Hugo Jacomet of Parisian Gentleman, Paris. Courtesy, Ross Callahan.
Rose Callahan is notable for, among other things, her work in creating The Dandy Portraits, in which she catalogs the “lives of exquisite gentlemen today”—contemporary dandies and modern retro-eccentrics alike. Ms. Callahan’s commitment to outstanding men’s style, as well as her eye for detail and superior photography, prompted Dandyism.net to get in touch with her and ask a few questions.
Ms. Callahan is a native of San Francisco—an increasingly rare thing nowadays. She studied photography at the venerable California College of the Arts, founded in 1907 by Frederick Meyer, one of the lodestars of the California Arts and Crafts movement. Ms. Callahan shares a legacy with such West Coast luminaries of aestheticism as Gillette Burgess (founder of The Lark), Willis Polk and Bruce Porter. It’s no wonder she has such an acute sense of the minute details of her craft, or that she was called “the most amazing woman on the planet” by the authors the Fine and Dandy Shop’s weblog.
Ms. Callahan tells us she was inspired to take up photography at an early age by her mother, who was passionate about the art. Her early heroes included Man Ray, Brassai, George Hurrell, Robert Frank, Bruce Davidson, Helen Levitt, Diane Arbus, Mary Ellen Mark and Hollywood glamor portraits.
As a freelance photographer, Ms. Callahan shoots portraits and fashion plates for clients such as Grey, McCann-Eriksson, Scholastic, Random House, the Gilt Groupe and so forth. Recently she has been creating short films at her own Rarebit Productions, focusing on her favorite subject, the exquisite gentleman. She is currently collaborating with journalist Nathaniel Adams on a book proposal for The Dandy Portraits. She now lives in New York City.
Winston Chesterfield of Le Vrai Winston, London. Courtesy Rose Callahan.
Michael Mattis: When did you first hear the word “dandyism?” How did you react to it?
Rose Callahan: I don’t ever recall not knowing the word, but my understanding of it must have come from watching reruns of BBC shows on public TV. It was usually in context of “he’s a bit of a dandy,” meaning or insinuating somewhat of an eccentric English gentlemen, but with a rakish quality, and of course, a sharp dresser. The Kink’s song “Dandy” was definitely also part of my awareness of the term.
Dr. Keith Churchwell, New York City. Courtesy Rose Callahan.
MM: Why did you start The Dandy Portraits? What was the inspiration?
RC: I love people who say “to hell with the world” and do their own thing—it is tremendously inspiring. So when I started coming across the dandies I became curious to find out more about these men who were living and dressing by their own rules, with great style. Getting to meet each subject is an adventure—which I’m happy to have even if photographs aren’t involved. Then I began to realize that although many of these men have been photographed because of their style, no one had investigated the “exquisite gentlemen” living today as a cohesive project. This has propelled me to start the blog and dive deeper into the subject.
MM: How do you choose subjects for “The Dandy Portraits?”
RC: Research and referrals. There are men who are known as dandies, but there are also many men that are just doing their thing and, lo and behold, someone mentions them and I give them a call. Also, some men do not want to be in the limelight for this project, but that does not make them less of a dandy. Conversely some have requested to be featured, and that will not work with me, I’m afraid.
MM: What are the essential elements of the dandy?
RC: This has been the question I have been trying to answer the whole time I’ve been doing this project. I don’t think it has a hard and fast answer, because I think it is about individualism, but there are some things I have observed: Dressing is elevated to an art, and they have cultivated exceptional, refined personal style based in classic menswear—with a healthy dose of eccentricity and obsession. Dressing is a huge part, but it is never the whole picture. There is undoubtedly a strength of personality and a desire to cultivate a life according to one’s own rules.
RC: Well, I am pretty focused on this, so my other endeavors are all in service to it right now. But I am learning a lot about tailoring and menswear.
MM: If you could sum up your philosophy of dandyism in a few words…
RC: Part of what has kept me engaged in the project is that dandyism is such an elusive thing to define. There are historical ideas, and people continue to debate it all, but what I have been interested in is how dandyism it is expressed today in a practical way. At its essence, I see dandyism as a unique male archetype—characterized by masculine elegance, the desire to be independent, assert confidence, and to make one’s way in the world by his own rules—and I think this will persist.