Saturday, October 3, 2015

Part Two: Birmingham Alabama—In Alden Pebble Grain

It’s been so long since I published my Part One: Birmingham Alabama—In Alden Pebble Grain that you might want to go back and read it first.

Part Two: Birmingham Alabama—In Alden Pebble Grain
Then I rounded the corner…
But before I begin this final round, I want to offer this quote from TCD’s original email regarding Richards of Mountain Brook…"Richards" took a high school freshman to his Dad's world & instantly verified it was where you wanted to be even if it had not occurred to you before".

“…instantly verified it was where you wanted to be even if it had not occurred to you before…” That’s a strong statement right there. Stronger than new rope. Strong in some kind of teenage existentially ethereal, one hundred percent cotton kinda way. Shut up.
But TCD, in response to part-one of this story emailed me and reminded me that any trip to Richards usually included a stop off at the drug store that’s anchored this little mercantile patch since 1928. AS TCD described this place, it occurred to me that Gilchrist Drug is the J&J Drugs of my hometown. Butcept like everything in Florence S.C. versus anywhere else ('cept maybe Tabor City N.C.), my hometown version is a redneck-y, inelegant comparator.
At least 30% of my caloric intake was courtesy of the J&J lunch counter during my days working at the haberdashery just opposite the J&J. I would go over to the J&J on some Saturday mornings before we opened the store, still capable of blowing a DUI I’m certain. Bill Tassios would patch me up with the same unguent, my Saturday morning “rescue usual” of two ham biscuits and a cup of coffee. I’d grab some breath mints and toss it all back before cinching up my four-in-hand and easing into my Saturday mercantile duties. Unfortunately, the photo above reveals what the J&J storefront looks like these days. Alas.
I’d say that for the first hour or two my internal dialogue was really a flurry of foxhole prayers to Jesus. “Lord, if you’ll make this hangover go away I’ll never get smashed on a Friday night again”. But by eleven o’clock I’d be feeling better thanks to my J&J fix and on the phone to my various cohorts, sorting out the Saturday night plan.
Oops, I digressed again. So  TCD told me that for him, the Gilchrist Pimiento Cheese (yes, you Yankees, Pimiento Cheese is capitalized. It’s a Southern thang that I’m not going to take time to ‘splain to you because you’ll never get it. Suffice it to say that the cheese and the assemblage of it on two pieces of toasted bread is sacred.) sandwich and a fresh squeezed right then and there glass of their limeade was his standing order. 
Here’s a quote from this article that best sums up why TCD made sure I understood the significance of the Gilchrist anchor… “Walk into Gilchrist, and you’re likely to see tables of teenagers and college kids, mothers and daughters, grandparents and great-grandparents — most of whom have been coming here all of their lives. Old snapshots of long-time customers fill a display case. “That’s the neatest thing about this place, is seeing somebody in their 70s come in here and talk about how they used to sit at that very same stool,” (current owner) Rosato says. “They grow up here in this community, and they grow up going to Gilchrist.””
Photo from Taste of the South Magazine
Typical of my A.D.D. impertinent country a_s, I stood right beside this hallowed sanctum sanctorum of samiches and such and didn’t have a clue of its existence. Otherwise, I’d a had a little bite of something to complement the sartorial rarefied air that I’d just finished breathing two doors down.

So I’d finished my photo taking reminiscent obligations to TCD and was headed back to the car. 
Then I rounded the corner and noticed a little haberdashery called Harrison Ltd. My painfully nostalgic self has long since resigned to the reality of TinTin’s  “Not as good as it once was, better than it will be” by-line.  But every town used to have a locally owned haberdashery and Harrison Ltd. is doing a damn fine job of campaigning the Richard’s legacy.
A faint smell of leather hit me when I walked in. Sort of a shoe repair shop olfactory déjà vu. The source was a gaggle of Alden shoe boxes above my immediate right that let me know I wasn’t in some kind of twee little attenuated J. Crew skinny jeans atelier. Shut up.
While this little oasis is trad out the as_; rest assured that Harrison Ltd. ain’t no maudlin throwback to a time now irrelevant. There’s a little bit of Mashburn folded into a good bit of your daddy’s favorite old-time tradberdashery.
What Harrison Ltd. seems to do so well is keep just enough of the immutable 3-Button patina spread ‘round ever so lightly while offering fresh takes on it all. And I don’t know how to write this in a way that you’ll understand what I’m trying to say but here goes…What Harrison Ltd. does is something more nuanced than that worn-ass-out hackneyed standard of “we take the classics and reinterpret them”. A monkey could do that. Trust me; I was a monkey at one time. Shut up.
So I’m standing there, doing anything to keep from having to return from my errand running tasks and this pebble grain thing gobsmacked me from the get-go. I ask for no sympathy when I say that there’s never been a time in my life when I was less able to buy anything nonessential. But I had some some cravings in this joint that warranted the ultimate sale of a few caricatures and antique toy soldiers. I think it came out of me before I even knew that I’d asked it. And the answer was yes, my size in these pebble graingers just happened to be on hand.
I love my versatile penny loafers but the Alden tassel mama is a step-up in the “if you could only have one shoe what would it be?” pantheon. Yep. Weejuns are kinda like the Canterbury Shop to the Alden tassel’s Richard’s of Mountain Brook. And of course since I’ve never owned an Alden tassel loafer in my life, I figured it was my time.
Granted I shoulda paid the freight for the shoes and cut outta there faster than a set of rims at a Puff Daddy concert butcept I didn’t. They had some belts and of course since I’ve never owned a belt, I figured it was my time. The Wiley Brothers Hoof Pick contrivances and even my Sid Mashburn oyster shell buckled belt seemed clunky and ham fisted compared to this gem.
Matte alligator. I’d never had anything reptilian other than the shiny glazed stuff. So my first thought was whether or not it was the real thing or one of those hydraulic ersatz  stamped-stomped cowhide models. My first car, the MG Midget, was worth about five hundred and fifty bucks when I said goodbye to it. So the indicator of reptilian authenticity was an MSRP that was perilously close to the goodbye value of my Midget.
Fake it till you make it is remains part of my oeuvre but I can’t abide fake gator grained leather. The gator grain stamping process reminds me of what has to be the high-heat, hydraulic event that creates the undulating rib impressions on a McRib. As a Southerner and hogavore, I believe the McRib to be a multipronged insult to a pig. 
Painted on grill marks and rib impressions you are supposed to bite-through. Corrugated meat. Damn. We gnaw ribs where I’m from. We don’t bite through them. Ok, so I had to sell more toy soldiers.
At this point I figured that a knit tie to round my visit wouldn’t hurt. Most knit ties are too skinny and frail looking for me. But like everything else in this little oasis, I could have taken one of everything. And of course since I've never owned a tie, I figured one of these knit babies should be my first.
Photo from Robert Talbott
Scott Pyburn is the swizzle stick that stirs this trad cocktail. And if I lived in Birmingham, he and I would continue to visit and ideate on who could make me a pair of alligator tassel loafers; one hundred percent faithful to the Alden classic on the Aberdeen last.
Oh, and if you spend an amount equal to the value of your first car, Scott will give you a t-shirt and baseball cap. And since I've never...



Sunday, August 30, 2015

Bruce Boyer and True Style: The History and Principles of Classic Menswear

I love picture books. But I think I love words even more than pictures and God knows I’m a visual guy. My sartorial sensei’s volumes have always thrilled me and to this day I’ll pull one of them off the shelf—any one of them—and grab a bolus dose of Flusstaciousness. The fare’s quite rich and I never tire of the visual treats. And let me not give Alan short shrift. Daddy Flusser is pretty damned skilled with the written word too. 

Oh, and shut up in advance about me heading a story about Boyer's new book with a photo of Alan's classic. Either read-on or get off of my blog. 
I said long ago that I thought Bruce Boyer’s book, Elegance might have been slightly thwarted by the sartorial picture books that appeared at about the same time. And it’s a damn shame. Let’s admit it; photos are the MSG (Monosodium glutamate for you South Carolinians. Oh hell, that didn’t clarify anything for the Sandlappers. Let me go at it another way. It’s the secret ingredient that makes all of the slop on the country buffet trough taste like something, last longer and look prettier. It's an enhancer and intensifier. Kind of a bullhorn for your country-ass taste buds.)  of sensory processing and we’ve been on an ever faster slide towards less reading and more pictures. Do you people read? I wonder because if you are reading my scrivening, you’re only a half-step away from the country buffet. Shut up.
Used without permission but with thanks from Daddy Flusser's site.
I’ll pull Elegance off the shelf from time to time for a different reason than when I feel the need to scratch my Flusser itch. There are some writers whose grocery lists would be on my to-read roster simply because of the way they write. Hitchens was one and Bruce Boyer is another. So Boyer’s a winning combination for me: Stories sartorial, but also nicely strung together. I swear I wish that I could write with the flourish of Flusser and the stylish discipline of Boyer. Here’s what I’m talking about. From page 101 in Boyer's Elegance, on the subject of double-breasted suits. "...this all sounds very Sherlock Holmes, but nonetheless and to move quickly to the denouement of this classic tale of crime and detection, when the police finally tracked down and captured George Metesky, we was indeed wearing a double breasted suit."  Most of the young I-Gents, who by the way, love Bruce and Bruce them, would throw in the towel upon getting all tangled up in the word denouement. Not me. Hell, I even save all of G. The Bruce's emails because even his most casually dashed-off missives sing.
One of the highlights of the past four years has been my growing acquaintance with Mister Boyer. 
Mathew Bruccoli in his forward to Charles Fountain’s biography of George Frazier wrote that there were "various Georges, depending on the company and setting". Well I’ve only discovered one Bruce so far. He’s authentic and consistent as hell. Whether he’s speaking about Miles Davis from the F.I.T. podium, at a book signing amidst admirers, debating and dickering one-on-one with tailors and shoe makers about crucial details, or sitting with you at lunch; he’s the same guy.
Used without permission but with thanks from Lehigh Valley Style 
Boyer offers no pretense, no bluster, and zero swagger. He doesn’t need any of those protective wrappers that the less confident are prone to rely upon.  The man knows who he is. Come to think of it, the concept of swagger seems vulgar when correlated with Bruce. But don’t get me wrong. The man is no pushover and like I’ve said before; nobody shit talks Bruce Boyer.
Thanks, Rose.
Here’s a resolute Boyer from a 2011 Wall Street Journal interview…“It is both delusional and stupid to think that clothes don't really matter and we should all wear whatever we want. Most people don't take clothing seriously enough, but whether we should or not, clothes do talk to us and we make decisions based on people's appearances”. There's probably no better tribute to Boyer than what Dr. Andre Churchwell would offer about the man. Andre, one of the best dressed mammals in the universe will essentially tell you that the greatest sartorial lessons he ever learned and the best bespoke clothing guidance he got came from GeeBruce. 
And he’s the same fella back home in Bethlehem as he is in Gotham City. I met Bruce at the Hotel Bethlehem for lunch back in the winter and his “I’m in my office at home writing so don’t expect a dressed to the nines lunch mate” sartorial ensemble intrigued me. He’s one of those guys who could get dressed in the dark and still nail the hell out of it. Boyer was sitting there in a cardigan sweater over one of his ever present neat-check tattersall shirts. Just so.

But it was the day's sneak peek of his ascot that got me. I wish I'd taken a picture of it. I say peek "of" instead of "at" for a reason. And it wasn’t really an ascot per se as much as it was a well-worn scarf, knotted loosely and set in a way that just the right amount of it showed. And what really got me was the most harmonious color play between the cardigan, the mini-tattersall, and the scarf. There was evidence of these things having been paid attention to during assemblage but not too much. That’s Boyer.
Used without permission but with thanks from Lehigh Valley Style 
You’ll also get the same Boyer should he invite you into his home. His digs are as well appointed as his clothes...well, but not over-done. And since he’s not one to brag  I’ll do it for him. Bruce’s wife is a stunner inside and out. She’s just as genuine as the Mister and to say that Bruce married way above his pay grade is an understatement. Sorry, Bruce but it’s true.
There’s lots of middling schmatta stuff to read on the internet but when was the last time you read really well written sartorial prose?  I’m happy that Bruce is offering us an oasis of tailored writing amidst all the run-on over-egged drivel like the sh_t you’re reading right now. True Style: The History and Principles of Classic Menswear is ready and waiting for you at or wherever else you pick up your books. And like all the rest of my Boyer books, I’m looking forward to having the true north, the voice of reason and well cadenced sartorial sensibility sign my copy in a week or two.

And finally, this from G. The Bruce…
From The Sartorialist
“My dress is so conservative compared to some. You look at some of the guys in there, they are ready for Mardi Gras.” When Bruce said this during an interview for Lehigh Valley Style, I know he was talking about the book I am Dandy but he was probably also taking a shot at me.
Onward. To Boston this week for a rare these days billable.

ADG-2, Mister Mardi Gras. “Throw me sumpin Mistah!”


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