• John Burton

This may stop a silly outfit. Threading The Needle by Richard Press.

Memoirs go sideways. You get an "author" who is a remarkable person but not a good storyteller. You hang in - there is no way a brilliant person can be this disjointed, right? - until finishing the book becomes a matter of principle rather than interest. I've ghost written some memoirs. Even if the subject is a good storyteller - you need a good story. The difference between a story that sounds good retold at a bar and a story good enough to get through the eye of the needle (see what I did there?) is the difference between inventing the wheel and inventing Tesla. You need both, but they are, ahem, different.

Good news. Threading The Needle, by Richard Press, J. Press Inc./Onward USA LLC, is a good story told by a good storyteller. I run the Ivy Style Facebook group to which Mr. Press has posted a number of videos and I have seen and heard enough to know his voice. This is his voice.

Except where it isn't. The forward is by G. Bruce Boyer. If you don't know that name, open up a new tab and google for a few. I'll wait. ... ... Got it? Don't worry about what the forward says. Worry about who wrote it. And you will realize there is nothing to worry about. Boyer is one of a select few writers who can, if they feel like it, issue a definition of the otherwise hard-to-collar-pin (ok, that was the last one) Ivy Style. If Boyer did issue that definition, we would have to listen. Hard. The forward is a story about how Boyer and Press met, picked out some outfits for an exhibit, and had a hamburger. It's not the opening of Star Wars, but it is probably the best endorsement Press could have gotten. And it works.

After that, the book feels like an afternoon at the club spent with a master storyteller about a subject that can get old if you don't know what you are doing. Press, if I haven't mentioned it already, knows what he is doing, and the afternoon flies by, and you wind up looking at your watch (you still wear a watch I trust) and saying to yourself. "I'll catch the next train."

He starts with the family stuff. Why is that important? Because the history of the Press family lines up with the history of Ivy. And why is that important? Because (say it with me now) to break the rules you have to know the rules. Press and his family are where the rules came from to large degree. So pay attention.

Then the book gets going. Press isn't shy about his status. Number 24 (that's what he calls chapters) starts with: "It was the best of times achieving rock-star status during my three trips to Japan in the late eighties..." and ends with "Yes, it was good to be the King of Ivy, and big in Japan." But that gets offset with the story in between - including Divina the "table girl" whose role it was to, "make me feel important." But rather than detract, Press' awareness of his role in Ivy history is cradled in a ton of hard work, a ton, and an ethic that businesses today would be well served to mimic, and that posture makes the stories inspirational rather that Glory-Day-ed.

The cast of characters adds. Tributes from Ivy icons, and Preppy icons, are spread far enough apart that you can use them as bookmarks, and make for insights instead of third party award speeches.

Memoirs by definition are nostalgic. So much of nostalgia gets lost in the you-had-to-be-there space. Not with Threading The Needle. The book is laced with fantastic photography, and because Press does fashion, you can actually see what he is talking about instead of having to imagine it. My Year Dressing Sinatra (I forget what number that is) begins with a picture of, you guessed it, Sinatra as dressed by Press. The forlorn Press likens Sinatra's termination of his Ivy phase this way, "As he had done with Lauren Bacall, Mia Farrow, and likely many other players in his personal and professional life, he outsourced the breakup to somebody else."

I don't want to tell too many more of Press' stories here - he does a better job. True Ivy purists will shudder at the truth-telling at the end of the book, but as Press does with his stories, so he does with his conclusion - he pulls no punches. Referring to Ivy as "historic menswear worth preserving" the last chapter acknowledges the reality of Ivy, and plugs his store's plan to keep up.

Threading The Needle will definitely let you know where your style has been, is a very, very good read in and of itself, and serves deftly as sprinter's blocks as we race towards where Ivy is going. The book is available in Press stores, and on their site.