Dept. of Dead Trees

Dandies Rock!

Two totally divergent yet equally cool photo books that ought to be sitting on your coffee table this season.

Two things rock stars and dandies have in common: Both tend to be inordinately fixated with their appearance (albeit in slightly different ways), and each stylistic subgenre gets its own exploration via two new must-have books, out this week.

John Varvatos: Rock in Fashion, has the award-winning designer (and Gilt Man favorite) combining his two guiding obsessions in a single volume. Co-written with Holly George-Warren, the book collects hundreds of photos, in both color and black and white, that span the evolution of rock ‘n’ roll style from the Beatles and Hendrix to glam, punk, hair metal, and contemporary acts like the Kings of Leon and White Stripes (thankfully, the book is 100% Biebs free). Most of the iconic shots you’d expect are here, and legendary lensmen like Bob Gruen and JV pal Mick Rock are well represented, but it’s the more obscure pics — and the way that classic and contemporary shots are brought together around stylistic themes — that bring the project to life. The book isn’t organized by decade, or style of music, but by style, period. Chapters are devoted to such essential rock concerns as hair, hats, denim and leather, not to mention cross-dressing, tailoring and — naturally — animal prints, embroidery, and florals (the name of that chapter: “Street Walking Cheetahs”).

Meanwhile, the modern dandy (er, perhaps that’s an oxymoron) gets his due in I Am Dandy: The Return of the Elegant Gentleman, with text Nathaniel Adams and photos by longtime Gilt MANual contributor Rose Callahan. I’ve been waiting for the release of this book for a long time, partly because we’re all huge fans of Rose’s, and partly because we commissioned three of the portraits in the book: those of Nick Wooster, Esquire Fashion Director Nick Sullivan, and the great Gay Talese, who, in addition to being a legendary journalist and noted clotheshorse, is also a MANual contributor.

For more, check out the slideshow made up of highlights from both books, as well as the following Q&A with Rose about I Am Dandy, its genesis, and what defines a dandy in the first place.

I’m wearing a very handsome silk pocket square today. Is that enough to qualify me as a dandy?
Just being extremely well dressed does not a dandy make…it’s a lifetime obsession with elegance.

And also perhaps a very specific definition of elegance? How does the dandy define the term?
Funny, no one has asked me to define elegance. I think it it’s refinement and beauty on their own terms, a bit more of formality, carefully chosen and collected clothing an items that set them apart from the world a bit…. a man dressed well stands out as elegant in a world of sweat pants.

What first drew you to these gents?
I was drawn to the dandies first because they are so “photogenic” — begging to be photographed, but I kept with it because they have depth.  They have great stories and homes.

This book has bought you entry into many men’s closets. Who had the best?
Oh, the great question of all questions! Well I think Gay Talese — whom we visited together — had one of the most unique, all perfectly labeled like a museum archive, and his rows of hats expertly kept. Such a good idea. He is amazing! And still fits in his suits he has made decades ago!

He really is amazing — and I always say nothing helps you keep off the pounds like investing in expensive suits. And I love that Gay is equal parts substance and style. Speaking of that, what do some of these guys do for a living, or does looking fabulous pay the bills?
You hit the nail on the head: these men are substance and style in equal parts. As far as what they do for a living, another golden question!  All walks of life – some high-level creatives and artists, some “dandies on the dole.”  I don’t think it takes just money. It’s how they collect pieces and put it together with flair. Winston Chesterfield is a big proponent of mixing high street with custom/designer/bespoke.

Tell me a little about how the book came about — it started as a blog, right?
It was a personal photo project started in 2008, then became the blog The Dandy Portraits in 2010 when Matt Fox of Fine and Dandy shop suggested it. Then I met Nathaniel Adams when he looked me up after he returned from a world trip where he was doing research for his own book on the history of dandyism. We became friends decided to join forces to make a book happen.

The book is about the personality of the men, their individuality. I don’t think it answers the question of who or what is a dandy — it just raises more. I love that. What they all have in common is an obsession with elegance that goes beyond the “average” man. But I think all these men would say, “why be like the rest?”

A while back the joke was that people were being “dressed by the internet” — copying what they see on menswear blogs. The Dandy seems to exist on his own stylistic plane.
I think the collection in I Am Dandy is not a recipe for how to dress (it might be how NOT to dress), but an inspiration to cultivate your own style.  The dandies might be too extravagant for most, but that’s okay! They push the boundaries, and someone has to do that, right?

What surprised you most about some of these gentleman?
I was surprised that a good deal of the men are really quite shy!  Also I was surprised by the vastness of their closets. I know I should have figured, but each one of them has collected clothes and objects for years, and each thing has a story. It’s wonderful. There are some men that could have a whole book written just about them.

Now that the Internet has turned us all into raging narcissists, what do you tell the guy who’s gunning to get featured in I Am Dandy Vol. II?
I certainly know there are more than enough men to photograph for a second volume!  I would say to the man gunning to be featured: start now!  Kidding…but  I really don’t think you can just be like this overnight. In fact, that’s the opposite of what I hope people take away from I Am Dandy.

For the second volume I want to go fine the dandy on the steppes in Siberia!  Can you imagine?  I bet you he is there.

He is, and I have proof! The eagle hunters (they train eagles to hunt wolves) of the Mongolian steppes are most amazing dandies in the world — we have a huge photo print of one, taken by Ryan Holden Singer, hanging on our living room wall.
I knew it! I want to go! Already, Natty and I have a vast list of places to visit: Italy, The Congo, Japan, to name a few. It would be wonderful to explore to the ends of the earth to find the dandies.

To all our international readers, start getting your kit together. Rose is on the way.

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