John Malkovich begins sentences exactly the way you would expect him to:
“The other day, I was at a museum in Bulgaria. . . .”
“My aesthetic has been pretty much set since I was a small child. . . .”
But with Malkovich, it’s less his chosen words than that voice: that instantly recognizable, beguiling, patrician lilt that seduced in Dangerous Liaisons, terrified in In the Line of Fire, and has kept audiences enrapt since the early days of Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago. Of course, his output goes far beyond his work on screen and stage. He’s directed and produced. And for more than a decade, he’s brought his singular perspective to menswear, the latest incarnation of which—The John Malkovich line—will debut on a new website today.
To usher in the new line, Malkovich has made a short film with Squarespace, directed by Miles Jay, which communicates the designer’s personal connection to the looks, and their every fabric and every sketch. “I drew very well—I think when I was a small child—because my father drew very well and he kind of taught me,” he says. “You couldn’t mistake my drawings for somebody else’s for better or worse, and I’m assuming it’s worse. There’s a certain style to them. And I do like to [sketch my designs] and I think it’s the best way. If I were a trained tailor, maybe I’d feel differently about it, but it’s the only way I can tell how will this look, and what’s wrong.”
The clothes are louche and relaxed, distinctly Italian with their soft shoulders and bright patterns: ideal for the passeggiata, no matter in which city one strolls. “I was doing an interview a few years ago with a young Belgian journalist, and he said, ‘Why is it so expensive?’ I didn’t think it was that expensive,” says Malkovich, “but I said, ‘It’s made in Italy, and in Italy, weirdly enough, people want an apartment or a house and car, and they have children and they have to eat and the kids have to go to school. And that’s why it’s expensive.’ ”
The surprise for a namesake line by Malkovich has nothing to do with price, but just how wearable the collection can be. It’s less Spike Jonze dreamscape and more Talented Mr. Ripley: The most out-there details on his subtle blue Summer in Tahoe blazer—one breast and one button—are the buttons on the patch pockets ($730); there are three darts on Blue Chino, in linen, but it’s, you know, a chino ($450). It’s by no means boring, but certainly toned down for an artist as experimental as Malkovich.
“There are people who do things that are more original, or thought to be more original, but that’s probably more radical and what I’d be interested in. I may like that sort of thing as an object, but probably not to wear,” he says. “If I said discretion is the better part of valor, that may go some distance to explaining what I mean.”
Which is not to say he hasn’t pushed a boundary or two. “There always will be things I like that I know will be way too much for people: I think I’ve made some very pretty sarongs,” he says. “I did a runway show at the national museum of Puerto Rico, three or four years ago. After, I went to the little bar at the museum to grab a drink and go out on the terrace and have a cigarette. A guy marches in and just announces, ‘We are Puerto Rican! We are way too macho. We will never wear skirts!’ And I said, ‘Yeah, okay, great.’ What do you want me to say? It’s not going to bother me one way or the other.”
We believe him, because whether he’s machine-gunning with Helen Mirren in an action-comedy sequel or picking fabrics, Malkovich is completely grounded in his aesthetic.
“I always say, style is the only constant in life, so my aesthetic is not going to change,” he says. “I could be influenced by stuff from the ’50s; I could be influenced by stuff from the ’70s; I could be influenced by a Klimt painting of a piano teacher. Now, that doesn’t mean I redid the clothes—it means I kind of go, ‘Hmm, that’s interesting. How would I do that if I were doing it now?’ ”
As with most fashion—and we have to guess films and plays, paintings too—the inspiration’s only limits are practical, something Malkovich, like all designers, has adjusted to. “I’ve had a lot of experience since [I began] in the possible, in the achievable, the unlikely, and the ‘please don’t ask me that again’ of fashion, meaning, you really can’t always get what you want,” he says. He’s intrigued by technical fabrics, and is looking at sustainable producers, but the multi-hyphenate, who has five films slated for 2017, is facing a relatable problem—for designers, and the rest of us, too—“I’m always so desperate to get everything done on time.”