Tuesday 17th September. To the tailors Gieves & Hawkes in Savile Row for a book launch. The book is I Am Dandy: The Return of the Elegant Gentleman, or as certain friends of mine would describe it, The Big Book Of Hot Men.
It’s a large and lavish hardback comprising profiles of about sixty gentlemen who dress in an individual and elegant way. The book combines full colour photographs by Rose Callahan with text by Nathaniel ‘Natty’ Adams, based on his interviews with the dandies. It is the sort of volume that was once called a coffee table book. I suppose now it is better described as a latte plinth offline HD tablet.
Given the event is about dandyism, I decide to don Sebastian Horsley’s old suit once again, the silver velvet John Pearse 3-piece, now altered to fit me a bit better. Keen to represent my own style as much as the late Mr Horsley’s, I leave out his wing-collared Turnbull & Asser shirt in favour of one of my own cheap small-collared supermarket shirts, and add my simple white pocket square handkerchief, seahorse brooch and cufflinks, along with my battered Gucci loafers. Belatedly I forgot I own a Cad & The Dandy tailored shirt of my own – never mind.
Some years ago a similar photography book on modern dandies came out. It included the Dexys singer Kevin Rowland and Sebastian Horsley. I remember (shamefully) whining to Mr Horsley that I wasn’t included. ‘Oh, you’ll be in the next one,’ he said. He was quite right. So that’s another reason to wear his suit to the launch. A Double Dandy representation.
It’s a rainy evening. A doorman tips his top hat to me as I enter. The shop is an unexpectedly large and high-ceilinged space, with a balcony floor that functions as a museum of Gieves & Hawkes’s history. Glass cases display military tunics, centuries old. Among the many suits on rails and manniquins, hat boxes, chests of drawers and cutting tables there is a jazz band playing, while at the other end of the shop a stage has been set up to make announcements. It has a screen as a backdrop which projects a selection of photos from the book. Waiters offer free champagne, then hover around and refill your glass when it runs low. After the champagne runs out, I move onto lychee martinis. One of the great things about book events is that they’re over by 8pm, so one can get drunk and be in bed by ten, to make an early start on recovering. Book launches lend themselves to efficient hangover management.
[pic by Suzi Livingstone]
I say hello to people I know: Suzi L, Minna M, Rose and Natty, and chat with some of the other dandies in the book who are at the event: Robin Dutt, Ray Frensham, Tony Sylvester (the gentleman from the Quietus article), Barima Nyantekyi, Michael ‘Atters’ Attree, Gustav Temple. There’s also the teenage dandy Zack MacLeod Pinsent. It will be interesting to see if young Mr P keeps up his look into his twenties and thirties; many people his age are still working out who they are.
[pic by Kira of Scarlet Fever Footwear.]
The photographer Kahlil Musa has a portrait studio set up in the changing room area. Here’s the shots he took of me on the night.
Given that dandies are like cats: essentially aloof, wary and self-contained (at least, that’s one way I define dandyism), it’s quite a coup to gather so many of them in the same room, let alone get them to agree to be in the same book. There are also inevitably going to be opinions over who should have been in the book but wasn’t, and who was included but isn’t a ‘proper’ dandy. But at this event no fights break out, and everyone seems friendly and fun. Mr Atters is particularly entertaining; I’m impressed by his choice of lapel brooch: a small stuffed bat.
[pic by Kelly René Miller from the Stylesight blog]
Along with the other dandies present, I sign a couple of copies of the book for Rose & Natty, for their own collection. Specifically, I sign the photo of me in a chalk white suit – the whiteness lending itself to the purpose.
It’s a shame the American dandies in the book couldn’t be there, as it’d be nice to see the ones I’m acquainted with such as Fyodor Pavlov (whose wedding I attended) and Cator Sparks (who showed me round New York). I’d also like to meet Lord Breaulove Swells Whimsy and, most of all, Gay Talese. At 81 years of age, Mr Talese has maintained an almost OCD approach to dandyism: one of Ms Callahan’s most striking photos shows his wall of hats, all carefully wrapped in clear dust covers and labelled underneath like hunting trophies. Which in a way is what they are. He’s also the only dandy in the book to have his own words published as a Penguin Modern Classic.
I keep meeting British book lovers who haven’t heard of Gay Talese (pronounced ‘Ta-leez’), or his classic magazine article ‘Frank Sinatra Has A Cold’. I suspect this is because, unlike his New Journalism colleagues Tom Wolfe, Hunter S Thompson, and Truman Capote, he never wrote actual fiction, not even heavily autobiographical fiction.
The New Journalism gang believed – though perhaps not officially – that writers should put an effort into styling their appearance as well as their prose. Gay Talese is definitely a dandy. Wolfe has his white suits; Capote and Thompson each maintained a strong look. Whenever I’m in a bookshop and have to choose between two equally attractive books (in terms of content), I have to find a reason to choose one over another. So I look at the author photo and judge them by the choice of clothes they make. Double denim novelists, be warned.
Links with more photos & info on the I Am Dandy event:
Gay Talese’s 1966 article ‘Frank Sinatra Has A Cold’ can be read for free at the Esquire website. But the more stylish option is to buy the Penguin Modern Classics edition. And be seen reading it in public.
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Friday 20th September. Rushing to cross the road, I manage to pull a muscle in my back, and walking for the next two days becomes painful. I seem to be prone to such injuries, having consigned myself to a weekend of limping a month or so ago after doing something similar to my ankle.
In my case, the degree of overexertion is risible; it is not caused by any manly overdoing it on the rugby field or in the gym, but just by a sudden everyday movement after a period of staying still. The ankle pain was the result of waking up one morning, realising I was late for a train, then putting my foot out onto the floor too quickly. That was enough. An anxious and tense thing by nature, I am not built for making sudden movements full stop, even for flight rather than fight. I would make the world’s worst spider.
Saturday 21st September. To the Adam Street club off The Strand, to DJ for the Last Tuesday Society once again. Before I start there is a talk on the I Am Dandy book by Rose Callahan and Natty Adams. I ask them if they found some crucial difference between American and European dandies.
‘Firstly,’ says Mr Adams, ‘it’s only ever Europeans who ask that question about Americans being different. If there is a difference it’s that American dandies tend to look to the 1920s Jazz Age styles, while Europeans favour the Victorian age.’ He cites the top hat as something that Americans particularly tend to avoid.
Evidence of a post-Fifty Shades of Grey era. Although the club night is not a fetish one, in a corner of the room in which I am DJ-ing is an apparatus for being strapped to and whipped, and tonight there is a black-clad gentlemen hired to do just that. I think at first that the people being whipped are also hired by the promoters, in the spirit of providing an interesting ambience. But it transpires they are partygoers: it’s an option included in their ticket. Every song I play while the whipping and spanking goes on takes on immediate innuendo, though accidentally. ‘I Want To Be Happy’, ‘Get Happy’, ‘In The Mood’ and especially: ‘Blue Moon’.
Tags: book launches, Dandyism, gay talese, gieves & hawkes, i am dandy, natty adams, rose callahan, Sebastian Horsley