Icons / May 2018

Dressing Gotti: How John Travolta Became The Dapper Don

With the cinematic release next month of Gotti, starring John Travolta, The Rake caught up with Matteo Perin, Travolta’s personal tailor and the man responsible for transforming him into the…
Actor John Travolta playing John Gotti in one of his many appearances at the Brooklyn Federal Court (Alamy)

In June 15, 2002, Gambino crime boss John Gotti was, to quote Tessio in the first Godfather movie, finally “sleeping with the fishes.” The man, who earned the nickname The Dapper Don, was laid to rest in St. John’s Cemetery, Queens, New York, wearing a double-breasted, black pinstripe suit. In death as in life, Gotti was immaculately turned out, continuing a long tradition of mobsters who used sartorial prowess as a means to convey authority, respect, legitimacy, and no small degree of fear. Murderous men like the charismatic casino boss Bugsy Siegel; ‘Crazy’ Joe Gallo (who was actually a schizophrenic, hence the nickname); New York’s drug-trafficking Sicilian import Cesare Bonventre; the bootlegging maestro Al Capone; and perhaps the true godfather of modern organised crime, Charles 'Lucky' Luciano, all of whom were impeccably dressed men, using fine tailoring as a figurative armour and indicator of status in their respective crime families. Indeed, Bonventre, is deemed by many an organised crime historian to have introduced Brooklyn to Sicilian sprezzatura and was arguably the precursor to the loose, boxy shapes that Giorgio Armani popularised in the 80s.

In the biopic Gotti, released later this month in which John Travolta plays the 'Teflon Don', designer Matteo Perin does an exemplary job in characterising the aesthetic transitions of Gotti throughout his life. As Travolta’s bespoke tailor and the man responsible for his suits in the film, one might think Perin’s task would be a fairly straightforward job: go through archive images of Gotti and recreate the suits, but in fact, the demands of cinema require far more than mere imitation. “It was actually quite difficult to find archive images of Gotti that haven’t been seen before,” explains Perin. “The family had some photos of course so that helped a lot, but they were more for mood because I wanted to also see how the character came to life in these suits. It’s one thing to make a custom suit for someone, but it needs to create a persona. The best bespoke suit is always an extension of someone’s personality so it was important for me and for John that he was both comfortable in his outfits but also that he felt like Gotti in them.”

 

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Ryan Thompson