The Diabolical Monocle

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


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. 

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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. (more…)

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Out of Toon: Osbert Lancaster and the 20th Century

By Stewart Gibsonos-self.jpg

“Nothing dates so quickly as the apt comment.” So wrote Osbert Lancaster, ruefully reflecting on the inevitable eclipse of his reputation as one of the leading cartoonists, wits and dandies of his day.

Over a period of almost 40 years, Osbert Lancaster became a household name in Britain thanks to his introduction (with some inspiration from the French) of the newspaper “pocket cartoon.” For four decades readers would avidly seek out Lancaster’s contribution to the front page of the Daily Express prior to giving any consideration to the headlines.

The year 2008 marked the centenary of Lancaster’s birth, and in celebration a new book and exhibition are shining a fresh light on that once glittering reputation, providing illuminating insights into the world view of a man who brought the beady eye of an Edwardian dandy to bear on the follies and foibles of the mid-20th century.

In a superb earlier article for, Michael Mattis covered much of the life and personal style of this “modern major minor dandy.” So here we must focus upon the work and its relation to the nature of its creator, as surveyed in the recently published book by James Knox, “Cartoons and Coronets: The Genius of Osbert Lancaster.”

Born to a wealthy family, Lancaster enjoyed a comfortable upbringing. He showed a natural talent for drawing from an early age and his sojourn at Charterhouse School fortuitously placed him at a institution which had an unusually strong tradition of producing outstanding caricaturists and illustrators, among them William Makepeace Thackeray, John Leech and Lancaster’s direct precursor and hero, the “incomparable” Max Beerbohm.

As a cartoonist, boulevardier and “connoisseur of social distinctions,” Lancaster’s use of longer captions revised the tradition of 19th-century Punch cartoons, in addition to following the example of Beerbohm. Lancaster’s obvious nostalgia for an earlier epoch was reflected in his wry observations on the shifting social mores of the 1950s-70s, most usually as seen through the eyes of his greatest comic creation: Maudie, Countess of Littlehampton. Maudie, and her fatalistic and fogeyish husband Willie, were as well known in their day as any society couple could possibly be. (more…)

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Brideshead Relinquished

brideshead-revised.jpgThe big-screen adaptation of “Brideshead Revisited” opens July 25 in the US. “The Passionate Spectator” columnist Robert Sacheli recently attended a press screening. The following are his thoughts on the film, as well as the charges of sacrilege leveled by fans of the 1981 Granada Television version.

Outrage against cultural debasement becomes a dandy as much as a good pair of white summer flannels, but the new film adaptation of “Brideshead Revisited” has stirred up a level of feverish emotion ill suiting the man of bemused detachment.

Why has the film hit so many exquisitely sensitive nerves? Perhaps because revisiting “Brideshead” in 2008 is less a threat to the cultural legacies of Evelyn Waugh or Granada Television than it is to our own memories of the 1981 series and the role it holds in our lives.

My own sacred and sometimes profanely silly “Brideshead” connections reach back to high school. Despite the questionable erotic themes — and possibly more problematic, the Jesuit bias — the Brothers of Holy Cross judged “Brideshead Revisited” to merit a place on our summer reading list as we headed into junior year. I’m now deeply ashamed that a hasty late-August skim through the novel left no lasting impression except for its cover illustration, a floridly rendered version of the Brideshead fountain with a pair of male and female figures ominously dwarfed by its sculptural glories.

The now-legendary television series, though, was quite another story. I was as guilty of being a “Brideshead”-head as the next impressionable fellow in the early ’80s. I had an English friend record my answering machine greeting with the series theme swelling in the background. Spellings such as “emphasised” spilled from my fountain pen. I admit to have spoken the phrases “unused to wine” and “would your friend care to rumba?” in actual conversations.

In short, I joined a brotherhood of millions who happily fell for a seductive vision of inter-war England as filtered through the lens of Thatcherism. With that memorable baroque trumpet theme echoing in our imaginations, we daydreamed about cricket sweaters, plover’s eggs, and perpetually indulgent nannies.

Yes, we thought, this is when and how we deserved to have lived.

Burnished in our affection by repeated DVD marathons, “Brideshead” was a comforting return to our youth — or at least the imaginary version we’d assembled from Waugh’s seductive characters and the glow of high-level art direction.

So it’s understandable that there might be reluctance towards Brideshead II. Better to boycott the local cineplex with a wearily dismissive attitude.

Sorry to spoil your fun, but this version of “Brideshead” is neither a desecration nor a disaster. Rather it’s a refocused approach to the novel’s story and characters — a necessary step when adapting any work of literature for the screen.


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Gender Blender

barbey.jpgIf filmmaker Catherine Breillat could be anyone in the world, she’d be the man pictured at left. Yes, the guy who looks like Lemmy from Motorhead dressed for the Dickens Fair.

“I have always said that if I had been born in a different century, I would have been Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly,” says the director of “The Last Mistress,” which opened in the US last week.

The film, which is loosely based on a novel by d’Aurevilly, centers around Ryno de Marigny, a proud libertine and gambler who strolls through life with his “hands in his pockets and nose in the air.”

The film stars prettyboy newcomer and Angelina Jolie lookalike (emphasis on jolie) Fu’ad Ait Aattou, who had never acted before and who therefore gives off the requisite air of dandy detachment.

Asia Argento, daughter of Italian horror film legend Dario Argento, is the film’s leading lady and a classic belle-laide.

Fans of Barbey’s fiction will enjoy a long sequence in the heart of the film that makes use of his favorite literary device, the recit parlé, or spoken narrative. Breillat’s adaptation also preserves the themes of mystery, revenge, passion and death that permeate all the work of Barbey, who was born in the sign of Scorpio and shares the sign’s preoccupations to the highest degree.

The press kit for the film includes the following remarks from Breillat:

On discovering the book Une Vieille Maitresse: I enjoyed the dandyism, a last shout from the aristocracy. Just like the Marquise de Flers, I am “absolutely 18th century.” The 18th century was more elegant and open-minded than the 19th, when the middle classes came into power, bringing narrow-mindedness and rigorously strict moral principles.

I also loved all these highly androgynous characters. Ryno is a terrible womanizer, a sort of Valmont (DANGEROUS LIAISONS), but he is also, like many dandies, deeply feminine. I’ve often dreamt about Michelangelo and the “Portrait of a Young Man” by Lorenzo Lotto (which is also in the film), about these men of dazzling beauty, a certain feminine beauty, yet without being effeminate.

The story could only take place in an aristocratic environment. When struggling to survive, feeding a family and finding a room for shelter, there is no time for the leisure of romance. Not enough time to experience the pureness. Sentiment can only be expressed in a certain level of comfort where it is not tainted by the harsh realities of life. The way many great authors of that era expressed strong feeling in such idealistic settings has always fascinated me. Aristocracy simply lends itself to the refinery of sentiments.

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Champagne and Shrapnel shines its diabolical monocle on the 1988 BBC miniseries “Piece of Cake” and discovers a gem of a film. Set among a squadron of RAF fighter pilots in the early days of World War II, “Piece of Cake” is a feast of rakish style and quiet courage, with dotted silk scarves worn during combat missions serving as symbols of civility in the face of war’s cruel brutality.

“Piece of Cake” is also a banquet of patrician male bonding. Hornet Squadron sets up temporary headquarters in a grand French chateau, where war plans are made over champagne and cigars, and where a loyal canine serves as the squadron’s mascot, even while urinating on everyone’s legs. With snifters overflowing and songs at the piano, Hornet Squadron’s regimen of ritualized masculinity is so seductive one almost forgets there’s a war on — a frequent line in the film — and that most of them won’t come out alive.

“Piece of Cake” inspired us to view a spate of WW II films. Share your own recommendations in this forum thread.

“War used to be cruel and magnificent,” Winston Churchill once said. “Now it’s cruel and squalid.” Words that ring more true today than ever.

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Kelly As Brummell

By Nathaniel Adams

“Beau Brummell”
Written by Ron Hutchinson
Directed by Simon Green
Starring Ian Kelly and Ryan Early

Lounging nude in a bathtub, George Brummell holds a razor to his throat. Will he remove his stubble, or end his life?

This stark suicidal pose we opens Ron Hutchinson’s semi-biographical play about the life of Brummell, starring Ian Kelly. I quickly feared a sensationalized portrait of a madman, but this was immediately assuaged by the wit and rapport between Brummell and his fictional valet Austin, the only two characters in the play. Kelly is of course the author of the recent highly acclaimed biography of Brummell. The valet, played by Ryan Early, is a well developed character in his own right, and is used as a rational foil for Brummell’s idealistic eccentricities. Throughout the production Brummell dresses and undresses, allowing the viewer to experience a metaphorical “revelation” of sorts, candidly privileged to see the famed dresser undressed.

The action takes place on one day close to the end of Brummell’s life when he is living in poverty in Calais. The occasion is special because King George IV, who as Prince Regent had been Brummell’s close friend and benefactor, is passing through Calais. Much of the play focuses on Brummell’s famous “Who’s your fat friend?” insult, blaming much of Brummell’s downfall on that fateful line. This reduction of the myriad complex reasons for Brummell’s exile to one bon mot might be factually inaccurate, but in the context of the play beautifully illustrates the man’s priorities and core beliefs. (more…)

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