The sun-cracked face and well-worn tan-hide boots, a denim-clad silhouette cast against a Mid-West backdrop, which became the immortal image of late actor Paul Newman, pre-dated Ralph Lauren’s adoption of the archetypal all-American aesthetic by decades. From the rough-finished pale blue button-down Oxford he wears as part of a prison chain-gang in Cool Hand Luke, to the battered utility-style jackets and slacks he sports in Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, Paul Newman’s on-screen looks portrayed a exuberant ruggedness that permeated his personal interests; he became the first 70-year-old to win the Daytona 24-hour race in 1995.
Following Newman’s death in 2008, The New York Times published an article arguing that Newman’s nonchalantly cool style is best exemplified by his role in Hud (1963). “I don’t think Mr. Newman was ever as beautiful as he is in Hud. His lean, hard-muscled body seems to slash against the wide-screen landscape, evoking the oil derricks to come, and the black-and-white cinematography turns his famous baby blues an eerie shade of gray. The character would be a heartbreaker if he were interested in breaking hearts instead of making time with the bodies that come with them.”
Unlike many subsequent movie or sports stars whose image is cynically bought-into by luxury goods brands, Newman’s association with the iconic watch manufacturer Rolex came organically, affording him an air of credibility and authenticity. A lifelong devotee of the timepieces, a version of the Rolex Daytona Cosmograph model has become known as The Paul Newman amongst Rolex enthusiasts, the exact reasons for which are the topic of heated debate and speculation, even folklore. Another brand Newman helped to popularise is Levi's, the iconic denims worn in traditional blue in Hud, and creating a striking all-white silhouette in Sometimes A Great Notion (1970).
Despite being associated with timeless brands such as Levis jeans, Persol sunglasses, and Rolex watches, Paul Newman, with his characteristic, masculine American style typified by preppy shawl-collared knits and outdoorsy denim, utility canvas and corduroy with desert-won cowboy or Chukka-style boots, continues to serve as inspiration for contemporary fashion trends. Mr Porter’s Toby Bateman listed Chukka boots, a style frequently seen on Newman both on and off screen, as one of his most desired items in an interview with AnOther while face of Dolce & Gabbana David Gandy recently cited the actor as his all-time style icon.
Text by Laura Havlin
This month Taschen published a book of photography by Dennis Hopper, which features portraits of his contemporaries, including Paul Newman.