26 February 2010
Yellow university stripe oxford is a tough fabric to find. I've told you about this before. In fact, everyone who had it two months ago seems to be out of it. Nelson Mui of David Chu Design surprised me with this shirt last week while generously offering a venue for my interview with Robert Bryan. I gotta read my horoscope 'cause stuff like this never happens to me.
It's a beauty of a shirt. At 11 ounces (I weigh shirts as well as wear them) it's in the ball park of MTM but shy of the 13 1/2 ounces you get at Mercer & Sons (we'll get to Mercer next week). While the pattern matching yoke to sleeve isn't dead on --it's pretty darned close. That's amazing.
That's the great news. Bad news. It's made in China and you have to go to Dillard's. Whatever that is. Swear to God, never been to one. The shirt comes in a profusion of bright colors like Lime Green but it's still an oxford.
Primary colors. Blue, yellow and red. The Trad hallmark as far as I'm concerned. And it is with this observation that I pass along some advice. Never forget how you look to others. Got that? It may save your life.
I know a lot of you don't give a hoot about what other people think of you. And that's fine. But I'm talking about something else. When you're strolling around in a cardigan sweater, a bow tie and a yellow stripe oxford - you're sending a message. Robert Bryan does a brilliant job defining this in his book. He writes, "Because menswear is so precise, the smallest selections, such as bow tie, work boots, round glasses, or a fedora, can speak volumes about the character of the man who wears them."
I often forget what I'm wearing. Or driving. And that can spell trouble.
There's a lotta baggage that comes with this car. Never mind it's a 2002 model with over 100,000 miles on it and worth less than a Hyundai. I moved to New York City in this car and parked it in a midtown garage for a couple of months. Just before Christmas, the Golf Foxtrot and I headed south on the NJ Turnpike. I pulled into one of the first gas stations and when I got out of the car to fill up a young kid comes running over to me, "Full service, full service!"
I give him a credit card and he swipes it, sticks the hose in my tank and runs off to another car. I'm a quart low of oil (always) and I grab a quart I carry in the car (always), pop the hood and top off my oil. The windows are caked thick in some frozen kind of dirt from the parking garage. I'm looking for a squeegee but all the windshield wiper buckets are dry and there's not a squeegee anywhere.
The attendant comes back again, yanks the hose outta the tank and I ask, "Do you have any squeegees?" "No," he says handing me my credit card and receipt and off he goes. As he's leaving I say, "You call this full fucking service?" He stops and turns and says, "What did you say?" And I say, "You call this full fucking service." And he replies, "Yeah, well fuck you!" And I reply, for lack of any better words, "Fuck you!"
I hear laughing and turn to see the other attendants who appear to be enjoying this immensely. As I walk to the car, my attendant shouts out, "Merry Fucking Christmas!" At which point I try to be more personal and shout back, "Happy Fucking Three Kings! I get in the car and drive off. The Golf Foxtrot, who is not happy with my behaviour, lets me have it. That's another post unto itself. After she stops we ride in silence for two and a half hours.
Why did he go off? I dunno. Maybe the car and the Florida tags could have something to do with it. He was busting his ass in the freezing cold two nights before Christmas and I'm sure I was asshole number 37 that night. The Shaggy Dog Shetland, hi water chinos, pink socks and Bean Moccasins could have also added hi test to the fire. He was Hispanic. I'm Nordic. We both end in 'icks.' I'd probably go off on myself that night given the right circumstances--of which there were many.
Sometimes I forget how I appear to others. I also know I'm not how other people see me. Yet, I can barely see myself which may be part of the problem. So, tread easy in bow ties and cardigans and shirts of primary colors. Just because we're well dressed doesn't mean we have to be assholes about it.
Robert wears a simple blue blazer, black sweater vest, black and white polka dot bow tie, and a stark white button down with a perfect roll. He's wearing a stone grey corduroy pant and when he crosses his legs I notice brown paddock boots.
The cords are a perfect shade of steel grey and pair well with the black and white. But whats up with the brown boots? I would've thought black. But it works. And it's not predictable. And it's Robert Bryan who wrote in his new book, American Fashion Menswear, "In one hundred years, men's attire has shifted from tailoring to T-shirts." That sums it up nicely.
To get things going I asked Robert a series of questions. He needed no elaboration.
Esquire or GQ? "Yesterday - Esquire without doubt. Today - GQ
Swivel or Link? Link looks so much better but swivel is much easier.
Flusser or Boyer? Alan knows his business better than anyone.
Italian or English? English without a doubt.
Center or Side? Actually, I prefer unvented.
Madras or Batik? Madras.
Brooks or Press? Brooks.
Browne or Bastian? That's cruel. I can't wear any Thom Browne. I can wear all of Michael Bastian. Bastian is connected with the ivy league feeling, the textures, the colors. Thom is more old fashioned and historical. Thom is a creative force. Bastian is much easier to wear.
Stick or Auto? I had a stick. A 1939 Cadillac Series 60 (Black four door). Whitewall tires have disappeared.
Bergdorf's or Bloomingdale's? Bergdorf's! I'm in awe of how beautiful it all is.
Orvis or Bean? Bean. They're both wonderful.
Shawl or Peak? Peak. Shawl is for the young.
Lobb or Green? I've never bought either but I prefer Lobb.
Hackett or Old England? That's a tough one. I guess Hackett.
Waistcoat or Vest? Vest
Frazier or Merkin? I would say Richard Merkin. I met him on occasion but a real character I knew very well was Hardy Amies.
Gucci or Alden? Alden! No question there.
Hermes or Ferragamo? You know, I have such a prejudice against Hermes ties I'll say Ferragamo. Really, I'm not in love with either but I loathe Hermes.
Robert and I discussed the fashion industry and what was happening in that world. Sparing no punches, he calls it, "Pretentiously unpretentious. That is the essence of what style is now. To have this unpretentious aesthetic but to work really hard at putting it...Like, as though you would normally wear jeans with a tailored jacket. You go out of your way to do that and to wear combat boots with that.
After almost 30 years of wearing the same type of clothing, it's hard for me to grasp the following . I mean, I always knew it but I just didn't know where it was coming from. Richard explains, "In general, a lot of them, certainly in fashion, are not really committed because they're trendy. They're fashion for the moment. On top of that they don't have an attention span to stay interested in anything. It's always, "What's next? What's new?" They're not really genuinely committed to a particular idea or look or style or feeling. It's just whatever's in style at the moment. They can't appreciate it until it's on the runway.
I tell stories to Robert. And from listening to the tapes, way too many. But I hear passion on these tapes when Robert tells me about vintage, the 60 series, ivy, pleated pants and his years at 'M.' After almost two and half hours we pack up to leave.
Waiting for the elevator, I see a tartan jacket with a shawl collar laying across an arm of a chair about 40 feet away. I ask Robert, "Is that a dinner jacket?" He squints his eyes, "Nope. Smoking jacket." Now that's what I call a professional.
25 February 2010
Publisher and owner, John Fairchild discusses natural style and this specific cover in his book, Chic Savages. Fairchild points out that natural style is achieved by, "...going against the grain, by not following fashion's crowd." That cover was on Fairchild's office wall as a reminder.
Robert adds, "It was only in the late 80's that the three button jacket started to come back. God forbid I should show a belted back jacket. They thought that was the worse. But gradually as the years went by, 85, six, seven -- I could express more of a sophisticated traditional look of the 30's. More in line with Fred Astaire or Cary Grant and not just this very conservative ivy league aesthetic."
Neither Republican or Democrat was the paper stock. "We used the very best paper available." Bryan tells me. For a magazine whose target readers were the husbands of 'W' readers - I would expect nothing less.
And for the best - Michael Coady (number two to Fairchild and now publishing 'C' in California) believed only the very select should know. Consequently, marketing was by word of mouth. If you didn't know about it - - You didn't need to. Consequently, 'M' never made a profit.
'M' started out as early as 1982 and carried it's name next to Men's Wear with the first pure issue coming out with Prince Phillip on the cover in October of '83. Ironically, 'M' would again carry two names on its cover.
In the September 1990 issue (at 316 pages one of the largest ever) it became 'M Inc.' due to a merger with Manhattan, Inc Magazine. With Clay Felker joining the masthead it's not difficult to understand Robert's misplaced optimism. M Inc. would fold in two years.
Tomorrow: Robert Bryan Today
24 February 2010
Senior class picture at UVa - 1967
Born in Orlando but raised in Alexandria, VA, Bryan embraced the Elvis greased hair look as an 11, 12 and 13 year old only to give up all style as a loner in high school. Bryan remembers, "I had no idea about fashion and so I was a clean slate waiting to be written upon by ivy style. A 1967 graduate of the University of Virginia and a member of Delta Sigma Phi, "In those days there was a coat and tie tradition. Even if you had on your Bermuda shorts and your Weejuns without socks - - You still had on a coat and tie. "
"I became a very good ivy dresser I must say. I really got into it. It was a natural. As did everybody else there. As I say, it was the tradition and tradition is very big at UVa. " Bryan remembers only one person, a hippie, who ventured outside the norm. "...everybody else was button down collars and club ties and Eljo's to the tee. So, it was the perfect background for, well, for 'M' Magazine for one thing."
In 1968, Bryan moved to NYC and worked for Abraham & Strauss in the Groove Shop and flirted with the Hippie - Carnaby Street style before pursuing 30's and 40's vintage clothing. "There was a group. A very fashionable group in New York who was wearing those very baggy pleated pants in '69 and '70...they had already brought them back." "You mean Oxford bags?" I ask. "They were not that full. Plenty full but still tapered. That's still my favorite silhouette - the short fitted jacket with full cut trouser."
We discuss the Internet fashion forums and posters who argue 60's ivy khakis were baggy. "Well, if you're talking about the early 50's - sure. But not in the 60's. The whole essence of the ivy look was the plain front slimmer pant." Bryan adds, "It's unusual how certain things do stay around. "
When I ask about Thom Browne it's clear Bryan has sympathy for the designer but he's also critical. "He made the suit fashion again - - by shrinking it. Even so, if you can clear your head of the fashion aura of it - it looks ridiculous on practically everyone but skinny 20 year olds. He's made the suit into a costume. Into a funny costume but he's made it fashion. Fashion is about extremes. Going to extremes. And he's taken the suit to an extreme and now I think he's trying to evolve out of that."
I mention the amazing quality and heft of a Thom Browne oxford shirt I own and Ryan agrees, "Truth be known, a lot of the stuff in his line is wonderful. The sweaters, the knitwear, the shirts, the ties, the footwear, all these things, it's just that he has played with the proportions of very classic menswear to make them stand out as fashion today."
I ask if he thinks Kenneth Cole square toe shoes are vulgar. "I just think they're ugly," Bryan says adding, " I think the ugliest idea in fashion that has ever happened is the idea of wearing your pants down around your ankles as you walk around and have to continually be pulling them up. It looks ridiculous, stupid and ugly. I don't know if you can top that."
After two and half years as a buyer at May Company, Bryan interviews and accepts a position as men's fashion editor at Menswear Magazine in 1973. "Menswear, next to DNR, was the oldest Fairchild publication. And then it was decided that Menswear Magazine was competing against DNR for advertising dollars and they didn't need both so they decided to evolve Menswear Magazine into 'M' Magazine."
Tomorrow - Robert Bryan at 'M'
23 February 2010
So, tell the wife to take the daughter to Calico Corners and pick out some fabric. Then light a cigar, break out the beer and grab a bag of beef jerky. You are going to watch A Man's Movie. This man'll make mistakes. He'll piss people off. And he'll do the right thing even if it means losing the house.
"...I'll die broke in a downtown Los Angeles flop house and I won't be bitter. I'll have contributed maybe five - ten damned good pictures. They'll name a special academy award for me and you know something? All the wrong guys will get it and I'll be in Hell laughing my ass off." John Wilson
"I figure there's two ways to live in this world. One is you can crawl and kiss ass and write their happy endings. Sign their long term contracts and never take a chance on anything and never fly and never leave Hollywood and save all your God damned money, every cent of it - - And then when you're a healthy looking 50 you die of a stroke because whatever was wild in you has eaten away the muscles of your heart.
The other way is to let the chips fall where they may. Refuse to sign their contracts and tell off the guy who can cut your throat and flatter the little guy who's hanging by a thread that you hold." John Wilson
22 February 2010
20 February 2010
In 1995, I attended an award ceremony for Bud Selig at the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee. I sat at a table directly in front of the podium with fellow employees and listened as Selig mistakenly (or not) introduced my table as executives and owners of another major league baseball team. We all looked at each other and I leaned over to a friend who was divorced and whispered, "Tim, if you can't get laid tonight you never will."
After Selig spoke he introduced Bob Costas. There were some thank yous and some insider jokes involving the Milwaukee Braves and then Costas told this story. You might like it. You may not. You will never forget it.
19 February 2010
A year ago the Friday Belt seemed like a good idea. 15 extra pounds later I'm not so sure. I've decided to climb on the wagon. The Friday Belt returns in six weeks. In its place - "Off My Back" A weekly look at shirting old and new. Strange and common. Cheap and expensive. US and UK. We kick it off with something unique, traditional and about 105% French.
I was first introduced to Souleiado patterns by Pierre Deux. Then I found a small shop in Bermuda that carried their men's button down shirts. Called Provincial shirts, they're made of 100% cotton in hand block printed designs over 200 years old and they're as traditional and unconventional as you can get.
They're hard to pin down. Certainly it's rustic. Simple like a young red wine from Provence...Whoops. Can't go there (This is gonna be a long six weeks). But they're so ancient looking and that comes from the patterns that are actually printed onto the shirts using old wooden blocks.
I actually wore this shirt on casual Friday a few jobs back. Show up in a shirt like this - people talk. My boss is standing in front of me in a pair Kenneth Cole squared toe shoes, Dockers and a ten dollar haircut. He asks, "Where in the hell did you dig up a shirt like that?" And I replied, "The south of France. You wouldn't understand." Yes, he eventually fired me but he'll never understand the chemise aller a L'enfer.
It's the kinda shirt you wear without a tie. There's a lot going on here and I'm always afraid someone will mistake me for a professional card player. Best worn in French owned restaurants. At least they understand the origins. Of the shirt - not me.
18 February 2010
17 February 2010
I like playing the field with soaps. You know...seeing what's out there - - but I always go to the same house. This month: Miss Greenbriar, "She gets me woodsy." Next month, "Anytime with the sublime, Miss Lime." They're both tarts. Citrus that is.
But please. Don't tell my soaps that men are as faithful as their options.
On Lexington bet 48th and 49th. Huge history. Fair prices. I'm buying all I can get today because of that, "Better Than It Will Be" thing. So as not to speak in code - - Some of the Caswell - Massey products are disappearing. And when they're gone - - It ain't gonna be like a bow tie from F. R. Tripler. It's soap and it truly will be gone.