Dandyism is a loaded term. To one man, it implies he takes pride in his appearance and dresses with character. To another, that he looks like he's wearing everything in his wardrobe at once. To explore what the word means to gents of every stripe, the editors of I Am Dandy decided to expand their remit, with new tome We Are Dandy.
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The new book explores "elegant gentlemen around the world", from Milanese tailors to Japanese magazine editors and South African biologists. Ahead of its launch, we quizzed its well-dressed creators, photographer Rose Callahan and writer Nathaniel Adams, on what draws their subjects together.
How did you choose the individuals profiled in the book?
Rose Callahan: Since this project had a global scope I used Instagram a lot, and sometimes Facebook, to follow people over time who caught my eye to see if they really were dedicated to their style. A few great subjects also came to us through referrals, and even a few due to serendipity while shooting was underway. In Japan we worked closely with Masato Kawai, who created the book Japanese Dandy with photographer Naoto Ohkawa. It is a beautiful set of studio portraits of 130 Japanese men with extraordinary style. Mr. Kawai collaborated with us and introduced us to over a dozen subjects in and around Tokyo that we would not have been able to meet without him.
Is there a certain criteria to be a dandy beyond the clothes themselves?
Nathaniel Adams: “I consider elegance, eccentricity, and wit to be important factors in what defines someone as a dandy. There are plenty of men out there who can look good in a suit, but they need to have some depth of character, some individual aesthetic sense, and they need to be able to hold a conversation that goes beyond the technical minutiae of lapel stitching or the construction of a jacket’s shoulder.”
RC: “I have a fondness for people who have just been doing their own thing for years regardless of trends. Many times this is a special breed of older eccentric gentlemen like Gianmaurizio Fercioni of Milan, a legendary tattoo artist with a quite elegant, unassuming style that belies a punk rock pirate attitude. Other times it is a young up and comer like Loux the Vintage Guru, who is making a name for himself outside of his home in Namibia through style and charisma and his keen use of social media.”
We can see there is a wide demographic of individuals in the book. What do you think the main differences are from dandies of different generations?
RC: “The older generations care less about the ebb and flow of trends; they care about what looks and feels good for them. It doesn’t mean that they are necessarily more conservative than younger dandies. Mr. Italo Manca of Milan’s newest suit is canary yellow, and Mr. Shimaji of Tokyo only began dressing with colour after he retired. Not surprisingly younger practitioners tend to be more experimental and trendy as they are still discovering themselves. But many young people look to the older generations for inspiration like Mr Brian Lehang of Johannesburg, who is inspired by the older men in his township who grew up with style and dignity even while enduring the extreme hardships of apartheid.”
Out of everyone you profiled, who struck a chord with you guys the most?
NA: “ISeveral of the Japanese dandies were quite intellectual in their approach to style. Masato Kawai talked about the Japanese aesthetic principle of ikii, which he explained as a kind of subtle, subdued elegance expressed through self-mastery and a sort of noble aloofness. Takanori Nakamura, a wine, cigar, and travel writer, is also a tea ceremony master and kendo sword master, and he demonstrated how his ideas of elegance permeate his lifestyle and the arts he practices.”
RC: “Loux the Vintage Guru and his friends were a joy to meet and follow through a couple townships of Johannesburg, and one large rag picking market downtown where they get their vintage suits for a few dollars and later have them tailored to fit. They showed that even if you come from nothing you can still look good. They are proud of where they come from and want the world to see it.”
What do you think the drive is for men who are passionate about their wardrobe?
RC: “I think it starts with just simply being fun to do, and maybe gets spurred on by a little competition with friends or themselves as they develop their tastes. On a deeper level dressing well can make you feel more confident - after all you have to have confidence to walk down the street in a yellow suit. And there can be a freedom in not giving a damn what other people think.”
NA: “I think for most it comes from a pure joy of dressing and love of an aesthetic life - the sort of unbridled pleasure that a certain kind of child who decorates his room and raids his parents’ closets gets.”