THE CONDUCTOR OF STYLE
November 5, 2023
It is only possible to imagine the world of classical music of the twentieth century with Herbert von Karajan. Having been born in Salzburg in 1908, the maestro of the Berlin Philharmonic, under his direction for 34 years, was well-known for his practise of conducting with his eyes closed. That is uncharacteristic of conductors; eye contact is considered of utmost importance for the conductor's successful communication with the orchestra. Karajan knew the scores by heart; he enjoyed the fast life outside the crowded concert halls, focusing as much as possible on everything he did. His style of getting dressed was no exception: even more than thirty years after his death, he remains remembered as one of the best-dressed maestros of all time.
One of Karajan's signature skills as a conductor was his ability to draw impressive sounds from an orchestra. An obsession with tonal appeal and rhythmic accuracy characterises Karajan's conducting. He built the Berlin Philharmonic from a great European orchestra to the best in the world – an ensemble that flawlessly completed every movement he made with the baton.
The maestro was not a particularly tall man, but he had an enormous influence on the podium, even in those later years when illness weakened him. His way of conducting was controlled. While many conductors frantically cut the air in front of them, all too often with their left hand imitating the right (which holds the baton), Karajan's gestures were remarkably clean, subtle, and restrained. His recordings sold in unprecedented quantities during the second half of the last century; he was the greatest of his time.
A dissolute attitude characterised his life; while in music he was considered the best, off the stage he was controversial, which is why we can debate whether it is possible to worship someone who, despite his success, was an ardent opportunist. As a result, he eventually joined the Nazi party, albeit only briefly. When he wasn't performing, he would navigate his yacht "Helisara" with the same accuracy and composure, responding to every sea current with serenity and focus. He also flew his jet aircraft "Learjet" and was an avid sportsman from an early age. He was engaged in skiing, swimming, and practiced yoga every day, in which he found peace, a counterbalance to playing music. After the concert, he loved nothing more than getting behind the wheel of his custom-made Porche. He regularly appeared on the pages of European magazines such as "Paris-Match" because of his musical and non-musical activities. In everything he did, he sought perfection, which was not devoid of provocation.
There are few photos of him because he carefully controlled all the shots. His style of dressing perfectly portrays excellence comparable to his musical achievements. The characteristic "Karajan style" can be described as a perfect combination of elegance and formality that is never boring but relatively strong and sends a clear message. The message the maestro conveyed through his clothing was that he should devote himself entirely to everything he approaches. His outfits included polo neck sweaters, sweaters casually tied around the shoulders, signature turtlenecks and his favourite colour – black.
A favourite outfit that Karajan repeated was pairing two sweaters – his uniform consisted of turtlenecks over which he would wear V-neck ones. Rarely smiling in photos, always serious and self-confident, the maestro was often seen in almost perfectly matching cuts. Of course, he took to the stage in tailcoats that were made to measure, but even when it came to everyday pieces, everything on him fitted perfectly. In a wool-on-wool combination, he also liked to drape a cardigan around his neck in addition to sweaters, which usually give many combinations a sporty touch. Still, in his case, it always looked refined. He also loved polo collars, which he always pulled up, and it never looked out of place on him. Even when it came to clothing choices on board, the maestro did not give up on a polished look.
Herbert von Karajan is another in the line of style idols who proves that the power of clothing outfits does not come only from suitable materials and cuts but from the wearer's attitude. When he went on stage, he didn't pay too much attention to the audience; he stood on the conductor's podium with his eyes closed and slicked-back hair shining under the spotlights of the world's biggest halls. His attitude showed the extent to which the focus was sophisticated.