About six months ago a rather amusing if incongruous American writer/photographer duo called Rose Callahan and Nathaniel Adams came to see me in Bloomsbury Towers. Natty was rather a glamorous New York Neo-Dandy and Rose a pretty bob-haired lady shrouded in black with eyes like knives that assessed and absorbed every detail. They were shooting pictures for a book project I Am Dandy: The Return of the Elegant Gentleman having met working together on a sensational blog The Dandy Portraits.
Bloomsbury Square is essentially a writing room with a wardrobe upstairs so I rarely invite anyone but nearest and dearest to come up and see me sometime. But I was rather taken by Natty and Rose so agreed for them to come to tea. I wasn’t particularly on form that day and rather irritable about Savile Row but did go through various costume changes and enjoyed the stutter of the shutter. As with all subjective books about style you do expect to be left on the cutting room floor in the final edit. However, I was thrilled when a copy of I Am Dandy arrived on my doorstep and saw that I was featured amongst very good company.
I much preferred The Dandy Portraits as a book title because it places the judgement with author and photographer rather than the subject. But am no stranger to publishers tinkering with titles. The Perfect Gentleman was originally titled A London Gentlemen’s Requisites. There are many subjects in Rose and Natty’s book who probably pucker-up and murmur ‘I am dandy’ into their bathroom mirrors every morning. But there must be an equal number of men who would demur to be called a dandy. I’m with Mr Chesterfield, who is quoted as saying ‘I’d never call myself a dandy, and nobody should…It’s a little like a Knighthood, and you can’t knight yourself”.
How to define a modern dandy? I would say a dandy fights a very public battle against mediocrity, ugliness and mass consumption using clothing, deportment, language and behaviour as weapons. Employing this criteria, I would say every gentleman in the book is a dandy. I was amused to see gentlemen of my acquaintance such as Robin Dutt, Robert Bryan, Nick Sullivan, Hamish Bowles, Guy Hills, Nick Foulkes and Hugo Jacomet lauded in the pages of Natty and Rose’s book; proving the theory that dandies gravitate towards each other however briefly.
I was equally delighted to meet more exotic blooms such as Patrick McDonald, Fyodor Pavlov Zack MacLeod Pinsent and Massimiliano Mocchia di Coggiola. Rose’s photographs see every man in the book as I think he’d like to present himself to the world. This is a talent. I was equally fascinated by Natty’s interviews. When he admires a subject the writing is restrained. But when his curiosity is piqued, Natty’s descriptive talent touches the sublime.
The introduction to Mr Burton – a rare orchid growing in rough soil – reminded me of Raymond Chandler’s writing. ‘Ozone Park, Queens, its very name suggesting some kind of chemical asphyxiation, is about as elegant as an old toothbrush. The neighbourhood squats at the end of the A train, which is elevated above the vomit, vinyl siding, candy-wrapper flotsam, gas fumes, and deeply steeped atmosphere of withering spirit like a man holding his breath to jump over an oil slick. Half the shops have neon 90-cent signs in their windows, and the other half sell malt liquor and loose cigarettes. A stretched and soiled undershirt paired with a flaccid-faced look of vacuity is the native costume, and the best-tended piece of property is the graveyard’. That, Rowley, is the makings of a novel.
At the end of the A train we discover the most fascinating creature in the book Mr Burton: a porcine, baby-faced throwback to the Jazz Age in immaculate maquillage who escorts Natty to the Dances of Vice Spring Ball. What I most appreciated about I Am Dandy is the evident curiosity and wonder in revelation that author and photographer share when a subject opens his heart and his wardrobe to them. The inclusion of Gay Talese raised the bar inestimably. And as one writer to another, Glenn O’Brien’s Foreword is in musician’s parlance ‘eight bars of bliss, baby’.
If you don’t buy I Am Dandy, Rowley, I shall hunt you down with dogs. What else is new? Well, my Royal St. James’s book is now ready to go to print and might even be in time for the party at Lancaster House in mid-September. I took a snap of the dummy cover for you: de-bossed, gilded but I think still elegant rather than overwrought. It is a decent weight and size and, I think, feels reassuringly luxurious. My sensational art director Pete Dawson sent the last PDF file with all the high res images in place and I think the layouts are as luscious as a ripe peach.
I spent this afternoon at Henry Poole feeling rather like Elsie Tanner in her last appearance in Coronation Street: clacking down Savile Row hearing echoes of past projects, parties and feuds. It seems half of the house’s 40 Royal Warrants have been shipped up to North Yorkshire for the exhibition at the Bowes Museum so we have rather bare walls in the showroom. I’m thinking about a display of Poole Hall of Fame customers or perhaps a blaze of Royal Warrants with portraits of the Emperors, Kings, Queens and Crown Princes who awarded them. Until next time…