Theory

Dead C Scrolls

deco.jpgTen years ago D.net was a mere glint in his diabolical monocle, yet even then webmaster Christian M. Chensvold had a vision of restoring the misunderstood, much-maligned dandy to his rightful place in society.

So he chose the two-hundredth anniversary of Brummell’s resignation from the dragoons to publish his pseudo-scholarly, teacup-shattering interpretation of dandyism.

Like a dapper gent charming his way into parties he wasn’t invited to, Chenners had been insinuating articles on dandyism into obscure publications since the age of 24. There was Cochran’s, a regional antiques newspaper for the Sonoma Wine Country, and Victorian Decorating & Lifestyle, a magazine for Anglophile housewives that went under in 2002, fueled by the rise of Ikea.

At age 27 Chensvold began dating a Deco Belle and was able to talk his way into the pages of The Sophisticate, the journal of the Art Deco Society of California, with an article on Deco-era dandies.

A year later an expanded version of the story ran on Retroactive.com. Unfortunately the site soon disintegrated into the Internet ether, sucking the seminal article along with it.

However, for a time the site was one of the top-five “dandyism” results on Internet search engines, so it’s no surprise that several passages soon thereafter appeared verbatim in a certain Brit’s breezy instruction book on the topic, without so much as a tip of the homburg.

And so Chensvold’s mini-masterpiece joined the statue of Zeus at Olympia and the dodo bird among mankind’s lost treasures — that is until now.

Through advanced technology, we were able to retrieve this Dead C Scroll of Dandyism.net, which we now present for your edification and amusement. We have corrected typos and made it conform to the D.net Manual of Style, but otherwise the text appears as it did 10 years ago.

We also found a photo of what Chensvold looked like during the article’s composition. He is pictured above stepping away from his desk for a cup of coffee.

Originally planned as a trilogy, the article was hastily expanded to four parts to mollify a cranky homosexual who complained that the first three parts neglected gay dandies. Though Noel Coward and Harold Acton were featured prominently, the reader was no doubt miffed that Chensvold thought their sexual orientation completely irrelevant to their dandyism.

The article gives priceless insight into D.net’s conception, not to mention the stories we’ve been recycling for the past three-and-a-half years. It’s also worth pointing out the earnest and fervent tone of the prose (note debt to Barbey in several turns of phrase), compared to the cynical, cold and ironic tone Chensvold espouses today.

 He has certainly evolved into a true dandy.

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The Fake’s Progress

horsley.jpgEvery era gets the dandies it deserves.

The Regency got Brummell, a true sartorial innovator whose wit was as crisp as his country-washed linen. Count D’Orsay alleviated Victorian stuffiness with his manly charm, and the Edwardian Era was graced by Saki and Max Beerbohm, who all but reinvented the rapier wit. The Deco era had thoroughly modern Noel Coward, Lucius Beebe appeased Atomic Age anxiety with quaint anachronism as well as a poisoned pen, and the big-money ’80s saw the rise of another dandy satirist, Tom Wolfe.

Though they had different personalities and temperaments, these great dandies all shared certain qualities, including style, wit, aplomb and often a mild eccentricity. Many also enjoyed some measure of celebrity — how should we have known them otherwise? And while some dandies of the past certainly enjoyed their fame, the artists among them put their work first and did not pursue celebrity for its own sake. “L’homme est rien,” said Flaubert. “L’oeuvre est tout.”

But who in our present era is celebrated for his dandyism? When the words “dandy” and “dandyism” appear in print, what names are written in conjunction with them? Who, in the eyes of the media and public, are the successors of Brummell, D’Orsay and Beerbohm?

In a 2006 article, The Guardian attempted to answer these very questions. Published in light of Ian Kelly’s Brummell biography and the BBC miniseries “This Charming Man,” the article cites as Brummell’s successors, among others, two pop stars: Brian Ferry, a self-proclaimed “pimpernel” who, the author gushes, “now wears Prada, Hedi Slimane and Kilgour,” and Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, whose “ghetto fabulous” look consists of “jeans and $10,000 worth of jewelry around his neck.”

Others recently celebrated as dandies in the press include Combs’ former umbrella-carrier-in-chief, Fonzworth Bentley (real name Derek Watkins), OutKast frontman André 3000 (real name Benjamin) — whose tailored Duke of Windsor/Harlem Renaissance-inspired duds have lately given way to outfits more conducive to farming than strolling boulevards — British rock star Pete Doherty, who dresses like an Amish notary, and Patrick McDonald, whose penchant for cosmetics at times makes him look like Liza Minelli.

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Drag Strip

Dandyism recently made a jaunty appearance at New York Fashion Week. Unfortunately it was on the runway of a women’s fashion show.

Ralph Lauren’s Spring 2008 ready-to-wear collection showcased a number of outfits echoing Brummell and Beerbohm:

recut-1.jpg recut-2.jpg

The ensembles are bound to rekindle the vexed question of whether women who raid men’s closets are really dandies, or merely females in drag.

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The Jockey Horror Picture Show

copy-of-manet-bar-at-the-follies.jpgWebmaster Chenners recently made the acquaintance of the anonymous top-hatted and mustachioed gent at left. It was at a press conference at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and the gent was lounging within the four-cornered confines of Edouard Manet’s “Bar at the Folies-Bergere,” which is being exhibited on the West Coast for the first time.

The swell in question is a mirrored reflection in the upper right corner of the painting. He is also a sterling artistic depiction of the French Jockey Club dandy, and set us to musing about this often neglected dandy sub-species.

Baudelaire purported to describe the type in “The Painter of Modern Life” when the splenetic poet was really describing his ideal of the artist as social critic.

Actually, the Jockey Club dandy was the true successor of the Regency dandy: sporty, masculine, socially prominent, and understated in his apparel. His reign lasted from the 1830s until the outbreak of World War I. The Prince de Sagan and Boni de Castellane are two of the finest examples. Baudelaire, although he praised the type in print, avoided them in life. Montesquiou, although one of them by birth, loathed them.

Their reputation received a dire stain as a result of the infamous Charity Sales Bazaar fire on May 4, 1897. Over 140 persons died, mostly women and children. None were dandies, however: It was reported that Jockey Club members used their walking sticks to bludgeon women and children out of the way to make their escape.

In dandy history, the Jockey Club dandy has been unjustly overshadowed by the intellectual dandy of Barbey and Baudelaire, and the aesthetic dandy of Montesquiou. There’s virtually nothing written about him in English; the great dandy-ologist Ellen Moers ignores him entirely. There are, however, several excellent studies in French. And of course there’s Proust.

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Lording Over Others

johnrobrussell.jpgDandyism is the result of the spontaneous combustion of personality and attire. The desired effect is ignition, not detonation. You want to make an impression on others, not a spectacle of yourself.

So avoid being heavy-handed with any of dandyism’s core elements, even something as rare today as elegance.

It may seem odd to caution against elegance in an age when flip-flops and tank tops are ubiquitous. But in our daily Internet searches for signs of dandyism to occasionally praise and mostly deride, we find that nominal dandies tend to dress in a way that shouts “Behold my splendor!” like a carnival barker. Their putative refinement receives further amplification by the assumed title of “Lord,” “Sir,” et cetera.

Therefore, D.net has enlisted the laconic opinions of a real patrician — John Ian Robert Russell, 13th Duke of Bedford — to act as a corrective. The duke was admittedly a bit dodgey, penning four books for the masses about how to be an aristocrat, selling the ancestral estate, and, worst of all, laboring as a journalist.

Yet he is simpatico with our notion that understatement is the key to making an aristocratic impression, so he must know what he is talking about.

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For a Microbian Dandyism

By Francois-Xavier d’Arbonneau de la Bachellerie

Perhaps because of our Proustian and Balzacian education, we have been convinced for years that dandyism as we know it from literature and history has disappeared from our modern world. The more we study it, the more we believe that current pretensions to dandyism are egalitarian claims. No matter if it is based on historical misconceptions or ends a semantic tradition of Mignons, Petits-Maîtres, Beaux, Lions, Macaronis, Incroyables, Muscadins, Bucks, Bloods and Dandies, the point is to persuade provincial readers of fashion magazines and conspicuous consumers that they can enter Brummell’s genealogy. (more…)

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