The Art of the Tux

Whether you attend the Apollo Circle Benefit at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in November or opening night at La Scala in Milan a month later, this is the season to dress up. Below, four noted artists—people who know how to make a statement—show how you can bring flair and individuality to the traditional black-tie look. Slim-cut and slightly shorter jackets, often with narrow peaked lapels, are of-the-moment choices. Midnight blue or subtle stripes offer sophisticated alternatives to solid black, and velvet adds a rich texture. Accessories such as pocket squares, which range from neatly folded to extravagantly puffed up, finish off these new twists on the timeless classic.

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The classical pianist Lang Lang, at the KKL concert hall in Lucerne, Switzerland


Age: 30

Born: Shenyang, China

Distinction: He routinely sells out venues from the legendary Musik-verein in Vienna to London’s Royal Albert Hall. His new CD, The Chopin Album, debuted earlier this month.

Musical Hero: Franz Liszt. “At age 2, I saw a Tom and Jerry cartoon, and they played Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2. I loved it. But at the time, I didn’t know Liszt; I knew only Tom and Jerry.”

The Look: Modern

The Tux Pictured Above Left: “Really nice. Normally I don’t wear a tie, but the one I wore for this shoot looked very cool. So maybe I’ll become a tie person.” Jacket ($2,450), trousers ($900), tie ($200) and shoes ($690) by Bottega Veneta; shirt ($250) and pocket square ($100) by Dolce & Gabbana

Above Right Outfit: Jacket ($1,595) and trousers ($850) by Burberry Prorsum; shirt ($550) by Bottega Veneta; bow tie ($160) by Dolce & Gabbana; pocket square ($100) by Dior Homme

Christopher Sturman/Bloomberg Pursuits

The saxophonist Miguel Zenon, in Frederick P. Rose Hall, home to Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York


Age: 35

Born: San Juan, Puerto Rico

Career Highlights: At once a traditionalist and an innovator who blends jazz and Latin music, Zenon was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2008. His new CD, Rayuela, comes on the heels of the Grammy-nominated Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook.

Usual Style: “When I perform, I’ll wear a dress shirt and slacks but rarely a jacket and tie.”

How It Felt to Dress Up: “The clothes are beautiful. It is inspiring.”

The Look: Edgy

Above Left Outfit: Suit ($1,987) by Phineas Cole, available at Paul Stuart; shirt ($335) by Paul Smith; bow tie ($150) by Brioni; hat ($150) by Worth & Worth

Above Right Outfit: Suit by Ermenegildo Zegna (price upon request); shirt ($750), bow tie ($150) and pocket square ($150) by Brioni; shoes ($580) by Paul Smith

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Actor Allen Leech, at the Playhouse Theatre in London


Age: 31

Born: Dublin

Claim to Fame: He plays Tom Branson, the socialist chauffeur who marries his titled boss’s daughter in the British television series Downton Abbey, a hit on six continents.

Favorite Costume: “The 1920s tuxedo I wear this season on Downton is fantastic. It has a low-cut waistcoat and a straight leg—no tapering. And the shirt is so starched, it’s like wearing armor.”

Off-Camera Preference: “I’d happily dress for dinner like that. There’s a great sense of occasion when you put on a tux.”

The Look: Posh

Above Left Outfit: Jacket ($630) and trousers ($265) by Hackett; shirt ($283) by Richard James; bow tie ($165) and pocket square ($65) by Paul Smith

Above Right Outfit: Jacket ($630) and shirt ($187) by Hackett; bow tie ($165) and pocket square ($65) by Paul Smith

Michael Sharkey/Bloomberg Pursuits

Artist Leo Villareal, at his studio in New York


Age: 45

Born: Albuquerque, New Mexico

Body of Work: Villareal’s light sculptures, made with computer-programmed LEDs, have cast their glow in locations from the National Gallery in Washington to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Taipei. The Bay Lights, with 25,000 LEDs illuminating the west span of the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge, will be on display in early 2013.

Formative Black-Tie Experience: “I was ring bearer at a family wedding and wore a Pierre Cardin tuxedo. For a little kid, it was very exciting.”

The Appeal of Formal Wear: “I like the uniform aspect of it. It’s hard to look bad in a tuxedo.”

The Look: Classic

Above Left Outfit: Suit ($3,195) and bow tie ($195) by Giorgio Armani; shirt ($530) and shoes ($595) by Prada; pocket square ($150) by Brioni

Above Right Outfit: Suit ($6,700) and bow tie ($150) by Brioni; shirt ($530) by Prada

John Birmingham is a freelance writer and former editor-in-chief of Menswear magazine.

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