The Sophistocrat by Michael Mattis

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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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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Stick Your Neck Out, It’s World Cravat Day

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In case you missed it in The Times, today is World Cravat Day. Okay, there wasn’t really an article in The Times, but a Croatian outfit calling itself Academia Cravatica has indeed declared October 18 the international day of the cravat.

Academia Cravatica is a non-profit institution founded in 1997 that “studies, preserves and improves the cravat as a part of Croatian and world heritage,” according to the group’s home page. We laud this noble cause.

The cravat, the site notes, is a Croatian invention that originated, as with so many pieces of men’s attire, from military dress. Croatian mercenaries, such as the always elegant hussars, spread the fashion throughout much of Europe in the 17th century. In France, there was even a Croatian regiment, formed in 1667, called the Royal Cravates. Cravat-makers were known as cravatiers.

The cravat evolved from the simply tied scarf into the forms of neckwear we still don to this day—from the ascot or day cravat to the standard necktie worn everywhere except Iran. The site’s authors note that there are some 85 ways to tie a cravat, but “only a dozen knots suit the usual notions of symmetry and balance.”

But the most fun fun cravat fact has to be the following. “Jesse Langsdorf, an American textile manufacturer, made a revolutionary step by cutting the fabric into three parts and then sewing it back in a way which enabled easier tying and industrial production.” This little innovation gave birth to the modern necktie.

Yes, we realize World Cravat Day coincides with Bow Tie Friday, so choose your neckwear wisely. — MICHAEL MATTIS

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Grey Poupon: The Lost Footage

American readers of a certain age will remember the old TV commercial for Grey Poupon, a Dijon mustard now made by food-biz megalith, Kraft. (“So fine, it’s even made with white wine.” Fancy that!) In it, one chauffeured Rolls Royce pulls alongside another. The well dressed man in one leans out and asks the impeccable man in the other, “Pardon me, but would you happen to have any Grey Poupon?” The original ad aired in the 1980s.

Fast forward to 2013, when all things vintage — and faux vintage — are in style, from the new-to-retro Fiat 500 to Banana Republic’s “Mad Men” apparel collection. And Kraft and its agency CP+B have seized the day, back-filling the original with clever CG and new footage that tells the story of what happened after the first encounter, Bond-style.

Enjoy.

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GQ on Beau Brummell: It Just Doesn’t Suit

When it comes to turning to Beau Brummell for inspiration, even people in the men’s fashion world get it wrong from time to time—and more often.

Popular misconceptions include:

  • Beau Brummell invented the tuxedo (or at least black-and-white for men’s evening wear)
  • That he employed several glove makers to make each pair of gloves
  • That the Prince Regent broke with Brummell over the impertinent demand, “Wales, ring the bell!” during one of their late-night piss-ups. (Brummell denied this episode repeatedly while en Caen.)

Over time these legends and others have taken on a life of their own, in part because Brummell’s wit tended toward the exaggeration of trifles. He liked to mess with people’s heads.

Still, we were not quite aghast to read this piece on the website of GQ, that venerable organ of manly style formerly known as Gentleman’s Quarterly. We were, however, nonplussed.

It starts out all right:

“Every time baggy, pleated, and yet somehow tightly tapered pants come back in style, there’s a chance that cuff might creep up the calf inching our fashion standards back to the time when men wore tights and breeches and everyone had the plague… To know how we have have arrived at our current sartorial epoch — and why we must defend it — we need first understand how we broke from the ‘ballet look’ in the first place. And for that, we have one man to thank: Beau Brummel.”

True enough for those who care to “defend” such things, except for the repeated spelling of Brummell’s name as “Brummel.” We can’t fault the author, Micah Fitzerman-Blue, overmuch for this, however. The original French editions, as well as some English translations, of Jules-Amédée Barbey d’Aurevilly’s “Du Dandysme et de Georges Brummel” spell the man’s surname with only one “L.” It’s an easy mistake.

But then Fitzerman-Blue goes on to describe Brummell’s father as an “upper middle-class politician.” He wasn’t. William Brummell was in fact a bureaucrat, the private secretary to Lord North, Prime Minister of England from 1770 to 1782. Bill Brummell never held elective office.

Then there’s this:

“Between preening, plucking, polishing his boots with champagne (fact), and spending upwards of £800 a year (over $120,000 today) on tailoring, Brummel solidified his relationship with the Prince, and established his status as London’s style icon.” [Emphasis ours.]

No, not fact. As Nigel Rodgers points out in his soon-to-be-released book, “The Dandy: Peacock or Enigma” (of which more anon), “… the story that he used champagne as boot blacking is clearly a Brummell joke—champagne is sticky.” [Emphasis Rodgers'.] Anyone who has ever bungled an inebriated toast at a wedding should know this, and the apocryphal nature of this story has been pointed out in several previous works.

Finally, there’s the kicker:

“All that fuss actually resulted in something decidedly unfussy: full-leg trousers with matching jacket, a white linen shirt, and an ascot. In other words, a suit.”

We have a few other words. Brummell didn’t invent the suit any more than he invented the tuxedo. In fact, men had been wearing suits—coat, vest and some form of leg wear (usually breeches) of one matching fabric or another—for more than a century prior. Brummell never wore one. His day costume consisted of a blue coat, white or buff colored vest, fitted buff trousers and Hessian boots. For evening, he wore a blue coat and black trousers that closed tightly around the ankle. Brummell never used the word “ascot” unless to identify the town of that name in Berkshire or the horse races that have been taking place there for some three centuries now. Brummell wore—and wore exquisitely—a cravat. The ascot tie did not appear until several decades later.

In his biography, Ian Kelly quotes Brummell as saying, “I, Brummell, put the modern man into pants, dark coat, white shirt and clean linen.” In that sense, Brummell is the progenitor of modern men’s dress, but that’s hardly the same as saying that he came up with the suit as we know it today.

We should note that Fitzerman-Blue is not a staff writer for GQ but works for a commercial outfit called Bureau of Trade. Its mission is “finding, curating, and selling quality goods, while educating guys on what it is they’re actually buying…” (In this case, a Tom Ford Black Fleece suit.) Here’s to “finding, curating and selling.” Now if Bureau of Trade would only get the education part right—or maybe GQ should hire Esky to do a little fact checking.

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News and Notes: The Bowler, a Dandy Talk, and Celebrating Ivy Style

It’s been a while since we lasted posted. Your correspondents have been busy, mostly answering the dolorous call of that cruelest of pagan idols, Mammon. Such is the frenzy of the modern world. But we do have news of a dandiacal nature to impart to our faithful myrmidons around the globe.

First up, D.net founder and Ivy-Style.com impresario, Christian Chensvold, has re-invigorated the pages of The Huffington Post with a new style column. Last week, Chensvold posted a piece headlined “Old Hat: Broker’s Gin and the Fate of the Bowler.” It’s a charming column for a number of reasons. Written in the inimitable Chenners Deadpan Style™ one is hard pressed to know whether he’s serious or having us on for a lark. (We suspect a little of both.) The hook, which is that Broker’s Gin—capped with miniature bowler hat—is currently the fastest selling gin in U.S., dovetails nicely with a chat about the fate of said headgear in the contemporary world.  Your correspondent was honored to be gently pilloried for recently having bought and even occasionally wearing a Christy’s bowler (or derby or coke if you prefer) on the town and for special occasions.

Next, our friend, that redoubtable dandizette, Rose Callahan of The Dandy Portraits fame will be offering her unique photographic perspective at Dandy Talk, a seminar to be held October 5, 2012 at the elegant National Arts Club in New York City. She’ll be joined by Matt Fox of the Fine and Dandy Shop, manners expert Thomas P. Farley and Nathaniel Adams, a writer and the manager of Against Nature Atelier. Admission is free but be sure to RSVP. Nonplussed by idle dandy chatter? Never mind, the event is sponsored by Hendrick’s Gin, which will be providing cocktails.

And finally, if you haven’t seen it already seen it, the Ivy Style exhibit at the Fashion Institute of Technology opened in New York City on September 14. It explores the golden decades of upper-crust, Ivy League college style—that conspicuously casual and uniquely American form of dandyism. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because ol’ Chenners, noted above, is heavily involved in it. Also on the hook for the history notes is Richard Press (of J. Press fame), curator Patricia Mears, Christopher Breward, Masafumi Monden and others. Click over to Ivy-Style.com for more details and updates. The exhibit runs through January 5.

Can’t make it to the Big Apple? Watch the video embedded below…

…or buy the book.

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