The Lion in Winter by Nick Willard

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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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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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. 

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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:

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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. (more…)

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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…)

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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…)

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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…)

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