The Lion in Winter by Nick Willard

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

p244_PeterMcGough

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:

p277_MassimilianoMocchiadiCoggiola

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…)

Digg TwitterFacebook StumbleUpon

Jim Dandy

formal.jpgThe members of the opening-night audience for “Manhattan Mary,” Broadway’s most anticipated musical of 1927, was startled at the end of the second act when an elegant man dressed in a peak-lapel, midnight-blue tuxedo and white piqué vest bounded from his orchestra seat onto the stage. Their baffled expressions soon turned to smiles of recognition as he bantered with the cast and deftly played the straight man for the comedian. At the conclusion of this seemingly impromptu skit, the audience burst into cheers and applause, for the interloper was the immensely popular mayor of New York, James J. “Jimmy” Walker.

The audience’s initial confusion probably had less to do with an intruder being on stage than with surprise that Walker was in town. For the previous two months, reports of his junket through Europe had been filtering back to Prohibition-era New York, including tales of generously imbibing champagne in France, wine in Italy, cocktails in England, and beer in Germany. Sure enough, Walker had sailed into Gotham only that morning.

While Jimmy Walker was a lawyer by profession, a politician by trade, and mayor virtually by acclamation, his true vocation was that of a dandy. Indeed, Walker is America’s great democratic dandy.

Walker was more George Raft than George Sanders. He was rough-edged, not smooth, sharp rather than refined. He did things with swagger as opposed to understatement. He vanquished foes neither by cutting them with Brummell’s haughty, vacant gaze, nor by spouting Wildean epigrams. His weapon of choice was the wisecrack: glib, flippant and sardonic. He hobnobbed with entertainers more than aristocrats, hung out at speakeasies instead of palaces. He was equally at home with royal visitors and with ward heelers. He was on the front pages of newspapers as well as in “Who’s Who.” He played to the crowd rather than pandered to princes, and was beloved by press and public alike.

Walker’s admirers called him “Beau James” and “Tammany‘s dandy.” His detractors dismissed him as a “buzzing little macaroni” who dressed like a vaudevillian. Time once described him as “a dapper, glib little mick.”

But any way you put it, Walker had pizazz. (more…)

Digg TwitterFacebook StumbleUpon

The Palmer Method

robert-palmer-hs.jpgD.net is dedicated to the proposition that the dandy still reigns supreme in matters of taste. Yet we sometimes act as if the last dandy was killed in the London Blitz.

This error especially crops up with music. I’m the first to prop myself up against the upright, cocktail in hand, and croon whenever Chenners starts to torture the ivories with Porter melodies and Coward ditties.

Let’s not forget, however, that the dandy troubadour did not pass away with Ivor Novello or Charles Trenet. He continues to this day, even in the most hostile of environments: rock ‘n roll.

There are few dandy rock stars, but then again the dandy is a rara avis in any field. At one time or another, for one reason or another, Bowie, Bryan Ferry, Andre 3000, Prince and Morrissey have been labeled dandies. Most of them are too over-the-top to merit the appellation, but I would admit all of them to the Dandy Club. After all, we need the dues.

One rock singer of whom there can be no doubt is the late Robert Palmer. Palmer had an exquisitely tailored and contemporary look. He was elegant, not costumed — no eye make-up, glitter or pirate outfits for him. He also maintained the requisite dandy cool while rocking. Palmer was the dandy with a backbeat. (more…)

Digg TwitterFacebook StumbleUpon

Beau-ography

brummell.jpgBy Nick Willard

Beau Brummell: The Ultimate Man of Style
By Ian Kelly
Free Press

I was prepared to thoroughly dislike Ian Kelly’s biography of Beau Brummell. The attendant ballyhoo, here in the US and last year in the UK, has been lascivious and sensational — Brummell as “a Casanova and a playboy;” variously the “Boy Toy” and “Toy Boy” of the Duchess of Devonshire; taking lovers of both sexes; his grandfather a brothel keeper, and his mother a courtesan. It has also affected a vulgar contemporaneity. He was the “first celebrity;” “the first metrosexual,” and “the inventor of the suit” — odd, since he never wore one. In the unkindest cut, the subtitle, in crossing the Atlantic from Britain to America, was switched from “The Ultimate Dandy” (something of an oxymoron, as Brummell originated dandyism) to “The Ultimate Man of Style.”

My worst fears have been disappointed. Mr. Kelly’s account of Brummell’s life is well written, lively, informative, factual, balanced and innovative. It is, simply put, the best biography of Brummell. (more…)

Digg TwitterFacebook StumbleUpon

You Can’t Always Wear What You Want

scruffy.jpg“Does a dandy listen to rock ‘n roll?” a young dandy asked in the forum. The answer is simple: A dandy listens to whatever he damned well pleases. The more pertinent question is “What does a dandy wear when he listens to rock ‘n roll?”

I have attended Rolling Stones concerts for over 40 years (now you know why I’m called the Lion in Winter). I’ve always dressed in my dandy best for them. Doing so was not without its risks, particularly in the ‘60s. When starting out, the Stones were promoted as the grungy alternative to the Beatles. In a sense, the Stones were the first grunge band. The early Beatles wore tailored, if lapelless suits, and had clean, if shaggy, hair. In contrast, the Stones wore scruffy, non-coordinated outfits. Nor did they seem to follow the Beau’s dictum regarding the importance of hygiene. Jagger was not yet a fashion icon. Certainly, they played most undandy-like music and attracted a most undandy-like audience. (more…)

Digg TwitterFacebook StumbleUpon

Dressed to Swill

triangulation-1.gifMy winter vacation has traditionally been in a location where I can indulge in my favorite pastime: marathon triangulation. For those you who do not know how to triangulate, this simple but accurate diagram at left will help explain.

That’s me in the center, equidistant from the ocean, the pool and the bar. I am lying on a chaise lounge. I roll to my right, let’s say, and take a dip in the ocean. After returning to my chaise lounge for a decent interval — say, 10 minutes — I roll to my left and take a dip in the pool, from whence I return to the chaise lounge. After another 10 minutes, I roll forward and go to the bar. This process goes on from when the first rays of the sun strike the golden sands of the beach, until the smoldering orb sets in roseate splendor — hence the appellation “marathon.”

Of course, the diagram is an over-simplification. The resort where I stayed during my most recent vacation on the Pacific Coast of Mexico had two pools and two bars, thus exponentially increasing the complexity.

(more…)

Digg TwitterFacebook StumbleUpon