yesterday, we had the pleasure of receiving I am Dandy , The Return of the Elegant Gentleman, by our good friends Rose Callahan and Nathaniel Adams.
It is, thus, with a bit of pressure that I'm going to indulge in the doubly-perilous task of delivering a literary and photographic review of my first impressions. You could say that I'm at a disadvantage when it comes to producing a review worthy of its salt on such a book, with Rose being a good friend of PG since a long time, and, objectively, a very talented and kind young woman. Personally knowing several gentlemen appearing in I am a Dandy certainly doesn't help in writing such a review either, and for that matter, nor does the small point of fact that I am personally featured in the book.
Add to all this, the fact that PG is to hold a book launching party at Cifonelli's at the end of September in Paris, and as you can see, Mr. Prosecutor, we are possibly treading on the verge of a conflict of interest (or is it insider trading?) before even writing a single word on the book...
All those considerations aside, this book features 59 portraits of men described as being « modern day » dandies , but more on that in a moment...
As I nervously tear open the heavy packaging containing the object of my torment (the book), I can't help but think, "What am I doing in this book ? Did someone make a casting error? " Of course, I relish the honor of being featured next to great authors like Nick Foulkes, James Sherwood, G. Bruce Boyer, and Gay Talese in a book dedicated to the passion of men's style --- yet… some of the dandies that I notice featured in the book seem to be as far and disconnected from my core taste and lifestyle as is (in no particular order) green bell peppers, stuck-up black-tie events, Abercrombie & Fitch Tees, and television.
And, not to mention that the liberal (and often ignorant) use of the word « dandy » tends to stir atop my most sensitive nerve (particularly when applied to myself), as you can imagine with this chronic suspicion of those who tout dandyism, that I now have to pause, and ask myself -- "What am I doing in a book called "I Am Dandy" ?
And then..., the great Glenn O'Brien, unknowingly rushes in for the rescue, straight from the first page, in the form of a splendid foreword titled « Dandies offer hope to a world in crisis », in which he writes :
« If there is a cardinal sin in our world it is not self-absorption, but mass absorption, the dissolution of the individual into the mass. The silent majority. The crowd attired in team jerseys. The mob, the throng, the flock. In the uniform crowd man is no longer an individual but a single cell in a massive organism, pulled along with no will of his own. We have seen what mobs do, what gangs do, what corporations and political parties are capable of when individuality gives way to groupthink (…)
A man who steps out of uniform is a hero, in his own way. You can only be a hero in your own way. To look different willfully takes courage, and the highest form of courage is to reveal oneself fully, to express one’s inner condition to the world with eloquence. So while i might not consider this aggregation of flagrantly attired fellows to be true dandies in the classical sense, but an eclectic admixture of dandy, fop and gay blade, to me they are all heroes, all eloquent in expressing what makes them tick. They all aim to transcend the ordinary, and to give meaning to all aspects of life most men leave to unquestioned custom or to chance. »
So, now I'm not a dandy, but a hero ? OK well, at least my mother will not disapprove.
As for Nathaniel « Natty » Adams, he leaps on and tackles my few remaining doubts by his writing in the introduction :
« One thing anyone reading this book will quickly notice is the diversity of the men within. This is not a subculture, but a gallery of unique men » .
With doubts brushed aside and honor secure, I can finally start praising this fascinating book, and not just for its great photographic qualities, courtesy of Rose Callahan. What immediately struck me about the book is that, apart from being richly illustrated (by its very nature), the book also gives a lot to read and think about with a rather unexpected – and very happy – twist.
I am a Dandy is indeed full of great nuggets of wisdom taken from excerpts of interviews conducted by the author on the 59 featured men. And I must admit to being pleasantly surprised by the depth, the range, and literally, the class, of some of the remarks that have been skillfully aggregated in this book, with the reading sparking much more attention than I had initially expected.
Chosen pieces :
« I’m also aware that many journalists are poorly dressed. When they die, somebody will put a nice suit on them and place them in a casket. If they dress up for death, why not dress up when alive ? »
« (At the movies when I was a young boy) I was intrigued by them (Fred Astaire, Cary Grant, Gary Cooper), because I thought that they had come from much the same sort of background as I did – they were not royalty or aristocracy, they were American guys who grew up in ordinary households and neighborhoods and yet they had incredible poise and style (…) And they always ended up with the most beautiful woman in the room. For me it was the triumph of democracy… »
« Imagine starting your day with three compliments on your way to work when you’re going to ask for a raise. You’re going to get that raise »
As I skim through the book, I couldn't help but notice that I was drawn to portrait after portrait with a genuinely growing interest and with the fast-developing belief that, after all, I felt quite comfortable being featured here.
The pictures are gorgeous, the layout is simple and efficient, and the overall quality is nothing short of remarkable.
I am a Dandy is not only a simple, well choreographed and beautifully illustrated «catalogue» of superiorly attired gentlemen. No.
Just like the ensemble movie à la Magnolia (Anderson) or à la Traffic (Soderbergh) where many fates intertwine, clash, and altogether miss one another, and meet again to form a broader, far-reaching mosaic-like story, the 59 texts of I am a Dandy seem to link a most unlikely combination of men in an unexpected way -- as if these individual destinies were, far beyond (strong) appearances, united behind a singular vision of life, reaching far above the simple subject of clothing.
It is made clear as the book unravels, that those suspender-clad, self-proclaimed narcissists, those scornful dandies, those all-too-proud Americans and all-too-decadent Englishmen, and those a little-too-full-of-themselves Frenchmen, actually use their knowledge of men's apparel to communicate something else entirely that is more of a spirit than a label.
Summing the book, as it will no doubt happen in the generalist media as being a beautiful book with well-dressed and flamboyant men in it, is akin to saying that « The Old Man and the Sea » is a book about fishing...
I am Dandy, the Return of the Elegant Gentleman isn't a book about fashion or men's style. Neither is it a book on flamboyance, eccentricity or panache.
It is a book about freedom.
The book on Amazon: Amazon - I am Dandy
The editor's page : Gestalten I am Dandy
The facebook page : I am DANDY, the return of the elegant gentleman
Rose Callahan's blog : The Dandy Portraits
Gentleman's Gazette review : Gentleman's Gazette review