New York is suffering from a hideous dandy shortage. We’re trapped in some eternal casual Friday; all of our men seem to have been issued lumpy cotton crewnecks, pleated khakis, igloolike sneakers, and those monotonous hip-length black leather car coats. Accessorize with baseball caps and soccer-dad fanny packs and multiply by the millions. What the city so desperately requires is that rarest of creatures, that epic gentleman of fashion -- the dandy. Tom Wolfe is hall of fame, in his fiendishly hand-tailored pastel suits and high, starched collars, and Sean “P. Diddy” Combs is on the rise, flashing major-ice cuff links against his creamy-white cashmere coat. But for the hugely entertaining, bespoke elegance of the true dandy, we must salute the men of Vogue, Hamish Bowles and André Leon Talley.
Bowles is Vogue’s European editor-at-large, and he’s always writing scrupulously researched, gorgeously illustrated pieces on anything from the Parisian digs of designer Christian Lacroix, which include “winter and summer living rooms,” to the Dominican beachfront estate of Julio Iglesias, the construction of which the crooner supervised from a “mattress on a crane.” In London, Bowles was the style director of Harper’s & Queen for seven years, until he arrived at Vogue in 1992. He also curated the Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute’s recent tribute to Jackie Kennedy, and his private stash includes hundreds of vintage pieces, boasting treasures from Schiaparelli to Saint Laurent. Like all great dandies, Bowles knows his stuff; he appreciates fashion with a scholar’s dedication and a poet’s passion. But all of this pales beside Bowles’s supreme contribution to city life: the glorious pageant of his personal wardrobe.
I’ve never met the man, but I’ve seen him out on the town; his owlish horn-rims and floppy forelock lend him a Harry Potter wizardry. I once glimpsed him at an antiques show at the 55th Street Pier as he strode by in a slouchy tweed suit, a billowing trench coat, and a crisp shirt and tie that managed to eloquently combine lavender and lime green. The sight was extraordinarily cheering; it was a thrill to watch someone who cared enough to wear not what was merely performance-fleece comfortable but something deliriously, exuberantly dapper.
At six-seven, André Leon Talley is a giant of fashion. He was the protegé of Warhol and of Vreeland before landing at Vogue, where he’s editor-at-large and also contributes the yummily addictive “stylefax” column; Anna Wintour even tossed him her wedding bouquet. Like Bowles, Talley relishes and embodies the history of style, with a master’s degree from Brown in French literature. He’s also a television favorite, issuing grand pronouncements in the high-Vreeland manner. Once seen, Talley is beyond unforgettable. During Fashion Week, he provided commentary on the Metro Channel straddling a chair backward and swathed in a floor-length Napoleonic greatcoat with an Elvis-scale collar. He’s been photographed in any number of Milanese front rows, in a bedspread’s worth of Fendi fur, or a cherry-red down-filled cloud, or an immaculately cut navy-blue pinstripe suit. Talley takes full advantage of his size; he’s like the Statue of Liberty in couture. If a dandy is always an event, André Leon Talley is Radio City at Christmastime.
Vogue is the natural showcase for women of style, but Bowles and Talley lend the magazine a dandy’s heroic flair. Most men’s clothing pleads, “I’m sorry, but this is the best I can do.” An appearance by Bowles or Talley declares, “This peacock rules!”