A Fine Man Once Said:

"Part of the 10 million I spent on gambling, part of it on booze, and part of it on women. The rest I spent foolishly."

- George Raft

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

An Uptown Dandy & The Rake

Its always nice to have the last word - but, in this case, Beau James takes an entire page all for himself. In the latest edition of The Rake, I contribute a short piece on New York's Prohibition-era Mayor James J. Walker, noted dandy and general man about town. You can read more about His Honor here.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Vintage Edward Green for Brooks English: The Malvern

A 25-30 year old pair of Edward Green shoes, holding up quite well.

As I mentioned some time ago here at An Uptown Dandy, Brooks Brothers recently began selling Edward Green shoes again - a partnership that apparently began in the 1970s, was disrupted in 1980s or 1990s, and is now back on track. Of course, back then, the shoes were generally re-branded for Brooks Brothers' Peal & Co. line. Presently, Brooks is simply offering a few models without any re-badging or re-branding. Not that we're complaining.

More commonly, you'll see Edward Green shoes made for the Peal & Co. line, but this pair of wingtips in chestnut antique is a bit rare in that this pair of shoes was made for (what at the time was considered) Brooks' lower "Brooks English" line of shoes. Generally, you'll come across shoes from that line made by Church's. This pair, however, have none of the characteristics that you'll find on a pair of Church's shoes from that era - but it does have all of the tell-tale Edward Green markings that you'll see on a shoe from 1970-1985 period.

To begin with, the shoes have the "Made in England" stamp on the sole that you see on Edward Greens made for Nordstrom or Cole Haan from this period. The Church's shoes usually say "Benchmade in England" and also usually have the UK sizing stamped at the waist of the sole. In addition, the writing on a pair of Church's inside the shoe which will normally include the model name, size, and last information, has remained relatively standard since the 1980s.

Edward Green's handwritten designations, which were used before they switched to the writing that you now see in the oval inside the shoe, was also relatively standard during that period. There's normally an order number (which someimes has an additional exponent number (if that makes sense) which I believe denotes how many shoes of that particular model was included in the order, followed by size and last info in the second row, followed by another number in the third row. This pair of shoes has the same Edward Green handwriting. Interestingly, this pair seems to have been made on a unique last made especially for Brooks Brothers, the 346, which also happens to be the street address for what is now the Brooks Brothers flagship location at 346 Madison Avenue in New York City.

The shoes are really a testament to Edward Green craftsmanship and production standards. After 25 to 35 years, the shoes are holding up quite well - the sole is in great shape and the leather uppers look pristine, in my opinion. There is some slight cracking near the bottom of the lace area, which is a strange place to find a crack, I think. But the leather around the toe box and just above, where one would normally expect to find creasing or cracking is in surprisingly good condition.

Its always interesting to see what differences there are between the shoes made than and those produced today - looking at these, there is a channeled sole, but the waist is fairly "flat" There isn't much of suppression to speak of, and the waist is not bevelled at all. Whether newer technology has made it easier to include these types of flourishes on mass produced shoes, I'm not entirely sure. Certainly, the leather here is a basic monotone color or finish that is certainly not as impressive as some of the burnishing that you see today from Edward Green, Gaziano & Girling, or John Lobb. But all-in-all, a lovely wingtip with beautiful broguing and a distinct medallion.

This concludes the series of more in-depth looks for each of the vintage Edward Greens that were originally included in the Vintage Edward Green - The Collection (Part One) [a link to the original post can be found here].

I hope that you've all enjoyed a closer look at some of the beautiful works of art created by the shoemakers of Northampton. Keep an eye out for Part Two of the Vintage Edward Green collection - coming as soon as I can take the pictures . . .

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Photography of Ronny Jaques

Marlon Brando, 1947

A friend of mine was nice enough to present me with the book Stolen Moments: The Photographs of Ronny Jaques, curated by Pamela Fiori, who at the time of publication (2008) was editor-in-chief of Town and Country. Lovely photographs abound - particularly for those with an interest in men's style icons of the 1940s-1960s.

Hoagy Carmichael, 1947.

Duke Ellington, 1940s.

The Duke & Duchess of Windsor, 1940s.

Cary Grant, 1940s.

I wasn't familiar with Jaques before this, but I'm glad the oversight has been corrected. Jaques' body of work, as detailed in this photographic history, is impressive. Fiori's book is well-worth picking up, in my opinion, if you're looking for some sartorial inspiration.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Brooklyn's Finest

I moved out of Brooklyn a few years ago, but every now and then I like to drop into some of the old haunts. After an impressive Irish breakfast at Prime Meats, we took a stroll down Court and Smith Streets. I was surprised to come across some intriguing men's clothing shops. Aside from the thrift shops that I regularly check into, the only men's shop around back then (and worth its salt) was The Brooklyn Circus, which opened around 2006, if I recall correctly. So it was nice to see a sprinkling of new additions (as in two) to the sartorial scene out in BK.

Unfortunately, it was very early on a Monday morning, so the shops were still closed. I hope to be back in a few weeks, when I'll hopefully have time to peruse some of the offerings on hand. Olaf's (not to be confused with the long-time purveyor of men's athletic wear in East Harlem), next to Frankie's 457 on Court Street, had a lovely window display in particular, hearkening back to the old Ivy League shops of yesteryear.

On Smith Street, we came upon another shop as we searched for Bien Cuit, a French bakery with a yam/sweet potato danish that is positively sublime. This one was called "Epaulet" - it, too, was closed, but it also appeared to be worth a return trip sometime in the foreseeable future.

In any event, certainly a step in the right direction. Or, as they used to say when I was younger, big up to Brooklyn.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Despatch From a Book Signing (Enduring Style)

Yesterday evening, I dropped into the book signing for G. Bruce Boyer's and Maria Cooper-Janis' new book, Enduring Style. It is a lovingly assembled collection of family photographs of Gary Cooper, and also includes an essay by Boyer and a foreword by Ralph Lauren. The event was hosted by the Sartorialist at Leffot's on Christopher Street, so, in addition to meeting the preeminent writer on men's style, one could also peruse Leffot's excellent selection of men's footwear from Alden, Gaziano & Girling, Edward Green, Corthay, etc.

Actual book reviews from better writers than myself, such as Simon Crompton at Permanent Style (here) can be found, so all I'll say about the book is that its definitely worth picking up if you're a fan of the golden age of Hollywood and classic men's style in general. The packaging alone (the book and slip cover come are made from a brown canvas that looks and feels great) is worth the price, in my opinion.

The book signing was memorable in and of itself. Its a bit strange to come face to face (well, to be honest, I actually just stared from across the room) with people whose work you enjoy via the internet or print media. Unfortunately, I'm terrible at striking up a conversation to express heartfelt admiration for someone's work that may have struck me in a particular way. Nevertheless, it was definitely fun to be in the same room with people (and fellow Rake contributors :-)) like Christian Chensvold, Scott Schuman, and, of course, Boyer.

[As an aside, I also passed by Nick Wooster and Alan Flusser at various points in the evening. Mr. Flusser has a way with a scarf that is truly impressive, and Mr. Wooster had his natty urban guerrilla "stilo" in full effect - and it is just as interesting in person. I'm always struck by how classically elegant Wooster's look usually is from the knees up. His sartioral "twist," for lack of a better term, usually seems to kick in from the calves down.]

I actually did have a chance to speak with Mr. Boyer as he signed my copy of Enduring Style. I had planned on asking him to write something pseudo-witty, like "From One Rake to Another," but unfortunately (yes, I know, a pattern is developing), I was thrown completely off-balance by how pleasantly charming and well, nice, Mr. Boyer, was. He immediately identified me as "a fellow member of the tribe," which, of course, would have been the perfect little line to ask him to include with his signature. I managed to spit out how much I enjoyed his work before he commented admiringly on the soft shoulder and cut of the suit I was wearing (Bespoke, he asked; Ralph Lauren Purple Label, I assured him).

After a few more pleasantries, we shook hands. I looked at a few of the shoes on display in the center of the shop, gathered my things and prepared to leave. As I reached the door, a woman stopped me - she stared intently at my shirt (Charvet) and tie (Kiton), felt at the fabric of both, then pinched my chin and said, "Just a lovely combination," before sending me on my way (approvingly, I daresay).

And, with that, an altogether enjoyable evening came to a close.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

"El Cubano"

Alexander Pompez at the 1924 Colored World Series

During the 1920s and 1930s, Harlem was  a magnet for the elegantly attired. From jazz musicians like Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway to writers of the Harlem Renaissance such as W.E.B. DuBois and Langston Hughes, the sartorially inclined had a wealth of inspirations from which to draw upon. However, if the elegance and lawlessness of the era could be said to have been exemplified by anyone, it was by the man known as El Cubano.

Born Alejandro Pompez in 1890, the Cuban-American made his way to New York in 1910 and found a job making cigars for $20 a week. Within the year, Pompez had opened his own cigar shop at 2122 Seventh Avenue. Over time, the shop would double as a front for his flourishing numbers racket, and El Cubano would maintain the store front for the next 50 years, until his death.

Pompez was also an avid baseball fan, and by 1916 his profits from the Harlem numbers game allowed him to bankroll a team called the New York Cubans. The name was changed the following year to the Havana Cuban Stars, and then the year after that to the more familiar New York Cuban Stars. By his own admission, he was soon making  anywhere from $6000-8000 a day.  All of this allowed to Pompez to live the high life: he smoked expensive Cuban cigars, indulged his sartorial appetites, and moved to Harlem's fashionable Sugar Hill section.

But the ostentatious lifestyle also attracted unwanted attention. As Prohibition neared its end, the racketeers began branching out - bootlegging had allowed them to amass considerable financial fortunes, and the gangsters were looking for new revenue streams. Across the river in the Bronx, Dutch Schultz had just ended his war with Mad Dog Coll by shooting the Mad Mick full of lead in the phone booth of a Chelsea drugstore. With his attention now undivided, the Dutchman turned his attention to "organizing" the Harlem policy business.

Alexander Pompez leaving Police Headquarters with detective James Canavan

He was helped out by that dark day in 1931 that came to be known as Black Wednesday. On that Thanksgiving Eve, the magical number 527 (a superstitious number regularly played by Harlem residents) actually hit, wiping out numbers banks all over town. Pompez was actually hit for $68000, but had paid all but $8000 or so when he was summoned by one Solly Girsch to the Cayuga Democratic Club in Harlem.

Girsch was a gunman of some repute in the Schultz gang, and he suggested to Pompez that it would be best if he considered purchasing some insurance on his business. Pompez left and thought nothing of the matter until he was visited a few weeks later at his cigar store by two of Schultz' more notable trigger men, Bo Weinberg and Lulu Rosenkranz. Weinberg told Pompez that the Dutchman wanted to see him the following Saturday, and the two actually returned on that day to the shop to deliver Pompez over to the Dutchman.

Man Smoking a Cigar

Pompez, on his way to testify against Jimmy Hines at his 1938 trial on corruption charges stemming from the protection he accorded Schultz' policy "racket"

Pompez later offered a firsthand account of Schultz' unique bargaining tactics. The two met at an apartment owned by the mother of Dixie Davis, Schultz' lawyer, also known as the Kid Mouthpiece. The soft-spoken Schultz asked, "What's the matter you don't want to come in with me?" At which point he took off his jacket, pulled the .45 tucked in his trousers, and set it on the table in front of Pompez as the two sat down. By the time he left, Pompez had become a 40% shareholder in a new policy bank, and was also entitled to a $250 a week salary. While certainly less than what he had been making as sole proprietor of his own bank, 40% of a bank that Schultz' own books showed to be making $12000 a day in 1935 was nothing to sneeze at. Of course, Pompez never actually saw any profits, only the salary, right up until Charlie "The Bug" Workman deposited that rusty steel-jacketed slug into the Dutchman as he stood over a urinal in the Palace Chophouse in Newark.

If Pompez wasn't ready to go toe to toe with a ne'er-do-well like Schultz, he proved much more adept at sizing up talent in the Negro and Major Leagues. He was credited for scouting and signing, either directly or through his network, Felipe Alou, Jesus Alou, Matty Alou, Sandy Amoros, Damaso Blanco, Ossie Blanco, Marshall Bridges, Jose Cardenal, Orlando Cepeda, Tito Fuentes, Gil Girrido, Monte Irvin, Sherman Jones, Willie Kirkland, Coco Laboy, Juan Marichal, Willie McCovey, Minnie Minoso, Manny Mota, Ray Noble, Jimmy Rosario, Jose Santiago, Jose Tartabull and Ozzie Virgil. Many reports also cite Pompez having a hand in the signing of Willie Mays.

Pompez' Baseball Hall of Fame Plaque

Perhaps Pompez’s most significant contribution to the history of organized baseball was the opening and mining of the Dominican Republic market. Pompez maintained a relationship with the Giants for 25 years, working for the club as late as 1971. He was eventually named Director of International Scouting. When the National Baseball Hall of Fame started considering Negro league players for induction, he was a member of the first four election committees starting in 1971. Pompez himself was elected in 2006.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Vintage Cross-Branding: Lock & Co. for Brooks Brothers

Vintage Brooks Brothers Hat Box (Circa 1960-1970)

Much has written recently about luxury cross-branding, or corporate partnering, or whatever one chooses to call it. The most obvious example is J. Crew and its recent efforts to partner up with just about anyone selling merchandise in the Western Hemisphere: Alden, New Balance, Swaine Adeney Brigg, Barbour - the list really does go on and on.

This makes sense on several levels, I suppose, as presumably Partner X is introducing your discerning customers to quality goods. For Partner Y, it is likewise happy to have its goods introduced to a new market or demographic that might not otherwise be exposed to its product. A good example of this would be the $550 SAB umbrellas that are sold at J. Crew. One can certainly wonder exactly how many J. Crew customers are actually going to purchase said umbrella; but, for purposes of this discussion, the point is that prior to the J. Crew x SAB collaboration, the typical J. Crew customer might have had no firsthand knowledge of the wonders of a Brigg's umbrella.

Despite the hype suggesting otherwise, this is not a new development. As I was trolling through eBay the other day, I came across an auction for an SAB umbrella that was made for the old Abercrombie & Fitch, presumably when it was a purveyor of luxury outdoor goods.

With that in mind, I sifted through my closet in search of an example closer to home - and came away with this vintage (but pristine) hat made for Brooks Brothers by John Lock & Co., the venerable London hatter located on St. James's Street.

This particular model is most likely from the 1960s or 1970s, suggesting that these partnerships have been going on for at least 30 or 40 years.

Do you have your own example of a vintage cross-branding effort? I'd love to hear about it!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Abercrombie & Fitch Take Savile Row


I'm a big fan of Justin Fitzpatrick over at The Shoe Snob - as the name implies, his content usually is almost entirely shoe-centric, which is fine by me. He must have been especially disgusted by Abercrombie & Fitch's invasion of The Row, which apparently came complete with locust-like hordes of teen shoppers descending upon the fabled sartorial mecca, to take the time to post about the whole sordid affair (see his account here).

The story is even sadder when one considers the illustrious history of this once-proud purveyor of luxury men's sporting goods.

The company was originally founded in 1892 by David Abercrombie as a luxury sporting goods store (here in the States, I suppose Orvis would be A&F's modern-day successor). He later formed a partnership with Ezra Fitch, and, after Abercrombie left the company, Fitch became sole owner and ushered in the "Fitch Years" of continued success. Prominent figures who patronized the company in its early 20th century heyday included Teddy Roosevelt, Amelia Earhart, Greta Garbo, Katharine Hepburn, Clark Gable, John Steinbeck, John F. Kennedy, Ernest Shackleton, Cole Porter, and Dwight Eisenhower.

After Fitch's retirement, the company continued under a succession of other leaders until its financial collapse in 1977. The present incarnation came into being in 1988, when Limited Brands acquired the ailing company for $47 million after having success in popularizing Express and Victoria's Secret. Sadly, at that time, the sporting goods inventory was cleared out and the new president placed a stronger emphasis on apparel. Then Michael S. Jeffries took over as president in 1992 and popularized the brand as a teen apparel merchandiser.

All of which brings us to the aforementioned hordes of kiddies lining the sidewalks of the Row . . . and to the inevitable conclusion that, once again, us Yanks are to blame.