There are coffee table books, and then there are good coffee table books. We Are Dandy (2017), written by Nathaniel Adams with photography by Rose Callahan, is an excellent one. The book features an interesting lifestyle focused approach exploring the wardrobes and lives of Dandies from around the world, following on the success of their first book, I Am Dandy (2013).
I had the pleasure of meeting Rose Callahan at the Dapper Day Expo in Anaheim, CA, this spring, and found the book absolutely enticing. Both Rose and her husband, Kelly Bray, were engaging and were fun to talk to about the book, as well as some of the characters within it. We ended up talking a bit about some of the Japanese Dandies, with their unique syncretic aesthetic that blend classic Americana with traditional Japanese clothing, some of which was reminiscent of Meiji period style. And–of course–Western style bars in Japan.
Looking through both of the books, it was clear to me that Rose had created a marvelous work that captures the ethos of the subjects, conveying what it means to be a dandy in the modern day, and showcasing the personalities and lifestyles of many of the subjects. As such, we agreed to arrange for an interview to discuss the book further, since it seemed it would be of interest for many Styleforum classic menswear aficionados, dandy or not.
The Dandy books came out of a series of works that Rose created, starting in 2008. This began as a personal project, the portraits being subjects that came to her through kismet-more or less. Having shot only a few portraits with Dandies in the first couple of years, the project was slow at first, and finally took off in 2010, when she collaborated with the Fine and Dandy Shop, working with a fair number of their customers. The Dandy Portrait blog was a result of a suggestion from Matt and Enrique of Fine and Dandy Shop.
From the blog, Rose came into contact with Nathaniel Adams, a writer who had been researching Dandies as a contemporary movement in addition to historical research. Gestalten commissioned a book from the works, and following the success of I Am Dandy, which focused on Dandies in New York, Toronto, they commissioned a second book, in which they could explore Dandies worldwide.
Rose remarks: “We had a little more money, with less time to create it,” so they sought through connections contact with various subjects, who would put them in contact with other potential subjects, and in turn arranged meet-ups with various subjects. While their goal was to create a book that captured the Dandy’s personality and lifestyle by capturing photos in environments dear to them, in some cases because of the limited time, they had to arrange to have subjects meet them in spaces that they would already be at (Henrik Hjerl, “The Butler”, is one such example, meeting up with them during Pitti Uomo).
On a whirlwind tour through Europe–Italy, Germany, Belgium, England, France–with stints down to South Africa and Japan, and the occasional Dandy in North America (New York, Los Angeles, Toronto), Rose captured many subjects, not all of which managed to make it into the book’s 50+ Dandies on account of constraints.
In contrast to the first book, Rose remarks: “In the transition from the first book to the second book, we asked ourselves [Natty and I]–okay, what are we going for [stylewise], and we decided to not really focus on businesses or people involved in the fashion industry, but more to go after people who had really strong personalities, stories, and style.” As such, legendary menswear individuals like Edward Sexton, Lino Ieluzzi, Yasuto Kamoshita appear in We Are Dandy, alongside others that are relatively unknown but fascinating none-the-less. But in the case of each of these subjects, they each had interesting styles and were more rounded as individuals. “Because we made decisions to visit people at their homes as much as possible, there are a lot more homes and environments involved in the second book. The characters that were interesting were not those necessarily involved in just selling stuff, or for lack of a better of a better word, #menswear.” Their goal in creating the book was to include those people who embodied the spirit of their style, or were “the people who do things whether someone is looking or not.”
Early on in the book, writer Nathaniel Adams writes and categorizes four styles of Dandy as possible frameworks in which to understand them and their behavior. Rose, looking back in retrospect, believes that what made for a really engaging subject was that they “crossed boundaries,” or that they were not easily defined in one category or another. They were “bons vivants,” with hidden stories and lively personalities. One example of this is Gian Maurizio Fercioni, a Milanese Dandy who, walking down the street might appear to be an elegant Italian gentleman, but he is the father of tattoos in Italy, creating the first tattoo shop, and is covered with tattoos under his clothes.
As such, the point of this project was to focus on individuals and their unique style, revealing the hidden behind their lifestyles, personalities and aesthetic. Some of the individuals, especially those in Japan, showcased their style as a sort of hybridity between Eastern and Western aesthetics, simultaneously drawing on ideas of iki or sprezzatura or chic. Takanori Nakamura, a Tokyo based dandy and journalist, has a wardrobe of both traditional Japanese haori, double-breasted suits lined in prints of paintings by Ito Jakuchu, breaking boundaries with aesthetic choices (such as using colors divergent from tradition) that are both Western and Eastern. In his life, he practices kendo, loves the way of the tea (chadō), but also is a trained sommelier and aficionado of cigars. These portraits of the lives of these dandies, especially mixing the various cultural elements, is what really makes this book shine.
Another example of those breaking boundaries were the subjects located in South Africa. They oftentimes mixed their cultural heritage and memories of their past with more contemporary and western clothing. While other dandies in Europe or Tokyo would sometimes dress in vintage clothes, the crossing of the boundaries of time and cultural memory was represented in their lives and personal pasts. They wanted to capture their looks in spaces that were representative of the communities in which they grew up–areas that were quite literally, unadorned buildings with dirt floors.
Rose remarks: “The guys in South Africa, to me, from how I experienced it, they felt it was very important to be a part of a group, to feel that they were all together, a rather African sensibility, this sense of community identity. They wanted to be together as a crew, saying they wanted to do this because we can show other young people that they can do it too.” In her thoughts, this inclusiveness, and desire to share their experiences in sartorialism, is quite different than the Europeans, who were more concerned with themselves as individuals.
“To me, this was amazing, because people in London and New York, they don’t talk about it [being dandies]. They are not inclined to help the next generation [of men]. I was impressed because being young men themselves, they felt a desire to help out the next generation. They thought that if they can rise up then they can help others to rise as well.”
One of the Johannesburg dandies, Loux, said, “you can sleep in a shack, you can sleep under a bridge–but you can still look smart.”
Many people think that being a dandy or being stylish requires a lot of money, but that isn’t the case as Rose discovers visiting the African dandies. Rose remarks that “everyone looks like they have to be rich to do this, but I don’t believe that, because there are so many ways to have style–without money. It either takes money or the time and the desire. For those without the economic means, this is a matter of collecting clothing over the years–it is a matter of time and energy–digging through flea markets and thrift stores and places like that. With the guys in South Africa, they show this and hit the point home.”
I decided to ask Rose if she had any advice for those aspiring Dandies out there, or for those #menswear personalities that have their social media personalities. Her best advice to create visually engaging content is to “be yourself”:
“Be an interesting person. Live an interesting life. Whatever or whoever you are, be that one hundred percent. It is really important even if you might be experimenting with style. Some of the dandies in the book are in their 60s and 70s, and they still look amazing. There is a lifetime for refining your style, finding what is interesting, being curious visually. Your style can evolve over time with your personality.
“You have to keep on, always think about what is interesting to you, what is enjoyable to you, and move towards that because then your personality comes out. It is our personality that is unique. Be yourself despite all the other voices out there, be true to yourself. It is often hard for young people because they often feel weird about it.”
You can see some of Rose’s latest works showcased in the Dandy Lion Project, a traveling curated exhibition that focuses on Black Dandies created by Shantrelle P. Lewis. The exhibit has helped to demonstrate the sartorial decisions of Black men around the world prior to colonialism, formulating new understandings of narratives of Black masculinity through historical and contemporary portraiture of Black sartorialism.
Additionally, you can see on social media such as Instagram more of the sartorial and dandy styles of African dandies through #afrodandy, created by some of the South African dandies featured in We Are Dandy.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Around the world, dandies embrace style while respecting their local cultural traditions. Dandyism transcends fashion —it is a committed way of life. An international survey of the global dandy community from the creators of I am Dandy.
From America to Africa to Asia, dandyism is a way of life. It is fashion in the best sense, self-esteem through style. And, in every country, it takes a unique form as dandies draw on the local context and fashion culture to shape their looks. We are Dandy throws open the doors of the wardrobe and explores the dandy as a global phenomenon.
With texts as witty as the subjects are stylish, the book pokes between the folds to let us know these exceptional individuals. For them, their dandy fashion is more than a trend or a phase, it is who they are, the outer expression of their inner selves. Photographs and profiles paired with clever histories reveal what it takes to look your best around the world. We are Dandy unfolds with a foreword by the illustrious Dita Von Teese, that conveys the authenticity of these aesthetes, their passions, and their bravely curated philosophies.
Nathaniel “Natty” Adams has been involved with the historical and contemporary Dandy phenomenon for many years —it even informs his own wardrobe. A research grant aided the studied journalist in traveling around the world and into the eclectic homes of various Dandies.
New York is more than the current home of filmmaker and photographer, Rose Callahan; the city is also the site and start of her involvement with the Dandy. In 2008, she created the blog The Dandy Portraits, where she documents the many facets of the modern gentleman. Shortly afterwards, she met Natty Adams and the idea for I am Dandy was born.