Sunday, August 4, 2013

Artist / Rebel / Dandy The World of Dapper Men's Wear on View at RISD

Road trip! Last Saturday, we headed north to Providence to see Artist/Rebel/Dandy, the exhibition at the Museum of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD).   RISD is hosting a groundbreaking show celebrating the dandy both as ideal concept and as our living, breathing contemporaries who carry the torch in the name of sartorial splendor.  It's through Sunday, August 18, 2013 at the Chace Center Galleries, so go see it!

Before we tell you about the exhibition, we have to crow just a little about exercising our frugal gene. You may know that Megabus and Bolt bus advertise that if you buy early, it's possible to spend as little as $1 on your one way ticket. So we went on line, and instead of paying as much as $58 for each of our round trip tickets, we wound up paying $22.50 round trip, total, for both of us. (That's $8 each up, $3 each back, and a $.50 booking fee.) This is not to say it was a total score. We had to book six weeks in advance to get that price (so much for going the opening week!) and since there are no seat reservations, we - and everyone else - had to stand on line for about half an hour each time for the seats of our choice.

Remember Valerie had only recently had foot surgery, so standing on the good leg for half an hour should have won her some kind of award for patience. Or stupidity. Happily, it was July and not February. On the other hand, Valerie could not walk to or from the bus stations, so she wound up shelling out for four cabs that day. That whittled down the savings, but the only other option was to give up on the road trip altogether. Call it the cost of doing business. And there's nothing onerous about taking cabs anyway. (Except the price.) We had a great bus ride in both directions. Above is more or less what the interior of our double decker looked like, including the greenery visible from the window.

The wonderfully staged exhibition features images of dandies over the centuries in photographs, illustrations (including marvelous full color 18th century English satires), magazines, books and paintings.  To view the exhibition, click here or go to:

Also on display are articles of actual clothing wore by dandies from the 1700s to present, drawn from the museum's collection, loans from other national and international organizations as well as private individuals, including our friend Joana Avillez (author and illustrator of Life Dressing: The Idiosyncratic Fashionistas, seen in the column to the right).  This wool broadcloth coat, worn by Edward Carrington circa 1820, with a silk velvet collar and gilt black buttons, exemplifies the sleek silhouette and nipped waist of the period.

Some of the imagery showed men resorting to corsetry to achieve the wasp-waisted look in vogue at the time.

RISD Museum traces the variety of ways in which the persona of the dandy has blazed (some might say flamed) for more than two centuries, and investigates his position in society.

Rather than follow strict definitions, RISD highlights the myriad manifestations of the dandy's style and personality, from the discreet sophistication and consummate elegance of such historical figures as Beau Brummell, Lord Byron, Oscar Wilde and George IV to contemporary romantics and revolutionaries like the late Sebastian Horsely, Ouigi Theodore, Waris Ahluwalia, Ike Ude, Thom Brown and Andy Warhol.

The subject of this portrait, Auguste Vestris (1760-1842), was the son of King Louis XVI's dancing master.  Making his ballet debut at the age of 12, he soon usurped his father's reputation as "the god of the dance". Celebrating his slim dancer's form, the portrait details his taste for fashionable dress: close-fitting wool jacket, beaver-fur hat, voluminous cravat, silk waistcoat, golden earring, bamboo walking stick and yellow gloves.

The dandy heralded the cleaner, pared down mode of dress, distinguished from his overly ornate wig-wearing, ribbon-festooned contemporary known as a "fop" or "macaroni". The RISD show seems to draw a line in the sand, differentiating dandies from the overdressed "fops" like Colley Cibber in 1696 as Lord Foppington in John Vanbrugh's The Relapse.  While in certain instances, the lines do get a little blurred, for the most part, the distinction is clear.

Case in point: Baron De Meyer, carefully attired but in his shirtsleeves in this circa 1903 platinum print by Gertrude Kasebier, is definitely a dandy but most definitely not a fop.

George Bryan "Beau" Brummell was an iconic figure in Regency England, the arbiter of men's fashion and friend of the Prince Regent, the future King George IV. This 1805 caricature by Richard Dighton appears at the entry to the exhibit.

Among the many masculine figures appeared several female examples of the dandy who wore men's clothing.  The first was a double-header.  One of our favorite artworks, Romaine Brooks' legendary 1924 portrait of British sculptor and writer Una Lady Troubridge, was a highlight of the show. We viewed it on display at the Brooklyn Museum a couple of years ago and seeing Una in her monocle and cravat, with her dacshunds, was like greeting an old friend.

Although her image does not appear in the show, portraitist Romaine Brooks was herself quite the dandy as evidenced by her own self portrait.

The stark black and white image of rebel poet, songwriter, singer Patti Smith appears in the show in part because she had an affinity with Rimbaud and affected the androgynous dress of the poet: man's white shirt and black tie.

Yet another on the distaff side is poet, playwright, actress Blanche Oelrichs who was married to actor John Barrymore and who wrote under the nom de plume of Michael Strange.  In her alter ego, she often wore menswear.  Our friend Joana Avillez and her mother donated Joana's great-grandmother's tailor-made suit to the exhibition.

A generation of women coming of age in the 1970s remember Diane Keaton, whose Annie Hall look was all the rage after the movie came out.

Originality and creativity are to be found everywhere at RISD. Here is one of the two entrances to the exhibition, showing a blown up drawing of a gentleman's closet.

We couldn't resist getting into the act and miming the 'tude of the dude in the top hat!

The show also featured one of our favorite dandies, Patrick McDonald, and one of his iconic top hats (a pink number with black gloved hand silhouette by New York milliner Rod Keenan whom we've covered at Gotham events over the years, like the Stephen Burrows exhibit at the Museum of the city of New York:

Here's Patrick rocking the hat in question as only he can!

And here is a shot of Rod Keenan and Patrick out and about in the Big Apple.  To our knowledge, they've never appeared hatless in public.  Both fit the definition of modern dandy to a "T".  (Also featured in the exhibition are Hamish Bowles and Tom Wolfe.  We've photographed all four of these gents for our readers at one time or another.)

After leaving the museum to get a bite to eat at Cafe Choklad, we spied a tarpaulin running along a chain link fence around a vacant lot that heralded the construction of the new Illustration Studies Building.  The amusing image below was repeated several times, interspersed with information about the site.  Artistic tarpaulins are far too rare, so we thought we should thank RISD for this one (and thank anyone else who puts up artistic tarps). The legend printed up the side of the illustration read the poetry of ideas and images. We can all use a little more of that in our daily lives.

Somehow we managed not to see this great Sol Lewitt-like work till we were about to leave, even though it's right there at the reception desk, but it's the perfect spot for a photo op!  The barely visible chairs are next to snack tables.  GREAT place to have a snack!  Why can't everyone's cafeteria look like this?

Oh, btw, if this whets your appetite and you're nowhere near Rhode Island,

buy the great big book!


  1. Such a cool exhibit! Patrick and Rod are definitely the epitome of the Modern Dandy. Although you two look pretty "Dandy" yourself in the photos. Glad to see that Valerie's foot is not preventing your from attending, and reporting on, the most stylish exhibits in NY and neighbourhood!

  2. Hi Jean and Valerie,
    I love your blog. You take me on fabulous adventures twice a week. I especially like the occasional links which prolong the adventure. I actually ended up purchasing the armadillo purse you showed in your piece about Rae Stimson.
    Valerie, I love the skirt you wore to the RISDI exhibit and I would like to try to make a similar one. It looks like two horizontal rectangles (cleverly pleated in the back and gathered in the front)with the waist set to one side and the other side nicely draped. I am curious about how the waist band is set up. Would you be willing to give me a brief description?
    Thanks and keep up the good work,

  3. Hi, Bobby - Hope you see this as we have no email address for you. First, sooo glad to hear from the new owner of the peerless armadillo bag. May you wear it in good health and good humor for years to come. As for the skirt, I am no seamstress, so I can't possibly articulate the skirt as well as it deserves, but let's try. It's an old Miyake Plantation piece from about 1988 or so. The bottom of the skirt is 22.5 inches across; the top of the skirt is about 25.5 inches across. The left seam is more or less straight; the right seam flares out at the top, and is made into a wide pocket which opens across the top. The entire waist band is elasticized - no zipper - and is sewn on to the top of the skirt. It must take a bit of doing. There's also a conventional pocket in the left seam. That's the best I can do. Third, thanks so much for reading! - Valerie

  4. Very interesting post, I really enjoyed reading this.

  5. Just discovered your blog and I have to say that I admire you. You inspire me to be more out there with my style.