Nikola Tesla remains to this day a man of mystery. His inventions and scientific achievements are once again being re-discovered, and he has become an inspiration for artists all over the world: from film-makers to writers, journalists and painters. However, little is known about his fashion sense, so describing his style is extremely difficult. In an attempt to discover “Tesla style” we sought help from Milica Kesler, an archivist at the Museum of Nikola Tesla in Belgrade. This is what she said for “Ona” magazine:
From looking at the photos, it is obvious that Tesla did pay a lot of attention to his appearance, yet at the same time one cannot help but have the impression that he had his own style and did not care much for contemporary fashion trends. Examining what was saved from his wardrobe content he was obviously very fond of hats. Here in the Museum we have a large collection of his hats: top-hats, bowlers, straw hats – he wore them all on different occasions. He also liked to wear suits, silk and cotton shirts, and ties of all colors. On more formal occasions he wore bow-ties. His outfit was typical of civil outfits in late 19th century Europe. Tesla tended to be minimalist in his fashion. He did not like ornamentation; he never wore jewelry, so the impression is that he did not have any aspiration to present himself as glamorous. His shirt-cuffs and collar-buttons were very discreet. Importance was given to the fine fabrics from which his garments was made.
Tesla & Fashion
- Tesla was a man of style. His looks resembled those of an aristocrat and not just because of his clothes, but his behavior too. What can you tell us about it?
MK: Tesla's father was an Orthodox priest. That means he was given an education. Tesla was not from an aristocratic family, but he came from an educated one, from the young new European middle class. He was educated in European intellectual centers, such as Prague and Vienna, and he worked in Budapest, Paris and Strasbourg. Naturally, he was influenced by the fashion of these cities, which left a mark on his future style.
- What did he like to wear the most? Was it white gloves and tall hats? They say he wore new pair of white gloves every day.
MK: That is a favorite urban legend of many of Tesla's “biographers”. There is no evidence to support it, no bills, no order-receipts, no documents or anecdotes. We cannot confirm such hearsay. Our Museum keeps many of his gloves. Some are white, but there are also brown ones, and olive-green, purple, grey, beige, petroleum colors, as well. They are made from cotton, silk or leather.
- Who took care of Tesla's wardrobe?
MK: He had an account at “J. Denihan, Ladies and Gents Tailor“ and they ironed his clothes. Hotel laundry services washed his clothes, unless he sought the service of “Long Island Hand Laundry“; we have kept their bills.
- Can you tell us about any particular details concerning his fashion?
MK: If we're going to talk about Tesla's fashion it has to be said that he was a minimalist. There were hardly any special details apart from his fondness for discreet cufflinks. We don't have any jewelry belonging to him, or anything like tie ornaments and watches. Nonetheless, it might be of interest that, as well as his hats, although he never posed for a photo in a hat, he also possessed very interesting models of glasses and sun-glasses. Moreover, the Museum holds several of his elegant walking sticks which he used at a late age; one of them even has a silver plated handle.
- Business Magazine recently published an interview with Joe Kinney from the New Yorker Hotel, who said that they are planning to contact you and attempt to establish a collaboration between the museum they are making in the New Yorker Hotel and your museum. Do you think this development could help with the process of popularizing Nikola Tesla?
MK: Our museum has already exhibited abroad (Perth, Strasbourg, Vienna, Vancouver, Paris, Thessaloniki, Hanover), but liaising with the New Yorker Hotel would be extremely interesting for us because Tesla lived there for a number of years. We keep many of his notes which were written on the hotel's letterhead. There is already a connection between us and them, so that project could be very interesting. We are very open to such an initiative for cooperation. We could even produce replicas of the objects we possess and give them to the New Yorker.
Author: Marina Bulatovic and Ljuba Djordjevic
Photo by: Museum Nikola Tesla, Belgrade