Opera Chic’s guide to the best-dressed conductors

Even without the help of stylists, classical music conductors could give some of Hollywood's most fashionable celebs a serious case of wardrobe envy. Conductors are among the classical music world's most seriously style obsessed, stepping...


We’ve always had a weakness for dapper Englishmen, and handsome young British conductor Daniel Harding definitely makes us weak with his fondness for Tom Ford. You’d never catch Harding—the Principal Guest Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, Music Director of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Principal Conductor of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra—on the podium in anything less formal than white tie (except for more casual morning or afternoon concerts which call for a sharp suit). Aside from Tom Ford (he’s a regular at the designer’s Milan store on Via Pietro Verri), he’s known to favor vintage Louis Vuitton trousers and Bagutta shirts. And he tells us he wouldn’t be able to survive Europe’s cold winters without his dark grey, mid-length Trussardi coat. Harding says he also likes the shopping in Tokyo, where the cuts suit his lean body type.

The avant-garde musicial proclivities of the Finnish conductor and composer (he often strays into the shadings of Schoenberg and his 12-tone brethren) echo the Maestro’s eclectic sartorial tastes. In lieu of the typical evening frac (white tie & tails), Maestro Salonen—who until last year was the Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic—often takes to the podium for concerts and operas wearing a black suit with a 1960s style Nehru collar and a black dress shirt. And during rehearsals, his uniform reflects his casual L.A. style: black cotton t-shirt, black Levis and black boots. As a youthful fifty-something with intense blue eyes and blond hair, he can actually pull it off.

“European Shanghai Tang” is how American conductor John Axelrod describes his distinctive East-meets-West sartorial style. As the native Houstonian (currently the Music Director of the Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire and Principal Guest conductor of Sinfonietta Cracovia) explains, he often conducts wearing “a Chinese collar and buttons fastened from the waist to the neck, but with custom designed tails to resemble a traditional frock from behind.” His performance wear is designed in Shanghai by the excellent tailor at the Intercontinental Hotel. Says the clever Maestro, “I give him the design and measurements and 24 hours later he has two frocks ready!” Under his jacket he wears Shanghai Tang black shirts. For travel, Axelrod mixes vintage thrift—Nehru jackets found in Shanghai’s markets—with elegant European labels like Etro, Burresi, Ermenegildo Zegna, and Custo Barcelona.

As Nicola Luisotti settles into his tenure as the new Music Director of the San Francisco Opera, he shows off more than his musical prowess with elegant, old-school sartorial secrets. On the podium, he rocks the frac (with a gilet and white tie), although for matinee performances, he goes with a black suit and a grey/black tie. Off duty, Maestro Luisotti tells us he defers to his wife Rita’s advice when they hit up his favorite stores in Lucca, Italy. And although most of his wardrobe is bespoke, he considers his batons the most prized of his handmade possessions—as he should. They were handcrafted by his father.

In Opera Chic‘s humble opinion, this Italian Maestro—the Chief Conductor of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and incoming General Director of the Opernhaus Zurich—is the standout among sartorial standouts, a man who takes bespoke fashion to the next level. Almost everything in his wardrobe is custom, including, yes, a leather Hermes case to carry his batons. (It was special ordered in Paris from his wife Barbara’s design.) On the podium, he wears only frac, which he has custom-made at Vienna’s Jockey Club in the most elegant, subdued midnight blue—never black. For morning and afternoon concerts, you’ll still find the Maestro in tuxedo, although prepared in special, less formal cuts (called “stresemann”). Even off the podium, Maestro Luisi’s clothes are mostly handmade: shoes are custom-crafted by Vienna’s Scheer; shirts and suits are hand-made by Jockey Club and the Italian haberdasher Russo Capri; ties are from Hermes, Charvet, Ferragamo and Etro. The man even smells like a million bucks: his preferred fragrances include Bandit (Robert Piguet); Filles en aiguille (Serge Lutens) and Eau d’Hermes.

Photos: Gustav Karlsson Frost (Harding); Nicho Soedling (Salonen); Stefano Bottesi (Axelrod); Balu Photography (Luisi)

Look for regular dispatches from our favorite (and anonymous) opera blogger, the Milan-based Opera Chic, every Wednesday. See her previous W posts HERE.

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