Trench Lessons

Trench Lessons

Actress Kelsey Asbille gets in the trenches.

Volume 9
Volume 9

Photography Mary Manning
Styling Danielle Goldberg


Five Tangents on the Trench by Durga Chew-Bose

On Kelsey: KHAITE leather trench coat; CHANEL bag.

I. Recently in Paris, on my way to the Joan Mitchell and Monet show at the Louis Vuitton Foundation, I found myself turned around. It’s very easy to go one way when you are meant to go the other way, especially if you find yourself, amazingly, not in a rush, and especially if you are headed toward the most pleasing daytime activity: seeing art that will invariably knock you out. I was, it turns out, already in a daze, already giving into the ecstasy of knowing that very soon, I’d be transported elsewhere in the interest of purple and blues, and bright yellows the color of Mimosa trees in full bloom. For now, though, I was riding the Paris metro in the wrong direction.

BALENCIAGA oversized trench coat, hooded blouse, pouch, sunglasses and over-the-knee boots.

To say I wasn’t totally aware of myself, or my surroundings, would be untrue. I was going the wrong way because I’d briefly fallen under the spell of a coat. Walking through the metro tunnel, I forked right when I should have forked left because there was a woman in front of me wearing a camel-colored trench coat, perfectly cinched at the waist. The coat hit just below her knees and appeared to move with her weightlessly. She was floating more than walking, gliding through the Paris metro. The rest of us, in comparison, seemed sunken in our clothes; a stream of heavy footfalls echoing through the metro.

The woman’s silhouette had the appearance of a vintage Edith Head sketch—easy yet ceremonious, as if tailored for an entrance. This type of unacquired flare, totally inborn and typical of Head’sdesigns, is enchanting because it creates the illusion of sailing. Movements that proximate a breeze. No wonder I had gone the wrong way. I was being escorted by this trench coat and its phan-tom powers. I was suddenly the opposite of the underground. I was up in the air.

II. Lauren Hutton. The trench coat is her province. It rivals Hutton’sgap-toothed smile as her signature. She’s worn it drapey and gray with canvas sneakers. Or tied at the waist and topped with a safari-style bucket hat. She’s worn it, of course, opposite Richard Gere in American Gigolo. Hutton’s involvement, let’s call it, with the trench coat is an exercise in style. She gives it something sporty, a playful competency that summons the most enviable state: well-rested, unbothered, open to a good time but never longing for it.

III. Four thoughts concerning the trench coat.

1. Trench coats are never out of step with time. Still, why do they always make the wearer appear as if she is running late?

HOMMEGIRLS khaki trench coat; stylist's own hat.

2. William Wegman’s Weimaraners are the trench coats of dogs.

3. Who wore it best? (There’s only one answer: Prince. His purple leather epaulets and pyramid studs. The pure drama of a high collar somehow suits a power ballad, does it not?)

FERRAGAMO suede trench coat; OLIVER PEOPLES sunglasses.

4. “All the characters are basically lonely people,” Wong Kar-wai once said of his 1994 film Chungking Express. “But being alone doesn’t necessarily mean they are sad. I would say the characters are more living in their world than being isolated.” Brigitte Linin a blonde wig and trench coat, red sunglasses and red Manolo Blahniks, is the epitome of this statement. Disguise is a good way to safeguard one’s imagination and a trench coat is the quickest way out, in order to stay in.

THE ROW coat, coat collar, shirt, top, skirt, and soft loafers.

“We are self-possessed in our trenchcoat; a character in a movie listening to that one song.”

IV. Oil on shaped aluminum. Alex Katz’s “Brooke” (1970) features a man with combed gray hair, dressed in a trench coat. The subject’s hands are tucked inside his coat pockets. The subject’s brown loafers are positioned at eleven and two o’clock, respectively. A casual readiness summarizes his stance, as if Brooke is waiting for his usual table. I won’t elaborate too much on this next thought, but if there was ever an artist whose work occupies the same visual intimations of a trench coat, it’s Alex Katz. As the painter and writer David Salle notes, “[Katz] is an analytic painter; his job is to size up the work at hand and go about it in the most pared-down, efficient, and decisive way...That brush has had a lot of practice, but its decisive eloquence was there pretty much from the beginning.” Twice the word “decisive,” underscoring Katz’s crisp, economical style. The flat dependability of his lines is both resourceful and elegant (much like a trench coat), and even if his subjects are not wearing a trench coat, the garment comes to mind. For instance, in“The Black Dress” (1960), six iterations of Katz’s wife Ada conjure a totally imagined detail: Ada’s trench coat, presumably checked and waiting for her. How pleasing it feels to toss on one’s coat over a sleeveless dress—to head home with that little bit of acceleration gained from having made your exit in something classic and understated. In “Autumn” (1990), a bright orange tree, on fire with the season’s turning leaves, carries with it the short-lived wonder of those weeks leading up to winter. We are self-possessed in our trench coat; a character in a movie listening to that one song. We are so happy to be outside on a Sunday morning, looking up instead of looking down. What is about wearing a trench coat that encourages the purchase of pastries, specifically those that might come packaged in a cardboard box tied up in red and white twine?

“William Wegman’s Weimaraners are the trench coats of dogs.”

POLO RALPH LAUREN belted trench coat and denim shirt; LEVI'S jeans; stylist's own hat.

V. “The pockets have to be within easy reach,” says my friend, Haley, who often documents her studied outfits in a last-look mirror. I’ve asked her about her relationship to her trench coat because I can tell she feels confident when wearing it. (Loving your friend is knowing which piece of outerwear brings out her coolest combination of grace and character. For example, the jacket she can wear to the airport or when she is on her way to meet someone she’s previously made eye contact with five years ago at a party.) Haley is exacting. She knows what she needs from her trench. “Sometimes the pockets are so low down that I have to stretch too far to get my keys and I hate that.” It’s a great note, considering trench coats are meant to give the wearer an air of satisfaction—the kind of affluence one experiences when pockets are exactly where you need them to be. “I think I really respond to the floppiness of my trenchcoat, the light material in the wind...But lately, I’ve been wanting one with a belt to tie around my waist, so maybe I’ve had enough floppy. I want to feel put together...” Like a pastry box, I think to myself. She wants to feel assembled. The tiniest voluntary gesture, such as belting a trench coat, can go a long way.”

BURBERRY trench coat, hooded scarf and wide-leg trousers; OLIVER PEOPLES sunglasses


Makeup Ayaka Nihei
Production Starkman & Associates
Casting Greg Krelenstein
Published May 2023 for HommeGirls Volume 9