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