Fashion is revolutionary by nature, embracing change and thriving on reinvention. However, there are trends that have a different kind of staying power, and the continuing presence of military chic shows that certain styles won?t be toppled so easily. Sometimes you have to lead so that others can follow, so let?s celebrate those fashion icons who have always refused to tolerate any sartorial opposition: the dictators.
The true fashionista always wants to make a statement, political or otherwise. There?s no better way to guarantee that attention is on you than by ensuring absolute power over your audience – you?ll simply never be out of the style pages, unless the editors want to be buried alive in the desert! Vogue is so last-season; the new bible of the fashion forward is the CIA World Factbook. Forget about the return of grunge, because it?s rockets and guns that will be taking command of the catwalk this season.
I?m seeing some fabulous guerrilla wardrobes and a range of covetable statement pieces like grenade belts and and vintage revolvers, not to mention the type of power dressing epitomised by Imelda Marcos, Benito Mussolini and the Czechoslovakian secret police. The military strongman look screams out ?I?m purging my wardrobe of any undesirables? and if style is a general election, who wouldn?t want to win 98% of the vote?
Read on to discover who?s hot and who?s not in dictator style because, let?s face it, nobody wants to turn up at a party looking like Kim Jong Il or the president of Iran.
It?s the man of the moment, that flamboyant peacock of the Libyan sands: Colonel Muammar Al-Gaddafi. C-Gad is a leader that confounds expectations at every turn, sporting outfits so bold they cause walkouts at the UN and showing that he simply doesn?t understand the meaning of the word ?compromise,? whether we?re talking about haute couture or about the mercilessly oppressed subjects of this stylistic general.
The fashion world doesn?t know what to predict from the dapper desert-dweller with a face like Mickey Rourke on hormone replacement therapy. Will he be smooth in silks, bling it out with more medals than an Olympic podium, or assault our eyes with an outfit that looks like Vivienne Westwood fell into the laundry cupboard of a tandoori restaurant? The Gaddafi philosophy: always expect the unexpected.
Hot like salsa
From the contemporary to a true classic. He?s the life and soul of the (communist) party, because under Fidel Castro the Cuban revolution is ready for any crisis – no trade embargo can leave a crease on his enduring range of Latin ensembles. Like a little black dress, olive green fatigues are a perennial wardrobe essential for the Central American strongman, but Castro is also bold enough to showcase street style with a bespoke range of tracksuits that simply dares dissidents to demand freedom from being outclassed. Absolutely smoking.
The African dictator look
Forget Kate Middleton, the royals who are really ruling the fashion kingdom are too hot for the European circuit. There are some places where bling will never go out of style, so you?d better be ready to go gaga for gold if you want to be noticed at the African Leaders? Summit. You might think that colour blocking is a fierce trend, but top African despots are prepared to dazzle with enough sparkle to make John Galliano look underdressed. It?s hard to pick one man to single out, but no dictatorphile can ignore the influence of Idi Amin (renowned cannibal and Notorious BIG lookalike) and of course Jean-Bedel Bokassa, who crowned himself emperor in a ceremony so golden that even Elton John would have considered it over the top.
Operation Desert Storm
Some say that Saddam Hussein was a genocidal dictator who held his people hostage, allowing millions to starve whilst he creamed off billions from his country?s oil wealth. However those party-poopers should remember that fashion is about sartorial rather than moral judgement, so raise your glasses to the elegant gentleman of Baghdad, a man who never let sanctions change his stylistic regime.
Saddam proved that his outfits could be deployed against hostile powers in 45 minutes or less, turning heads with both the quintessential military dictator uniform and a range of vintage, masculine menswear in fine Italian wools. Above all, this was a man who knew how to accessorise. Western leaders may have earned a democratic mandate from their people, but style-wise Saddam left them in the dust with a range of bespoke firearms that complemented his timeless morning suits and menacing televised show trials.
Like many a fashion icon, Saddam knew how to save the best for last. Whatever you thought of his policies, it was impossible not to be swayed by the confidence of a man who appeared at his war crimes tribunal in one elegant suit after another, eschewing ties and allowing crisp white collars to show off a patrician combination of dyed hair / greying beard. Needless to say, the defendant was found guilty – of looking fabulous.