The Sophistocrat by Michael Mattis

Dandy on Wheels?: The New Cult of the Bicycle

When one considers the classic dandyish modes of conveyance, the bicycle does not at first blush top the list. Rather, one first thinks of the horse (either actually ridden or merely wagered upon), followed down through history by the yacht and the doomed first-class ocean-liner, then perhaps in the air by the Graf Zeppelin, the private plane, the China Clipper and, finally, the Concord. On the ground, the classic roadster springs to mind (as does the racing car (à la Porfirio Rubirosa), followed by the chauffer-driven Rolls and the Town Car.

But the bicycle? Not so much.

There is, however, a growing movement afoot that may change this common conception. They’re called “tweed rides” or “tweed runs” and they’re happening periodically in cities across the Occident. At these events, participants get decked out in their tweedy Sunday best and take their classic (or neo-classic) bicycles for a leisurely cruise across town to some designated pastoral spot or watering hole, where the party really begins.

This may be fair to the venerable velocipede. The first “bicycle” – that is, a two wheeled, human powered transport – was invented in 1818 by a German baron. Aptly nicknamed the “dandy horse,” this bone-shaker was simply a wooden frame over a pair of in-line metal wheels and a handlebar for steering. The rider straddled the contraption and pushed it forward like a kick scooter, setting off his tight-fitting, instep-strapped “inexpressibles” admirably to the ladies. (Talk about sacrificing comfort and practicality on the altar of style.) Later in the 19th century, bicycles more or less as we know them today were all the rage among fashionable urbanites wanting to zip around town rapidly. The bike-riding Oxford student in tweed jacket, flapping robe and mortarboard cap is among the most classic images.

Through the magic of the googling engine, we were recently apprised of an article in the Washington Post about an upcoming “Seersucker Ride” (June 9) sponsored by a D.C. outfit calling itself “Dandies and Quaintrelles.”

The article quotes a Ms. Holly Bass, identified as a “performance artist” who organizes D and Q’s cycling events. “It’s as much about an attitude as it is about a style of dress,” she told the Post. “It’s about harking back to an era when the way in which you presented yourself was viewed as a reflection of respect, courtesy and manners.”


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Wild Dandyish Rose: Six Questions for Rose Callahan

Hugo Jacomet of Parisian Gentleman, Paris. Courtesy, Ross Callahan.

Rose Callahan is notable for, among other things, her work in creating The Dandy Portraits, in which she catalogs the “lives of exquisite gentlemen today”—contemporary dandies and modern retro-eccentrics alike. Ms. Callahan’s commitment to outstanding men’s style, as well as her eye for detail and superior photography, prompted to get in touch with her and ask a few questions.

Ms. Callahan is a native of San Francisco—an increasingly rare thing nowadays. She studied photography at the venerable California College of the Arts, founded in 1907 by Frederick Meyer, one of the lodestars of the California Arts and Crafts movement. Ms. Callahan shares a legacy with such West Coast luminaries of aestheticism as Gillette Burgess (founder of The Lark), Willis Polk and Bruce Porter. It’s no wonder she has such an acute sense of the minute details of her craft, or that she was called “the most amazing woman on the planet” by the authors the Fine and Dandy Shop’s weblog.

Ms. Callahan tells us she was inspired to take up photography at an early age by her mother, who was passionate about the art. Her early heroes included Man Ray, Brassai, George Hurrell, Robert Frank, Bruce Davidson, Helen Levitt, Diane Arbus, Mary Ellen Mark and Hollywood glamor portraits.

As a freelance photographer, Ms. Callahan shoots portraits and fashion plates for clients such as Grey, McCann-Eriksson, Scholastic, Random House, the Gilt Groupe and so forth. Recently she has been creating short films at her own Rarebit Productions, focusing on her favorite subject, the exquisite gentleman. She is currently collaborating with journalist Nathaniel Adams on a book proposal for The Dandy Portraits. She now lives in New York City.

Winston Chesterfield of Le Vrai Winston,  London. Courtesy Rose Callahan.

Michael Mattis: When did you first hear the word “dandyism?” How did you react to it?

Rose Callahan: I don’t ever recall not knowing the word, but my understanding of it must have come from watching reruns of BBC shows on public TV.  It was usually in context of “he’s a bit of a dandy,” meaning or insinuating somewhat of an eccentric English gentlemen, but with a rakish quality, and of course, a sharp dresser. The Kink’s song “Dandy” was definitely also part of my awareness of the term.


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Gieves Hawked

When serendipity knocks you have to be there to answer the door.

It was a while ago when serendipity gently scratched like a hopeful paramour. Bored one afternoon I had gone to see a movie matinee at the independent Clay Theater up in the “nice” part of Fillmore Street in San Francisco. The film was what my father would call “a cute little movie;” not a blockbuster shoot-‘em-up by any means, but rather a nicely put together character study. “The Great Buck Howard” stars John Malkovich and includes a brace of cameos by Tom Hanks, who also produced it. The movie deals with an eccentric TV psychic, loosely based on the real life story of The Amazing Kreskin, who appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson dozens of times. It’s a good renter.

Anyway, after the film I decided to stroll across the street to The Junior League of San Francisco Next-to-New Store. As even the most lackadaisical boulevardier should be able to surmise, the Junior League is one of those tony, old-money institutions that benefit a plethora of causes which, luckily for the organization, never seem to improve enough so that the League’s charity can ever be turned down.

As a deadbeat dandy, I’ve had a certain amount of luck at the Junior League shop in the past, finding articles such as cast-off Dunhill ties and never-worn Church’s English shoes. That day I started at the suit and sport coat rack, flicking through it with my usual, speedy, “Nope-flick, nope-flick, nope-flick.”

I looked around and spied a second, free-standing rack next to the one I’d been flicking through and went to take a look. My hand alighted on a soft wool navy blazer. I pulled it out. It was double-breasted, four-on-six, with three buttons on the cuffs and no vents. It had conservative shoulders. I looked more closely. The gold-colored buttons bore the stamp, “G&H.”

I could feel my palms beginning to sweat.


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It’s Official: Founder is Big in Japan founder and erstwhile editor-in-chief, Christian “Chenners” Chensvold has cracked the code that lies at the four-point crossroads of contemporary dandyism, trad, preppy and Ivy League style—in Japan. He was recently profiled in the Japanese magazine, Free & Easy.In 2008, Chensvold founded, a website devoted to the Ivy League look, its history and its place in American—and, indeed, international—culture. Two years ago, Chensvold pulled up his California stakes and moved his operation to New York, to be nearer the epicenters of publishing, culture and style. There he met classic men’s style greats like G. Bruce Boyer and Richard Press. And thrived. Recently, he was appointed an editorship at the venerable New York high society magazine, Quest.


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Dandy in the Otherworld: In Memory of Sebastian Horsley

Michael Mattis, who has previously written about Sebastian Horsley for, offers this remembrance.

Dealing with death is always a hard thing. Dealing with the death of someone you have written about is harder still — especially when what you have written about the deceased is not all that nice.

Frequent readers of will be well within their rights to expect us to slam Sebastian Horsley even in death. But they will be disappointed. For one thing, it does not fall within the purview of a gentleman to speak ill of the dead. What follows is, rather, a grudging appreciation.

First, the facts: According to news reports, the body of Sebastian Horsley, 47 —artist, writer entrepreneur and showman — was found at about 11:00 A.M. GMT on Thursday, June 17, in his small apartment in Soho, London, by one of his lady friends. He had apparently died of an overdose of heroin.

A few evenings before, Horsley had seen the play about his recalcitrant life, based on his memoir, “Dandy in the Underworld.” The play was written by Tim Fountain. It was to be made into a film, produced by his friend, the actor, writer and director Stephen Fry of “Wilde” and “Jeeves” fame.


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Wilde in Chinatown

oscar_wilde.jpg“Chinese art possess no elements of beauty.”

Oscar Wilde offered up that curious opinion on a San Francisco-bound ferry boat to a crowd of reporters anxious to record his first impression of the city, which at the time supported one of largest communities of Chinese outside the so-called Celestial Empire. Wilde had been in the United States since January, lecturing the colonials on interior decoration, art, design, and an obscure subject he called “The English Renaissance,” ahead of the Gilbert and Sullivan light opera, “Patience.” By this sunny morning in March, 1882, the Irish poet and aesthete had wended his way across the continent to “the Occidental uttermost of American civilization,” making a sensation in big cities and mining camps alike along the way.

Wilde had been averse to things Chinese since boyhood, when he heard a Chinese “fiddle” at an exhibition in Paris. “I… could discern no music in it,” he told the reporters.

While Wilde had seen “much that was admirable” in the arts of Japan, whose blue vases and delicately painted fans were all the rage of the Aesthetic Movement back in London, he found in Chinese art that only “the horrible and grotesque” appeared “to be standards of perfection.”

Wilde had ventured his comments after asking a reporter to point out where the city’s Chinese settlement lay on the hilly grid of streets then visible from San Francisco Bay. He had tasted, indeed drunk deeply, the exotic flavor of frontier life in the American West. Now he was considering going further. Behind the slip of land upon which rested the roaring boomtown-cum-metropolis of San Francisco lay the Pacific. And beyond that, Asia. Perhaps he would visit Japan, home to those charming vases and airy prints that he so admired. (more…)

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