The recently indicted clotheshorse and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort came into his professional glory in the 1980s, which tells you everything you need to know about his aesthetic sensibility. The ’80s were when Manafort opened his lobbying firm, when he slipped into the world of global influence and the trajectory of his career was set. It was also the decade of slick excess, when an Armani suit oozed power and savoir-faire, a power tie held cultural significance, and men took pride in the dull glint of their blow-dried hair.
Manafort, 68, pleaded not guilty on Monday in Washington to multiple charges, the most ominous of which was conspiracy against the United States, appearing in federal district court in a navy pinstriped suit with a silk tie and a starched spread collar shirt. As he navigated television cameras and still photographers, Manafort looked polished and well-tailored. His clothes declared him someone to know, to be admired, to be respected.
Under the circumstances, it’s reasonable to notice Manafort’s clothes.
When the FBI raided his home in July, agents took pictures of his suits. Back when his firm was working with former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, for example, consultants prescribed a fashion makeover, suggesting that Yanukovych replace his undertaker black suits with navy ones. And then there were the revelations in the unsealed indictment from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, detailing how Manafort allegedly spent his ill-gotten and unreported gains.
From 2008 to 2014, Manafort apparently spent millions of dollars on art, antique rugs and various home improvement projects — and nearly $1.4 million on clothes.
This is a sum that is challenging for some people to digest. Those people have clearly not spent an afternoon at Barneys New York or any large designer boutique. They have not browsed the $5,000 suits at Brioni. They have not felt the call of John Lobb’s $1,500 cap-toe dress shoes. They have not been lured by an $8,500 Kiton cashmere sportcoat. (Barneys New York, by the way, says that it was not the beneficiary of Manafort’s bi-coastal shopping sprees.)
It would require a bit of energy and an unabashed willingness to indulge, but spending that much money on clothes and various accessories can be done. It’s even easier if one’s preferences tilt toward bespoke. It can also be accomplished with subtlety. There is a misguided assumption that if a man is spending that much on clothing, he must be dressing like a bedazzled rock star with a penchant for fur throws. It must surely be obvious. But no. Obvious isn’t the point.
Manafort was not dressing like a man who needs your applause. He was dressing like a man who didn’t think he needed anything at all. At least from you. He looked like someone who considered himself above everything. A man who makes things happen. A man who glides through life.
While the 1980s were known for wretched excess, there were important sartorial lessons from that time as well. First, there was the idea that image matters — the notion that there was an art to being successful and it began with looking the part. Casual Friday was far off in the distance; athleisure wear did not exist; and trophy sneakers basically meant a pair of Air Jordans. A man’s status was measured in working buttonholes and pick stitching. There was no glory in nerdy dishevelment, in tweedy absent-mindedness. There were no young tech gods wearing hoodies.
Gloss was king. And Manafort is a glossy, glossy man — one who, according to the Associated Press, has favored custom suits and the clothing from Bijan, a ridiculously expensive Beverly Hills boutique known mostly for being . . . ridiculously expensive.
What makes Manafort stand out in a lineup is not the lavishness of his clothes; he’s not exactly walking around draped in Balmain. It is the patina of bright, shiny success that they exude. The kind of success that was not defined by intellectualism, artful inventiveness or blue-collar scrappiness, but the kind born out of smooth talk and slippery ideas. He personifies that old notion of “the suits” being all-knowing and all-powerful. Just a little bit untouchable. They are the kings of the world.
And even when their world is under assault, the gloss doesn’t crack.