February 2012

IMAGE: XY FACTOR Buttonholes in Bloom

A traditional accessory grows into a 21st-century trend

Walton Goggins

When it comes to dressing for the red carpet, it's oft been remarked that tuxedo-clad men have it easy. Efforts to be dapper but different can turn out quite nicely (think Robert Downey Jr.'s Lanvin bow tie in turquoise silk at the 2010 Academy Awards), but they can also go horribly wrong—as in, bolos, turtlenecks or lapels that could double as glider wings.

It wasn't always this way. Well-wardrobed gentlemen once had a stretch of sartorial real estate for self-expression on their left lapel. The word boutonniere is French for "buttonhole," and a single flower could add a punch of personality to a black-and-white ensemble. Today, the custom continues mostly at weddings, high school proms and old movies.

Somewhere along the line, the left lapel became less about flair and more about serving as a soapbox: American flags for patriotism, red ribbons for AIDS awareness, pink ones for breast-cancer, yellow in support of the troops. Metal-and-enamel lapel pins meant not whimsy but fraternal, religious or patriotic affiliation.

Now, the old-school floral flourish is back. Last summer, when Carmelo Anthony took in his first men's fashion show in Milan, his dark Versace suit sported a Lanvin gray-check cotton-flower pin. About the same time, footwear designer George Esquivel and his friends in the fashion flock, including designers Juan Carlos Obando and Gregory Parkinson, CFDA CEO Steven Kolb and LACMA director Michael Govan, started sporting simple, six-petal, painted-leather daisies made by Esquivel himself.

"I was handed a cloth one in Milan during Fashion Week," Esquivel says. "I thought it was cool, and I wanted my own version. It caught on from there." His made-to-order boutonnieres, which use raw vachetta leather, sell for $95 to $175. Esquivel prefers white ("It goes with everything"), but he also has red, pink and blue. Obando has them in white and in lime green. And their appeal is clear. "The Rodarte girls asked me to make some," Esquivel says. "And I've had a couple of NBA stylists tell me they'll buy as many as I can make." He credits the trend to a mix of traditional stylishness and modern-day practicality. "It harks back to how men used to dress, but realistically, who's going to get a real flower every day and put it on?"

Even though his leather-flower business has just blossomed, Esquivel is working on novel ways to add a dash of panache to the left lapel. "I'm thinking of doing a little bow or butterfly—a little butterfly pin would be amazing." And since lapels are now used for political and fashion statements, it's an idea that certainly has wings.

LAPEL PIN: Bartholomew Cooke
PORTRAIT: Getty Images