Anthony Bourdain’s Pocket Square

I admit, I’m an Anthony Bourdain fan. Despite our differing worldviews, Bourdain seems to be an honest, and certainly adventurous, fellow. His brand of no holds barred food tourism, which is really using food as a wedge to understand other cultures, is addictive. His job is envy inducing.

Bourdain pocket square

I was intrigued by a recent Bourdain blog post about the season debut of his CNN show Parts Unknown (honestly, the only thing anybody watches on CNN). He visited Shanghai, and as a result there was an attempt to emulate a cinematographic technique by a favorite Chinese movie director. This would be done through the simple placement of a pocket square:

You might notice that in the premier episode, set in Shanghai, that I am, from time to time, wearing a colored pocket square or foulard. This is not, as a matter of course, normal for me. But there is a method to my madness. These tiny notes of color are our first venture into actual production design—a calculated effort to give the episode a specific “look”.

I have long been besotted with the works of Chinese director Wong Kar Wai—and his frequent cinematographer, Christopher Doyle. His films, “In the Mood for Love” and “Chungking Express” in particular, are gorgeous meditations on longing and desire and missed connections. They are spectacularly shot—and a while back, I noticed how tiny elements of color in the foregrounds of the frames are often connected to similar colors in the background—giving scenes a lush, unified atmosphere that feels natural and un-designed. So we tried—as best and as cheaply as possible—to do that.

If you watch the scene, the pocket square does its job very well as an aesthetic device. As a pocket square qua pocket square, it’s not folded well, it protrudes too far, and as it appears to be a silk solid, not one I would recommend anyone wear. I don’t think Bourdain cares in the least about any of that. It does well what he wanted it to do.

And it led to what likely will be my only brush with Bourdain when he responded to my tweet about it:

Sometimes the issue isn’t necessarily what is the “right way” to wear something in the abstract, but rather what are you trying to accomplish? The whole really is more important than the sum of the parts. Anthony Bourdain teaches us the lesson well.

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