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 charts, his 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.
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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:
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:
…or nostalgic, like the handsome Mr. Michael Arenella on the right:
… 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:
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:
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:
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:
Robert Bryan (hanging by a thread, dangling so dangerously close to retro-eccentricity)
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
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