Archive - August, 2008

Wild for Boar

Ben Silver boar skin gloves

As autumn approaches, protection for a gentleman’s hands that is both classic and masculine can be found in gloves made of boar skin (or peccary), which has a distinctive appearance.  Rarely seen nowadays, they are not easy to find in stores, but Izzy spoored this tobacco-colored sueded pair at Ben Silver. Even more traditional is this unsueded model from Pickett of England, though it it’ll break the piggy bank at £215.00.

Top Hat on Your Tail

El Cobrador del Frac

It’s not exactly a scarlet letter, but a Spanish debt collection company has been using a very odd tactic to shame deadbeat debtors into paying up:

If more confirmation were needed of the funereal state of Spain’s economy, it can be found in the shape of The Debt Collector in Top Hat and Tails.

That’s a translation into English of “El Cobrador del Frac,” the name of a company that specializes in sending out men dressed like extras from a 1930s Fred Astaire movie to humiliate debtors into paying up. Its business is booming.

“At the start of the year we noticed demand was increasing,” said Juan Carlos Granda, head of El Cobrador del Frac’s international department.

[…]
Mr. Granda refers to the top hats and tails, whose appearance has unnerved so many Spanish debtors, as the company “uniform.”

“We send collectors in uniform and collectors without uniform. It depends on how the debtor reacts. If we need to do it to collect a debt, we send a collector wearing top hat and tails, so his debt attracts more attention,” he said.

The ethics of public shaming aside, Izzy is dismayed to see a look that was once was the epitome of elegance being debased by such negative association.  It ought to make every hatter mad, and Señor Cacahuete nuts.

The Dude’s a Biden

Joe Biden

Regardless of one’s politics, it’s hard to deny that in choosing Joseph Biden as his running mate, Barack Obama picked the best-dressed man in the Senate.  Admittedly, there’s not much competition for that title, but Biden stands out due to his willingness to wear form-fitting suits in a shade other than blue or gray, fun suspenders, pocket squares, casual shirts with the top two buttons undone, and, in the winter, a chesterfield coat with a velvet collar.   And in what is perhaps a bold statement about his foreign policy, he often wears shirts with French freedom cuffs.

The Wright Stuff

Paul Stuart propeller tie bar

Although nautical motifs in menswear are as common as barnacles, aeronautical references (with the exception of flight jackets and aviator glasses) are as rare as a test pilot who has lived to old age.   Paul Stuart bucks that trend with this elegant propeller tie-bar made of sterling silver.  It certainly has an impressive visual thrust-to-weight ratio.

Madras Makes Your Eyes Bleed

madras nightmare

A little while back, the folks at Kempt analyzed the ultra-preppy style of Southampton, New York.  No doubt schooled at a radical madras-a, these men are in effect saying, “I’m so rich I can buy a hideous jacket I wear once a year as a joke.”  But even worse is the implied incivility: by wearing such obnoxious jackets, paired with clashing bow ties no less, the men are showing little concern for the eyeballs of anyone else.

Heavily Stitched

Bettanin and Venturi boots

Handmade in Vicenza, Italy, these boldly seamed boots from Bettanin & Venturi, share a family resemblance with these impossible shoes.  If Frankenstein’s monster was a dandy, these are what he would wear.

Le Smoking

Del Toro monogrammed slipperDel Toro velvet slipperDel Toro custom design

Del Toro shoes were started by two gentleman from Palm Beach who bemoaned how difficult and expensive it could be to find velvet slippers—with, say, the emblem of their boarding school on them—to wear with their smoking jackets. Their one model, made in Spain, is an updated version of the Prince Albert house slipper, which can be ordered plain, monogrammed, or even with a custom design. Their prices are surprisingly low—the plain version is just $120—but if you have a family crest to embroider on your shoes, money shouldn’t be of much concern.

Dunked in Black

rubberized Converse Chuck Taylors

Converse All-Stars are as classic as sneakers get, but they have one slight problem: If you get caught in the rain, the canvas shoes get soaked through, which risks creating odors worse than a high-school locker room. John Varvatos, however, had the bright idea of rubberizing Chuck Taylor high-tops, which can be safely used to make a splash on the court.

Filmed in Bandanarama

Peter Bogdanovich with bandanna

Izzy is more than a bit fascinated by the appearance of film directors, whose line of work makes them especially attune to visuals. Hence, he was especially happy to see an interview of Peter Bogdanovich about his trademark bandanna:

You have developed a very distinct signature style of wearing ascots. How did that start?

They are not ascots. An ascot is usually silk and an English thing. I’m just wearing a bandanna; it’s not so fancy. Most of the time they are cotton and different sizes. It started when I was shooting The Last Picture Show in Texas, and I liked wearing it because it made me feel secure. I don’t know why. But it feels cozy, and I kept wearing it.

Do you wear one when you are not working or making a professional appearance?

Yeah, I wear them all the time. When I make a professional appearance, I sometimes wear a tie so as not to be too unusual.

Do you think the bandanna is quite unusual?

People seem to have caught on and it seems to be a big deal.

How do you tie it?

Over and under, and over and under, twice until it’s a knot.

Do you think personal style is a professional asset?

Yes, until it gets mannered. I may have to stop doing this because it may get too mannered. But I prefer it to a tie.

So why don’t you stop?

It feels comfortable – I’d feel bereft if I got rid of it. The New Yorker ran a piece about me and they had a shot of me tying the bandanna and I though, “Christ, it’s getting to be a bit much.” But, you know….

But you do recognize that it has become part of your brand identity.

Yes, it has.

There is something else I do all the time that nobody seems to have noticed, something I picked up from Audrey Hepburn. When I did a picture with Audrey in 1980 called They All Laughed, I noticed that she never buttoned the buttons on her sleeves, and I asked her about it and she said, “It’s more comfortable this way!” And I tried that and it is more comfortable. I was never thinking about a product or brand; I just started dressing this way because I like it.

Has anyone ever said anything negative about your bandanna?

I think some people are annoyed because they think it’s an affectation. My friend Jerry Lewis hates it; he says it reminds him of a director from the 30s. But I ignore him, and he forgives me.
[…]

Who are your style icons?

Cary Grant; and I knew him too. The first time I went into his office he said, “Is that a Brooks Brothers jacket?” I said, “Yes.” And he said, “Right off the rack, right? They’re great.”

[…]
Do you have any advice for other professionals creating a logo?

Wear what feels comfortable and feels good on you. I wore a bandanna on every picture since The Last Picture Show, but I didn’t wear it in everyday life. Then I thought, “Why shouldn’t I? I should do it all the time.” It could still be a distant echo of wanting to be a cowboy.

Only at the end of the interview does Bogdanovich hint at the real reason of the bandanna: it reminds people of his long-past glory days following the release of his one big hit, The Last Picture Show, which not coincidentally was set in small-town Texas. And as for why no one notices his other sartorial signature, his not buttoning his cuffs, he should realize that that bandanna hogs people’s attention. In any case, one idiosyncracy should have been enough.

The Artist of Rhetoric

Frederick Douglass

Born a slave, the nineteenth-century abolitionist Frederick Douglass was not only one of the best orators in American history, he was also one of the most dashing—whatever it takes to captivate an audience. Izzy would love to see someone resurrect Douglass’ romantic hairstyle, a sort of a combed-over afro.

Legionnaires He Sees

Legion of Honor red thread

Yesterday, while strolling near Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan, Izzy saw a well-dressed gentleman with a small red thread sewn on his lapel right next to the button hole. Luckily, Izzy could decipher the code, having remembered an article in The New York Times all about that little bit of thread:

To the untrained eye, the lapel thread might be confused for a brand indicator, like the red stripe in Prada shoes or the Lacoste crocodile, or even a stray piece of lint. But to those in the know, the decoration is more like a military chevron or a tribal tattoo. It shows that [the wearer] is a member of France’s most prestigious — and most coveted — society: the Légion d’Honneur, granted by the French government to those who have somehow contributed to the glory of France.

[…]

More elite than the Masons, less secretive than Skull & Bones, less G.P.A.-dependant than Phi Beta Kappa, the Legion of Honor was founded in 1802 by Napoleon. It’s been awarded to an estimated 40,000 foreigners and 96,000 French citizens — military personnel and civilians, men and women.

There are several ranks, each with a medal and ribbon, starting with chevalier, or knight; then officier, or officer; commandeur; grand officier, and grand croix.

[…]

For everyday use, chevaliers and officiers wear a special hue of deep red thread sewn in a thin stripe from the buttonhole to the outer edge of the lapel, while commandeurs wear a silver thread. The thread and other legionnaire pins are sold at a store near the Palais Royal in Paris.

These threads might get some attention in France, but are harder to decode in New York. “Every time I take a suit to the dry cleaners they try to snip them off,” said Paul LeClerc, the president of the New York Public Library and a chevalier. “It’s very expensive thread if you have to go all the way to Paris” to get it.

One has to wonder why Mr. LeClerc does not frequent a French laundry.

Izzy must confess to enjoying the display of the thread (especially on a dark suit), which is surely the most elegant award one can wear.

A Natty Tie

Ben Silver natte tieBen Silver natte tie close-up
The key to choosing a solid-colored necktie is the texture of the fabric.   Izzy contends that a totally smooth silk tie almost always looks cheap, no matter how much you paid for it. A better choice would be something like this pastel tie from Ben Silver woven in natte, a fine basket weave.

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