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Once upon a time, I rowed. Every Sunday I left my apartment before the sun rose. In the blue-grey light I walked crosstown to the West Fourth Street Station on Eighth Street and, rather like Alice and the rabbit hole, ducked down the steps to the platform to take the uptown train. It took over an hour for the train to chug and pause its way north. In some neighborhoods I shared the subway car with addicts, prostitutes, and the homeless. In others, I traveled with passengers who were better dressed: either from partying the night before or for going to prayer at the first service in the morning. I usually dozed or read a paperback adventure novel. I got off at 207th Street, not exactly Wonderland. Inwood was just waking up: bodegas opening their doors, rolling out carts filled with fresh produce from Latin America, and serving black coffee sickly sweet if I didn’t remember to order it sin azúcar. I walked east to 201st and the Harlem River, where an abandoned Con Ed plant stood by a silted-up inlet called Sherman Creek. The gate was easy to open even if one didn’t know how. The barbed wire topping the 10-foot chain link fence was not much more than a fashion statement. The plant was the size of a small city block, and built of red brick in an industrial Art Deco style. The boats were kept inside. Part of the roof had collapsed at some point, beams half in place, half touching the ground. The morning light streamed in through the ragged oculus in the roof, shimmering across the asbestos insulation which was draped over the fallen rafters like Spanish moss. The light edged the polished wood of the eights and the quads neatly stacked upside down on their racks. Those boats belonged to Fordham University’s varsity crew. Farther back, all but in the shadows, were the single and double sculls, as often made of fiberglass as wood, the metal oarlocks just catching odd glints of light. Those boats belonged to the Spuyten Duyvil Rowing Club and what I called the Wannabe, Has-Been, and Never-Were Rag-Tag Pick-Up Crew. Never officially organized (let alone incorporated), we were about two dozen strong. We were no longer in college, or even graduate school, but we refused to hang up our jock straps. At one time, this part of Manhattan was dotted with the boat houses of New York’s rowing clubs. The clubs had all but disappeared by the 1960s and most of the buildings themselves had been torched by the 70s. I understood that only the Spuyten Duyvil Club survived, even if it was just on paper. Although I always identified myself as part of the Rag-Tag Pick-Up Crew, I may also have been among the final members of the Spuyten Duyvil. Well, I did get one of the last T-shirts: light blue with the coat of arms placed properly over the left pectoral, symbolically where the heart is. The club had been named after Spuyten Duyvil, a tidal straight with treacherous waters that marks the border between the northernmost part of Manhattan Island and the only part of New York City that’s on the mainland. According to Washington Irving, the Spuyten Duyvil itself was so named by the Dutch because of the boaters who ran the dangerous straight between the rivers “to spite the Devil”. I rowed with an 80-year old man named Seth. He was bald, small, and a little pudgy, blinking often behind thick round spectacles, trying to see the sounds he couldn’t always hear. I provided the muscle to get the boat out and into the water; he provided the coaching. We’d go out in a double scull – a boat with sliding seats in which each rower has two oars – sometimes through the Spuyten Duyvil itself and onto the Hudson River; more often just down the Harlem and back again. Some days, Seth and I were the only rowers out at that early hour. More often, we shared the river with rowers from Fordham and Columbia universities. Occasionally, the Circle Line would lumber by on its first cruise tour of the day, and we’d hear the guide on the P.A. system announce to the passengers that we were Columbia’s varsity crew, which amused the Fordham team. Rowing crews are identified by the colors painted on the blades of their oars. It was obvious – at least to rowers – that the blades were painted Fordham’s racing green and not Columbia’s light blue. In late spring and early fall, the rowers all but took over the rivers. The skiffs and sculls of the backward-looking rowers were joined by canoes and kayaks of the forward-looking paddlers. We filled the waters around upper Manhattan with a flotilla of human-powered craft. The one- and two-person boats were eclipsed by the rowing eights – sweep oar, one per rower, alternating sides – that practiced on the Harlem for local, national, and international meets. The men’s crew was followed by a coach in a motor launch that had too good a microphone. The women’s crew’s coach trailed in a single scull, a megaphone braced to his shoulders, rather like a harmonica for a one-man band, keeping his hands free for the oars. At top speed, a single scull is almost as fast as an eight. Our unity and tranquility were broken from time to time by roaring motor boats from New Jersey. These “Jersey drivers” moored at a marina on the other side of the Hudson on the mainland. According to the traditional rules of the river, human-powered craft has right of way over motor craft. However, the motor boats would barrel through, leaving a choppy wake that forced rowers to break their stroke and quickly paddle parallel to the wake so as not to capsize. For me, that was an important maneuver since I can’t swim. While there is a tradition of non-swimming rowers, it is, in all fairness, what puts the word “dumb” into the term “dumb jock”. Motor boats were not the only hazards. We never rowed in February because of the ice flows coming down the Hudson; still remaining solid enough to do damage by the time the flows reached Manhattan. No one wanted to re-enact the Titanic with a scull. More annoying was the garbage – water bottles, crates, the detritus of civilization summarily dumped into the river to be carried off to sea. Some of us liked to joke that the water was so polluted an atheist could walk across it. We all knew – and dreaded – when our oars thudded against such refuse. We’d turn and look over our shoulders to see what it was this time. A doll? A piece of furniture? One time, Evelyn, a fellow rower a few years older than I, hit a dead body. Evelyn then had to calm her rowing partner, a well-brought up young lady from Connecticut; row the boat without help to the body; attach a tow line to the floater; and then row the boat, the floater, and her rowing partner back to the dock. After securing the boat and the body, Evelyn called the police. We never did find out who the body was or how it wound up floating down the river. Nor did we find out what happened to the young lady, who fled back to Connecticut, never to be seen in New York again. My experiences rowing with Seth were less extreme. He sat in back – that is, the front of the boat – in his baggy sweatshirt and shapeless jeans. I sat in front – that is, the back of the boat – in my T-shirt and an old pair of grey cotton twill gym shorts, his worn cloth cap in contrast to my ragged Panama hat. We’d row in quiet companionship, with rarely a word spoken, except when Seth would call out in a reedy voice to remind me to properly feather the blade of my oars or to adjust the timing of the recovery. His frequent admonition “slow the slide” became a secret password for those he taught to row to know one another. We rowed in an easy tranquil rhythm in which Seth, the boat, the river, and the rowing all seemed to be integrated into a seamless whole, existence all in the moment, a form of moving Zen. We let the rowing be the rowing. It was also as close as I’d ever come to communing with nature, though the unkind might note that the banks of the Hudson are not exactly without signs of the built environment, the critical mass of concrete I need to survive. As the old joke about New Yorkers goes, I’m at two with nature. It is only from the rivers that one can appreciate Manhattan as an island, if not as part of an archipelago as well. There the edges of the island look like river banks, covered with uncut, sun-burnt, and wind-swept grasses, sparse clusters of trees, unplanned and unwanted, and grey mottled weather-ravaged shacks and shanties, forlorn, if not forgotten, built for purposes now unknown. In short, nothing like the crystalline fortress of steel and concrete watch towers that distinguishes lower Manhattan. In the north, there were chubby men standing on rocky outcroppings, fishing for the night’s dinner, as well as boys and girls laughing, playing, and diving into the water. With an oar in each hand, I could never wave back to those on the banks who waved to us. Some days if Seth had no one scheduled to row after me, we would go to the Burger King near the subway stop for French fries and hot chocolate. He’d bring me up to date about how his work translating Garcia Lorca (whose brother he knew) was coming along. I’d show him my latest find of some odd, old volume of rowing lore I had picked up in one or another of the used-book shops that still existed in Manhattan back then. One time, Seth asked me to bring some of my rowing books to a presentation he was giving at Fordham, where he was an assistant coach (as he was at Columbia as well). I agreed, though I doubted many of the students there would be interested because I doubted students had changed that much in the decade or so since I had been in college. As it turned out, one student was. James came up after the presentation and spent an hour or so perusing the stack. After graduation, James went on to build a collection of rowing books, ephemera, and memorabilia of his own. I don’t know what drew most of the others in the Pick-Up Crew to the water. What little I know of Seth I learned by accident. The truth of the rower is in the rowing. He claimed to have been inspired by a performance of Strange Interlude. By the 1950s, he had developed the claw clutch to teach blind students to row. When the New York Institute for the Education of the Blind abandoned the program, he continued with the sighted, who also found the claw clutch useful. The first lesson was often to sit on the dock to learn the clutch with a couple of empty soda cans brought along for that purpose. Sometimes his former blind students would turn up for a row on the river and one or another of the Pick-Up Crew would take them out in a double scull. When it was first my turn I panicked, not quite ready to be able-bodied yet. Evelyn wasn’t exactly one of us. She was many things, but wannabe, has-been, and never-were weren’t among them. She was training for the Senior Olympics it was said. And from rowing races, Evelyn may have gone on to teach others what Seth had taught her. As for me, it would have been nice to enter a regatta, if not try for something like the Senior Olympics myself. But back then I was rangy than ripped, and spider-limbed, lacking the heavy muscles and strong frame necessary to compensate for being only six foot one – just a bit short to be a “contender” in rowing. More important I didn’t trust my body not to fail me as it had a few times when I was younger, even though I could achieve and sometimes maintain a racing speed. For me, it was just a chance to do something I wanted to do as a child, but couldn’t, due to illness. I envied the graceful freedom of the oarsmen I saw sculling on the Charles River whenever I was in Boston. Rowing became my favorite among all the sports I’ve pursued to make up for the childhood I feel I didn’t have. After all, if Mole and Water Rat could be happy just messing about in a skiff (or skiffing about in a mess), why couldn’t I? I rowed for a few years, with Seth and others. Time passed. Con Ed decided to reclaim its plant, tear it down, and sell the land. Fordham built its own boathouse on the other side of the Harlem in the Bronx. It’s not really ugly, just rather utilitarian and easy-to-clean. James and some of the younger rowers decided to organize themselves and form a real rowing association. And I went on to practice more traditional forms of moving Zen. A few years ago, Seth’s wife sent me word that he had died. He was 98 and had rowed until he was 92 or 93. In reality I suspect Seth had a proper Christian burial, but I would rather fancy that someone put his body gently into a scull, set it ablaze, and cast it off onto the river.
The White OCBD
A brief ode to the white OCBD. I wear one every day. Every single day. It started in high school. I was kinda on my own in high school, and grew up in Rhinebeck NY which, back in the day, was farm country, and a flannel shirt was more expensive than a white ocbd. When I went to college, I had one gym bag (remember gym bags) full of clothes and a 12 string guitar. I had 4 white ocbd's from Caldor's (remember Caldor's) and one flannel shirt that I blew all my money on. When I started playing concerts, I thought it was more dressed up to wear the flannel than my every day ocbd's. Then I got out of school and went to NYC to work in an ad agency. I lived in the downstairs of a teeny house in Secaucus NJ with a widow who's late husband's name was Oscar. She had Oscar fish named Oscar, an dachshund name Oscar, a cat named Oscar, and she called me Oscar. I still didn't have any money, so I slept on a lawn chair I picked up during rubbish pick up. But I had a roof, and white ocbd's which I thought were t shirts. At the ad agency (NW Ayer) I met a gentleman named Charles Croce, a wonderful guy and a great writer, who told me I got hired because I had the sense to wear a decent shirt and because I could type 137 wpm. One day I went into Brooks Brothers because somebody asked me if I got my shirts there (No, Caldor's) so I thought maybe they had some. HOLY S. A shirt was more than my paycheck. But they were so thick. Like what a king would wear. And so I worked. When I could afford them, for my first wedding, I bought my groomsmen each a Brooks White OCBD and one of those Brooks pocket things (leather) that hold index cards and you can take notes on them. When I got sick about a decade ago, I kinda lost everything, and I was sick, so I just kept the white ocbd's, and still wore them every day that I got dressed (there were many days when I didn't). They made me feel like my old self a little. As the sickness wore on, my shirts didn't, and I couldn't work so I had to buy used Nautica ones on eBay. But because I wore them all the time, people thought I was dressing down and had a different closet back home. I didn't. When I started to get better and could work again, I refused to spend big money anymore on them, as a reminder of my getting sick. Some people get tattoos, I have white ocbd's. I shop hard for them, even if I don't have to shop as hard anymore, because it is the principle of the thing. Either way, Brooks at $120 or whatever or Nautica at $12 or whatever, they always gave dignity at times when I had plenty and at times where I felt I had none. The other day I asked Gramercy (daughter) if she wanted to go thrifting, and she asked, "For what?" And I said, "I dunno maybe a shirt?" She opened my closet door and there was a line, some ragged some ready for ties, all the same. She gave me a look. We went for greek food instead, and had probably a better time. The white ocbd keeps giving.
The Morgan Plus Four Somehow it was inevitable that I would learn to drive in such a classic Ivy automobile as an English roadster, and in British racing green, no less. It was all a matter of manual transmission. My mother was convinced that you didn’t really know how to drive unless you could operate a stick shift. She was also convinced that Boston drivers were better than New York drivers, which was where we lived. There is a sufficient body of opinion and evidence to support her first statement. The second is unsupported. The average driver in both cities is just that: average. To be fair, she was a better driver than my father, whose driving skills were, well, average. About the only advantage I could see was that you could get a license at sixteen in Massachusetts, but had to wait until eighteen in New York. I doubted Drivers Ed at school offered manual transmission as an option. Details like than never stopped my mother. Since we spent between two weeks and two months a year in Boston anyway, she decided I would learn to drive there as soon as I was old enough, which meant fifteen to her. The Saab Sonnett That required a trip to the North End to apply for a learner’s permit, using my uncle’s address as my “legal residence”. Both my mother and her brother were contributing to the delinquency of a minor, while I was set (up) to learn to drive illegally. Next stop was the Garber Driving School. My mother was not only determined that I would learn to drive in Boston and with a stick shift, but also that I would learn from the same place she took lessons. She dragged me into the main office, where she identified herself by her maiden name (as it was still called back then), adding that she had been “the young Mr Garber’s last private student”. From the back of the office there was a shuffling sound and a quavering voice rang out: “Did somebody say ‘the young Mr Garber’?” An elderly man appeared, who quite possibly had been young back before the first World War, if not earlier. According to my mother, he was “the young Mr Garber” because he was the youngest of the Garber brothers, who owned and ran the driving school and a travel service. Of course, Mr Garber said he did indeed remember my mother, which is possible since the Garbers were political cronies of her father. They were all involved with the resettlement of displaced peoples before, during, and after the second World War. There would be no problem with teaching me manual transmission; Garber’s still had one last car fitted out for that purpose. And, of course, I would be assigned their “best instructor”. The car turned out to be a dark green roadster, held together with spittle, duct tape, and the Lord’s Prayer. It was about the size of a motorcycle and sidecar, a detail I would learn later. It wasn’t one of the vintage Bentleys I had fallen in love with in the old Avengers television show, but it would do. Steed's Bentley The car was also fitted out with a double brake and a double clutch, which must have taken some degree of jiggery-pokery. I don’t know enough about automotive mechanics to tell you how it was done, only that it was done. I don’t remember where the duct tape and WD-40 were kept. As for the instructor, he was a screaming bigot. We could not drive by a member of one minority group or another without his commenting on “those people” in denigrating terms. Most of his anger was directed toward African-Americans, but Latinos and Asian-Americans weren’t spared his opinions about race. Since the roadster was an open car, they could often hear him loud and clear. Like many fifteen-year-olds, I had two characteristics: fast reflexes and complete cowardice. Instead of confronting him, I learned to shift gears fast to get away from the justifiably irate members of the various minority groups he had offended. I would also make sharp turns in front of oncoming streetcars to help make our getaways before we were killed. Of course, learning to drive wasn’t only about wondering whether I’d live long enough to take my SATs. It was also about finding a car to drive once I had my license (and would be the first in my class at school to have both). That’s when I discovered a Saab dealership about a block from Coolidge Corner, near where my uncle lived. While Saab is a proper Ivy marque, the particular model I fell in love with wouldn’t be Ivy for another twenty or thirty years, when it would enter into the ranks of the third category of Ivymobiles. The Saab in question was the Sonett, something of a cross between a sports car and a rally car, but closer to Mrs Peel’s Lotus Elan than any of Steed’s Bentleys. More important, the Sonett had lots of leg room for my six-foot frame, something my five-foot-two mother did not care about. She felt I could adapt to the leg room in a more practical car. She also didn’t like that the Saab was a Swedish marque, because of a Nazi connection. As a World War II buff of my acquaintance likes to put it: The Wehrmacht ran on Swedish steel. In the event, the point became moot. When it came time for me to take the actual test for a Massachusetts license, my mother stopped the process on the grounds it would be illegal. I now knew how to drive, but wasn’t allowed to, which, for all I know, may have been the point of the entire exercise. A year later, I took Drivers Ed at school. The instructor was a very nice man, a gym teacher who took on the extra job to provide a better life for his family. The car was a mid-sized, middle-class, decidedly non-Ivy hardtop that felt huge and unwieldly after the roadster. The hardtop also had automatic transmission. Not everyone’s first experience learning how to operate a motor vehicle involves all three categories of Ivy cars. Usually, it’s just one; two, at the most. The three categories are: practical; sports car; and vintage (or antique). In other words, Ivymobiles run the gamut from workhorse to show horse. In Take Ivy’s section, Vehicles for Ivy Leaguers, T. Hayashida notes only two of the three categories of Ivymobiles. “University students, Ivy Leaguers in particular, are passionate about classic cars.” Hayashida claims that with classic or vintage automobiles “Ivy Leaguers carry on with their tradition of appreciating vintage things and I find it a typical Ivy attitude”. As for the other category, he notes “sports cars are the second-most sought after vehicle”. In the 1960s, British sports cars dominated the campus scene. For example, in Love Story (1970), one of the most Ivy/Preppie films made to date even if it is almost as bad as the book upon which it is based, the protagonist, played by Ryan O’Neal, drives a mid-1940s MG TC Midget. 1940s MG TC Midget Hayashida spotted MGs (TD to MGB) and Triumphs (TR3s and 4s) as well as a number of Morgan Plus Fours (or is that Morgans Plus Four?). My old fencing teacher had a Morgan. Those familiar with what’s under the hood of a Morgan might argue that they qualify for both categories. Hayashida devotes barely a page to the topic. Fifteen years later, Lisa Birnbach doubles that in The Official Preppy Handbook (1980). In a section called Prepmobiles, the Preppy Handbook proclaims, “The car is as much a key part of Prep paraphernalia as a club tie or the ubiquitous duck. If, that is, it’s the Right Car – the Proper Make, in an Accepted Color, Appropriately Adorned”. In short it is the main category of such automobiles, coming before sports and vintage cars. The Handbook highlights such marques and models as BMW, Jeep Wagoner, Mercedes-Benz, Peugot, and Volvo. (Saab is mentioned in passing elsewhere in the book.) Birnbach adds: “Any English Car. It’s English, and that’s good enough.” Various models of Jaguars frequently make Ivy lists. 1980's Volkswagen Rabbit Interior Birnbach’s list also includes the Volkswagen Rabbit with the explanation of “a simple matter of inverse snobbery”. My generation of Ivy was close to Hayashiba than Birnbach (hence the roadster), but it was the Volkswagen Beatle that was all but ubiquitous back in the 1960s and early 1970s, a simple matter that one did not spend as much money on the second car as on the first. A proper Prepmobile has to be in the right color as well: British racing green, of course, but also maroon, fire-engine red, navy blue, and silver (grey). Or, as Ross McCammon noted humorously in The Preppiest Cars of All Time, published in RL Magazine, part of the Ralph Lauren website, “basically, any color found in Royal Stewart plaid”. Adornments are minimal, but predictable. Parking permits to the right clubs, beaches, ski resorts, and the like, dominate. Royal Stewart Plaid All seven of the marques and models McCammon selects for his list were manufactured in the 28 year period between 1970 and 1998, for many the last flowering of the traditional Anglo-American style now known as Ivy. The annotated list includes the Mercedes-Benz SLR 107; the Jeep Wagoneer; the Land Rover Range Rover; the Porsche 941; and the BMW 3-Series; as well as both the Volvo 240 and the Saab 900, which he dubs “the Sensible Swedes”. More popular in the Northeast, the Saab and the Volvo were known as the “Liberal” cars. McCammon notes, “each of the Swedes still embodied those hallowed prep values of durability, suitability, and an uncanny ability to start up and get moving even in a cold winter morning.” More to the point is what he claims all the cars have in common and what any car added to the list must have. Such a car “must be an investment, though not be terribly expensive. It must be subtly styled. And, most important, it must accentuate the scene – from the ski lodge to the supermarket – not overwhelm it”. Yet, many discussions of Ivy vehicles get overwhelmed, if not derailed, by Ralph Lauren’s automobile collection, which has been featured in two major museum exhibitions. The first, Speed, Style, and Beauty, was mounted by the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in 2005, and produced the predictable debate about whether motorcars are objects d’art. Five years later, the second show, The Art of the Automobile: Masterpieces from the Ralph Lauren Collection, was presented in the Musée des Arts Decoratifs (part of the Louvre) and coincided with the opening of a store in Paris. The collection is currently housed in a private museum, D.A.D. Auto Storage, in Bedford, NY. courtesy Ralph Lauren Auto Collection That’s an interesting evolution for someone whose first two motorcars of record fall well within the parameters of Ivy. Alan Flusser in Ralph Lauren: In His Own Fashion (2019), cites Lauren’s first motorcar as a 1961 white Morgan convertible with red leather seats, which Lauren purchased while he was still a tie salesman. When he founded Polo, Lauren bought a 1971 Mercedes 280SE convertible, customized to his specifications. However, it could be argued that with the emphasis on older cars with European racing or touring pedigrees, his collection straddles the Ivy categories of sports and vintage automobiles, but the show horses, not the workhorses. Of course, quite a few years have passed since the Handbook was first published. The cars are still Ivy-Preppy, but have changed categories, going from practical to classic. As with most things Prep, Trad, or Ivy, it’s often better to have something old than something new, and how the Sonett came into its own as a Right Car. As for the current scene, wagons are still Ivy; SUVs are not. BMW’s two-door sports cars are, but not the M5. In terms of Ivy, BMW has something of the same “Is it Ivy?” question Cadillac does. Certain models are seen as the sign of the arriviste, or worse, the fourflusher. But the passage of time can change even that. The once spurned Japanese marques have made considerable gains into Ivy garages. Or as one Ivy wag on the Internet put it, “Alas, I’m now driving practical Japanese vehicles that are very reliable, comfortable, and utterly boring.”
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.
Every December, I give myself three birthday gifts. Like most people whose birthday falls into the Christmas season, I find that too many people can’t be bothered to remember this obvious annual event. It seems that they are always too busy with other things to even text “Happy Birthday”, let alone send a card. There is no particular reason for buying three gifts. In 2016, I headed toward Grand Central Terminal for at least one of the gifts. . The plan was to browse those few shops that still sold traditional gentlemen’s clothes and accessories. I'm just old enough to remember that a gentleman -- in the generic sense of the word -- could outfit himself for whatever circumstance life presented by simply walking up Madison Avenue from 42nd Street to 57th Street, with the occasional detour onto the side streets, more often toward Vanderbilt than Fifth. So many of those shops, big and small, have closed. The ones that remain seem to sell the quality of the brand rather than the quality of the merchandise. Customers wind up paying more money for cheaper goods. A few maintain older standards: J. Press and Paul Stuart, of course, and for those who are more stylish and fashionable, Joseph Abboud. That year, I found a dragon's head cane in Rain or Shine, a small specialty shop near Grand Central. I had been looking for a cane, albeit one with a contour or orthotic handle. Age, arthritis, and athletic injuries turned an accessory into an occasional necessity. And, as Hardy Amies, the noted British fashion designer whose clients included Queen Elizabeth, explained in ABC of Men’s Fashion, a cane (or walking stick) is “[a]n excellent and elegant accessory when you’ve broken your leg”. Or when your leg just doesn’t want to cooperate. I was enchanted with the find. I've been drawn toward lizards and dragons since I was small and was delighted as a teenager to discover I was born in a Year of the Dragon. The dragon handle would also distract people from why I needed a cane to walk with from time to time. Although the cane seemed to be the perfect birthday gift to self, I persisted in my 24-hour rule: no impulse buys; think about it overnight. The cane, incidentally, was made by Fayet, a French firm also known for its line of sword canes and sword umbrellas, all very John Steed of the old Avengers TV show. However, Steed’s sword umbrella was made by Fox Umbrellas Ltd, a very proper British company established in 1868. By the time I got back to the store the next day, the cane was gone. Fortunately, Rain or Shine could order another from France. Unfortunately, it took ten months to arrive. Fortunately, I already had a cane or two to help keep me mobile when necessary. Unfortunately, the frustration of waiting, and waiting, and waiting, was excruciating. In the meantime, the shop had lost its lease due to an absurd rent hike. It was now operating out of a building a few blocks north of the Javits Center, an area that remains somewhat desolate despite the inroads of gentrification. The instructions on the website were to call and someone will come downstairs to take customers up to the shop. When I got there to pick up the cane, I was confused. It wasn't an office building. It was a storage facility. Right. The young lady who came to fetch me was very charming, very French. She led me to what had to have been the largest freight elevator I'd ever seen. It could easily have held a couple of motorcars. Along one of the aisles of locked storage rooms was the unit from which Rain or Shine now did business. It had light. It had air. But no windows. No one passing by. My guess is that most days she was the only person on that floor. It's a far cry from the street level midtown storefront the shop used to have. A proper cane is cut to fit the size of the person who will be using it. Usually that is about half of that person's height. Since I'm six foot tall, that would be about 36 inches. To get a more precise measure, I had to stand "naturally" while she put the handle of the cane on the floor. She marked where the tip crossed my wrist bone. She then cut the cane down to size with a hand saw. A cane is cut slightly higher than the measure. A second cut can be made later if necessary. In addition to the cane with the dragon’s head, I picked up one with a contour handle as well as one with a knob handle. A contour handle follows the shape of the palm, which allows a more even distribution of weight and therefore is more comfortable to use. The contour is either for the left or right hand. Usually a cane is used on the opposite side of the weaker leg. In my case, the contour is left-handed. The knob handle would be useful for when I needed to dress up and the dragon’s head would be too theatrical. Now I had not only a cane wardrobe, but also all three of my birthday gifts for me for the year. Of course, I posted about the dragon’s head cane on social media and several friends immediately wanted to meet me for drinks or dinner just to see the dragon’s head cane, but, alas, not for my birthday.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Managing the Ivy Style and Ivy Live Facebook groups for the last year has been something I wish I had done earlier. I love it. And one of the things that I love is seeing the influx of women into both groups. After interviewing Cara Marquis, I feel even more strongly about continuing that work. Cara is a no-nonsense business person and an excellent craftsperson managing a family, sales, design, production, and her golf game. All photos credit: Emily Elisabeth Photography. Read on. Cara Marquis and her son, Bo. Making a life change like moving to Nantucket year round is a serious decision - I know, because I am going to try to do it at some point. Taking your graphic design business that is labor intensive and paying your bills, and moving it to the island with your then-boyfriend who just quit being a lawyer to rent boats, moving in with him, and betting that you will be able to make a go of it in a place where a granola bar costs the same as a hardcover book - that’s monumental decision making, for serious thinkers. Then, get a dog, get married, have a baby, do beekeeping (or live with someone who does). It’s, um, demanding. So what would any up-to-the-brink Tabor Academy and St. Lawrence grad do? If you guessed take up drinking, you would be wrong, but I don’t fault you for the idea. Cara Marquis instead started Piping Prints, a clothing brand from Nantucket that designs and manufactures “embroidered seersucker clothing inspired by classic styles for the entire family.” And she got it right. More on that in a minute. Piping Prints also lines up right, ethically. I talked to her on the phone about it. “I started Piping Prints because I had a son,” she said. “And I couldn’t find comfortable, casual boys clothing that had some New England roots but that you could also fight a dinosaur in.” “I remember when we had our daughter,” I answered. “I couldn’t find food she liked. But I didn’t start a farm.” Cara laughed. I made a St. Lawrence grad laugh. “And from the start, I wanted the company and the clothes to line up with my ethical standards, and my experiences and thinking about business in general. In my graphic design life, I spent a lot of time helping women-owned start ups, and I developed some opinions. So my choice of factory, that’s one thing, but my choice of factory, it had to meet my standards for fair pay. And empowering women, and enriching impoverished communities. And you would be amazed, in an industry dominated by women in the labor force, how hard it was to find a factory that checked all those boxes.” She went on to tell me about the factory she started with in Kentucky, and the challenges she faced there, and she was right. I was amazed. “So you moved to Nantucket for a guy?” I asked. “Kind of. I mean, the guy was a big part of it. He said to me, ‘I want a job like yours, you know, where you can work when you want, make your own schedule.” I could hear her roll her eyes over the phone. “In hindsight, it would have been good to hold on to one regular paycheck. But we made it.” “How does it work now, with the boat rental business and the graphic design and Piping Prints?” “The boat rental business is his. I do the web site and the marketing to some extent, but it is really his baby. The graphic design work I fit in around Piping Prints, since the two are so linked. But Piping Prints is my priority and true love.” “Aside from him.” “Right.” Glad we clarified that. Cara was kind enough to send me a pair of shorts so I would know what I am talking about when I review. For some companies, that is not such a good idea. For Piping Prints, it was an excellent idea. I know from samples. This, ain’t that. The shorts were very well designed. They are fun, sure, they are unlined seersucker. To hear Cara tell it: “I do unlined because seersucker is a casual fabric. In 90 degree heat, no one wants a lining. If you do seersucker right, there are times when it feels like you aren’t wearing any clothes at all.” That’s perfect for me. I am the type of guy who wants to feel like I am not wearing any clothes at all. I am also the type of guy you never want to see not wearing any clothes at all. The proportions are right. Somebody, apparently Cara, has spent some time at country clubs. I can wear them during the day anywhere, including the beach, but I can also wear them to fireworks at the club at night. Bravo. The production is well done - there is a balance, especially for start ups - between financial efficiency and quality standards. Put another way, it makes sense from a wallet perspective to cut corners you hope no one will notice to save a few dollars. You know, in case your husband wants to buy a boat rental company on Nantucket. No corners cut here. Buttons, stitching - everything top notch. And the company is doing pretty well. They are in about 20 stores up and down the east coast, they have custom designs for private labels for Nantucket businesses, and they even have bandanas and masks. “So what’s next?” “I’ve always loved golf too, and my girlfriends and I are always wearing skirts with pockets,” she answered. “This line grows perfectly into golf and country club wear.” She’s right, it does. She showed me a picture of a prototype seersucker blazer, and I WANT ONE. But thank god this woman isn’t an astronaut or we would all be watching Mars landings in unlined space suits. Cara is a very good designer, her work is clean, and pointed with nautical elements. She is also a serious business person who is travelling once a year one her own dime to the factory she hired to make very sure that the fair pay is fair and that the factory maintains the standards that she set out at the beginning. And she took up pickleball. What’s not to love there? To check out her work and get yourself some seersucker, visit pipingprints.com. For more information and other inquiries, you can email her at .
My Least Favorite Bank
I buy stuff on eBay. ebay. Ebay. Hold on, let me check. See, there's my point right there. I am going with eBay. Which is my least favorite bank. They are one of my favorite online media media. They are an effective business acquistion firm. And they are one of my least favorite online experiences. Before you get crazy - I LOVE some of the stuff that I have bought on eBay. ebay. Whatever. It is a resource, and an amazing one. My point here is that not that the business is a bad one, my point here is that their business is not their business, and so it suffers when their business needs someone to pay attention to - their business. Hard to follow? Just wait til you try to figure out what this company does. Online media channel? You bet your lower case e. In 2018, eBay made $1.2 billion in advertising fees. Oh, and the other $1 billion in classified revenues. So let me do the math, if you make, I dunno, $10.7 billion a year, and $2.2 billion of that is ad revenue, then yes, you are in the business of selling advertising. Well, then they sold it to a company in Norway, for $9.2 billion. That makes you a ... you guessed it. Of course, this media company is also a bank. Or vice versa. It gets confusing. While 20% of the revenue is from advertising, you do have to look at their acquisition business. Pay Pal. Skype. Stub friggin Hub. And the list goes on. Let me do some more math. I can sell a business that earns $1 billion (the classified business) for $9.2 billion in that same year - how much attention do you think I am paying to that guy's vinyl collection? They are also publicly traded, which makes one of their primary businesses the service of the stock price. Don't be naive. When your company is public, the price of the stock is as important as anything else you do. Or, in most cases, more important than anything else you do. So you get it. There are a lot of... distractions. Who cares? Somebody with a problem, that's who. I had a shirt. A shirt that was expensive. I know it was expensive, because I bought it at the Westchester Mall. I almost never do any of that. Buying at a mall. Buying at the Westchester Mall. Buying anything expensive retail. None of it is any fun. But I bought it from a retail purveyor we all know and love, recent bankruptcy notwithstanding. At the Westchester Mall. Keep that in mind, it is important. I listed said shirt on eBay. Never mind an average 10% fee for sellers (do NOT google any analyst's opinion on that percentage,) it sold. So no problem. Except, wait, I wanted money for it. So the way that eBay works is that when you want to GIVE them money, it is immediate. When you want to TAKE your money, it gets... nuanced. First, you have to pay for shipping. More out of pocket? Yes, but no problem, eBay will take your money for that. Which they then hold on to for, wait for it... No, I mean wait for it. While I was waiting, which is a whole other story that I will talk about when we cover third parties to these transactions (OH WAIT, eBay owned one!!! - two? One I think. Who can tell?) the buyer wrote me. They didn't like the shirt. It was a knockoff. How do they know it was a knock off? Because they took it to an expert in knockoffs. They demanded a refund. I asked to write to, or speak with, the expert. I spent more on gas to get to the Westchester Mall than the buyer did on that shirt, but since I did go to the Westchester, as I assured the buyer, the damn shirt was real. I never got an answer. Instead, I was contacted by eBay. In between acquisitions. And they told me about the buyer's complaint. And so I provided them all the details, including the original receipt. I provided them with these details the day after they reached out to me. YOU try finding a four year old receipt for a shirt. It took me a day. A day too long. I waited another two weeks, during which my money was held because of the complaint. Then I got the answer - they had ruled in favor of the buyer, and she was getting her money back, but she had to ship me the shirt. They asked me if I wanted to pay for the shipping. I said no thanks. Because I am polite. The money, now 3+ weeks in my account but inaccessible, was now withdrawn. After another 3+ weeks...NOT. Withdrawn before I finished reading the email. If I wanted it back, I could appeal. So appeal I did. Another two weeks. Then one day I get a package in the mail. It is my return! Ok, maybe this was a bad experience. I can always resell, and set the price higher to make up for my migraine. I open the envelope - and it is empty. I did what any good eBayer would do, I wrote immediately. Another two weeks goes by, and then I get the last email, that my email about the envelope was too late after my email about the appeal, so, no appeal. In other words, Officer, I waited too long to report something stolen, even though I didn't know it was stolen until 4 minutes before I reported it, so now there is no crime? Maybe a little less time banking, and a little more time marketing. Is all I'm saying.
Sprezzatura, Duende and Brick Bats.
Three of the most influential writers about how men should wear their clothes are George Frazier (the journalist, not the athlete), who is now all but forgotten; Richard Merkin, the artist, who is now something of a cult figure; and G. Bruce Boyer, who is probably the best known and the most prolific, with some six books on the subject to his credit. Bruce Boyer - Ivy-Style There are certainly other influential people in the field – Alan Flusser, who is also a member of the cult of Merkin, for example, as well as the contributors to Ivy-Style and Ivy-Live – but with Frazier, Merkin, and Boyer there is a clear lineage of thought and approach to the question of sprezzatura, that effort taken to make something look effortless. But for all three, there is something beyond mere sprezzatura that gives someone a real, personal, identifiable style; that is, the manner in which sprezzatura is executed by an individual. Frazier, bizarrely, called this supercharged sprezzatura duende. Merkin referred to it as a brick bat. Boyer, probably the most intellectual of the three, resisted naming this quality. Instead he determined what elements comprise supercharged sprezzatura, not as much as a checklist of things to do as a checklist to see if it had been done. It might have amused Frazier and Merkin (and perhaps even Boyer) to think of it as a sartorial triple play. Arnold Gingrich, founder, editor, and publisher of Esquire, called Frazier an “arbiter of elegance”, perhaps in playful reference to Petronius who held that title (arbiter elegantiae) in the court of the Emperor Nero; or perhaps to Frazier’s habit of covering the opening games of the Red Sox in Latin for The Boston Globe. As befits a graduate of Boston (Boys’) Latin School and Harvard, Frazier was what was once called a “man of letters”. In addition to Esquire and The Globe, he wrote for numerous jazz publications in France and the United States, and even contributed to The Rolling Stone. His most visible position was as media critic for “The CBS Morning News”. If Frazier is known today, it may be as one of the journalists on Nixon’s Enemies List. George Frazier - New England Public Radio Frazier’s column in Esquire, A Sense of Style, covered style, but not just in clothes. Yes, there were articles on the fine points of men’s dress. One, about seersucker suits, is typical. Frazier holds forth on the history and benefits of a lightweight fabric in hot summer months, with additional comments about Damon Runyon’s experiences with seersucker suits as well as where in New York one would wear such suits: the Upper East Side is fine; the Theatre District is not. Style also meant the manner in which anything and everything was done. Style is the result of moral or ethical choices. Not that those other, larger issues stopped Frazier from commenting about clothes as well. It was not enough for Frazier to point out that Andy Williams was a bland and mediocre singer; Frazier had to add how badly Williams dressed (or was dressed by one commercial sponsor or another). NBC’s Chet Huntley and David Brinkley are also accused of being bland and for not being one of “[Edward R.] Murrow’s Boys”, that is television journalists who worked with or under Murrow. Murrow and his disciples remain the high bar to this day, but Murrow, like Frazier, worked for CBS. Regardless, Frazier’s old Esquire columns are well worth reading and it would be nice if someone would publish them. In terms of how men should wear their clothes, Esquire also published his major contribution to the topic, The Art of Wearing Clothes, in the September 1960 issue. The 10,000 word essay has been frequently reprinted, not only online, but also in Esquire Fashions for Men (1966). Frazier begins with Beau Brummell, of course, describing Brummell’s approach to dress as “irreproachable tasteful simplicity”, adding that “because of [Brummell] alone simplicity became the hallmark of the well-dressed man”. Although Frazier never uses the word sprezzatura in the essay, his description of the attitude behind the art leaves little doubt what he means: “This was what has since come to be known as ‘studied carelessness’ – ‘the perfect art,’ as Kathleen Campbell said, ‘which conceals art, that satisfying spontaneity which can be achieved only be taking intense thought’.” While all the clothes a gentleman wore had to be clean and well-maintained, nothing had to be new. Commenting about a fastidious soldier in the first World War, Frazier said, “Actually, the gloves need not have been new – merely spotlessly clean – for in men’s clothes … age lends a certain reassuring patina.” Gingrich’s introduction to the issue is not as well known or as widely reprinted at The Art of Wearing Clothes, but it bears reading. In addition to informing readers that the article took Frazier two years to write, Gingrich provided the first attempts to explain and expand upon what Frazier had in mind. “Apparently, in Frazier’s book, no well-dressed man’s clothes should look either old or new, just as no well-groomed man should like either as if he needed, or as if he just had, a haircut”. However Gingrich went a step further, did some research and analysis of his own, and came to much the same conclusions. “In the opinion of Dorland Doyle, who sums up pretty well the consensus of those queried who were cited by Mr. Frazier, ‘The conservative man instinctively obeys four simple principles: (1) Never loud colors or extreme cut. (2) Dress for comfort instead of following excessive fads. (3) Fewer, but better built suits and shows made to order with trees fitted to the shoes. (4) Rotate all coats, suits, shoes, etc. to rest them’.” As Roger Angell noted in The New Yorker, Frazier “found ‘sprezzatura’ somewhere – it meant spirit and nonchalance: cool – and laid it as a laurel on people he particularly admired. Later on, he dropped the word in favor of ‘duende,’ which meant just about the same thing.” Actually, duende has two meanings, the better known one used in music, literature, and the arts in general and flamenco in particular. Duende, here, refers to the raw passion, intensity, authenticity of the work or performance. Frazier however adapted or appropriated the other definition of duende, which refers to a dark charisma, almost akin to the medieval notion of the glamour. Charles Fountain, author of Another Man’s Poison: The Life and Writings of George Frazier (2011), suggested that duende means “that special force or characteristic that makes someone or something irresistibly attractive.” Studs Turkel claimed that Frazier used duende to mean “grace, wit and class.” Dan Rodericks, a sports journalist, noted that “duende is considered the difference between genius and mere talent”. Whether Frazier’s own dress achieved his definition of duende is an interesting question. According to Flusser, Frazier almost always word a navy blue suit and a black knit tie, something of a uniform of upper and upper-middle class men of that generation. To pick a trivial example, Ian Fleming frequently described James Bond as wearing a dark blue suit with a black knit tie in the original novels. Flusser was part of the same sartorial circle of friends that included Tom Wolfe, Bobby Short, and Merkin. Merkin knew Frazier – they shared an interest in John O’Hara as well as men’s fashion – but didn’t always agree. Frazier favored both a boutonniere and a handkerchief in the breast pocket, while Merkin, who was both a fine and a graphic artist, felt that created a cluttered field. Merkin was known for his moustache, his bowler hat, his white double-breasted suits, and custom tweeds as well as for running around in a 1946 British Racing Green MG TC. His interests ranged from vintage pornography to the Cuban and Negro Baseball Leagues. His collection of old erotica formed the basis of two books: Velvet Eden (1979) and The Tijuana Bibles (1997). He illustrated Leagues Apart: The Men and Times of the Negro Baseball Leagues (1995). However, for baby boomers of a certain age, Merkin may be best known for appearing on the cover of The Beatles’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. He’s in the back row, right of center, appropriately alongside Fred Astaire and a Vargas girl. Merkin was the artist as dandy for whom dress was an aggressive social critique. Unlike Frazier, Merkin never left a defining essay of his beliefs, but quotes from articles and interviews in Esquire, The New York Times, and fashion industry publications give an idea what his manifesto might have been. Richard Merkin - The John O'Hara Society “Grace,” Merkin said, “is meaningless without eccentricity.” To the Times, he gave that concept a puckish spin: “My sartorial aspirations lie somewhere between the Duke of Windsor and the Duke of Ellington.” He was more serious in other interviews. “I aspire toward a state of existence where one has a really beautiful sense of harmony and order. People dress in an abrasive way these days, it's a barometer of the sociological chaos we live in. Also I'm an artist who likes to observe and make a statement, so my dress has something to do with journalism, reportage. There is a degree of satire, of the creative violation of propriety. I was not to the manner born; therefore to simply appropriate the manner would not have been satisfactory." Or, as Merkin told the fashion industry publication, The Daily News Record, “Dressing, like painting, should have a residual stability, plus punctuation and surprise…Somewhere, like in Krazy Kat, you’ve got to throw the brick.” Incidentally, Krazy Kat was stamped on his hand-rolled cigarettes which were kept in a silver case. What duende was to Frazier, Krazy Kat’s brick (or brickbat) was to Merkin: that extra “something” that elevated a style to a statement. From 1988 to 1991, Merkin wrote a column for GQ, called Merkin on Style, in a nod to Frazier. Merkin’s literary style was also to throw the odd brickbat, sometimes with humor, other times with odd, obscure words. Kevin Haynes in a profile for Syracuse University Magazine (Merkin was Class of 1960) described the columns as a “monthly mix of advice and social swagger, heavily influenced by S.J. Perelman and Roget’s Thesaurus.” Haynes went on to note that “[i]t made Merkin an easy target for Spy magazine. ‘Merkin understands the value of the big word,’ chided Spy.” If memory serves, the big words did not include duende. “I loved the column,” Arthur Cooper, Merkin’s editor at GQ, said to Haynes. “It was a curmudgeon’s take on style, very informed, very witty. I thought it was one of the best and most original things in the magazine. The problem is, like most columns, you sort of run out of things to say.” Merkin went on to say things at Esquire, among other publications. The change of platform did not exactly change his approach. In 1993, he not only contributed to a section called “Building Your Wardrobe” (as did Boyer), but also claimed that a proper gentleman basics included two tweed jackets: “One … to wear to cocktails and another to sleep with the dogs”. Cats in general and Krazy Kat in particular may not be as easily impressed as dogs. Boyer has been the fashion editor at GQ, Esquire, and Town and Country at various times over almost half a century of writing about men’s fashion. However, Boyer maintains he is “not really … a fashion writer in the traditional sense, but rather a clothing writer.” John Taylor (Tailor and Cutter) as well as Frazier influenced him. “My early writing was modeled on the styles of Frazier and Taylor”, he said in My Life as a Style Writer. “[B]oth of whom had that High Mandarin voice, and wrote with taste, flair, and knowledge of their subjects.” Decades later, he still admired those characteristics in others. In a Foreward to The Parisian Gentleman (2018), Boyer noted: “First as a fan and then as a friend, I have found that Hugo [Jacomet] brings together several talents I admire in a writer. He is at the same time erudite; eminently intelligible, insightful and witty; balanced in his perspective; and thorough in his research.” Boyer’s interest in clothes themselves goes beyond questions of taste and quality. His interest is in “how they could provide a ‘role’ or an ‘image’, how they could give and convey confidence, how they could provide entry into a group, how they could be distinguishing, and in my case how they could appeal to women - and the rewards that might convey. How, in short, clothing can be understood as a social tool.” “Fashion writing,” by extension, “should try to understand what clothing is about within a context, something in the tone of the age, the zeitgeist, something in the culture, something in both our emotional and intellectual life.” In other words, clothing as a communications system, as the semioticist Roland Barthes might have noted. Among the things Boyer thinks clothes should communicate is sprezzatura. He defines and refines his thought about sprezzatura across three volumes of essays: Elegance (1985); Eminently Suitable (1990); and True Style (2015). He starts off in praise of elegance in his first book: “Those whose appearances we admire wear their clothes with a certain sense of comfort and propriety of style we often call elegance, a word variously defined but also including, even centering upon, the idea of gracefulness, the skilled ease with which something is done. And that ease, I think, is generally a quality one develops from an intelligent familiarity with the endeavor.” By the third book, he winds up in praise of what he calls the English Country House Look (ECHL), that is, to look as if one were to that country manor born. For Boyer, ECHL has two components: “First, it’s critical to remember that shabbiness is preferred to newness”; and “Second, prepare by cultivating the impression of never having prepared.” That not only circles back past Merkin – who mixed custom with vintage – to Doyle and Frazier, but also reflects his definition of sprezzatura. Boyer isolates four elements for his sprezzatura: “: 1. There is no such thing as being “accidentally” well-dressed. … 2. Nonchalance most often depends upon the smaller touches to achieve the greatest effects. … 3. Nonchalance is often seen when some aspect of the outfit plays against the grain of the basic pattern or genre – so long as the difference is minor. … 4. The nonchalant man knows the form, which means that his little eccentricities must seem as intentional.” In his next, and so far last, book, the four elements have been refined and expanded. “(1) A preference for the mildly rumpled over the new and shiny. The oft-attributed Nancy Mitford comment on interior design bears mentioning in this connection: ‘All nice rooms are a bit shabby.’ (2) A touch of sentimental, personal eccentricity. (3) A marked tendency toward clothes that at least appear comfy. And (4) the idea of counterpoint, based on a total sense of confidence.” “Sprezzatura encompasses that purposefully disordered style, that cultivated recklessness, that seeming unconcern of the man who turns up his jacket collar, the collar of that English custom-made hacking jacket he wears with his ten-year-old faded khakis and an old school tie for a belt,” he notes, adding elsewhere such other examples as “the purposefully incongruent finesse of mixed genres. … old Barbour jacket over a town suit .. polo coat over turtle and jeans … vintage items used new way – fishing creel as briefcase … cigar case for glasses …” With three different approaches to supercharging sprezzatura, perhaps the question should be: How do you like your sprezzatura? Straight up or with a twist? Jonathan Boorstein is a gentleman, an author, and a good friend of the Facebook groups for Ivy Style and Ivy-Live.
Benicio del Ivy (Toro)
(EDITOR'S NOTE: There was a while there when I thought that Benicio del Toro and Brad Pitt were probably the same person. Before you judge, it's a thing on Google - JB) Benicio del Toro can act - so well that you would never know his roots are Ivy/Trad. He inhabits his characters so completely that one can forget he’s there. Combined with a refusal to be typecast, he’s been in everything from The Usual Suspects to a remake of The Wolfman and from Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi to Sicario and so there’s no such thing as a typical del Toro film. Born in Puerto Rico to a family of lawyers, del Toro was sent to Mercersburg Academy in Pennsylvania, which also produced James Stewart. One of the top prep schools in the northeast, (and there you have it, Ivy/Trad/Prep cred) the school has produced Olympians, two governors, a few judges and educated both sons of President Calvin Coolidge. Del Toro went on to the University of California San Diego and in just his second film, played the significant supporting role of Dario, a henchman of villain Franz Sanchez in the James Bond film “License to Kill.” Timothy Dalton was Bond, and while his career never reached these heights again, LTK was a launching pad for del Toro, who went on to a breakout role in The Usual Suspects and won an Oscar in 2001 for Traffic. He’s not one of Hollywood’s major style icons and he’s rarely seen sporting J.Press or Brooks Brothers, but del Toro is One Of Us: a trad in many things. A 2018 profile in Esquire summarizes things nicely: “Del Toro is old school . . . he listens to classic rock, on vinyl. . . . He reads books, too, paper ones, an eclectic assortment of old books and older ones. Latest discoveries: Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying . . . and HG Wells. . . . He’s recently completed seven months shooting a TV series . . . but don’t go to him for updates on your favorite show. Instead he watches old movies.” “It’s one thing to live in the past” The Ringer says. “But Del Toro seems like a man from the past who is mistakenly living in the modern world. He’s not figuratively John Cazale with Al Pacino’s face, he truly is a guy who should have been making movies with Sidney Lumet and Michael Cimino in 1974.” “As the most 70's like decade to happen in cinema since the actual 70’s, working in the 90’s had to feel like a consolation prize for Del Toro, a classic rocker trapped in a grunge epoch,” The Ringer added. But del Toro isn’t just at home in the 70's. He’s loved old monster movies since he was a kid, something that led him to star as werewolf Lawrence Talbot in a 2010 remake of The Wolfman. He also starred in and produced a film about Che Guevara after his Cuban days. Even del Toro's trapped-in-decade varies. Profilers of Del Toro can’t resist comparing him to actors from an even earlier era of cool: Marlon Brando and Ivy Style-icon Steve McQueen. Del Toro brings the same magnetism, the duende, to his roles that they did. What else do Del Toro and Ivy/Trad/Prep have in common? “Effortless cool”. Esquire: “del Toro impressed me then, as he continues to impress audiences today, as a man who might best be described as ‘cool’, a cool dude . . . Wry, inscrutable, sleepily handsome, creatively disheveled. Louche without being creepy. Cool.” The Ringer: “He’s hitting a different kind of stride in his 50s, that of a survivor with some milage on his tires who is constantly trucking forward, secure in the knowledge that he has it – skill, swagger, spirit, soulfulness – and always will.” Matt Robare is a regular on the Ivy Style Facebook group.
A Short Story Long
This is a book written by my friend Christian Chensvold. I am reviewing it, you should read it. A few notes. I didn't buy it, he sent it to me. I have sent him two things, neither of which got there, but that is because I dated a Wiccan who put my picture in a compact mirror with a postage stamp (and some of my hair) and, well, you do the math. It didn't end well. I don't like short stories. This is one. It tells the future. I'm not kidding. It's funny. I'm not kidding about that either. I never kid about being funny. And again, you should read it. Cliff Notes: A fashion writer with a much better vocabulary than a fashion writer would have has a Pierce Brosnan's Bond adventure in an ice castle with a hot chick. And takes a deep dive into what is wrong with where we are and who we are. And proclaims the death of the very necktie he is wearing. And drops more Ivy fashion names than - well than anyone because there aren't a lot of people dropping Ivy fashion names. Let me revise. It is a really, really smart Pierce Brosnan's Bond adventure in an ice castle with a hot chick. It helps to know the author. This is Christian Chensvold: He looks pissed, right? He's not. That is the face of a guy who has done a lot of thinking about how fashion is as good a forecaster of the state of things as any other, and also a lot of thinking on the state of things period. This sound familiar? "Might the time come when neckties will be hard to find? The less men wear them, the fewer will be made. I consoled myself with the thought that any Extinction Level Event would be adequately foreshadowed." Chensvold's a kidder. He did the foreshadowing right there. Chensvold knows his way around a sentence. Which is one reason why this book is worth buying. You read 10,000 words (that's what the publisher's web site says it is) and you feel like you inhaled 100,000. And you feel as smart as if you read 1,000,000. These Are Our Failures is the nut without the shell. It wastes no time making its considerable points. It makes you care from page 1 ("It was a lazy Sunday afternoon and I was reclining on the sofa listening to Fred Astaire's album with Oscar Peterson leading an all-star sextet..."), it's anachronistic ("He looked like Charles Bronson," - go ahead millennial, ask me who Charles Bronson was), it's damn good writing ("It was a circular argument, or at least it seemed that way because my head was spinning...") and it has some very bad puns (It's not like you don't know I get paid to punch up comedy Christian - "Xanadieu"???). More than anything, Chensvold knows his subject matter. Fashion. And his other subject matter: the spiritual and moral and physical ramifications of the tide. It's hard to comprehensively review a 10,000 word book without the review becoming longer than the book. But here's the summary: God-freakin-fantastic cultural and fashion references, Philosophy 301, some action, and an hour of your life that gives you back six. You can buy the book at this website. And if you like any of the above, you probably should.