Monday, 30 April 2012

Metal Lust Object No.8 - Only Built For Dreicer Ladies

This is a 14 kt. gold makeup purse with a set sapphire by Dreicer & Co., one of the great defunct and all but erased names in American luxury jewellery. For a time, this enterprise stood in preeminent stead with the likes of Tuffany & Co. and Cartier, New York, supplying the gilded class with imaginative designs, dedicated craft and the finest precious stones that Europe could proffer. Indeed, it was Cartier that bought the company's liquidated stock for $2.5 million in 1924 after Michael Dreicer, son of founder Jacob Dreicer, expired in 1923. The Michael Dreicer painting collection now resides in the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Here, Daphne Lingon, Senior Specialist in Jewelry at Christie's, New York, discusses a Belle Époque exceptional coloured diamond ring that was retailed by Dreicer & Co. This piece was sold only last month; proof, as if it were needed, that the finer things will always whet someone's appetite:

Friday, 20 April 2012

Was (Not Was) - '(Return to the Valley of) Out Come The Freaks' (1983)

For a time, this seemed to be the only song my parents would play during our long drives up and down the M1 every weekend; a most elegant and spirited couple making it easy on themselves by wielding the most efficient tool to pacify their unruly spawn in the backseat:

The pop world's most indelibly gorgeous piano line

It's good to be a Freak

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Guest Article: 'Stephen Tennant – Sartorial Young Thing' by Imogen Reed

In times past, I've toyed with the idea of guest writers to diversify this column's content. I'm glad that I didn't often persist, as it impelled me to research the different areas I was interested, but not knowledgeable in. Consequently, my connoisseur's guide to pornography will see print any day now; the internet should really know the difference

Imogen Reed, on the other hand, is more the persistent type, having gotten in touch during my last AWOL period to craft the sort of article she believes you Paraders would like. Her portfolio revealed a variety of subject matter, as well as a tendency to guest on the blogs of others (why she does not have her own is one of those unanswerable ponderables, I suspect); her biography revealed aspects I've sometimes wanted for myself, such as full-time writing and a period spent living in New York. And so, this is her highly unedited article on renowned Bright Young Thing Stephen Tennant, a fellow for whom I've long felt ambivalence, despite his MP-friendly sensibilities; something - many things - about his lifestyle always struck me as being surfeited with little but vapidities; a lightning rod for the self-justifications of much less interesting, would-be Des Esseiteses (reportedly, one of his great ambitions was to rival the beauty of his sister Claire). On the other hand, I do appreciate that for far too long, Tennant suffered from the unique difficulties and megrims that are sadly forced on one by mental illness

But who knows? Imogen might make a believer out of me yet. His biography is now in my Amazon list; I've always liked its title


Stephen James Napier Tennant (1906-1987). A constant and nefarious work in progress, he was born in a time of great social and cultural upheaval.  He lived through some of the most daring and outspoken decades in the 20th century and indeed created many of his own stories and headlines by being famous just for being, well, “Stephen Tennant”. Apocryphally, he is said to have spent most of his later life in bed at the family home, Wilsford Manor. 

Auspicious Beginnings

The son of Lord Glenconner and his wife, Pamela (formerly Wyndham) he was the youngest of five children.  The most notable and upsetting event of his childhood was the death of his elder brother, Edward (affectionately known as “Bim”) who was killed during the First World War.  At the tender age of four, he is alleged to have gone into the family garden in the company of his nanny and stopped dead in his tracks when he came face to face with the beauty of the "blossom of a pansy." This moment was said to be a defining one in terms of his life path.  Always dedicated to the arts, fashion and literary matters (though ultimately producing little of his own to add to any of these canons) he was devastatingly attracted to colour, form and beauty in all shapes.  He was a fine artist and sketcher and had one unfinished and unpublished novel to his name “Lascar”.

He was, and remained for much of his life a sickly human being.  An early case of Tuberculosis in his teens rendered him quite weak and after various trips abroad for sea air, rest and recuperation his health failed to improve.  However, this didn’t stop him from exploring nightlife, from visiting theatres and generally living it up – all of course, done with his customary verve.   

Bright Young Thing

Sartorial elegance, louche living and artistic altruism in one effete, beautiful package. 

During the 1920s, in his heyday Tennant – along with his friends Ceil Beaton, Rex Whistler, Siegfried Sassoon and The Mitford Sisters became society’s hottest property.  For many years he and Sassoon were engaged in a relationship which had a lasting impact on the both of them after it ended.  Today, they would be front page of all the glossy magazines.  Back then they were known as “The Bright Young Things” and Stephen was at the very forefront of it.  Along with such other society luminaries as The Right Hon. Elizabeth Ponsonby and Brenda Dean Paul these people attended parties and did little else, living on allowances from their parents and never having to worry about credit cards or relying on balance transfers. But they did it fabulously, darling…

Alabaster in Human Form

Tennant was the most beautiful, picture perfect alabaster sculpture ever formed.  His portraits, mostly taken by his friend – the aforementioned Cecil Beaton show a delicate frame; Marcel waved blonde hair – sometimes dusted with actual gold to make it more ethereal and photogenic, his features were almost supine.  Rarely smiling, often looking into middle distance, his perfect rosebud pout and piercing eyes were apparently enhanced by a little application of Vaseline before photos were taken.  The idea is often put forth that the greatest work of art of Stephen’s life was himself.  This notion is supported by his infinite interest in clothes and make up and jewellery.  In 1927, after a very famous “Bright Young Things” event, The Daily Express were quoted as saying: “Stephen Tennant arrived in an Electric Brougham, wearing a football jersey and earrings”.  He cared little what people thought of how he dressed.

Vanity Fair 

A naturally vain man however, he is alleged to have uttered: "My tongue is already flickering like an adder, lest one iota of foreground is denied Me," upon learning he was about to have his picture taken with a group of his friends. 

A photo-shoot for his birthday in 1927 reveals an otherworldly creature; he wears a dark pinstripe suit, striped shirt, silk tie and over the whole outfit threw a black leather mackintosh with chinchilla fur collar that he had fashioned himself.  When the prints of the shoot arrived, in his own shy and retiring style he commented: ''I'm nearly crazy at their beauty'' 


“London's Bright Young People have broken out again” wrote the Daily Express. All the guests to the party had to come as someone well known. Tallulah Bankhead came as Jean Borotra the famous tennis player of the era.  Stephen went as the queen of Romania. A group photograph of Stephen, Tallulah and other members of the party was featured in The Tatler with Stephen's costume easily the most beautiful. Evelyn Waugh was notable by his attendance. Indeed, this party was the inspiration for his novel “Decline and Fall” and it’s subsequent follow up “Vile Bodies”.  Characterisations of Stephen carried on, even appearing in the form of Sebastian Flyte in “Brideshead Revisited”. 

By 1928, people were beginning to tire of the antics of Stephen and his illustrious band of friends.  The biggest causal factor was “The Depression”.  Many people throughout the country were suffering.  Unemployment was at a high, workers were striking and the cavorting and game playing of a group of seemingly over-privileged twenty-somethings was seen as frightfully self indulgent. 

Stephen’s society swansong and indeed the end of the Bright Young Things came that very year with a final flourish at a “Bath and Bottle” Party arranged at St George’s Swimming Baths on Buckingham Palace Road.  The invited parties drank and danced to the strains of an orchestra.  For the occasion, Stephen wore a pink vest and long blue trousers…

Inauspicious Endings

Stephen outlived nearly all of his contemporaries.  Elizabeth Ponsonby died young (1940), possibly as a cause of her alcohol and drug addictions acquired during her years of partying.  Brenda Dean Paul eventually died in 1959 of a heroin overdose in her flat – for years she had survived on a steady diet of salted peanuts and Brandy cocktails.  He also outlived the two most cherished people in his life, Cecil Beaton (1980) and Siegfried Sassoon (1967). 

Living mostly as a recluse (though a rather decorative one) he retreated back to his childhood home, Wilsford, until his death at the age of 80.  Desperate to recreate the fond memories of holidays he had had in the Mediterranean he imported twenty two tons of silver sand and had it liberally spread on the lawns to evoke his French dreams.  There were Chinese fan palms planted, and tropical birds and lizards let loose to cavort in the grounds. 

He had many tales to tell of his years as a Bright Young Thing that were only finally realised by the author Philip Hoare in his wonderful biography of Tennant’s life “Serious Pleasures”. A louche life less lived. 

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

The Vintage Post

   Today, I'd like to ruminate on "vintage." Currently recognised as a market unto itself, it not only encapsulates clothes, furniture and underthings, but wildly ranges in price, from the cheap yet aesthetic baubles one can dig up at flea markets to the priciest of overly pricey rarities hung on the wall of a "high-end" trove in West London, which is all the more ironic when the best top-range pieces can be found in less saturated or more interesting areas like York, Peterborough or California. You know, the places where the actual makers of taste went to retire and die, leaving their belongings to either be passed down to their scions or absorbed into the dust inhalation-hazard zone that is the thrifting system. The truly fiendish and ingenious, meanwhile, put them up for auction, allowing stories of bitter bidding rivalries with the likes of Hamish Bowles to circulate across the interweb for amusement's posterity

   From the tone of that introduction, I hope you're not expecting me to be kind, dear Paraders

   Originally, this post would have followed its predecessors with recommendations to source nice threads, but other sites are more than capable of providing such information, and I suffer from thrift envy of the Americans, which encourages me to withhold my databank until I'm competing on more level ground. So, what with the slant Mode Parade has towards classicism, old films and the odd Fabulous Dead Designer, I felt that I should write a few words on the use of old things and classic inspiration in the present world. For I have seen many examples of it in the flesh, as well as on the world wide spiderweb, and it is my considered opinion that a great many people, as the kids say, suck at it


What of approximations of old styles? The fellow on the left pays homage to the Palm Beach holidaymaker/Go-to-Hell aesthetics once practiced by the likes of W Clifford Klenk, but the necessary colour sense, nonchalance, details and good cut quite obviously elude this evolutionary successor. On the other hand, he may know his way around a good cocktail

His shirt is vintage. As is his toilet paper

   The problem I see is a twofold one. There is an awful and comprehensive amount of total rubbish on sale in most second hand spaces. This is not an idle whine; on the two occasions that I tried vintage shopping in Camden, I wasted an hour touching more polyester than I have ever before done in my life. The second issue is pretty obvious - good taste is very much in its dearth throes and the only thing that separates most latter day, would-be Easter Paraders from the Jersey Shore guidos is that the former actually Mean It

   But then, this is being written by a man who describes himself to other humans as "a museum piece" and hasn't updated his mobile phone in four years

   Despite some previous and scattered thoughts on the topic, I am not disdaining the folks who, as far as I know, indulge in full period dress as a pastime, such as the attendees of the Jazz Age Dance Parties in New York or whichever appealingly decadent and fetishistic shindig the iDandy Andrea Sperelli is attending every other evening (his Marc Guyot-esque regular wardrobe is still fairly contemporary in its way, thanks to good fit). I'm just disdaining everyone else who's at it

Why go to the effort of a cohesive outfit when one can seek refuge in excuses like "Having fun" and "Retro humour"?
Thank you, Sparked. I was trying to keep a spit-free desk
   Gathering my thoughts on this became a chore; consequently, it's no wonder that the prelude to this post was published months ago. But then I was interviewed by a student from the London College of Fashion for an exhibition last month, and suddenly, my vitriol had a release. Naturally, little of that survived the  recipient's subsequent horrified editing, but that's why I hung onto the original

   We began with the obvious:
Why do you wear vintage?
BON: Primarily, for reasons of aesthetic tastes, quality and, if I’m lucky, rarity – a way of “waking the dead,” I suppose. Where a great many people take refuge in a specious sort of nostalgia, a rejection of the era they live in and/or simply want to be different (to varying degrees of success), I try utilising older stuff to supplement what I think are the best looks I can devise. I like the notion of re-incorporating past styles in order to refresh and juxtapose them with the times we live in, rather than simply donning a pastiche to signpost my “wicked free-thinking” and “seditious" ways; some of my favourite pieces are cut subtly enough to hint at the era they’re from, such as my father’s old suits, rather than advertise it
   Why didn't I tell the truth - that there was a burning envy that stirred within me when I started seeing photographs of Peter Wyngarde in his nut-hugging suits during the Jason King days? That I merely wished to take things back to the days when one could dress like a devout homosexual (or appear to be dressed by one) and still get women?

Wyngarde and his bulge accept the Male Personality of the Year Award from 1969's winner Barry Gibb, London, 15th August 1970
   Like two people hitting their teeth together during a premature bout of kissing, we then segued awkwardly into the philosophical:
What does vintage mean to you?
BON: A catchy label that goes better with alcohol and fragrances. But then, “antique clothing” has more of a fusty and inelegant flavour to it, so I can’t win
When did you first start wearing vintage?
BON: I’ve been wearing various pieces that were my dad’s since I was a teenager, but as I don’t consider post-1990 clothing to be vintage, I’d say since my early 20s
What piece means the most to you?
BON: The stuff that is genuinely irreplaceable, naturally. In this case, my Tommy Nutter leather duster, along with my Deborah & Clare shirts and Mr. Fish kippers from the 1960s-‘70s
We continued with the prosaic:
How far does vintage style extend into your daily life?
BON: A lot of my stuff is old, it’s true, and consequently, there will be at least one outfit component that’s lasted a while, usually before my birth. On a daily basis, I actually tend towards more modern clean-cut looks and tend to save my Peacock-era and old school politician references for my off-duty mode
And finally, we concluded with the depressing:

What is your perspective on the London vintage scene?
BON: Frankly, most of the good stuff, especially where men are concerned, is either online, in another town or in America. And, of course, prices are another issue; the confluence of all these factors does little to recommend London as a hunting ground. Moreover, interest seems concentrated on the first four or so decades of the 20th century, which weren't the most interesting for young people who actually lived through them anyway, and the scene, which I’ve always found fun in places, but narrow in others, tends to present as a costume-fest. There’s too much calculation, not enough spontaneity and I sometimes detect a clique-like mentality of broad, cheap shots being taken at different dressers. On the other hand, a number of the ladies look very good

Monday, 16 April 2012

The Daniel Barnett Wedding Portrait Shoot

   Even though I've had cause to abandon The Mode Parade over the last few months, it hasn't escaped my notice that new followers have joined, links have been shared throughout the digital community and my mother keeps showing it to her friends

   I can't promise that the column is getting back on track, though if you are a semi-regular reader trying to parse these sentences into coherence, then you're old enough to know that I'm lying - this train has redefined the meaning of derailing several times over the course of three years. For Buddha's sake, I stopped taking my own photographs sometime in mid-2010

   To emphasise that last point, as well as make another reference to times past, my friend Daniel Barnett, whose portrait of me leads 2009's 'The Party Post', snapped me once again over the weekend when we attended the nuptials of two very dear mutual friends in Central London. I am at that age where I am becoming surrounded by the marriages of others, but that is not to complain - I treasure (and keep) every invitation, I congratulate, I indulge, I laugh, I feel. Now and again, I even do the splits

   Now, this is not the first time I have written on wedding ensembles, nor shared my own, albeit in informal/Ghanaian-modern modes, but this is the first time I am presenting my morning dress version, which, because of the nature of Britain's weather, tends to be adaptable all year round. With events set for a late afternoon start, I gave the briefest consideration to slipping into black tie mode after dinner, but I'm relaxed by nature and more importantly, even "the rules" don't give a damn - eveningwear doesn't officially kick in until after 6pm, which gives all the leeway for one to keep morning dress on into the night if the wedding starts prior to then. And regrettable as it might be to some, formal events aren't so strict any longer

   I found my morning and waistcoats, along with my hidden braces, at the Hackett sample sale three years ago, whilst the trousers are vintage sourced from Old Hat London, a shop that has much to offer in this particular menswear category. Who knows when, but at some future stage, I will complete this with decent gloves, houndstooth trousers, a solid gold pocket watch and maybe even an antique top hat, if they were ever made to suit the likes of my oversized head, I suppose

   Ardent traditionalists may beat one over the head with strictures that favour only dove grey waistcoats, white linen pocket squares and silvery ties, but I'd say it's obvious that they gave up trying to save my soul a millenium ago and now devote themselves to only the truly worthy causes, like ex-members of N-Dubz and the attendees of Pitti Uomo. Besides, pale colours are also acceptable. Morning dress has long allowed more expressiveness than it receives credit for; even this 1930s-era piece by the formidable Laurence Fellows promotes a subtly opalescent take; whilst  the face of the man on the left is at risk of being washed out by the similarly coloured shirt, save for its contrasting collar, this works well in injecting a stylish variety of tone into this most soberly joyous version of formalwear:

   Winston and I talked that day of trouser tailoring, particularly as they related to morning dress in the early 20th century (ahead of W's Men's Flair article on the topic, published today). This is an interesting arena for the details fiends, for if there's one thing internet forums and catwalk shows have demonstrated, it's that well cut trousers are often as difficult to spot as an interesting person at a creative industry receptionist recruitment drive. The Fellows illustration definitely contains an element of veracity in this regard; a lot of this can be put down the utilitarian manner in which braces hold one's trousers in place and smooth out their fall, along with the valuable assistance of a higher rise. That said, everyone should still take to a good belt when they can

   Here's a number of people wearing this traditional outfit better than I:

Stanley Mortimer and Babe Paley, 1940

A.J. Drexel Biddle, Jr. was well known for his clothing nous. His habits are catalogued in George Frazier's 1960 Esquire article, 'The Art of Wearing Clothes', as hosted by

An unknown American couple on the fateful day of 22nd November 1963, Jack Kennedy's last day on Earth

A trade magazine fashion plate, 1969

Prince Charles can be legitimately described as wearing a morning suit, since his coat and trousers are in matching grey (the waistcoat is up to individual taste). This is a less formal number that is usually deployed at warmer weddings

Fabulous Dead Person Alexis von Rosenberg, Baron de Redé, pictured in his morning suit and corresponding grey topper in 1968, accompanied by fellow stylish ghosts Elizabeth Taylor, Maria Callas and Richard Burton

   By the way, everyone else at the wedding, the bride especially, were on effervescent form. But then, my friends usually bring out the best in me

Required Reading: Sator on Formal Wedding Attire and Black Tie Guide

Barima's portraits are the property of Daniel Barnett Photography