21st Century Dandy an Exclusive Club

Beau Brummell wears a Regency period dress coa...Beau Brummell wears a Regency period dress coat as daytime dress. The coat is able to close and the tails are knee-length. 
Image via Wikipedia

From the Budapest Times, October 2004. Images via Zemanta.

by Alison Boston – A dandy is an annoying and shallow man.  A well-dressed ‘fop’.  Nothing to aspire to.  So, why would the British Council be attempting to revive and promote this 18th century triviality with a touring exhibition entitled “21st Century Dandy”?

It seems the Brits have felt like neutered felines on the international fashion catwalk ever since the death of the Peacock Revolution of the sixties which dressed the likes of Jimi Hendrix.  But according to exhibition co-curator, Alice Cicolini, British menswear design is once again fertile and ripe for some financial Viagra.  To that end, the British Council has sent examples of some sixty designers grouped into six classifications on an international tour that launched in June 2003 in Moscow, where, among the ‘haves’ there are 21st Dandys a plenty.

The exhibition is now in Budapest at the Gödör Klub, Erszébet Tér.  As a member of the media, I was in a dandy place on the day of the opening.  While numerous nameless people who had shown up for the event, sans invitation, were turned away, I was graciously admitted.  Dandy lesson number 1: Exclusivity.

The 18th century dandy, Beau Brummel, from whom the concept is derived, achieved this elitism with extravagant fabrics and minute attention to tailoring that was difficult to copy.

21st Century Dandy Designers attempt to emulate this with little things like pin stripes cut on the diagonal rather than the straight, so the wearer can look like a well-dressed barbershop pole; or a row of sparkly red beads sewn all round the lapel of your black dinner jacket so one needn’t stand under a red light to let people know you are open for business.

Cutting remarks, yes.  But that’s what the top-end of dandy-design is all about – the cut – bespoke garments, or in lay terms: custom-made, cut to fit just you and only you.

If it is the bias cut of the pinstripe that begs ridicule, it is the same bias cut that makes one gush about an ultra fine, gray wool suit (#8 in the Gentleman Collection.)  A man dressed in this suit from Kilgour French Stanbury on Saville Row would indeed epitomize one of the highest ideals of dandyism:  “Dress so that it may never be said of you ‘what a well-dressed man’ but ‘what a gentleman-like man’.”

Working with more casual fabrics, Neo-Modernist designer Spencer Hart  (#1) emphasizes the uniqueness and subtlety so essential to true dandyism with an eye-catching collection of suits in unusual cotton denims: iridescent blue and matte brown, trimmed with exotic velvets and taffetas.  But it’s his slightly tapered, slim-cut trousers, with ever-so narrow cuffs, that will be hard for imitators to copy for a mass market.

Vivienne Westwood
Vivienne Westwood Image via Wikipedia

There are four other groups featured in the exhibition, with everything from a man’s red and white stretch-knit coca-cola dress from New Briton designer Vivienne Westwood, to a Locke and Co. fuchsia pink top hat in the Celebrity Tailor collection.

In a world surrounded by people wearing multiple identical copies of designer labels, the subtlety and individualism inherent in the 21st Dandy is a welcome relief.  I think however, we can live without the shallowness that the Dandy was originally known for, and perhaps a more original name would better serve this rising era of British fashion.

As for the exhibition itself, the Brits could learn a thing or two from the French who are currently displaying a collection of industrial designs at the French Institute (1012 Bp., Fö u. 17).  “Observeur du Design”, but it also shows off some brilliant and satirical designs from the last five years: a prosthetic foot with built-in bounce, a cognac dispenser for use in outer space, and a neoprene wedding gown.

Unlike the 21st Dandy, each item in the French exhibition is clearly labeled with a brief description of its inception and purpose.  Plus there is a compact little folder with color photographs to identify each design, whereas the Brits catalogue delivers an academic essay on the history of the Dandy, and pictures, but not of the pieces on display!  The biggest plus: Everybody was welcome at the  “Observeur du Design” opening.  No exclusivity there.

Both exhibitions are on display till October 30th (2004)

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