With a wardrobe as colourful as his painting palette, the world famous artist David Hockney has given us a masterclass in eccentric British style through the decades. With summer on its way, George Walker looks at how this Bradford boy turned iconic artist can teach us Kings of Vintage a thing or two about putting some colour in our wardrobes, the vintage way.

The chunky round glasses, the pillar-box red cardigan, the slim braces and mop of ice-blond hair: David Hockney’s dress sense has always been as distinctive as his art work.

In fact, when looking over pictures of Hockney through the decades it often seems that his personal style became an extension of his work. Even for those who mock the idea of fashion as art, it’s hard to avoid the fact that Hockney’s wardrobe of gentlemanly dress –  rendered in vivid block colours of swimming-pool blue and daffodil yellow – is anything but an extension of his artistic preoccupations. It’s almost like he dresses so he’s prepared to walk on to one of his paintings and take a seat on a sun lounger by a Californian poolside.

During the Sixties Hockney produced some of his most famous works to date. Crisp white Sixties architecture arches out of azure skies and neat American lawns lay bright green against sparkling blue pools. ‘A Bigger Splash’ (1967), ‘Portrait of Nick Wilder’ (1966) and ‘Portrait of an Artist’ (1971) are just a few examples of how Californian life, and particularly life by the swimming pool, fed Hockney’s love of bright colour.

Hockney once explained his obsession, saying: “Water in swimming pools changes its look more than in any other form… its colour can be man-made and its dancing rhythms reflect not only the sky but, because of its transparency, the depth of the water as well. If the water surface is almost still and there is a strong sun, then dancing lines with the colours of the spectrum appear everywhere.”

And so, with the first days of summer on the way, I began thinking about Hockney’s quirky adaptations of classic menswear pieces such as bow ties, braces and blazers. By infusing such commonplace garments with the colours of the pop art movement (which he was begrudgingly grouped with), Hockney makes a colourful wardrobe for guys accessible. Many of us vintage gents fear wearing anything too bright, but if it’s in the shape and cut of a familiar friend (a knitted tie ,say, or an over-sized cardigan), then we’re that bit more willing to take a plunge in bright blues, magentas and greens.

To explain the appeal further, it might help to tell you my story of when I first discovered David Hockney’s art and sense of style. Hockney came from Bradford, an English northern town with industrial roots which were hit hard when the cotton mills started to shut down. Being a northern boy myself, I would visit a rather special gallery in Bradford when I was a teenager.

Salts Mill exhibited Hockney’s works in a converted mill, now housing a bookshop, various galleries and cafes. And so, within a traditional, functional building full of history, the bright Californian colours of David Hockney’s most famous works told a story of another world. It is this combination of the old and the new, the smoke-stained and the sun-drenched that is paralleled in the at once traditional and striking style of Hockney.

‘Block colour’ is a fashion phrase bandied about perhaps a little too often, but in the case of getting Hockney’s Sixties look, it’s helpful to think of coloured garments in blocks, that you can piece together just like in the arches of modern colour looming out of his paintings. Why not try a red cardigan with a yellow bow tie, a sky-blue blazer with a green satchel or a pair of blue shorts with a pink short-sleeve shirt?

This isn’t a style of summer dress for the timid or those without a sense of sartorial humour, but for those wanting to bring some Sixties pop art colour to the high street, try doing block colour the David Hockney way.


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