All hail Christian Chensvold for the unveiling of his brilliant and all-encompassing book The Philosophy Of Style. No apologies. Christian has been my mentor since 2010 when he encouraged and continued to edit my seventy plus columns for the blog he founded (and has since divested) which went on to birth my 100 plus columns, two books and various staged appearances as Archival Consultant, remaining OCBD bow tie elder man about town cheering on the company my grandfather founded one hundred and twenty one years ago.
His epic kicks off with an expressive Forward by fashion and literary connoisseur Alan Flusser then splitting into dual categories, Belles Lettres and Three Tales. The first chapter, Soft Shoulders and Hard Bop leads off with dialogue between Chensvold and Andover Shop’s late founder iconoclast Charlie Davidson. Further conversations include soft shoulder buffs moi, Chipp’s Paul Winston, O’Connell’s Ethan Huber, more off-the-cuff Alan Flusser, G. Bruce Boyer, Lisa Birnbach, et al. The Bop belts out a who’s who of jazz spotlighting Miles Davis, “every man’s sartorial role model.”
The second chapter, The Rise and Fall of the Ivy League Look, is a somber exploration of an era he considers in decline. Defining its rise, “one could argue that Brooks Brothers smaller rival J. Press was a purer Ivy retailer in that it offered a broader selection (such as campus-oriented tweeds) within narrow perimeters.” Behold, must take issue with his reference to Ivy survivor J. Press serving “old fogies.” Absent for some time from his Ivy blog deserting the East Coast returning to his original environs in wine country north of San Francisco, he thus fails to be on hand observing the current scene while penning a new novel. He misses the froth of youth invigorating, for example, the new J. Press Pennant category re-engaging Gen Z to 21st Century J. Squeeze.
He provides leeway regarding the redundant preppy roller coaster of styles careening through America’s malls. Ralph Lauren gets his dues, “Each Fall season Ralph Lauren continues to pay tribute to the Ivy heyday with a few retro replicas.” His apt eulogy of the era is succinctly acknowledged quoting Welsh writer and critic Stephen Bayley, “…some kind of cultural line had been crossed following the fall of the Ivy League Look and the advent of post-modern, post-Ivy consumerism.”
The final three chapters of Belle Lettres are on a higher plane than his earlier rag and bones GQ-like historical analysis. Discourses on Dressing brings to the fore Honoré de Balzac, Malcolm Gladwell and Mark Twain, “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society,”
Gentlemen, Rakes and La Vie Elegante self-explanatory imbibes Hugh Hefner, Ian Fleming, Frank Sinatra and Chensvold’s grandfather following the era précis smoking a pipe. Anatomy Of The Dandy transcribes its twelve categories: Physical Distinction, Elegance, Self-mastery, Aplomb, Independence, Wit, A Skeptical world-weary, sophisticated, bored, or blasé demeanor, A self-mocking and ultimately endearing egoism, Dignity/Reserve, Discriminating Taste, A Renaissance Man, Caprice.
Three Tales, the final third of the book presupposes the author’s flight into philosophic fiction following the line of his preceding Dandy categories.
Chensvold’s chef d’oeuvre follows an abundance of menswear works landing recently on the digital and print market including my Threading The Needle Books I & II, Maggie Bullock’s Kingdom Of Prep, Take Ivy, Avery Trufelman’s American Ivy.
The Philosophy Of Style available here well deserves my encomium,
King Of The Ivy Vines