The on-line ramblings of JP Gaul, co-author of The Ivy Look
The Button-Down Shirts of Lee Friedlander
Lee Friedlander was the house photographer at Atlantic Records during the 1960s and a good friend of Nesuhi Ertegun. His pictures radiate with the creative intensity of that wonderful time for all genres of music. For fans of the Ivy look the modern jazz section of his book ‘American Musicians’, from which these pictures are taken and pictured above, is truly fascinating viewing. This is just a selection of the better button-downs which Lee trained his lens upon. He’s a great photographer still producing powerful work as his forthcoming book ‘Family in the Picture 1958-2013’ testifies. Not many button-downs in this book but instead a timeless and moving narrative of the human condition. Musicians (only the buttoned-down ones) featured above top to bottom/left to right are Percy Heath, Chuck Israels, Art Blakey, Bob Brookmeyer and John Coltrane twice.
In the absence of anything of any substance to offer you, my oft-neglected reader, I post this picture of yours truly attempting to emote and dance northern soul whilst drinking a mug of tea. Jacket by Keydge, shirt by Mercer, tie from John Simons, jeans by Levis, shoes by Cheaney.
Edit : I’ve lost the northern soul one. This is an alternative from the same shoot. Clothes remain the same, of course.
You know you’re an (old) mod when you think, nay you have an unswerving, long-standing conviction, that David Bowie has never looked better than he did in 1965/66, nor has he ever written or sung a better song than I Dig Everything (though The London Boys gets close). Amongst certain old media bores, think Robert Elms or Dylan Jones, the day in the early 70s when Bowie put his arm around Mick Ronson and minced around on Top of the Pops singing Starman represents some defining cultural happening. I remain unmoved and much prefer to lose myself in the conga groove of Davy’s sunny depiction of a benevolent mid-1960s London where he walks along beside the garbageman and he digs everything, he feeds the lions in Trafalgar Square and he digs everything, he’s made good friends with the time-check girl at the end of the phone and, yes, he still digs everything. 1966 - was this the last great year for art and music and architecture and clothes of the last century? Certainly nothing conjures up my imagined construction of that year more than this charming melange of hammond organ, flute and conga drums.
Oh how I miss my little Dansette, from which used to blast all my old soul and jazz vinyl. I’ve started to pine recently for that simple, straight, distorted mono blast, somehow simultaneously overloaded with both bass and treble, a sound that made all music sound more intense, more emotional. Having recently done one of those classically predictable middle aged, middle class things and spent stupid money on some vapidly beautiful dinky little Bose speakers I feel like I have committed an act of betrayal on my roots, on the very soul of my musical foundations. I have walked away from music towards soundscape - that perfectly balanced, crystal clear injection of digitised sterility. I used to love the way the sounds boomed from the unsophisticated coffin-like amplifier boxes shoved up on the stage at northern soul venues. You could never get the words, but you certainly always felt the groove and the intensity erupting from these fairground speakers. There is hope of course. The new wave of artists alive to the joys of the old ways of making music, contemporary archivists like Nick Waterhouse and Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings cleverly manage to capture an old vibe and convey this through the unavoidable digital medium. And I have long cherished this YouTube clip of Maxine Brown’s sublime ‘Let Me Give You My Loving’ which has somehow been recorded and loaded up here with maximum distortion and crackles and grit and that authentic ‘I’m at the all-nighter’ mood about it. It’s the next best thing to being there and sounds better than anything squeaking out of those perfect but miserable little white boxes now suspended from my walls.
Behold the picture above of the current window display at Kamakura Shirts on Madison Avenue, New York City. Gratifying it is that that the little book Graham Marsh and I wrote more than three years ago continues to maintain its presence and influence right at the centre of the spiritual home of the Ivy look. Indeed, thinking about how this once most American of styles has evolved in the half a century since its heyday, it is striking the extent to which the whole Ivy/Prep/Trad thing is no longer an American phenomenon. The current best traditional Ivy League button-down shirt, Kamakura’s ‘Vintage Ivy’, is designed by an Englishman, manufactured in Japan, and sold by a Japanese retailer that displays in its window a book written by two Brits for a British publisher that was printed in China. The two big remaining Ivy retailers, Brooks and Press, offer products that could only be described as, at best, pale-imitations of what they once sold and built their reputations upon. And, lest we forget, they are owned, respectively, by Italians and Japanese.
Who cares, I hear you ask, and perhaps that’s right. Be thankful good things are still produced and appreciated. America still has Alden, Mercer Shirts, Red Wing, Bills Khakis and a few other gems. But the link to America is now largely an historic, symbolic feature of the style. The Ivy Look, the book, is I guess a rather nostalgic backward-looking tribute to the USA and to the days when a distinct national clothing style could evolve within the shores of one nation-state and also be actually produced and marketed within those borders. America, and Americans, once looked different to everyone else. In the homogenised, globalised world the old borders are increasingly symbolic, both literally and metaphorically. The Ivy Look yearned for the old world of modern jazzers in three-button Ivy and wing-tip brogues. We described it as a guide to the look. It was in fact something else completely - a plaintive cry for a largely vanished, or at best watered-down and fragmented, world.
The British never seem happier than when they are snuggling into their coats and covering themselves up. Personally the shorter days and diminishing light get me feeling a bit blue. ‘Furnish Your Summer Home’ announces this lovely piece of mid-century Italian artwork, and who would not like to step into some Mediterranean sunshine at the moment while cradling an Aperol Spritz?
Always space for more Weejun pictures on the web aren’t there chaps? I recently found this little flyer tucked into a 1950’s Esquire style guide which a dear old friend once gave me, and I felt I had to share the essence of its sweet charm with you. Being of the male gender I felt it immediately necessary to begin the process of classification and I initiated this process by attempting to ascertain the date of its production. The strongest clue I felt was the way the model seated on the stool is dressed, which to my eye was exactly in the style described thus by Salinger in The Catcher in The Rye :
On my right there was this very Joe Yale-looking guy, in a grey flannel suit and one of those flitty-looking Tattersall vests. All those Ivy League bastards look alike
So I’m sticking my neck out and going for the year Catcher was written, 1951. Very early for sure, but the Weejun had already been around for 15 years by then and its following and fame were established. The model’s suit too is not especially Ivy, the shoulder is soft but extended. He has a very clean-cut, collegiate look, but the silhouette is not narrow enough for the later ’50s. All speculation welcome here amongst other men in search of ‘the truth’. Indeed I feel I ought to acknowledge at this point that when it comes to all matters Weejun there is only one natural source of inspiration and information. This man has all the answers - he is Tom Weejun and here is his blog. Tom will know.
The range of Bass Weejuns featured in the flyer is remarkable. There are 12 of them, all taking that classic Weejun hand-sown toe shape which is then grafted onto the various styles, amongst which are the ‘Smoked Elk Weejun’, the ‘Adonis Weejun’, the ‘Weejun Tie’ and the ‘Brown and White Sportocasin’. I was particularly struck by the ‘Hunting Leather Weejun Tie’, pictured above, which features the much commented upon (in the male fashion-Ivy blog world) Hack Ripple Sole. Me? Well I’d be happy just to see the simple Bass penny Weejun back on the market, made the old way, of good leather, with a leather heel, and some good hand-stitching, just put together with some integrity. Make them in the USA again, make them $200, but make them good. Reopen the factory in Wilton! We need a campaign. This is American cultural history chaps!
Finally the old blog splutters back to life after a somewhat extended summer break. Is anyone still keeping an eye on The Syllabus after such atrociously spasmodic production? In an attempt to win back disgruntled readers/browsers/lurkers (the relationship of the viewer with a computer screen remains much vaguer than that between the reader and the printed page), I offer future pieces on the Bass Weejun loafer (yes, breaking new ground again), contemporary London coffee culture (I don’t like it very much), and here a tribute to West German book design of the 1960s.
Die Kalte Küche is literally translated as ‘The Cold Kitchen’, a snappy way of titling a book containing hundreds of recipes for cold dishes, kind of German tapas but with lots and lots of mayonnaise and gherkins and herring and butter and cream. My partner being half-German I have spent rather a lot of time over there, mainly in Hamburg and Berlin, and am fond of many aspects of the Teutonic world. You can certainly eat well if you like meat, bread and beer, and, hey, who doesn’t? (Vegetarians, gluten-intolerants and tea-totallers I guess). The smallest German supermarkets devote half of their floorspace to vast counters specialising in ‘FLEISCH’. The wealth and medical advancement of economies like Germany’s help keep ticking the fat-encrusted hearts of its citizens and one could read this as a sign of a progressive, tolerant view of the human life cycle - that is one with its fair share of pleasure and indulgence stretched out beyond its natural limitations by the brilliance of its science.
Die Kalte Küche is a bittersweet reminder of a different time. Published in 1964 in Bielefeld, West Germany, its design is rigorously, uncompromisingly modernist, from choice of typefaces, through to page layout, photography and artwork. Of the four images above I am particularly fond of the blue wash used at the start of each new chapter. Less appealing is the geometric approach in the food photography. The savoury biscuit arrangement above is rather pretty but what they’ve done to the pork chops is positively stomach-churning. The author is Dr.Oetker, a still-thriving German brand responsible for shifting a few million dodgy pseudo-pizzas and other frozen delights in countless markets around the world. But whilst we may mock the name today, back in 1964, as this book proves, they were modern, they were smart, they were cool…
I hadn’t seen this old Norman Hilton ad before, and what a crackerjack Ivy classic this is. You see chaps - a blazer doesn’t have to be innately square, well not if you have this guy’s hair, shades, fag, car and wardrobe…