Columns

New Fin-de-Siecle Fiction Pastiche From D.net Founder Chenners

Gentlemen, after 25 years of immersion in dandyism, decadence and aestheticism, I’ve finally dreamed up my own pastiche of the themes and tropes.

Available as of today on Amazon is a short story entitled “The Disengage” — a fencing term that has several meanings in the text — which is set in New York on New Year’s Eve of 1899 and culminates in a duel in Central Park on the first morning of the 20th century. It’s a kinky, gender-bendy black comedy told in the form of a society gazette gossip column. It’s available as print-on-demand from Antenna Books for $3.99, or $2.99 on Kindle.

Here’s what colleagues are saying without even requiring a bribe:

“The Disengage” is an iridescent tribute to the opulent decadence of the 1890s, veritable catalogue of references, an archive of echos, an inventory of allusions to The Lavender Decade. Wilde and Wharton, and perhaps Whistler appear between the lines of this filigreed bonbon along with Aubrey Beardsley and Max Beerbohm, not to mention a touch of Dorothy Parker. But it’s only good fun if you like the period, puns, word play, impeccable literary references, and the juxtaposition of hilarious aesthetic concepts. A parody of a greeting card to an age when society merely demanded a well-tied neckcloth and knowing which fork to use.” — G. Bruce Boyer

“Mix a cask of Amontillado and a brace of absinthe, Christian’s witty satire is an acidic take on Mrs. Astor’s Gilded Age and is a very jolly yarn that purviews an evil eye for our own age.” — Richard Press

“Lovers of the Belle Époque rejoice! Christian Chensvold is well versed in Aestheticism and Decadence and he has melded his erudition with a Saki-like talent for satire in “The Disengage,” a rollicking 21st-century riff on the fin-de-siècle. As Holbrook Jackson observed in his masterpiece The Eighteen-Nineties, “Decadence in any art is always the manure and root of a higher manifestation of that art.” The Disengage is the highest manifestation of the art of decadent writing: it is pure manure.” — Nick Willard, Dandyism.net

And here’s an excerpt:

Robert cuts a ghostly, elegant figure, svelte and wan and looking as though he’d had his élan vital drained by a succubus from the morbid canvas of a Belgian symbolist. His eyes suggest fog over the canals of Bruges, and he is tailored in misty shades of dove, mouse and pearl gray. His cravats (from Charvet, naturellement) are woven in muted shades of mint and lavender, held in place with utmost nonchalance by a lapis-lazuli stickpin by Lalique. His shuffling, adagio gait suggests centuries of thinning blood, cultural exhaustion, the Decline of the West. Should you engage him in conversation, you’ll find his badinage brimming with recondite references that float from his stern lips and waxed mustache like a melancholy melody of Debussy strummed on a very old and tightly strung harp.

You can order it right here. Miss you myrmidons! — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD

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The Royal We: A Review Of We Are Dandy And The Battle Of The Barons

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I most heartily recommend that you rush out and purchase Natty Adams and Rose Callahan’s latest collaboration, “We Are Dandy: The Elegant Gentleman Around the World.” Their follow-up to 2013’s “I Am Dandy” introduces another 60 dandies of various stripes from around the world. It is certainly worth every penny. (In so saying, I should disclose that I received a free review copy, but I’m sure that even at full price I would put it on my Amazon wishlist).

The book opens with a charming preface by noted ecdysiast Dita von Teese, in which she assures us, in so many words, that she goes down for dandies. It is unclear if her professed proneness represents an exception or the rule.

Then comes Rose’s beautiful photographs and Natty’s far-from-prosaic prose. Rose captures each dandy in situ and in the wild, such as a rented palazzo in Florence and an Art Deco Tokyo hotel room available at reasonable day rates. Complementing Rose’s picture-pictures are Natty’s word-pictures that capture each subject’s individuality and his singular take on the meaning of dandyism.

Most interestingly, this time Natty’s introduction does not contain a warning, as his introduction to “I Am Dandy” notoriously did, that a substantial but undisclosed number of the book’s subjects are not actual dandies, but only dandies manqué, and in some instances not dandies at all. The absence of such a caveat in this volume impliedly vouches that all the denizens of “We Are Dandy” are, in fact, real dandies, which is most reassuring to persons who take things literally, such as myself.

Natty, a scholar of dandyism as well as a dandy himself (he was, as we are never loth to boast, Dandyism.net’s 2013 Dandy of the Year), goes on to identify the precisely four varieties of dandies: the vintage dandy, the classicist, the #menswear dandy, and the fashion dandy. He then deftly limns their dominant characteristics. His taxonomy is vastly superior to previous efforts at dandy classification, such as the Whimsy Bohemian-Dandy Class Continuum diagram of 2006.

His taxonomy, as insightful as it is, glosses over, however, a deeper, more fundamental dichotomy plaguing dandyism, a division that threatens to rent the fabric of the dandysphere. I speak, of course, of the incipient dandy civil war being instigated by Mr. Logan O’Malley of Brussels, Belgium, and Mr. Justin Fornal of Yonkers, New York. Separated by 3,200 miles, both dandies lay claim to the title of Baron of Dandyism.

Mr. O’Malley, who, we are told, is generally known among the Brussels lumpenproletariat as “Le Baron,” refers to himself as “Clyde Baron d’XL Frenchteush, etc. etc. ad infinitum.” He explains, “The baron is the dandy of the street. The baron is someone who is well dressed but very poor. ‘Baron’ is a word to refer to strong but elegant people. Everybody can be well-dressed, everyone one can be a dandy, but not everyone can be a baron.”

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These last words rudely repudiate Mr. Fornal’s competing assertion of the privileges of the nobility. Mr. Fornal styles himself on public-access TV and elsewhere as Baron Ambrosia and traces the lineage of his baronetcy directly to the voodoo spirit Baron Samedi, memorably portrayed by the late Geoffrey Holder in the 1973 James Bond thriller “Live And Let Die.” This baron boasts of a formidable Praetorian Guard, no less than the Zulu Nation, a Bronx-based, old-school, hip-hop gang.

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One worries whether the dandysphere is big enough to accommodate the rival claims of the House of O’Malley and the House of Fornal. Any student of American history will tell you that a house divided against itself cannot stand. Conflict appears inevitable: the two barons share little in common except for a propensity to include in their respective conversation as many declensions of the word “fuck” as possible. I fear a schism that forever cleaves dandyism in twain.

This leads naturally to an even more dire threat lurking below the pretty pictures and precious descriptions of “We Are Dandy,” to the very subsistence of dandyism.

A close reading of the text reveals that the capital of dandyism has shifted from London, where Beau Brummell founded the tradition in 1796, to Tokyo and Johannesburg. Fully 12 of the dandies appearing in “We Are Dandy” live in the Japanese capital (with two more residing elsewhere on the main island of Japan), and nine dandies live in Johannesburg. No other location comes close in the number of dandies.

This seismic geographic shift represents more than a personal inconvenience. I am sure that in time I could acclimate myself to Johannesburg, despite water draining out of sinks counterclockwise and blood rushing to my head because I’m standing upside-down on the bottom side of the equator (although I suppose for an old lion like myself it will take longer to figure out the proper application of the wearing white/Labor Day rule). I am similarly confident that in Tokyo I could get used to drinking sake while reading Saki.

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No, what troubles the soul is that — except for an occasional montsuki, the most formal style of kimono, or hakama trousers — these dandies of Japan and Africa are attired in suits, jackets, ties, and shoes — all traditional sartorial artifacts of Western Civilization. These dandies, obviously extraneous to the Occident (except for Mr. Gene Krell, pictured above, who doesn’t look Japanese), readily concede — nay, proclaim — that their sartorial choices have been consciously influenced by cultural expressions from Western Civilization, such as American and British movies, American jazz, and Ivy Style clothing. Not one of them states that they first asked permission, and I assure you no one asked for mine. The pernicious effect of this exploitation of Western Civilization is to make the borrowers seem innovative and edgy — this is especially true of the African dandies — while perpetuating the negative, hurtful stereotype that those of European descent who wear the same items are stuffy and lacking in creativity.

My raised consciousness, thanks to Callahan and Adams, of dandyism’s dark underside has increased my doubts about dandyism, which I recently experienced when the naked derriére of actress Alicia Silverstone on a PETA poster alerted me to the Samsonian indignities suffered by sheep shorn for the wool that suits are made of.

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Perhaps it is time to bid farewell to the Lethe-like pleasures of Oscar Wilde’s epigrams, which wittily manipulate the masses into docile contentment with repressive socio-political regimes. Perhaps it is time to say goodbye to bespoke suits, which cultivate a false psychological need for quality and craftsmanship, a need that can be satisfied only by the products of capitalism, further entrenching the dominant economic interests. Perhaps it is time, indeed, to leave behind dandyism itself.

I stand, metaphorically speaking, with Matthew Arnold on Dover Beach, contemplating my loss of faith in dandyism, my John Lobbs (Paris shop) carefully toeing the Sea of Faith, within sight of the glimmering and vast cliffs of England, feeling forsaken, and wondering, silently, “O Brummell, where art thou?”

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Michael Mattis, Dandy Of The Year 2014

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This year Dandyism.net bears the sad honor of awarding its first posthumous title of Dandy Of The Year to the late Michael Mattis, who died suddenly this year at the age of 49.

It was exactly 20 years ago that I first met Michael, and it was the subject of dandyism that had brought us together. After spending his twenties as a cabaret host, ranch hand, vintage clothing dealer, and all the other dilletante diversions listed in his bio, he was finishing college at the ripe age of 30 and had written an article on modern day dandy-decadent retro-eccentrics for the literary magazine of San Francisco State.

I managed to find it, and it was the first time I’d ever come across someone else interested in the topic of dandyism. I tracked Michael down, and although we would both end up working in the Internet industry, in 1995 we began an enthusiastic epistolary friendship sending each other clippings, discussing Tom Wolfe and Beau Brummell, and sealing our letters with wax.

The first time we met he was dressed casually and inconspicuously, probably considering it gauche to get dolled up to meet a man you’ve been corresponding with about dandyism. He was never much of a clothes horse, and neither invested heavily nor fussed over his attire. But he took a natural enjoyment in wearing clothes, and I remember the first night we went out on the town together, I think to hear the band Lavay Smith & Her Red-Hot Skillet-Lickers at the Cafe du Nord, where Michael seemed to know all the retro gals and corset-designers in the place. Beforehand he needed to change, and with mild embarassment led me to what was one of the most modest dwellings I’ve ever seen, and which I recall him referring to as “the box.” Later, as he commanded increasingly obscene salaries as a “digital content strategist” (whatever that is, as he liked to say), his standards naturally rose in accord.

But that night in a matter of minutes he clawed through his unkempt surroundings and threw on a suit and tie and topped it with a hat as we bolted out the door, and I remember practically exclaiming as we hustled down the dark, empty streets that he looked absolutely smashing. Rather like, dare I say it, a tramp aesthete.

Which leads us to Michael’s critical writings for Dandyism.net. As someone who’d done wacky California things like go to Dickens Faires and costume balls, take up fencing and play croquet in the park, he’d been around enough historic re-enactors to know that that should never be mistakenly for dandyism. His role was not that of style arbiter but of critic, a dandyologist, and his interest in the topic never waned throughout his life.

Dandy discourse, at least on the Internet, lost a bright light the night his life was unexpectedly extinguished. Wherever he is, I’m sure there are both angels and devils, and that Michael’s enjoying strong drinks and lively conversation with both groups.

Michael, you’re Dandy Of The Year for 2014, but you’ll always be my first and best confrere in the brotherhood of dandyism. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD

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Age Of Decade-nce: Dandyism.net’s 10-Year Anniversary

diabolicalPrecisely one decade ago, while you, dear reader, were in the laundry room starching your cravat, Christian Chensvold unfurled this site for all the world to see, the first cog in what would become the behemoth known as Stickpin Media. Its signature feature was white text on a black background. That would soon change. The site was self-consciously refined. Huysmans said that he wrote “A Rebours” for 12 readers. Chenners had a similarly exclusive vision for D.net. Three years later, he reached that goal.

It is often said that the best way to judge a man is by his enemies. In Chenners’ case, it is the only way. Over the years he has encountered the enmity of the illustrator finally formerly known as Lord Whimsy, the count formerly known as Andrea Sperelli, the Talk Ivy forum at Film Noir Buff, and philistines everywhere. I am proud to say that throughout these feuds I have stood shoulder to shoulder with Chenners with my back turned.

Indeed I have been part of D.net almost since the beginning, as member number three on the now-defunct forum (all dandy eras must come to an end). This has been a sad year as we lost member number two, Michael Mattis, who held this site together while Chenners and I were off on sundry French leaves. Michael’s passing revealed something about this site. The week after his death, some 20 of us gathered in a telephone conference to celebrate Michael’s life with a toast. We called in from Europe, North America, and Australia. We ranged in age from our twenties to our sixties. Some of us knew Michael for decades, while others of us never met him. The tribute was a testament, of course, to Michael’s generous spirit, sparkling humor, culture and joie de vivre.

But that fact is that most of us would not have known Michael, and we certainly would not have known each other, if it weren’t for this site. Dandyism.net brought us together that night. So perhaps this site, dedicated to the frivolous, intentionally superficial, may be something important.

Dandyism, Ellen Moers wrote, has “the power to fascinate, to puzzle, to travel, to persist.”

So does Dandyism.net, which is not dead, but merely sleepeth.

Congratulations, Christian: you may have created something bigger than even you realize. — NICK WILLARD

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Farewell To The Sophistocrat: Michael Mattis, 1964-2014

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Michael Mattis, who has been a part of Dandyism.net since its very beginning in 2004, died suddenly this weekend in his sleep. He was 49 years old.

He first met Dandyism.net founder Christian Chensvold 20 years ago when he wrote a piece on dandies for his college literary magazine, and Chensvold contacted him in light of the mutual interest.

Tributes are currently going up on Dandyism.net’s Facebook page, as well as Michael’s own. Our own Nick Willard had this to say when he heard the news:

Words fail to express my shock & sorrow.  We just exchanged e-mails this week, catching up with each other.  He shared how he was head over heels over his new woman & how much he loved her.  It seemed that he was at the dawn of the next stage of his life, not at the sunset.

Though he had little tolerance for foolishness, Michael was a raconteur and bon vivant by temperament who above all enjoyed meeting interesting people and swapping stories with them. He has written some of the most insightful pieces for Dandyism.net, under the fitting column heading “The Sophistocrat,” which can be accessed in the menu column at right.

He’s captured above in a photo by Rose Callahan.

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Dandy Of The Year 2013: Nathaniel Adams

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For services rendered to the understanding and misunderstanding of dandyism, as well as perpetually cutting a dashing figure, Dandyism.net is pleased to award Nathaniel Adams the distinguished title of Dandy of the Year 2013. (more…)

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