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The Life Antarctic with Ran Fiennes

Ranulph Fiennes with snowRanulph Fiennes book cover

One of the great joys of facial hair is observing snow sticking to it, thus proving the beard’s insulating powers.  Best of all is when giant carbuncles of ice form, as on Sir Ranulph Fiennes, the British globetrotter thought by many to be the world’s greatest living explorer.  Whether or not that is hyperbole, he certainly competes with Ewan Mcgregor for world’s greatest hair, adventurer category.  (While there appears to have been some photoshoppery involved in the bookcover photo (his jacket appears to have been taken from the photo on the left), Izzy includes it since it show Fiennes’ weather-beaten mane at its most spectacular.)

Even when relaxing in the comfort of his home study, as seen below, the adventurer maintains his devil-may-care approach, with ancient (torn?) desert boots and khakis with frayed hems.  Alas, his plentiful testosterone has exposed his scalp to the elements.

Ranulph Fiennes at home

In the interview accompanying the photo, Fiennes explains:

Everything in my wardrobe is old. I haven’t bought a suit in 10 years, that’s for sure. My dinner jacket must be at least 20 years old. My shoes, which I had in the Army, must be over 30 years old. I don’t like buying clothing.

Asked about his grooming routine, he continues:

For 25 years I have worn Clarins day and night creams. When I was in Antarctica I got seborrhoeic dermatitis, which affected the areas between my eyebrows and next to my nose. I ran out of cortisone cream and discovered that Clarins day and night creams for women do the same job without the side-effects. I’ve continued to use them ever since.

When a man has circumnavigated the earth from pole to pole via land, he may casually admit to wearing women’s cosmetics.

Perhaps Fiennes should have started moisturizing at a younger age.  He was once considered to play the part of James Bond in the movies (Roger Moore was selected instead), but the producer rejected him for having “hands too big and a face like a farmer.”  This, presumably, was before Fiennes cut off the tips of his frostbitten fingers with a Black & Decker power tool.

Izzy Is not Dead

Izzy apologizes for his long absence. Some months ago, in a foolhardy moment, he answered the following advertisement:

MEN WANTED FOR HAZARDOUS JOURNEY. SMALL WAGES, BITTER COLD, LONG MONTHS OF COMPLETE DARKNESS,
CONSTANT DANGER, SAFE RETURN DOUBTFUL. HONOR AND RECOGNITION IN CASE OF SUCCESS.

To his surprise, rather an a frozen slog across Antarctica–easy enough to endure–the journey was in fact a trip through the benthic regions of the soul.  “When you stare into the Abyss, the Abyss stares into you,” said Nietzsche.  Izzy would like to think that he won a staring contest with the Abyss.  (This, despite the fact that the Abyss, not playing fair, contorted its face into a ridiculous cockeyed grimace.)

Now safely back in the Shallow, Izzy would like to turn your attention to another achievement of Nietzsche’s, his moustache.

Nietzsche's moustache

Long before his signature facial hair reached absurd proportions worthy of a machete, one of his students described the philosopher’s appearance:

I had not expected that the professor would come storming into the room . . .  like Burkhardt.  I also knew well enough that a challenging tone in a writer does not always echo his behavior as a private man.  But I was nonetheless surprised by the modesty, even humility, of Nietzsche’s demeanor when he came in.  In addition he was of small rather than middle stature . . . And the iridescent glasses and deep mustache gave his face that impression of intellectuality which often makes even short men somewhat imposing.

While it is known that Nietzsche devoted great concern to his appearance, the famous photographs of him with with whiskers completely covering his mouth are not indicative of his own taste.  By the time those photos were taken, Nietzsche was living in a sanitorium under the care of his far-more-insane sister, a proto- and later actual Nazi, who made the eccentric grooming choice for him.

Izzy is going to heed the lesson here, and make sure that his living will includes a clause about appropriate facial hair.

Apparel Disfunction

George Clooney and Brad Pitt with open collars

There are only two ways to wear an open collar under a jacket: 1) firm and erect, 2) limp and flaccid. Someone, please get Mr. Clooney some Viagra for his shirt.

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.

Swiss Mister

Arpad Busson

Not being a habitué of Gstaad, Izzy had never heard of French/Swiss financier Arpad Busson prior to the announcment of his engagement to Uma Thurman, but the self-made ladykiller definitely has the rich-playboy style down pat.  Note his high shirt collar, decolletage, unbuttoned (or are they uncuffed?) mitred cuffs, and funky bracelets.

In the past, with a different beauty on his arm, he has even been able to add color to a tuxedo without looking gauche.  But Izzy is even more impressed with Busson’s ultra-slim-fitting peak-lapel dinner jacket. (Are those bracelets his trademark?)

Arpad Busson in tuxedo

Business Casual-ty

Ben Stein in necktie

Conservative curmudgeon Ben Stein, himself never seen in public without a necktie—whether a militantly preppy one with dogs on it, or a militantly elitist one from Yale Law School—recently responded on TV to the supposed demise of the tie.  Apparently he always keeps his high horse tethered nearby:

You see this lovely silken thing around my neck? It’s called a necktie.

When I was a lad and a younger man, men wore these to show they did not work with picks and shovels and pitchforks.

Ties were a symbol of white collar status, although even some workmen wore them under their leather aprons.

If you had on a necktie, it showed you had some sense of organization, some sense of dignity about yourself.

Even schoolboys wore them. At fabulous boarding schools like Cardigan Mountain in New Hampshire, where my handsome son went, boys still wear them. It showed, to use a word that you rarely hear, class.

Now, I read in The Wall Street Journal, on the front page, if you please, that men don’t wear neckties any longer unless they are in subservient posts.

This will probably come as a bit of a surprise to Senators McCain and Obama, as well as to President Bush. They generally wear neckties, at least on TV.

It will probably come as a shock to all of the network newscasters and the late night talk show hosts. They’re the coolest guys on the planet, and they wear neckties.

But never mind. The Journal says only 6% of men wear neckties to work, and the necktie is being run down by history.

I hereby quote my late great friend Bill Buckley and say, I am going to stand in front of the train of sartorial history and shout, “STOP!”

The necktie is a sign of a man who is there to work, not to play. It’s what a man who takes his responsibilities seriously wears. Men who want to look and act like small children dress like small children, or surfers, or hoboes, or something.

Plus, the necktie covers over a little part of one’s paunchy stomach. And it just generally makes a man look better, smarter.

My fellow men: stop dressing like children. Start dressing like grownups and acting like grownups. The necktie is a start.

Kids, it’s the perfect time of year to get your dads a necktie. Get with the program, before we become a nation of open-collared slackers.

I mean it. Right now. And then straighten up your room.

Pulling Off the Pullover

brown and blue in Manhattan

It’s not easy to wear a sweater on one’s shoulders without looking unbearably preppy, but this gentleman in Manhattan succeeds, perhaps because the dark navy melds into the shirt and jacket.  His entire outfit is a well-balanced study in brown and blue, even in such details as his tortoise-shell glasses, woven belt, and puffed-up pocket square.

Hairy Like a Guerrilla

Steven Soderbergh with neck beard

While visting Cannes for the screening of Che, his bio-pic of Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara, director Steven Soderbergh sported a beard that extended down beneath his shirt collar.  Given that Soderbergh is usually clean-shaven, can there be any doubt that he disposed of his razor (and good sense) in homage to Che’s neck beard, which made him look like he had a lion’s mane?

Che with lion’s mane

Jumpers

The Times of London is reporting the sad demise of the cricket sweater:

The woollen V-necked jumper — baggy and bearing mysterious stains — has been a part of cricket at all levels since the early days but when adidas, the new England kit supplier, unveiled its 2008 collection at the home of cricket, cable-knit had been replaced by the figure-hugging ClimaCool, a man-made fibre said to push sweat away from cricketers’ skin.

“England will be cooler, drier and more comfortable than ever before,” Hugh Morris, the managing director of the England and Wales Cricket Board, said. “With this kit, England will be the best-equipped team in the world.” The innovation was warmly greeted by Michael Vaughan, England’s Test captain. “The cricket sweater has been my bugbear for many a year,” he said. “This new fabric will give us a lighter feel. Even if it’s a little cold, I am delighted to see the end of the last woolly sweater.”

However, Bob Willis, the former England captain, said that the old sweater was “a very important piece of kit” for fast bowlers. “In cold weather, when you’d finished bowling ten overs and were dripping with perspiration it would keep you cool,” he said.

Willis is alluding to the fact that wool, unlike many other fabrics, maintains its warmth even when wet.

But perhaps the best argument for retaining the cricket sweater is its potential for off-field use, here demonstrated in Matthew Bourne’s dance piece “Play Without Words.”

Play Without Words cricket sweater

On Making a Splashy Entrance

Simon Michael Bessie

While reading the obituary for publisher Simon Michael Bessie—who edited writers including Daniel J. Boorstin, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Kenneth Tynan, and Elie Wiesel—Izzy came across this passage about Bessie’s attempt to track down John Cheever, the novelist and chronicler of a vanishing WASP world:

As Susan Cheever recounts it in a memoir of her father, “Home Before Dark” (1984), Mr. Cheever had offered the novel to Random House in 1954, but the publisher turned it down. In despair, he rented a house that summer on Nantucket Island, took his family there and continued working on the novel. One day, as Cheever was staring out the window, a sailing yacht appeared in the harbor and dropped anchor. A man in white flannels and a double-breasted blazer was rowed ashore in a dinghy and announced in the voice of a literate aristocrat to the small crowd that had gathered to greet him, “I’m looking for John Cheever.”

“It was Simon Michael Bessie,” Ms. Cheever writes, “a senior editor at Harper & Row, and he had come to buy ‘The Wapshot Chronicle.’ ”

It’s worth noting that although Bessie was not himself a WASP, he clearly knew how to dress the part.

Mr. Chips Goes to Washington

tweedy Robert Redford

Testifying in front of Congress about the funding of the National Endowment for the Arts, Robert Redford costumed himself as an old-fashioned school teacher, complete with a tweed jacket with a narrow lapel and throat latch, as well as appropriately mussed hair.  Izzy would have believed anything the man said.

A Different Kind of Aeronaut

human cannonball

For the fashionable human cannonball.

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