. wearing a waistcoat, choosing a cashmere tie, sporting a vintage pocket watch and cufflinks, adding a hand-rolled pochette etc.. I also like to play with contrast, for example by wearing an old pair of ripped jeans with a bespoke tweed jacket and bespoke loafers or slippers.[
Where do you find inspiration for the way you dress?
I love the classic elegance of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s: Films by directors such as Ernst Lubitsch or Guy Hamilton, actors such as Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, Steve McQueen, Sean Connery or David Niven, and leaders such as Winston Churchill or JFK have, and will, always inspire me.
What is your earliest memory related to menswear and style?
My earliest style memories are probably from my grandfather, an old-fashioned gentleman who wore bespoke suits every day, dressed for dinner in a dinner jacket (tuxedo), smoked Cuban cigars around the clock, and wore driving gloves when at the wheel of his Mercedes – I probably inherited my passion for the finer things in life from him. I also remember watching “Goldfinger” at the age of 12 and being spellbound by the coolness of Sean Connery as 007; I stumbled upon the “Thomas Crown Affair” with Steve McQueen on TV not long after that, and those two movies definitely left a big impression with me… .
Your style shows a good balance between classic and contemporary. What are your top tips for men trying to dress more elegantly in an age where more and more seem afraid of adopting a traditional masculine style ideal?
First of all, true elegance is for me in the details. It always amazes me to see men in extremely expensive designer suits who still manage to look horrible because the coat sleeves are too long, the trousers have too much break and the jacket is too loose. No matter what the budget, every (gentle-)man should invest the extra time, effort and money to get those details right, which will even make an off-the-peg or vintage suit will look (almost) bespoke.
I also advise to wear a tie more often as it will make any suit (or even a slacks-and-sportscoat combination) infinitely more elegant. Nowadays, there is no need to wear your father’s boring ties: For example a knitted tie, in cashmere, linen or cotton, knotted in a simple four-in-hand (a Windsor knot is the sign of a cad, as Ian Fleming’s James Bond well knew), will a both class and sprezzatura to any outfit.
Your lifestyle involves a lot of travelling and working in a range of situations, yet you still manage to look elegant and at ease on all occasions. What are your tips for building a wardrobe that can keep up with a lifestyle like yours?
First of all, all wardrobe items for a busy lifestyle like mine should be hard – wearing. Thus, I always recommend to buy fewer, but better items. It’s old but true: Quality is remembered long after the price is forgotten. Secondly, a practical wardrobe, especially for frequent travelers, should feature items that can be easily combined with each other. For example, a classic blue suit (preferably with a waistcoat), and a combination of light grey (or off-white) flannel trousers with a blazer or a sport coat in a discreet color such as beige, brown, grey, are perfect travel staples and can be combined with each other, thus multiplying the number of outfits.
You are well-known for your interest in high-end tailoring. How and when did your love for bespoke get started?
When I was 12, my grandfather died and left me a wardrobe of approx. 30 bespoke suits in addition to 200 cigars). Although I could (obviously) not wear them at that age, they intrigued me and probably sparked my bespoke passion. Even as a student, I would save up to have a high-end made-to-measure suit made by Cesare Attolini. And when I finally had my first real job at Sotheby’s Beverly Hills at the age of 25, the first thing I did was to visiting the local bespoke tailor.
What are your suggestions for someone commissioning his first bespoke piece?
First of all, you should take a look what you are wearing the most and then have that item made bespoke. If you are a “jeans and blazer” – type and have a beautiful formal bespoke suit made that you subsequently never wear, you just waste a lot of money and effort. If you wear a blazer all the time, have a blazer made bespoke; if it’s a tweed jacket, chose a tweed jacket; if it’s a blue suit, chose a blue suit. Secondly, chose a tailor whose style you like, and do a lot of research and soul-searching to define well in advance your preferences: Double breasted or single breasted suit, how many buttons, a slim or a more generous silhouette, flat front trousers or pleats etc. There are a lot of choices to make when commissioning a bespoke suit, and many first-time customers tend to become overwhelmed and get lost in the process.
If you had to name one person the influenced your style the most, who would that be?
If I had to name a single person, it would probably be Ralph Lauren. I think Ralph Lauren’s genius is often severely underestimated. His American-English signature style looks deceptively easy to create, but actually simply did not exist 40 years ago. For several decades now, he has managed to keep that same look fresh, year after year, whilst offering long-lasting quality and exceptional value for money. At the same time, he was the first designer ever to create a complete lifestyle universe, with atmospheric ads by star photographers such as Bruce Weber, a home collection and much more. Even today, he continues to push the envelope, for example with his artisan watch collection that is a joint venture with the venerable Richmond Group.
What absolute wardrobe essentials do you think every well-dressed man needs?
For me, the absolute essentials would be a blue suit, a pinstripe suit, a blue blazer, a sports jacket (probably in tweed), a short overcoat (a covert coat), 2 pair of bench made shoes (suede
loafers and dark brown or black oxfords), half a dozen quality shirts and at least 4 (knitted) ties.
You are the first ever style icon to design for Viola Milano, what are your inspirations for your first collection?
It’s very easy: I am only designing ties that I would, and actually do, wear myself.
What is your favorite piece from the collection and why?
The navy blue, 9-fold cashmere tie goes with everything and adds a special touch to any outfit. It’s sporty, refined and elegant at the same time.
What’s your preference when it comes to construction of a tie?
Like in other items such as bespoke suits and – shoes, I like to see in a tie the workmanship behind its production. Thus, I prefer unlined and untipped ties that consist of a single piece of
fabric that has been folded several times. The gold standard is usually a 7-fold-tie, but with Viola Milano I created a 9-fold-tie that is even more sophisticated and really represents the
pinnacle of tie-making.