30 April 2013

27 April 2013

Bill Cunningham Will Take Your Picture

Shore Leave

No need for Brasso

Gym bag or a lunch bag

It's a big mother -- 24" long, 12" wide and 12" deep. You see a lot of bags like this in NYC. Always a guy who's in shape and lives at the gym. I don't go to the gym anymore and when I did I had a locker. Even had a laundry service although it could turn a black t-shirt light grey in one washing. Anyone looking to distress t-shirts should go no further than the Union League in Chicago.

I like this bag despite it looking somewhat "Tommy Hilfiger-ish." At least it's not "Vera Bradley-ish."  Made of Dacron sail cloth (not cheap stuff), it's roots are nautical but it's not gonna look outta place on 57th and 5th Avenue. Heck, Bill Cunningham might take your picture if you're carrying this bag -- and you look like you work out.  I think it's the perfect size for a lunch bag. 

I gave the Americana bag by True Wind to a young Navy lieutenant who's gotta thing for socks. He was in town on shore leave -- so to speak -- and volunteered to be my model. Anchor Crankers are like that. Always volunteering. After I volunteered for the army I never volunteered for anything again... I only wish he was wearing dress whites. That'd be a snappy look with this bag -- Bill Cunningham would be all over it.

The Americana Bag
Get it here.

24 April 2013

My Fantasy Tavern

Not necessarily famous or a tavern

Less than an hour from Famous Jim's...

In the town of Coatesville,

With a interesting parking lot

and plenty of views...

Is The Whip Tavern

Not so big

But snug...

and warm.

Like the best taverns are.

 Tucked in.

A real tavern is hard to find.  Make no mistake about it. In a world of hyped up ersatz with insipid beer and food owned by mysterious LLCs, it only seems right to celebrate finding something real. I stumbled on The Whip in Coatesville, PA and remember it being praised by Andy of The Main Line Sportsman.   Sitting in a corner by a fire I wondered what it is about a good tavern that sets it apart from a bar.

A roaring fire helps but there's more.  There's serenity in the horsey art. Familiarity in simple wooden stools. Softness in the light -- I almost feel like I'm being tucked in.  I can sit here and look off into space forever sipping a pint rather than guzzling.  Not that I like drinkinig alone but friends in a good tavern are a distraction.  I might miss some navel gazing insight of self awareness as I relax with myself.

A tavern has a lot in common with an English pub. It's really not the place for martinis or cosmopolitans or the attitude those cocktails come with.  Whenever I'm in a good country tavern...I like to think of myself as a farmer. Not a big farm.  Something small and about a mile away.  I have two pints and walk home... careful to  keep a distance from passing carriages.  Gravel crunches under my boots as I take out a pocket watch and figure the walk'll take a half hour or so. I put the watch back in my overalls, shove my hands in pockets and breathe in the honeysuckle of Chester County.

22 April 2013

Update on Tompkins

The new Tompkins web site went live today.  Check it our here.  He even has shirts for fat boys like me.

18 April 2013

Bermuda Shorts

Photos courtesy of Business Insurance Magazine

I went to the English Sports Shop on Front St in Hamilton and picked out:

Salmon Bermuda shorts with royal blue socks

Royal blue Bermuda shorts w/ yellow socks

The Bermudian sales lady rang it all up and asked for my address. I told her I was staying at the Hamilton Princess. “Oh!" she said, "I thought you were a local.” That might go down as one of the happiest moments of my life.

15 April 2013

G. Bruce Boyer on Al Hibbler

A number of legendary singers in the 20th Century made their name during the Big Band Jazz Era 1930 – 1950. Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Nat “King” Cole, Billy Eckstine, and Tony Bennett come immediately to mind, as do Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Billy Holiday, and Sarah Vaughn. But there were other incomparable vocalists who came along during that period whose names have seemingly vanished like ashes in the wind. No less a musical genius than John Coltrane pronounced the incomparable vocalist Johnny Hartman – not exactly a household name -- the greatest ballad singer ever. And Mr. Five-by-Five, the ebullient Jimmy Rushing, was the most gloriously happy singer next to Louis Armstrong himself.

And then there was Duke Ellington's favorite singer, Al Hibbler. Hibbler is completely impossible to categorize, thank god we have the recordings.

For most people, Hibbler was the most problematic. He was a peerless stylist with an unforgettable burnished baritone voice that could croon and growl in the same line, but he wasn't even an acquired taste. He didn't have great general appeal, and you either got Al Hibbler or you didn't. He's one of those performers you either adore or don’t understand what the fervor is about. But Hibbler sang like first-degree murder, he was intent to do it. He sang his ardent fans out of their seats at Carnegie Hall dozens of times. Ellington loved him.

It was at a record dance as a teenager I first heard Hibbler's sublime rendition of “When the Lights Go Down Low”, and that was it for me. I've been a Hibbler fan ever since. “When the Lights ...” was something of a brief hit at the time, and was quickly followed by another, “Unchained Melody” (originally the musical theme of the film “Unchained”). There were a few other songs that made the charts, but Al's voice – his phrasing, his accent (often oddly sounding like a Cockney), the timbre (given to the occasional growl, bark, and chortle), the strange rough-and-smooth seersucker quality of his deep, bluesy baritone – was just too uniquely mannered for many listeners. His phrasing had an innate sense of drama combined with an incredible vocal power, yet he was never – and I say this as the greatest possible compliment – a pop singer in any sense of that word. You could categorize him as a jazz singer, a blues singer, a saloon singer, or a big band singer, but never as a pop singer.

He was decidedly sophisticated and urbane as a vocalist. He had a wonderful ability to make the most mawkishly sentimental songs seem somehow authentically emotional, so his renditions were completely antithetical to pop music. I’m sure you understand how difficult this is to do, given the nature of so many adolescent lyrics. His recordings of the poem-songs “He”, “Trees”, and “Old Folks” are in fact majestic, as is his affectingly tender version of the sentimental Irish ballad “Danny Boy”.

And Hibbler had a great influence with other performers. The Righteous Brothers did a hugely successful version of “Unchained Melody” (but then so did Elvis, The Supremes, and Joni Mitchell among others), and there have been numerous recordings of “After the Lights ...” (Marvin Gaye, Lou Rawls, and Freda Payne among the best). None comes anywhere near the originals by Hibbler. To my mind, no one could.

Albert Hibbler was born in Tyro, Mississippi in 1915, blind. He first recorded with Territory bandleader Jay McShann, then Ellington (with whose band he sang for eight years), Count Basie, and Johnny Hodges. His versions of “Don't Get Around Much Anymore”, “Solitude”, “I Surrender, Dear”, and “Do Nothing Til You Hear from Me” (which Ellington wrote specifically for him) are definitive classics by anyone's standards. He was part R&B, part swing, part gospel, and all soul. He won both Esquire’s and Down Beat's “Best Band Vocalist” award, even though real success such as enjoyed by some other Black singers eluded him. Not to mention that Rock ‘n Roll had washed over the land and swamped virtually every jazz singer around.

In the '50s and '60s he became a civil rights activist, was arrested and jailed on several protest occasions. The notoriety and the rapid demise of big band music pretty much finished off Al's career completely, and for the remaining thirty years of his life he recorded rarely. But perhaps his single greatest honor was yet to come. In July, 1971 he was asked to sing at Louis Armstrong's funeral. He chose the song, “Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen”. Louis would have adored it. A year after that he made his last album, “A Meeting of the Minds” with saxophonist Rahsaaan Kirk. He spent his last two decades in relative obscurity in Chicago, and died in April, 2001. He was a man of consummate style always.

Selected Discography

Al Hibbler: 1946 – 1949 (Classics)

Al Hibbler: 1950 – 1952 (Classics)

After the Lights Go Down Low (Atlantic)

Monday Every Day: Al Hibbler Sings the Blues (Collectables Jazz Classics)

14 April 2013

13 April 2013

Grandma Frickert 'Sex Can Be Fun After 60'

I grew up with this reel to reel tape of Jonathan Winters doing, for its time, a fairly blue rant. For instance, a gay motorist pulled over by a cop.

"Ok, buddy. Where's the fire?"
"In your eyes officer - In your eyes."
"What are you...some kind of fairy?"
"Do you see any wings?"

There's also a skit of Grandma Frickert being raped (found it) by Lenny the farm hand.  It's of the time 50 years ago but it's also genius. I first listened to it when I was eight and laughed, like an eight year old, without understanding very much of it.  Today, it's like a favorite food you knew as a child.  Suddenly, I'm eight again. No longer a secret since it was released on CD in 2007.  It's on iTunes.

12 April 2013

"Your Suit & Your Hair's Not Right"


The hotel above and the street below
People come and people go
All the friends that we used to know

Ain't coming back
Ain't coming back
Ain't coming back

You say your heart has a rhythm
Well see you got your secret on
You say hey and nothing to hide
You and your secret life

Don't look at the moon tonight
You'll never be never be never be Manhattan
Don't look at the moon tonight
You can never be never be never be never be Manhattan

Your badge and your suitcase on
Your suit and your hair's not right
Cause nobody knows this woman by your side

It's not me you know, it's a useful woman by your side
It's not me you know, it's a useful woman by your side

See your heart has a rhythm
Well see you got your secret on
She say hey and nothing to hide
You and your secret life

Don't look at the moon tonight
You'll never be never be never be Manhattan
Don't look at the moon tonight
You can never be never be never be never be Manhattan

See your heart has a rhythm
You got your secret on
And you say you got nothing to hide
You, you, you and your secret life

You'll never be never be never be Manhattan
Hollerin' at me hollerin' at you
Hollerin' at me hollerin' at you

Liberty in the basement light
Free speech, lipstick and the moonlight
Howling to get me, howlin’ to get you
In Harlem, in a dark back room
Dancing to a different tune
Howling at me, howling at you

11 April 2013

Homesick For London: Tompkins Menswear

Being from nowhere --  I never get homesick  -- depending on the company.  Even though Clay Tompkins and I come from vastly different places...we share a connection over London.  I worked in London in the late '80s and never once was homesick but ever since, almost every day,  I get a little homesick for London.

Clay's line of shirts and trousers bring back bits and pieces of London and that language of clothing.  Side tabs and cocktail cuffs are giveaways of bespoke in the wine bars and pubs of the financial district known simply as, 'the city.' I was fascinated with these details  having come from button downs, center vents and Tiffany monogrammed buckles.

It was a uniform in every sense of the word but like the branches of the military...insurance men dressed differently from advertising men who dressed differently from bankers.  Each sent out very clear messages about who they were or who they wanted to be.   Americans seem to stick out like a sore thumb, until acclimated, and then they begin to adapt. Usually slowly.   As an army brat, I went native inside of two weeks.  Out went center vents suits, button downs and tassel loafers -- In came side vents, spread collars and cap toes.

Clay has taken subtle London design cues, not to mention some humor, and had it all made in the US.  A trouser by Brooklyn's Julie Hertling is a magnificent thing. Even more so when made from a 130s gabardine.  Light but tough, you shouldn't blow through the crotch for donkey years.  Shirts are made in NJ by Mitch Gambert.  The party pocket will hold one condom, or 'rubber' as it was known in my time, but not an 'eraser' as it's known in a London office.  There's also an optional iPhone 5 pocket which I chalk up to Clay not being that far removed from Wall Street.

Right now proper winter weight trousers are on sale for $150.  That's a steal for Hertlings.  An updated web site should be up any day -- along with a stunning Savile Row like navy blazer with that distinctive flair below the waist which dates back to 18th century English great coats.  Nothing like wearing a little history.  As someone once told me about my being homeless, "You have a home...they're your friends." True, that.  Give Clay a call.  You never know...you might score a great pair of trousers and even find a friend. 

10 April 2013

Lunch with Clay Tompkins

Clay Tompkins by Bruce Weber, Interview Magazine, 1978 (click images to enlarge)

Clay Tompkins, UES Office, 2013

I had some time to kill before lunch with Clay (42L) Tompkins (online store here) and so I pulled into the Hermès men's store.  15 minutes, a rack of $2,200 cotton seersucker jackets and a handful of customers later (2 Rappers & a Russian) I left without one employee saying hello or even,  "Здравствуйте."  Odd since staff outnumbered customers by  5:1.  This shouldn't come as a surprise since Hermès started offering ties with matching pocket squares.

Waiting in front of the restaurant  I see Tompkins in a Covert coat, nail head suit and side gusseted Cleverleys.  We've only met once before but I recognize Clay and call out a greeting.  The restaurant is packed with the kind of  UES ROP that I find wanting west of Central Park.  Chanel and tanned --  St John and buffed -- They all spin their white iPhones on the white linen tables while sipping Pellegrino.  I wonder what's become of Perrier, order tap water and a salad.

Tompkins and I trade war stories of our single years in NYC. His, glamorous and mostly '70s.  Mine, mostly depressing and '80s.  I'll ask for some photos of the period and he'll respond  with a portrait from Interview Magazine (10/1978) by Bruce Weber and a  1976 Valentine's Day issue of Interview where he's French kissing Fran Lebowitz, who, in case you're as curious as I am, didn't seem to mind a little tongue in the least. I'm guessing this was pre-George Sand.

Clay recently left Wall Street and launched his own line, Clay Tompkins Menswear, last seen here.  For now, shirts (Mitch Gambert in Newark) and trousers (Julie Hertling in Brooklyn) with a navy blazer due any day.  Clay's buying so I get to work. 

Where were you born and raised?
I was born and raised in Rumson, New Jersey, an hour south of the city.

What did your Dad do?
My father was a 40 year (to the day) active member ofthe New York Stock Exchange. He actually owned his seat for 71 years, from1936-2007.  Dad acted as an odd-lot broker with the firm of Carlisle & Jacquelin. The odd-lot brokers handled all orders less than 100 shares until DOT, Designated Order Turnaround, came in and made the job automated in 1976.

Any childhood sartorial obsessions?
I was brought up to wear shorts and shoes from the old Rowe's of London. I can still remember getting my first pair of long pants( age 7 or 8?) which were khaki with red flannel lining. I was pretty chuffed about them. But the real obsession came later. I bought a pair of black Gucci loafers in 1968, when Gucci was no more than a boutique with beautiful salesgirls in chocolate shifts. My parents discovered they cost $65 and I was made to return them. What's the song line, "The love I lost, is the true love," Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes? --  Explains the Cleverely obsession.

George Cleverley Side Gusseted Loafers

Your college and major?
Graduated from the University of Virginia with a major in English and Art History.

First job?
The Games department of F.A.O. Schwarz on the first floor, when it stood on Fifth Avenue where Bergdorf Men is now.

First wife?
One and only, Karen Rodolf Moody of Tulsa, Oklahoma. We met on Halloween at an apartment on 79th and Park. I invited her to come to Studio 54 with me, but she declined. Thought I looked " too dangerous". We will have been married 30 years on December 24th, 2013.

First suit?
Only guessing on this one, but probably Brooks Brothers. they owned the space back then.

How & when were you turned onto Poole and Cleverley?
A friend of 37 years, Sandy Spalding, who was and is a long-time customer of Poole, as had been his father, introduced me to Simon Cundey in 1998 and I've been a customer ever since. I met George Glasgow of Cleverley when he was working at New & Lingwood at the London store in 1976. We've been pals ever since. More blarney than an Irish pub, George. I became a bespoke customer later, I believe in 2000 or shortly before.

How many pairs of shoes do you own?
13. 11 Cleverely bespoke, One pair of knackered Belgian slippers and one pair of butterflies from Foster & Son (sadly just rain shoes now owing to the wear and cracking).

Favorite neighborhood restaurant?
I live between Park and Madison and over the past 5 years it's become a sort of columbarium of great fashion labels without street life...except Bel Ami on 68th off Madison. Run by Vanessa Laplaud, this little coffee bar/ restaurant has traffic that the fashion houses can only dream about. So I'm grateful for its existence and it must stand as my favorite restaurant even though it's really just a jumped up coffee shop.

Haven't worn any for years, but in my younger, more whimsical days, I wore Equipage by Hermès. She'll NEVER forget you if this is your scent.  They have a new cologne called " Poivre" which is about as good as you could ask for.

Can you cook? 
If lamb chops and Brussels sprouts counts, then, yes, I can cook. I took the girls to Doubles ( I became a Junior member when it reopened as the reincarnation of Raffles in 1976) and left the driving to them

Favorite cocktail?
Don't drink them.

Favorite wine?
My family would tell you, " any", and that's probably fair. But the best I can remember is Trimbach' s Clos Sainte-Hune, an Alsatian Reisling.  Debatably the finest white wine in the world.

Favorite car?
Aston Martin hands down. I've owned a DB4, an '86 V8 Volante and a 1980 V8 " Oscar India" coupe (so named for the fly boys vernacular for " October Introduction."  The V8's are a sensation and underrated gentleman's transport.

Clay's Shirts sans "Sicut Lilium"

Best shirt ever owned?
I think mine are the best, but I was quite proud of a few I had made in India years back with " Sicut Lilium" embroidered on the chest instead of my initials. This is the motto of Magdalen College, Oxford and means, "Always as the lily", i.e., PURE. Pretty cocky back then, I'd say.

New York Society Library

Best kept secret of NYC?
The New York Society Library (53 East 79th between Madison and Park). Despite the name, anyone can join. Has the most elegant Member's reading room on the second floor. The place was made for me when Barbara Feldon (Get Smart's Agent 99)  and I left together and stood under the awning waiting for a cab on a rainy day. It's nice to see your favorite celebrity a little seasoned.

The new blazer

What's next in your line?
A navy blazer.

What do you want for your covert coat?
Is this a trick question?  If not, $3000, for the trouble of replacing it.

Clay Tompkins Menswear
By Appointment Only
20 East 69th Street, Suite 4C

05 April 2013

Finland's Keikari

Interview is here. Last time I had anything to do with Finland was with a Valmet in 1980. 

04 April 2013

"Raise the bridge! I have an erection!"

To: Bill O'Reilly
From: Roger Ebert
Apil 7, 2009

Dear Bill: Thanks for including the Chicago Sun-Times on your exclusive list of newspapers on your "Hall of Shame." To be in an O'Reilly Hall of Fame would be a cruel blow to any newspaper. It would place us in the favor of a man who turns red and starts screaming when anyone disagrees with him. My grade-school teacher, wise Sister Nathan, would have called in your parents and recommended counseling with Father Hogben.

Yes, the Sun-Times is liberal, having recently endorsed our first Democrat for President since LBJ. We were founded by Marshall Field one week before Pearl Harbor to provide a liberal voice in Chicago to counter the Tribune, which opposed an American war against Hitler. I'm sure you would have sided with the Trib at the time.

I understand you believe one of the Sun-Times misdemeanors was dropping your syndicated column. My editor informs me that "very few" readers complained about the disappearance of your column, adding, "many more complained about Nancy." I know I did. That was the famous Ernie Bushmiller comic strip in which Sluggo explained that "wow" was "mom" spelled upside-down.

Your column ran in our paper while it was owned by the right-wing polemicists Conrad Black (Baron Black of Coldharbour) and David Radler. We dropped it to save a little money after they looted the paper of millions. Now you call for an advertising boycott. It is unusual to observe a journalist cheering for a newspaper to fail. At present the Sun-Times has no bank debt, but labors under the weight of millions of dollars in tax penalties incurred by Lord Black, who is serving an eight-year stretch for mail fraud and obstruction of justice. We also had to pay for his legal expenses.

There is a major difference between Conrad Black and you: Lord Black is a much better writer and thinker, and authored a respected biography about Roosevelt, who we were founded to defend. That newspapers continue to run your column is a mystery to me, since it is composed of knee-jerk frothings and ravings. If I were an editor searching for a conservative, I wouldn't choose a mad dog. My recommendation: The admirable Charles Krauthammer.

Bill, I am concerned that you have been losing touch with reality recently. Did you really say you are more powerful than any politician?

That reminds me of the famous story about Squeaky the Chicago Mouse. It seems that Squeaky was floating on his back along the Chicago River one day. Approaching the Michigan Avenue lift bridge, he called out: Raise the bridge! I have an erection!

The Dude... in '68

Esquire, 1968 (click images to enlarge)

Inspiration for the Dude?

The Great Lebowski, 1998

A 1968 Esquire piece on the Monterrey Pop Festival looked innocent enough.  Grainy Tri-X images of Joplin, Hendrix and Dylan fill oversized 11x14 pages along with descriptions of pot smoking and free love. I have to tell you, it is one of my great joys to read the old Esquire.  Not only can you find great writing but it's a bottomless pit of inspiration and I'm far from first to make that discovery.

Tucked in a side column  of, "Anatomy of a Love Festival" is a small B&W shot of a 'hippie' wearing a familiar cardigan sweater.  Maybe I'm the only who sees it but the man bears an an uncanny resemblance.  Jeff Dowd has been accepted as inspiration for the Dude and that may be so -- Charater wise.  Did the Coen Brothers read this old Esquires or was it just a costume designer?  I guess we'll never know. 

Thanks to Steven Tater of Ohio Knitting Mills we do know the origins of the sweater:

"The Dude's sweater was made by Winona Knitting Mills, in Winona, MN under contract to Pendleton. It was originally based on a Chief Joseph blanket design from Pendleton, and a big seller for the company. It was in production from the late 60's through the early 80's or so. Winona made a number of knitwear items for Pendleton, but most of the sweaters for Pendleton were made by the Ohio Knitting Mills in Cleveland, Ohio; whose founders were partners in the Winona mill starting in 1947. We manufactured hundreds of styles of knitwear for the Portland label starting in the mid-sixties, and continued to work closely with them until around 2003, when they finally took all of their production off-shore."