The photography of Cecil Beaton marks him out as one of the 20th century’s finest image-makers, equally at home orchestrating high fashion shoots, documenting warzones or taking high-society portraits, including those of the Royal Family, with whom he had a long and close association.
The man behind the lens, however, was also a fascinating subject in his own right. A self-professed ‘rabid aesthete’ from the age of 18, Beaton went on to amass an extraordinary collection of bespoke clothing, much of which has been preserved for posterity in New York’s Metropolitan Museum and the V&A in London.
Now Beaton’s sartorial adventures have been lovingly curated by writer and fashion historian Benjamin Wild in A Life in Fashion, featuring previously unpublished archival material, conversations with Beaton’s former tailors (of which, unsurprisingly, he had many) and a foreword by renowned fashion photographer Tim Walker.
The book begins with Beaton’s 1922 arrival in Cambridge as a bright young thing cutting a dash in clad in red shoes, black-and-white trousers and a large cravat. After this comes his Savile Row heyday in the Thirties and Forties — ever-experimental, Beaton kept accounts with both Anderson & Sheppard and Hunstman, tailors with very differing house styles – and his dalliances with the new fashion of London as it began to swing in the Fifties and Sixties.
It’s both a fascinating biography-through-fashion of a Zelig-like figure who led a remarkable life while being impeccably dressed throughout, and an important document of men’s style. In the words of Beaton himself: “All I want is the best of everything, and there’s very little of that left.”
A Life in Fashion: the Wardrobe of Cecil Beaton (Thames & Hudson) is out now.
This article originally appears in Esquire's March issue, out now.