Director Larry Charles disdains a fashion Bible

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

DIRECTOR Larry Charles has been mistaken for a homeless crack addict, thanks to his, er, unconventional style. (The pajamas and Moses beard didn’t help.) But nowadays, Charles -- whose latest film, " Religulous,” opened Friday -- favors sleek designer suits and snappy fedoras. The man who wrote for “Seinfeld” and “Mad About You” and directed “Borat” demystifies his brio.

How did you cultivate your unique look?

My father was a real dandy, and he used to take me to stores in Brooklyn and use me as a tester. He would pick up a tie and a shirt and say, “Does this go together?” And then, when I was old enough to buy my own clothes, I rejected all that.

And where did that leave you?

I evolved a utilitarian style. I started wearing pajamas long before Julian Schnabel. I wore them to the set of “Mad About You,” and they had pajama days as a tribute to me. Then, I started to wear pajamas out on the street. People thought I was some kind of homeless nut.

Why pajamas?

I was looking for a uniform, a simple choice. Then I wore Dickies jumpsuits for a while. When I started to work on “Borat,” Sacha Baron Cohen thought that I needed to be more of an authority figure as a director. He wanted me to look more like a college professor, and so I cut my hair.

Did you smoke a pipe and talk about Sartre too?

I talk about Sartre, regardless. But it was wild how people reacted to me so differently without my beard and my hair and my pajamas. Then we went to Romania to shoot, and they have such a cool style there. It’s all very colorful and mismatched and vintage. So once I shed the college professor character, I incorporated the gypsy look into my style.

Why the long beard?

It’s a mask. I don’t want you to read me. When I was growing up in Brooklyn, I would go to Manhattan to hang out and come home at 4 in the morning. I would see all these crazy people with beards, wearing sunglasses. So I grew the beard and I wear the sunglasses because they are a deterrent. The look says: “If you mess with me, you don’t know what’s going to happen.”

You’re wearing a suit today. Not so scary.

I am really into interesting suits, and this is Dries Van Noten. Suits are the modern-day version of the uniform I have always been looking for. I never realized that there are cool suits that are as comfortable as my pajamas. I also like suits by Marc Jacobs, Jil Sander and Hugo Boss.

Directors like John Ford had such distinctive style. Is that important to the job?

I think it’s important for a director to project something. I love that look of old directors with the eye patch and the jodhpurs. I also like the French New Wave style with the skinny suits and the tinted glasses. You command reverence in a suit. Look at Alfred Hitchcock.

Pajamas, jumpsuits. What’s next?

I have a dashiki-caftan that someone bought for me in Jordan, but I haven’t had the guts to wear that yet. I did try it on with my hat and clogs and it looked great. That’s going be a real coming-out party.