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Dressing the Part

Books

While writing a book about Cary Grant’s style, San Diego writer Richard Torregrossa discovered the power of a jacket and tie

THERE’S NOTHING LIKE a crisp, white dress shirt, a well-fitting wool suit and an understated pair of cufflinks to make a man feel powerful. To make him feel like, well, Cary Grant. Journalist Richard Torregrossa had just this sort of transformative experience while writing his new book, Cary Grant: A Celebration of Style (Bulfinch Press, $35). The Rancho Bernardo– based author spent nearly three years researching and writing, and in the process went from starting his day in sweats to starting his day in a suit, shirt and tie. He even donned cufflinks for a while, until they made it difficult to use the computer’s mouse.

It all began when Torregrossa, who’s covered fashion for the past decade, attended the Giorgio Armani fall show in New York in 2003. Armani noted his line that year had been inspired by “the timeless elegance of Cary Grant” and cited movies such as Notorious and North by Northwest as evidence of the actor’s superb style. (Armani wound up writing the book’s introduction.) Torregrossa’s curiosity was piqued. When he returned to San Diego, he rented the Alfred Hitchcock movies and had a fashion epiphany.

“I realized Cary Grant’s style is as relevant today as it was when he made those films,” he says. Thus began Torregrossa’s journey through the actor’s life. The resulting book is part biography, part style manual.

Grant was born Archibald Alexander Leach into a workingclass, dysfunctional family in Bristol, England. He left home at 16 to play the greatest role of his life: Cary Grant, movie star.

“He transformed himself from a poor kid into an aristocratic presence, and he did it by dressing like the men he wanted to become,” says Torregrossa. “What I learned from him is that clothes are empowering. Style is a tool of empowerment.” In fact, Grant’s style——what he wore and how he wore it——likely launched his career as a leading man. Torregrossa writes that Mae West spotted Grant——dressed in an impeccable white Navy uniform costume——across a parking lot at Paramount and told her producer, “If he can talk, I want him in my picture.” (The resulting film was She Done Him Wrong.)

After traveling to Savile Row and Beverly Hills to interview Grant’s former tailors, Torregrossa began to view clothing as an art form. “Grant had such respect for clothes and the power of style,” he says. “This wasn’t like going to the dry cleaners and getting your pants altered. Grant used to say it takes 500 details to make one favorable impression. That’s something akin to Picasso.”

When he began dressing better and paying attention to his own clothes, Torregrossa felt like a new person. “I say this somewhat jokingly, but not only did my clothes become more stylish but my prose did, too. I was definitely more productive and more connected to the world,” he says.

I glance down at my own work attire——unflattering gray sweatpants and a Rutgers College sweatshirt——while cradling the phone on my shoulder. “Really?” I ask.

“Really,” he says. “In fact, I’m wearing a suit right now.”

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