Tailored to Nobel winners
Formal evening wear is strictly regulated and consists of:
- Black silk socks or stockings
- Trousers of matching fabric with one wide or two narrow strips of braid down the side seams
- Black patent leather shoes
- White plain stiff-fronted cotton shirt with white pique dickey
- White stiff wing collar, detachable
- White pique cotton bow tie
- White low-cut pique waistcoat
- Black or midnight blue dress coat (commonly known as an evening tailcoat) with silk (grosgrain or satin) facings, horizontally cutaway at the front
The world has changed since the first Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to German physicist Wilhelm Röntgen in 1901 for inventing the X-ray, but the dress code for the Nobel Banquet at Stockholm City Hall on December 10 – the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death – remains the same. Small wonder, then, that even the world’s sharpest scientists may need help with their detachable collars and shirt studs.
These days, most men don’t own a white tie and tails, also known as formal evening dress. That’s where tailor Lars Allde and his team come into the picture, like the good fairy and the birds and mice from Disney’s Cinderella.
“White tie and tails used to be a part of every man’s wardrobe but that is no longer the case,” Allde says. “I need to explain it to them, particularly when it comes to accessories such as all the shirt studs and other buttons that need to go in various places.”
Allde’s firm rents out outfits and helps laureates dress for the occasion: shirt, braces, jacket, trousers, bow tie, shoes, socks, and waistcoats as well as accessories such as mother-of-pearl shirt studs, waistcoat studs, and cuff links.
Every year about 120 outfits are required to dress the laureates and their families. Allde gets all their measurements in advance, but Nobel week is still the most stressful time of the year and peaks in the banquet.
In 2008, the French writer and literature prize winner Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio insisted that he tie his bow tie himself but ultimately failed, which delayed the Nobel party for almost an hour.
“I had to help him out in the hotel lobby in front of a crowd of anxious banquet guests eager to leave on the chartered bus,” Allde says.
The inaugural Nobel Banquet menu from 1901 is still served at the Grand Hôtel:
- Fillet of brill in white wine sauce served with prawns and scallops
- Breast of hazel grouse with salad, cream sauce and blackcurrant jelly
- Fillet of beef with truffle sauce, goose liver and asparagus
- Ice cream Success Royal
- Biscuits and chocolate petit fours
On another occasion, Allde managed to injure his thumb trying to fasten the collar button of a guest, leaving a drop of his blood behind.
“We hid it under his bow tie,’ says Allde explain-ing that it was an unusual American outfit not often seen in Europe.
Laureates spend a hectic week in Stockholm with a packed program of lectures, embassy visits and concerts. The awards ceremony takes place at the Stockholm Concert Hall, where the prizes are handed out by King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, and is then followed by a banquet at City Hall.
As per tradition, the Nobel prize winners and their guests are put up in the sumptuous surroundings of the Grand Hôtel.
“Many laureates are quite old and they have traveled to Stockholm from afar,” says the hotel’s managing director Pia Djupmark, who personally greets every laureate on arrival.
“We want to pamper them so that they can recharge their batteries. They’re fantastic guests, interesting, and extremely modest despite their achievements.”
A Nobel stay at the Grand
The Nobel laureates and their guests stay at Stockholm’s Grand Hôtel during Nobel Week (December 5-12). The hotel overlooks the Royal Palace and was built in 1874. Between 150 and 200 people occupy up to 80 rooms, nearly a third of the Grand’s capacity.
The Grand provides whatever the laureates may require, whether it’s the services of a hairstylist, florist, pastry chef, seamstress, or a visit to a spa. There’s also entertainment with a harpist brought in to play for them on the evening of the banquet. The program continues with the Lucia celebrations on December 13.
Some Nobel guests literally believe they have gone to heaven when they wake up to see a procession of girls, dressed in white and holding candles, singing angelically.
“Nowadays we always make sure to ask them in advance if they would care to be a part of it,” Djupmark says.
The American novelist Sinclair Lewis, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1930, thought he had entered a state of delirium when the Lucia procession entered his room.
Another laureate, the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, had other states of delirium in mind when he asked King Gustav V how he managed to stay awake during the awards ceremony.
“I desperately need a drink,” he said.
Champagne, of course. After all, it is the gala of all galas.
Text: Jonas Rehnberg