The Sophistocrat by Michael Mattis

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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Last of the Dapper Politicos

willie-lede.jpgIf politics make strange bedfellows, the strangest must be the dandy and the politician.

Yes, there is a long tradition of political dandyism from Alcibiades to William Pitt, Benjamin Disraeli, Sir Samuel Hoare and Anthony Eden in Britain, and the young Theodore Roosevelt, Jimmy Walker, and former Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr. in the United States.

But we wonder if this tradition can withstand scrutiny. Disraeli became a successful politician only after he put his green velvet trousers, canary-colored waistcoat and lace shirts in mothballs. Walker, on the other hand, remained a dandy, but his casual approach to governing eventually forced him out of office.

On a more profound level, how can one square the politician’s naked ambition for power and the need, in modern democracies, to cater to the masses with the dandy’s nonchalant superiority?

One man, though, who has been a successful politician for decades and whose style we’ve always admired is San Francisco’s Willie Brown.

Thirteen years after he resigned as Speaker of the California State Assembly — an office he held for an unprecedented 15 years — and more than four years after his tenure as San Francisco’s mayor ended, Willie Brown remains one of the most powerful men in California politics. He is also one of the world’s best dressed men.

A Texas native, Brown came west, arrived in San Francisco in 1951, age 17. He was met at the station by a dapper uncle, he relates in his new memoir, “Basic Brown: My Life and Our Times,” who took one look at the country-dressed youngster and immediately took him shopping. Brown’s been a clothes-wearing man ever since.

Brown’s politics, like those of his predecessors is built on “juice” — that most dandyish form of soft power that works entirely through personality, influence and connections and operates at the highest levels of society. And Brown is nothing if not a social butterfly. Though now in his 70s, rare is the evening when he doesn’t have two or three high-toned engagements lined up, and he still spends his Friday afternoons at the window table at Le Central, talking, drinking and playing dice with socialites like Harry de Wildt and his long-time haberdasher, Wilkes Bashford.

Partly through his old friend, the late Herb Caen — who dubbed him “Da Mayor” and called him “Hizzoner” — and partly through his own charisma, Brown developed a relationship with the press that was the envy of his political colleagues and the scourge of his rivals.

“The only thing worse than being misquoted,” he once said, channeling Oscar Wilde, “is not being quoted at all.” (more…)

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