Wednesday, 23 December 2009

The Dearth

   Throughout the year (and, if canny enough, last year), bloggers, journalists and coolhunters have thrilled and trilled to the exploits of the Congolese Les Sapeurs, the funkily dressed flaneurs not far from this corner of the motherland. They've earnt plaudits from Paul Smith, international press and a book of photography by Daniele Tamagni. And they share my penchant for offbeat elegance. But nothing I can say about them would bring anything new to the Google results one can unearth on the topic

   Ghana doesn't really have any such movement, which would possibly be down to the British, rather than French and Belgian colonial occupation and the comparatively relative lack of adversity, civil strife and sartorial aspiration. Ghana's aspirational spirit is more akin to that of Nigeria in that hip hop and the cues of the African American community set the trends. Perhaps the rapper Cam'ron is responsible for my younger cousin, Charles, juxtaposing a purple shirt with a lilac pearl necklace and black jeans earlier this week. I'm almost sorry that there are no photos

   Business dress is simply subdued, baring a few "fun" shirts here and there. TM Lewin, well established in Nigeria by now, set up shop in the 2-year old Accra Mall last year, whilst labels such as Hawes & Curtis, Gucci and Ferragamo have been available to the successful through importing. Yet rarely is a full suit worn during the day; they come out at night if one's old and important enough and they tend to look like slightly gaudy cousins of the classic American Sack

   The closest cousin to Les Sapeurs here is, of course, my father, who is commissioning around 4 suits per year from a local tailor and producing some rather interesting results that I'll photograph when I receive a new camera. But ultimately, he needs someone to pass the baton to. Someone he's trained and nurtured, whose development he has somehow shaped or guided or influenced

   Someone like me? Watch this space

(Oh, and some of the fashion here will merit some future investigation. I really tease, don't I?)

Monday, 14 December 2009

Gone Motherlanding

   For the next 2 weeks, I'll be here:

   And will be doing a lot of this:

 Via Latter Day Saints

   My internet usage will be rather limited, but if anything post-worthy happens here or in my head, I'll let you know


Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Tonight's the Night For Steppin'

   Now and again, one could stand to use a little Cole Porter-inspired New Wave in their lives. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Joe Jackson:

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

The Cravat Post (and Other Knick Knacks)

   Prompted by a couple of comments on StyleForvm regarding cravat use amongst the young (the most specific being "How can I wear an ascot and not look gay kthxbye?"), I have taken upon myself to investigate this Scoobariffic mystery

   I'll begin by informing you that you're likely screwed if you wear them as ultra traditionally as possible, unless you are genuinely in costume or ridiculously full of elan. I own 3 and only trust myself to wear them to either a wedding, in character at a party or without a standard suit jacket/blazer/odd jacket, unless it's a three piece suit and a cravat that's sized more like a scarf

   Call me a sentimental young fogey, but I rather think the morning suit cravat holds up very well. I wore it as a groomsman last year, yet not only had I no say in the outfit (aside from relatively accurate fit), but when I arrived wearing the lilac cravat in a traditional manner with a pearl tie-pin, the rest of the four-in-hand cravat-sporting wedding party physically attempted to rearrange it whilst I was still wearing it. Good times

Via the New York Times , this J.C. Leyendecker look encapsulates elegance through illustrative prowess

Judy and Fred during the final scenes of Easter Parade, from a Telegraph featurette 

   But you want to know about less occasional and more down to earth usage. So make it casual. You need to refer to Apparel Arts/Esky and the Duke of Windsor on this one, and even if you are young, let Will at A Suitable Wardrobe guide you along the way (he also has the most comprehensive collection of Apparel Arts images in the menswear sphere)

   Instead of a regular cut jacket, try something a touch offbeat (I don't like reusing shots, so the link is necessary) or something more relaxed and informal like a cardigan (Will favours a safari-styled shirt jacket - colonial, yet still uncommon enough to be interesting). Or just get them in a particularly eyecatching size, tune up the nonchalance and colour match with extreme prejudice:

The DoW treats it as just another part of the ensemble by harmonising it with the rest of the outfit. Bold, bright and relaxed

   What I'm also driving at is using scarves instead. You get the combination of flash and practicality without the self consciousness. Some of you may remember this one:

   This would also look rather clean and somewhat exuberant with a waistcoat, either as part of a suit or a more informal ensemble - there's something of the lounge lizard about it. It's also rather enjoyable with a v-neck:

   You should also have noted by now that rather than the standard references of Lord Byron or early 20th century motorists, I'm actually interpreting something of a mariner look, which is far less overexposed and flouncy and much more enjoyable since it doesn't need to be worked at or overstated. Think also to the peacoats-and-flat-caps casual styles of the young Paul Newman but with decorative neckwear

   For those of you who don't want too much material but enjoy the look nonetheless, well, there's always a neckerchief; leaving the ends out is standard, though one can also sport them tucked in like so:

   For the upcoming seasonal change, look to the new collection of a certain Japanese designer whose name, I'm finding, is becoming rather redundant to type. You probably know who I'm referring to by now, and he's tackled this gilded age look with utter aplomb and a clear idea of how to make it natural today.

   As befitting JW's "new feeling for basics," the proportions are executed rather similarly to my own silhouettes, generally mixing slim-but-not-tight upper halves with flowing trousers and structured looks that utilise shorts to avoid severity, alongside some well mannered quirks and enviable pattern mixing

   Observe that the neckwear is even worn with polo and short sleeved shirts and without jackets. A perfect way to bring these Esky looks back into focus:

JW CdG Man S/S10 images from A full review may appear after its release next month

   If you don't believe that you have a flair for the look, the solution is very simple - find someone with a flair for it and take inspiration. After that, the rest seems easy

   As for the neckerchief with suits-look, let me get back to you when I've made it happen for myself. Oooh, excitement

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Loaded With Soul

   As well as being the perfect Sunday afternoon motion picture delight if one's in the mood for song, dance and gentility, genre classic Easter Parade is pure escapism, firing-on-all-cylinders showbiz creativity and catnip for satorial details fiends

   In my favourite sequence (with all due respect to 'Steppin' Out With My Baby' and 'We're Just a Couple of Swells'), Fred Astaire goes 'Drum Crazy' and exhibits the charm, aplomb, fleetfooted steps and stylistic nous that had the makers entice him out of retirement when his colleague, fellow icon and friend, Gene Kelly, was forced to bow out. Nearing 50 at the time, he does not approach his routine with the blink-and-miss rapidfire tapping of his younger days, but all of his hallmarks are present and correct - the warmth mixed with goofy, curious humour, his almost peerless agility and his command of body, audience and stage. Just look at his exit - total and intuitive awareness of his environment in full display, he performs a variety of cane tricks, finishing with his trademark spinning catch and exits with a wave and a smile in bounding, mercurial twirls

   Cheating a child out of an Easter Bunny never looked so admirable

   I also greatly appreciate the ease in which he performs in tailoring. The film is set in 1912 and was made in 1948; educated guesses aside, I have no idea who made Astaire's suit nor whether its Edwardianisms were more appropriate for the earlier or the later date but I'll be damned if the majority of the ensemble doesn't hold up today (I still can't forecast a spats return)

   Nor do I feel uniquely qualified to expound on the peerlessness of his looks - when there are not one but two excellent extollings at Dandyism and an essential tome (and a Sartorialist guest post pitting the dandy dancer against Cary Grant) by G. Bruce Boyer, there's no place for me in the running. But this walking, singing Leyendecker illustration-ensemble is one of the defining images of Astaire in my mind - simple, harmonious colours, the derby/bowler sitting nonchalantly on his head - a continent and ease of use away from the stereotype it became in the City of London - and a precisely tailored two piece that matches his range of movement so well, the notion of a suit as a second skin is wholly fulfilled. Everything that people miss when trying to bring a suit to life is here

   Working primarily with light accents, as dictated by the springtime setting, the hue of the two-piece's grey finds a natural companion in the white waistcoat, which, in turn, is complemented by the spats and even the pearl tie pin. The pink shirt adds a jaunty air; the black necktie works with the shoes and bowler to maintain balance through contrast. The blues that shade the other accessories are perfect. Befitting his successful Broadway star character - hardly a world away from Astaire himself - this is a somewhat patrician, but nevertheless relaxed and creative man, not a businessman. Everything is natural; everything simply works

   'Drum Crazy', the song? It was written by legendary composer Irving Berlin, which alone speaks for itself, but it boasts qualities not mixed together often enough - danceability, hummability, quotability. Oh, and a relentlessly playful sensibility, so refined that it works in all sorts of drum licks and drum kits with the randomness of a jam session yet never shortchanges the other instruments in play. Even the xylophone. And when it almost arbitrarily becomes a marching band stomp, it nevertheless feels right, because if there's anything that should be freewheeling, it's Fred Astaire in full flight

Saturday, 5 December 2009

No Longer Hiding

   I've listened to the odd enquiry regarding a particular little detail and so I've gone and dealt with it: this column now has an e-mail address. Some of you already have my personal one and you can continue to use it until you inexplicably become unsettling and I have to avoid you and/or close the account

   So: So as people may want to contact me this way if necessary, then it is only right that I should be sent necessary things. Dirty jokes, dinner recipes, offers to pose for life drawing classes and so on. I don't consider it to be an essential, but at the very least, I suppose I'm covering a base or two

   As you were

Friday, 4 December 2009

Max Tundra - Parallax Error Beheads You (2008)

Parallax error beheads you
Framing of a history lost
Caravans of infants
Fortified against the frost
Systems under boulders
Compacting penumbra now
Salons unprotected
Disappear beneath a brow
Absence round the edges
Crackles in an orange sky
Shutters on the safety
Standing by for your reply
Appalachian figure
Gazing down upon you, proud
Future life projecting
Something that you never vowed
And if I loved you
Doesn't mean I'll see you in the crowd

   So go the words as Ben Jacobs (I'll refrain from using his pseudonym because last night one of my best friends described it as akin to a wrestling name and now I have luchadores on the brain) upends the previously instrumental nature of 'Orphaned', the endearingly unsettled fifth track of his third album and the first song on the record to willfully indulge his free associative lyrical bent. I'm not familiar with every single landscape photograph the words may mean to evoke but I love singing along nonetheless

   'Orphaned' happens to be my favourite song of the LP for funny reasons. As Jacobs produces every scrap of his eclectic, musical history recombinant-sounds on an Amiga, it easily resembles the BGM that would flow from the tinny speakers of a Sega Game Gear or a Nintendo Game Boy, albeit warmer and more full bodied. It's mostly made up of a great number of cut-up-and-stitched together half-second samples, similar to the work of dance producer Akufen, that sound like the twitching of neurons set to whimsical, freewheeling electro-funk. And consisting as it does of about 3 sections that last 8 bars each, it's the earworm equivalent of a merry-go-round. But then I do have a little weakness for looped productions. Conversely, the rest of the record is in a far more structured vein, which allows Jacobs to spread his almost limitless musical imagination in as many directions as he likes

   As long as I'm referencing video game BGM, I've long described 'Which Song', probably one of Jacobs' best received productions, as Scritti Politti's 'Perfect Way' absorbed into the Streets of Rage soundtrack. Expounding on some of his favourite topics - failed relationships with girls and satirising his own nerdiness - the song's juddering danceability, dynamic keyboard playing, jingle-like hooks and register-stretching falsetto brings out Scritti's adoration of prime Michael Jackson even moreso than the band themselves could and yet remains a definably Max Tundra track. Especially with lyrical winners like "Just because I don't like football/Or wear expensive shoes/Doesn't mean my friendship isn't something you should choose," though I find the ensuing bridge a little close to the bone ("Ultimately/Different coloured fabrics sewn/Together would be/Many times more useful if/They taught me to flirt/But instead inanimate/They hang there inert/Waiting to encumber me")

   Like any good nerd with a computer, Jacobs is a dab hand with an arrangement, showing it off deftly during 'The Entertainment', morphing it from a lightly accompanied show tune (yes, I see what's been done there) to a hands-in-the-air Euro dance number before settling into a time signature shifting keyboard-led electronic jam. This is also exemplified by the opener, 'Gum Chimes', a 70s TV theme-like harpsichord-led  ditty that could support dozens of harmonies, serves as the quietest, most restrained moment on the album and has a winning way with a trumpet and a xylophone. He also adds an appreciated alternative perspective to the 80s nostalgia that's driven many of this decade's musical and cultural impulses - like modern studio greats Cornelius and Timbaland, he has a strong signature sound and a wildly obsessive attention to each and every detail that makes his genre and decade hopping distinct from mere pastiche and aping. Aside from the aforementioned influences, 'Number Our Days' (opening with "Nothing happens when you die/You don't leave your body and fly off into the sky/The deities you count on were just made up by some guy") sounds like an off-key hybrid of The Pet Shop Boys and early Jam & Lewis (specifically, Cherelle and Alexander O' Neal's 'Saturday Love'), with Jacobs on vocoder, increasingly redolent of a robot Eeyore, falsetto choruses aside

   The closer, 'Until We Die', which puts a more optimistic spin on Jacobs' fatalism, is stadium synth prog gone deliriously madcap for 11-plus minutes. Elsewhere, he finally crosses off rock music and thrash on his checklist, formerly in the high speed, off kilter, slightly noodly fun of 'Will Get Fooled Again' (also about dating, this time through popular internet sites - "I met the girl on eBay/She was bidding on Halfway to a Threeway") and latterly on 'Nord Lead Three', an exuberant, lo-fi valentine to his favourite analog synthesiser. A valentine dominated by a drumkit and guitars; I like that. 'Glycaemic Index Blues' (and with this, I believe I've covered all 10 tracks) is a twitchy, fast electro-funk number; almost unbearably zippy with pitch-shifted singing but suddenly sideswiped by a plaintive "I'm so alone" amongst the jumbled lyrics to remind us that Jacobs's (or his persona's) disposition is as changeable as his sonic backing

   As an unabashed J-Pop and picopop fan, I'm wholly receptive to Parallax Error...'s hypermelodic showstopping, expert technical manoeuvering and blipvert-esque musical joyriding. It also shares some of my favourite things about those genres - pop classicism, a respect and love for conventions combined with gleeful boundary pushing, absurd catchiness and a truly elastic mindset that makes such endearing flights of fancy possible

   And writing as a fellow neurotic, I believe that Jacobs manages to express the very picture of a modern introvert in more words and self-mocking humour than other such people will express in their lives, mine included. Sweet, catchy, fantastical, offbeat, patience testing and very, very expressive; not an album for mass consumption, but it easily finds favour with many a proud oddball

   And that's one to grow on