He may be best known as Elton John's other half, but David Furnish is also the producer responsible for bringing the critically acclaimed musical "Billy Elliot" to Broadway earlier this month. He also happens to have a wicked fashion sense that's totally apart from John's flamboyant look. Now that the couple has an apartment in L.A., it’s only fitting that Project Angel Food, the local charity that provides meals to those living with HIV/AIDS and other illnesses, would honor Furnish with the Man of Style Award at its Divine Design fundraising gala Dec. 4. We caught up with him for a few minutes on the phone Tuesday to talk about his affinity for Thom Browne suits, the musical “Fame,” and why he’s no longer wearing denim.
For more information about Divine Design, and how to purchase tickets for the shopping event that continues through Dec. 8 in Beverly Hills, go to divinedesign.org.
You’ve just opened “Billy Elliot” on Broadway. Do you have a good-luck piece that you wear when you have a big opening?
I have around my neck a little tiny locket and it has a lock of Elton’s baby hair and a picture of him as a baby. I wear it for important occasions, when I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro and on airplanes. It’s a talisman of sorts that makes me feel protected, like I have got him with me all the time.
What was your style like growing up in Toronto?
I was in a high school drama program with Eric McCormack, who actually approached me about accepting this award. We were the “Fame” generation running around school with leg warmers on, taking dance classes. We formed a little acting company and we had a great drama teacher who said you can wait your whole life to teach a class like ours. He fed us so much, from Pinter to Shaw to classic musicals and Shakespeare.
As an adult, what was your first big splurge?
Just before I moved to London, I was working in advertising, and I discovered the British high street stores — Britain has a much more defined affordable fashion culture with TopShop and the like. I remember going to NEXT in the mid- to late-1980s and I couldn’t believe I could buy all these great shoes and suits for a fraction of what you pay elsewhere. They were so beautifully cut, detailed and so cheap.
Do you still shop the high street?
I do. It’s fun, especially if you are looking for limited shelf life items to update your wardrobe.
You and Elton have very different looks, do you advise each other on clothes?
He asks me to help him get dressed, and pick out which ties and shirts match, but he has his own sense of style, which is much more exuberant than mine. He can pull it off because he has that larger than life personality. He has all of his suits custom-made by Yohji Yamamoto, because he can find traditional tailoring quite a restriction, and he gets very hot. The Japanese work with light fabrics, and the way they cut them and weave them, he feels quite liberated wearing those. He has a stock element of Yohji shoes, Etro shirts, and he collects loads of neckties. He’ll land on a color scheme and get the socks to match. And he travels with hundreds of eyeglass frames all lined up in cases — the red, the blue. I don’t know another man who can wear color like Elton does.
If he collects eyeglasses, what do you collect?
Tailored pieces, I suppose. I don’t feel dressed up unless I am in a suit. I find it an empowering thing to wear. Nothing makes you feel better or more presentable. Thom Browne’s suits are beautifully cut, he pushes the envelope. He’s been one of the most influential men’s suit makers in the past decade, really ahead of the game. There’s an irony and witticism to him.
Do you wear his short pants?
No, I stop at that. I don’t wear the short pants or hem the trousers halfway up my calf like Thom does. I would look like a fashion victim. I like my trousers to skirt the top of the shoe.
You like a slimmer cut to your suits, right?
Yes, another designer who I really admire but who sadly is not working in fashion anymore is Hedi Slimane. He changed the line of suits, and he’s been a friend for 10 or 11 years. I started wearing his suits when he did his first collection at YSL. And that was back when YSL menswear was associated with duty-free shops, and boringly classic. I was in Charivari in New York, and the buyer had bought Hedi’s first collection for YSL. I snapped up the whole collection. It was so modern in its cut and detailing. I went along and we have been friends ever since. And I still wear those pieces.
Is there anything you won't wear?
I am trying to wear a lot less denim, because I think I’m 46 now and shouldn’t be wearing it. I also find as I’m getting older, I’m liking the modernity of the new cuts but with traditional details. I’ve been going to Brooks Brothers. I started going in to look at Thom Browne’s line Black Fleece, but I’ve noticed the Brooks Brothers ties and shirts are getting more in line with the times, and less boxy.
Where do you get your shirts?
Thom Browne, where they are handmade. Except I like them pressed and crisp and Thom likes the rumpled look. That’s not me. You have to be careful with any clothing choice, because a designer makes a proposition when they have a runway show, but you have to tailor it to your sensibility. Also, a real treat would be to get a shirt made in Paris at Charvet.
You host and go to so many parties. Do you have a go-to party outfit?
A menswear line I think is getting better and better is Lanvin. I like the evening jackets. If you are getting it right, when you arrive in a room people don’t notice you right away.
Anything you regret wearing?
Oh God, yes. I remember a fancy dress party we had for Elton’s birthday at the Ritz Hotel in London. The hotel had a baroque dining room, and we did the party with artist Sam Taylor-Wood — a rock-meets-baroque theme. I wore a white and gold leather stitched jacket and baroque print jeans, and I was dabbling with highlights in my dark hair at the time, and was way too blond. Elton was wearing a baroque print suit and trousers. And someone had given him a Louis Vuitton Stephen Sprouse graffiti bag. It was statement, statement, statement. The number of times magazines have pulled up that picture ... we always say, “But it was a costume party!”
What are your favorite places in L.A.?
We just got an apartment there, in West Hollywood, because it’s a great base when Elton needs to get out of Las Vegas, and being a filmmaker, it’s an ideal place for me to get some work done. I love Fred Segal and Maxfield. James Perse does nice laid-back cotton T-shirts and beachy stuff. I just went to the new Luau. We went with Loree Rodkin who designed it and is an old friend. It’s fabulous.
David Furnish photo by Justin Downing
*An earlier version of this post stated incorrectly that Divine Design would be held at Barker Hangar in Santa Monica.