Flagrantly Attired: A Review Of Callahan & Adams’ I Am Dandy

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With unwonted alacrity, we publish, on the first day permitted by the publisher and under the terms of the Geneva Convention, our review of Rose Callahan and Nathaniel Adams’ “I Am Dandy.” Armed with anatomical chartshis quizzing glass, and an arsenal of phrases lifted from dandy literature, Nick Willard guides us through the book’s assemblage of elegant gentleman and tells us who’s the dandy. 

* * *

How very delightful Rose Callahan’s photographs are! They reveal, with sure delicacy, the psyche of her sitters, even when they’re standing. Look at her magnificent photograph of the artist Peter McGough, pictured above.

His face is so open. Peer into his eyes and you can see his artistic soul, intimated by the surrounding art. The intensity of the image is heightened by her decision to rely on chiaroscuro, yet there is an air of placidness.

The most illuminative photograph of the whole series, and of the species dandy, is her photograph of Mr. Massimiliano Moochia di Coggiola, not the one on the cover, but this one:

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Here he looks comfortable in his own clothes (in the cover photograph, there is a tinge of pose in his visage), without the fussiness to which he is prone. His muted navy suit blends with dark voluptuousness of the settee. The dark colors and lighting are punctured by the pink of his socks and the stripe of his shirt, adding caprice. The glimpse of artwork on the wall suggests his classical taste. This is Sig. Coggiola, who can sometimes veer into nostalgic excess, at his best.

Natty Adams’s libretto is the perfect accompaniment. Adams is one of the most knowledgeable and astute observers of dandyism, having cut his eye teeth here and going on to share his perspicacious thoughts over at his blog “Lives of the Dandies,” which has been understandably moribund since he decided to record his thoughts in print and on page rather than in the ephemeral ether of the blogosphere. His introduction sets the proper tone of what to expect from the men who appear in the following pages, and his profiles complete the reveal started by Callahan’s photos.

The book’s sole flaw, universally acknowledged, is its title, which was given by the publisher. Callahan has mentioned on several occasions that it was not her and Adams’ choice. Echoing the authors’ dubiety, many of the those in the volume have gone on record to decline, like Caesar, the proffered laurel wreath, denying that they are dandies.

Glenn O’Brien, in his excellent preface, agrees:

I might not consider this aggregation of flagrantly attired to be true dandies in the classical sense, but an eclectic admixture of dandy, fop, and gay blade.

So does Natty Adams in the introduction:

I’d say that only a handful of the men in this book rise into this exalted realm of elite dandyism, and I’ll leave it to you to decide which ones they are.

With such disclaimers and caveats, it seems that a better title would have been “Who’s the Dandy?” But we are not shackled by diffidence. Here, then, is a taxonomy of Adams and Callahan’s gentlemen.

We’ll start with the easiest cut. Beerbohm instructs us:

The dandy is the “child of his age,” and his best work must be produced in accord with the age’s natural influence.  The true dandy must always love contemporary costume….It is only the tasteless who cavil, being impotent to win from it fair results.

So out go all the retro-eccentrics, whether antiquarian, like Mr. Zac Pinsent on the left of the scale:

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…or nostalgic, like the handsome Mr. Michael Arenella on the right:

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… whether they are sincere — Messrs. Ray Frensham, Michael Salerno, Guy Hills, Johnny Vercouture and Sven Raphael Schneider — or put-ons — “chaps” like Messrs. Gustav Temple and Michael Attree.

Two interesting cases are Andrew Yamato and Dandy Wellington, who define where “traditional with style” and retro-eccentricity meet. In the final analysis, their attire is too costumey. This is especially true of Wellington, who has a wonderful eye for combinations, but must be over-the-top for professional reasons, as he is a stage performer. Plus he calls himself “Dandy,” a definite disqualifier. Maybe if he changed his name to “Bingo,” or something like that.

Closely allied to the retro-eccentric is the Romantic. Ever since Byron, people have mistaken Romantics for dandies. They are not the same. Romantics are emotional; dandies are blasé. Romantics love nature, dandies artifice. Romantics flee from the harshness of life, but dandies strut about it. Romantics sniff petunias in the countryside; dandies sniff snuff in the city. Romantics wear open-neck collars, while dandies carefully knot their ties. Romantics worship Dionysus, dandies leave their calling cards on the altar of Apollo.

We must therefore say goodbye to Robin Dutt:

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And with him Fyodor Pavlov, “Mr. Burton,” who could take make-up lessons from Dickon Edwards and also qualifies as a retro-eccentric, and David Carter.

Another misconception dating from the 19th century is confusing aesthetes with dandies. For this we must thank Oscar Wilde, who wrote the dandiest of plays and created the dandiest of characters, but who himself was, at least in his formative years, an aesthete. “The aesthetic vision of a dandy,” as the saying goes, “should be bounded by his own mirrors.” In addition to Mr. McGough, the following gentlemen must take up their easels and brushes and exit: Paolo Canevari, Robert Richards, and Iké Udé.

Another cousin of the dandy dating from the late 19th century is the decadent. These too must go, be they authentic Satanists  — Doran Wittelsbach — or commercialized heavy metal practitioners — Tony Sylvester — or the more neutered variety, tattoo-enamored hipsters with their ironic hats (compare that of Thomas Crowley with Dr. Andre Churchwell’s), like the aforementioned Thomas Crowley (though he does look fine when he tries less, such as in the photograph of him sipping wine, dressed in a navy cardigan with a nice mix of shirt and tie), Michael Davis, and Michael Hare.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are the merely well dressed. “Dandyism is not merely an excessive delight in clothes and material elegance,” as the poet said. This is best illustrated by Mr. Edward Hayes:

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Perfectly cut, perfectly proportioned, perfectly boring.

Similarly missing that indescribable élan are Sean Crowley (who also borders on retro-eccentricity), the estimable G. Bruce Boyer, Hugo Jacomet, and David Zyla.

I would be remiss if I dismissed James Sherwood without confessing that of all the persons in the book, he is the one over whom I agonized the most. His tailoring is impeccable, the peak lapel on the single-breasted jacket adds a bit of dash, and does the complex yet understated plaid have a hint of moss among the gray? But in the end he’s too stiff, as Brummell would say. Perhaps if Mr. Sherwood abandoned his beloved Savile Row and found a Neapolitan tailor. And went to a Swiss revitalization clinic for a shot of sprezzatura.

The fashionisti, for want of a better term, are too jaded. Surrounded by good taste every day all day, they are too calculated in the choice of their own clothes. Here I number Matt Fox and Enrique Crame of the shop Fine & Dandy, dapper purveyors of accessories, Nick Sullivan, Simon Doonan, and Amechi Ihenacho. Nick Wooster is a typical example:

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Then there are those who add a splash too much of individuality, as anything that aims at an effect is in bad taste, as is anything that is tumultuous. Please re-apply after you tone it down a bit, Mickael Loir and Marc Guyot. Beyond them lie the showy or eccentric, for to go beyond the limits of fashion is to become a caricature. So tone it down a lot Ignacio Quiles, Cator Sparks and Patrick McDonald.

Pretending for one reason or another, whether for venal reasons or for insecurity, to be what they are not are the designers Minn Hur and Kevin Wang, trying to look like hipsters and ‘30s gangsters, and Mr. Raymond Chu. While it is important not to look earnest, one’s insincerity shouldn’t be obvious. For this reason, all fictional characters are also disqualified, specifically Lord Whimsy, aka ”Victor Allen Crawford III.”

By process of elimination, that leaves the dandies, “those whose independence, assurance, originality, self-control and refinement are visible in the cut of their clothes.” In addition to Sig. Coggiola, they are:

Dickon Edwards

Robert Bryan (hanging by a thread, dangling so dangerously close to retro-eccentricity)

Gay Talese

Domenico Spano

Nicholas Foulkes

Hamish Bowles (just on the right side of the fashionisti faultline)

The Drs. Churchwell, Andre and Keith, with Dr. Andre getting a trifle the preference

Michael Andrew

Jose Lemus

Winston Chesterfield

Barima Owusu Hyantekyi

I hear the howls already. Dickon’s suit doesn’t even fit him. Well, it’s not his suit — it’s Sebastian Horsley’s. Spano’s patterns clash. The vest on Lemus billows like a sail. A doctor is dedicated, sober, and dependable, so how can Andre Churchwell be a dandy? To that I reply, just by looking at him (I don’t know that I would necessarily take his referral to a specialist in another medical field, but I do know that I would go to any tailor he recommends).

There you have it. Each of the denizens of “I Am Dandy” definitively dissected. I haven’t forgotten anyone, have I? — NICK WILLARD

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38 Responses to “Flagrantly Attired: A Review Of Callahan & Adams’ I Am Dandy”

  1. Massimiliano Mocchia di Coggiola Says:

    Merci, j’ai gagné les “Regie patenti” de Dandyism.net. But (please) my name is Coggiola, not “Coggia”. I know you are americans, but you can make an effort and be more attentive.

  2. Chenners Says:

    Well those blasted European publishers got my name wrong.

  3. Nick Willard Says:

    Just be content we didn’t call you Sperelli. But of course the typo, which was my fault,has been corrected.

  4. Massimiliano Mocchia di Coggiola Says:

    Merci Nicky.

  5. Nick Willard Says:

    C’est rien.

  6. Chenners Says:

    Speaking of unwonted alacrity, the gent on the cover of the book is the first to comment on our review, within an hour of its posting?

    Ah wait, the dandyish art of the unexpected.

  7. Massimiliano Mocchia di Coggiola Says:

    There is another “Coggia” thing at bottom, but I can faire semblant de rien. Bises.

  8. Chenners Says:

    Fixed.

    Comment s’appelle l’oiseau?

  9. Massimiliano Mocchia di Coggiola Says:

    Is not an oiseau, c’est Superman.

  10. Chenners Says:

    Shouldn’t you have posed with a peacock?

  11. Massimiliano Mocchia di Coggiola Says:

    You’ll see! This chicken will be the new fashionable bird, thanks to me.

  12. Bill Thompson Says:

    Well, that was an entertaining exchange. ;)

    Bravo, Nick, for a brilliant review. I was prepared to stoke my ire, but the book’s own preface establishes its own true direction: an “aggregation of flagrantly attired.” A shame that such an unfortunate title will give people a flawed view of dandyism. It takes a fine scalpel to pare away the shades and degrees of flagrant attire until the core of the dandy is reached — a scalpel that you have deftly wielded, not only to reveal the dandies, but to categorize the dandy-adjacent so expertly.

  13. Nick Willard Says:

    Thanks, Bill.

    Natty is disarmingly candid in his introduction that the subjects are not dandies, so it is difficult to take the authors to task, especially when they disclaim the title.

    But the title does give us an excuse to be snarky here.

  14. Chenners Says:

    Which dandy book uses the motif “fine feathers make fine birds,” or something like that? Cannot remember….

  15. Nick Willard Says:

    The Maltese Falcon? One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest? To Kill a Mockingbird?

  16. Chenners Says:

    “Flaubert’s Parrot”?

    Actually one of these I think:

    VINCENT, LEON H. “Dandies and Men of Letters” (1913). Written in a light, anecdotal style, this tome covers a half dozen figures from the early 19th century, including William Beckford and Thomas Moore.

    VON GLEICHEN-RUSSWURM, ALEXANDER “Dandies and Don Juans” (1928) is written from a German perspective and puts an emphasis on sportsmen and adventurers, with a number of chapters devoted to intriguing pre-Brummell figures.

  17. Barima Says:

    Nick,

    Congratulations on a cogent, interesting and whimsical review. I won’t quibble over any of your conclusions and indeed, I delight in being on your list of actual dandies, considering I’m also in the gaggle that has refused to self-label in this way. I’ve never had a problem with other people – particularly the learned – deciding whether I am one or not

    As it appears to be the in-thing, I’d like to also point out that my surname is wrongly spelt, although that may well Google-proof me against posterity, I suppose. The same publishers that misspelt Chenners’s name also missed the hyphen from my surname; only Natty gets it right in the opening paragraph of my profile

    Best,

    B.O-N

  18. Nick Willard Says:

    Thanks, Barima, for your kind words, and sorry for mangling your name.

    You know, getting names right is harder than it looks. If you look at Comment #1, Massimiliano reprimanded us for getting his last name wrong. Yet even he didn’t notice that we also spelled his middle name wrong, “Moochia” instead of “Mocchia.”

  19. Chenners Says:

    Cue Cab Calloway:

    “Folks here’s the story ’bout Massi The Moochia….”

  20. Ignacio Quiles Says:

    Perhaps I’m not an official dandy, but it sure is fun to see myself through Rose’s lens and Natty’s prose. And it is an honor to be included in such lofty company!

  21. Dandyism.net » Blog Archive » Flagrantly Attired: A Review Of Callahan & Adams’ I Am Dandy | Kvinto Says:

    [...] See on http://www.dandyism.net [...]

  22. Dandydilettante Says:

    An immensely illuminating set of distinctions between Romantic and Dandy faculties, there.

    Even if the two traditions may share the same gene pool, or at least appear to occasionally, it would explain the wariness one feels towards inferring dandyism from otherwise chic and exuberant celebrities such as Russell Brand.

    And could not much the same criteria be loosely applied to remnants of the New Romantic era? Hence, the absence of someone like Simon Le Bon from this newly published parade; who for all his fearless flashes of exquisite elan and withering wit over the years was once dismissed as ‘a blob you’d find in your custard’ for his yellow-suited showmanship in Duran Duran’s momentous ‘Rio’ video.

    I suppose studied carelessness has its limits, although as to open-neck collars v knotted ties … perhaps, Romantic and Dandy outward expression meet comfortably enough in the modern cowl-neck top (of the more modest variety) … the creases of which sometimes seem as meddlesome to define as those of Brummell’s cravats.

  23. G. Bruce Boyer Says:

    But I’m proud to be in the company of Sean Crowley, Hugo Jacomet, and David Zyla.

  24. Nick Willard Says:

    @ Bruce: We did describe you as “estimable.”

  25. Harri_P Says:

    I’m wondering if count Massimiliano (on first name basis in the fear of misspelling his family name) is actually doing some bourgeois work for living? It just seems that his whole life just revolves around, often pretentious, fancy dress costume play. Or does he manage to live off that?

  26. Ariete! Says:

    What a bitchy little comment…
    Ugly thing, envy.

  27. leonard roger gresham jr Says:

    Considering what manner of man they chose to be taken for, I would have to comment briefly on the two gents i’m associated with; that being Both of the Dr’s Churchwell brothers and my mentee Michael Andrew! You will find all three gents always elegant attired and never ever foppish! Their taste-level gets the famously hard to get grade of 4E-Excellent Execution of an Elegant Ensemble! cheers

  28. Duke of Pall Mall Says:

    With all this taxonomy going on you forgot to review the book. Forgive me for saying that this read like a metronome reviewing a Beethoven symphony. No loss though, M. Jacomet sums it up rather nicely (http://parisiangentleman.co.uk/2013/08/07/i-am-dandy-the-return-of-the-elegant-gentleman/ )

  29. principe Says:

    I quite simply adore the book and am recommending it to intelligent friends. I have only one very, small caveat…..on pg. 263 the text reads concerning Massimiliano Mocchia di Coggiola as “a member of an old Italian family of some unspecified nobility.” My own copy of the “Elenco Storico della Nobilita Italiana” pub. by the Sovereign Order of the Knights of Malta, n.d., pgs. 338-339 informs us that the famiglia is Piamontese, Nobile dei Conti di Coggiola e Pray, Nobile dei Signori di S. Benigno e Ruata dei Rossi, viz; Counts, Lords and nobles.And, needless to say, he certainly looks the part ….

  30. Karoosi Says:

    How can you dismiss Robin Dutt? I have read a considerable amount on Dandyism and Dandies and would argue that, actually, Mr Dutt is definitely a dandy despite your inaccurate analysis.

    Regarding the men who *you* have qualified as dandies, how do you know that they possess all or even most of the characteristics and qualities of a dandy apart from their material attire? Don’t get me wrong, I do agree that some of them are dandies. But you have not mentioned deeper and indeed significant states and attributes of the dandy.

  31. Karoosi Says:

    I must say that I find it astonishing that nowadays many people use the term “dandy” without mentioning or, apparently, even considering crucial things such as wit, the dandy’s ability to be welcomed in extremely diverse socio-economic environments and the dandy often being stoic.

  32. John M. Gilheany Says:

    I’ve been intrigued by much the same matters as Karoosi lately.

    Whilst purchasing some mundane computer software, I was struck by the insouciant drawl of the scruffy young sales assistant ~ it really was refreshing to interact with such a rare creature these days.

    And yet to all visual purposes there was nothing ‘dandy’ about the fellow whatsoever.

    ‘Peacock or Enigma?’ ~ hmm …

  33. John M. Gilheany Says:

    (and no, he wasn’t your typical hungover, common-or-garden malcontent)

  34. Karoosi Says:

    @John M.Gilheany. I believe that a dandy is an enigma, not a peacock. Or at least not just a peacock.

  35. John M. Gilheany Says:

    @Karoosi … which is why that encounter seemed so perplexing ~ the chap had all the airs yet none of the style which dandyism depends on; even though I too prefer the enigma to empty flamboyance.

  36. Karoosi Says:

    @John M.Gilheany I think one needs both. I consider myself to be dandiacal. But, as you may appreciate, it is fundamentally not because of how I dress. Rather, it is because of other characteristics such as me being somewhat stoic, quite useless, being an urban creature, having a kind of unstructured everyday life, being apolitical, an epicure, being able to mix with people of very different socio-economic classes and being welcomed, being witty and, of course, thinking of the applying of moisturiser to my face to be a crucial daily routine.

  37. John M. Gilheany Says:

    @Karoosi Ah, but which blend of snuff would you care to recommend ;-)

  38. Karoosi Says:

    @John M.Gilheany. I don’t use it, nor do I smoke. I think that not doing what is expected can sometimes be dandiacal.

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