by Jean Sauvage
Once he had reached the height of his fame Dirk declined to capitalise on his status by appearing in advertisements. In earlier days he had allowed his photograph to be used, for example, by Capstan cigarettes and in a campaign with the slogan ‘If you want to get ahead get a hat!’ In May 1968, several years after he had shed the mantle of matinée idol, he agreed without much enthusiasm to appear in a commercial for Foster Grant sunglasses, which earned him $25,000. And in 1974, as the pictures on these pages show, he posed for L’Uomo Vogue, wearing Yves St Laurent. In the main, however, any influence he might have exerted on fashion was less deliberate.
In an essay for the September 2005 issue of the magazine Fashion Theory Philip Hoare wrote of Dirk’s ‘wartime status as dandy officer-aesthete’ and of his ‘postwar role as a posh, well-spoken version of the Teddy Boy, a teen idol for a new generation.’ By the time he made Death in Venice in 1970 he had moved, Hoare considered, from being the ‘heterosexual focus of bobby-soxers to the very embodiment of decadent, homoerotic transgression’. However it was at the end of the decade that Dirk, much to his own astonishment, became a true style icon.
The New Romantics were a reaction to the spaced-out slovenliness of the late Sixties and early Seventies, and also to the slashing shambles of punk. Several of the movement’s leading figures acknowledged their debt to Dirk. In his autobiography, Stand & Deliver (2006), Adam Ant (Stuart Leslie Goddard) pronounces Dirk ‘my personal hero’. The latter was one of the dedicatees of Adam and the Ants’ first album; it was titled ‘Dirk Wears White Sox’ – which had indeed been the case, even if by 1979 the garments and their wearer were exposed less often than before to the public gaze.
Like Adam Ant, David Sylvian was a fervent admirer of the work in the middle-to-late years of Dirk’s career. Sylvian’s band, Japan, acknowledged both Despair and The Night Porter with similarly titled tracks on its two 1980 albums, ‘Quiet Life’ and ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’. As much as anything else, he recalls today, the songs ‘shared a mood, an atmosphere, with their namesakes’. Steve Strange, of Visage, was quoted in a magazine as saying that the person he most wanted to impress with his music was Dirk; the single ‘The Damned Don’t Cry’ (1982) was reputedly prompted by the film that marked Dirk’s first collaboration with Visconti.
An anonymous writer on the Internet declares: ‘Everything about Dirk Bogarde is what the New Romantics aspired to be – elegant, decadent, utterly cool and above all well dressed.’ Evidently the second of those qualities applies only to his film roles and not to his off-screen life; the others are in varying degrees relevant to both. The article concludes: ‘Album dedications, songs, styles of dress, all these New Romantic nods to Bogarde put him alongside David Bowie and Bryan Ferry as the icon of the New Romantics!’ Which is quite a line-up.
Arguably the most interesting of ‘Dirk’s disciples’ is (Steven Patrick) Morrissey, the former front man of The Smiths, the Manchester band who arrived on the scene as the glamour of the New Romantics was beginning to fade. Style-conscious, enigmatic and with a significant literary flair, Morrissey swiftly established himself as monarch of the miserabilists; two decades on, he is more popular than ever – and noticeably less forlorn. In 1994 he was interviewed by Andrew Harrison for Select magazine. Asked about rumours that his fourth album ‘Vauxhall and I’ might be his last and that he had been on the point of giving it all up, Morrissey said: ‘I now feel I could live and be Dirk Bogarde. I could live in a mansion flat in Chelsea and see nobody, which would be a perfect life.’ To his questioner’s astonishment Morrissey added that he had recently received a card from Dirk. ‘Yes, and I almost cried with joy when it arrived. I thought, Put it this way, Mozzer, you have a card from Dirk Bogarde here. You have Alan Bennett sitting in your kitchen having tea. You have David Bowie having sung one of your songs quite beautifully. What else are you looking for? What right do I have to be sour-faced and complaining, queuing up at Waitrose in Holloway being annoyed because somebody in front of me has got a leg of lamb? What more could there be?’
Dirk’s image, at least while he was in character, even made an impact on Madonna. It is not certain whether a sequence in her controversial video for ‘Justify My Love’ was knowingly a nod towards The Night Porter. However, in January 1992 a fax arrived from New York at the office of Dirk’s agent. It read: ‘Madonna is currently working on a book of photographs with Steven Meisel. The book is essentially a collection of their interpretation of erotica. Both Steven and Madonna have expressed interest in using Dirk Bogard [sic] in these photographs [. . .] Unfortunately I cannot give you more details about the content of these photographs but, if Mr Bogard is interested, Madonna or Steven would be happy to call him to discuss the project in depth.’
The book was eventually published under the title SEX, but without Dirk’s participation. When telling audiences at his platform performances about this approach from the most celebrated young woman in the world apart from the Princess of Wales, he would say: ‘What is this? At seventy-one? Necrophilia?’