Last week, we traveled up to New York City for the invitation-only party to celebrate the U.S. launch of the new book Rowing Blazers. Held at the newly inaugurated Polo/Ralph Lauren flagship store on Fifth Avenue – opening only days earlier – the event was a fun, crowded,  and sartorial cacophony of colors and patterns.

Penned by award-winning oarsman Jack Carlson and with principal photography by F.E. Castleberry, Rowing Blazers is a celebration of the historic garment upon which that most classic of men’s habiliment, the classic blue blazer, rests.

2014 09 24 23.42.11 OTC at the New York Launch Party for the Book Rowing Blazers

2014 09 23 16.57.54 OTC at the New York Launch Party for the Book Rowing Blazers

Not only did we spend the evening among 700 smartly dressed folks, we also had the pleasure of whiling away the afternoon beforehand with our friend and mentor Alan Flusser (above). It goes with saying that his outfit for the evening aptly reflected Alan’s mastery of color, pattern, and personality.

We also had the honor of OTC’s editor-in-chief being highlighted in Hodinkee’s watch spotting roundup of the Rowing Blazer event (below). For those who don’t know about Hodinkee, it is the web’s premier resource for watch news, product launches, in-depth industry reporting, and fascinating insights into the world of horological curiosities. Only one watch publication was invited to actually attend the Cupertino launch of the Apple Watch: Hodinkee.

Rowing Blazers 49 OTC OTC at the New York Launch Party for the Book Rowing Blazers

Rowing Blazers 48 OTC OTC at the New York Launch Party for the Book Rowing Blazers

Rowing Blazers Hodinkee Crw OTC at the New York Launch Party for the Book Rowing Blazers

A big thanks also goes out to the brand partners who outfitted our E-in-C for this fantastic event. Bonobos provided the Windsor single vent blue blazer and Heritage Washed Chino khakis; both trim, modern updates of preppy classics. We again joined forces with Deo Veritas to create a custom dress shirt, this time in a light purple gingham check. Still the best online custom shirts we have found. Eye Buy Direct provided us with new glasses and sunglasses for the trip. And to answer the question many folks were asking, yes, that was Frank Clegg’s Courier Messenger Bag in shrunken leather into which our copy of Rowing Blazers went.

Now, on to some great images from the September 23, 2014, New York City launch party for the new book, Rowing Blazers.

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Rowing Blazers Bulldog Blanket OTC at the New York Launch Party for the Book Rowing Blazers

 

 

James Prosek: The Audubon of Fish

Jame Prosek Bonneville Trout James Prosek: The Audubon of Fish

James Prosek first gained notoriety back in 1996, when, as 19 year-old student at Yale University, he published Trout: An Illustrated History. Prosek’s ability to bring vibrancy and life to his watercolors, and his obsession with contextual and anatomical accuracy, won him quick comparisons to famed naturalist John James Audubon.  These accolades were no lighthearted atta-boys; Prosek was rightly identified as a truly gifted artist whose deeply felt connection with nature was both genuine and finely-tuned.

James Prosek in his Studio James Prosek: The Audubon of FishA Connective native, in many ways, he embodies the East Coast Ivy League ethos of intellectual meaningfulness.  James Prosek took a love of fly fishing, art, nature, history, and environmental awareness and created both a career and a movement that has influenced and motivated others.  His art is already included in the permanent collections of several museums.  And Prosek’s work is sought after by many a prep, complete with wall space in a suitable wood paneled, leather sofa-ed study-cum-office.

In the intervening years since his Ivy League days, Prosek has been a busy and prolific young man.

In 2003, he won a Peabody Award for his documentary on 17th-century author and angler Izzal Walton and his seminal book The Complete Angler, well-known to any fan of fishing.  In addition to the publication of several more books,  Prosek remains an accomplished artist, author, and naturalist.  He is a fellow of the Vermont Studio Center, and a visiting artist for the Yale Summer School of Art.  Prosek is also a curatorial affiliate of the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale (where I spent many a grade school field trip), and a member of the board of the Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies.

Along with Patagonia co-founder, Yvon Chouinard, he also co-founded World Trout, an initiative that supports individuals and groups who protect native cold water fish and their habitats.  And, at a mere 38 years old, Prosek still has a long way to go.

 

James Prosek Brown Trout James Prosek: The Audubon of Fish

James Prosek Atlantic Salmon James Prosek: The Audubon of Fish

James Prosek Mid current James Prosek: The Audubon of Fish

James Prosek Brown Trout on Line James Prosek: The Audubon of Fish

Elizabethan Club of Yale James Prosek James Prosek: The Audubon of Fish

 

DF12 12.18 GQlo 104 GQ’s Glenn O’Brien: Setting Your Own Style Agenda

Recently, OTC had the chance to spend an evening with Glenn O’Brien, best known as GQ’s legendary Style Guy.  He was in town to celebrate the launch of the fall/winter GQ Style issue at DC’s elegant new nightspot, The Huxley.  Earlier in the day, we sat down with O’Brien at his suite in the Ritz Carlton.  While it is always fun to meet a well-known figure, perhaps the most impressive thing about Glenn is that style does not seem to impress him very much.

Without question, Glenn is on the inside of the fashion world.  He knows the people worth knowing and has access to the designers, brands, and luminaries we all read about.  Glenn is witty, wry, intellectual, and observant; traits which have served him well over the years.  However, for a “fashion” writer, he is an odd fit in the best of ways.  First and foremost, he’s a writer.  He is interested in people and stories, ideas and the world around him.  Glenn is far more curious about who you are than who you’re wearing.  If anyone has been there and that, it is Glenn.

Compared to the often overwrought dandies that populate the style blogosphere, Glenn O’Brien’s sense of style is wonderfully prosaic; suits, blazers, nice shirts, classic ties and jeans, and the occasional weathered biker jacket and Picasso beach shirt. He has a distinctive look and way of assembling these classic elements that reflect his own history and personality.  Glenn does not need to impress anyone with just-so outfits, skinny suits, or anachronistic dandyism.  Not that he is opposed to any of that, by the way; when asked about the landscape of today’s blog-driven fashion and vintage-inspired sensibilities, Glen embraced it all.  When is comes to trends and the vagaries of fashion, he’s very open-minded.  In fact, his favorite suit is actually from the mid 1990s.  “Yeah, it’s out of fashion, but I love it,” he says.

Scott S. The Sartorialist GQ’s Glenn O’Brien: Setting Your Own Style AgendaBlogs, he noted, have democratized the means by which style and fashion evolve.  “Say what you want about Scott’s [Schuman] site, but The Sartorialist has created a new way for people to explore fashion,” said O’Brien.  “The real-world nature of the photos is great; it allows you to experiment on your own and not rely on corporately constructed ensembles.”

That theme – the natural evolution of personal style, versus “assembled” style – was a thread woven throughout our conversation.  What the Style Guy appreciates most is personal expression and the willingness to value quality, construction, details, longevity, and patience.  Wear what you like and be proud of it.

This sentiment was best expressed when we chatted about mutual friend, the legendary menswear author and designer, Alan Flusser.  Alan, known for his impeccable style and ability to assemble beautifully classic wardrobes that best compliment the wearer’s coloration, physique, and personality, is also a fan of comfort.  One of his lesser appreciated skills is marrying the formal and informal – such as the day he sported a bespoke linen blazer and shirt, natty pocket square, electric blue Todd’s Gomminos, …and slate grey Nike wind pants.  Took about a half-hour to realize he was even wearing them because he made it work so seamlessly.

Such expressions of personal style are indeed personal, and they don’t work for everyone.  That’s OK; such is  the beauty of true style and importance of personal expression.  Real sartorial skills take time to learn and experience to develop.  Truly good style requires personal honesty, and when achieved is distinctive, admired – sometimes mocked – but often noteworthy.

We asked about something Flusser often states; that today there are no real male role models when it comes to style.  While there are celebrities who dress well, these stars are often outfitted by others who have mapped out a sponsored image for them.  Or, they dress by contract; disinterested in style themselves and playing the role of living mannequin to paying brands.

Alan Flusser 2011 Dennis C. GQ’s Glenn O’Brien: Setting Your Own Style AgendaGone are the days, says Flusser, when the likes of Cary Grant or Gary Cooper embodied the values of male sartorial attention to detail.  They had a keen appreciation of tailoring and personal expression and they understood the power of projection sophistication coupled with nonchalance.  True, notes O’Brien; but they also had the benefit of being studio actors who had at their disposal dedicated wardrobe departments.  Today’s celebrities are essentially freelancers, solo brands out to define and effectively telegraph their public persona – often for a fee.

When asked to name some leading male style role models, The Style Guy said that, frankly, the best dressed men he knows are often civilians – doctors, lawyers, businessmen. They simply have the interest, ability, and inclination to learn what works and what they actually like.  These everyday guys are not embarrassed to care about the details of fashion, and they appreciate its impact in their professions and how they are perceived.  That said, he did mention the likes of Andre 3000 and Rolling Stones drummer, Charlie Watts, as examples of well-known sartorial class acts.

Glenn is old school, and that is one of his strongest assets.  He is ecumenical when it comes to the breadth and depth of fashion out there today.  Never disparaging, he defended the popular “Made in Brooklyn” meme that is beginning to spawn its own bit of mockery.

“I’m tired of hearing about ‘ironic’ mustaches or ‘ironic’ Brooklyn shops.  There is no irony as far as I see,” he says.  “These folks looked around, saw the future, and said, ‘we don’t want that; we’re heading in the other direction.’  Good for them.”

All those handmade satchels, small batch suits, custom shirt makers, vintage fabric bow ties, and hand-welded city bicycles are what’s driving the resurgent interest in menswear and American urban style.  They are making real things that consumers want, and all that “irony” is being riffed on by the big corporate brands…ironically.

DF12 12.18 GQlo 117 GQ’s Glenn O’Brien: Setting Your Own Style Agenda

Watching Glenn work the room at DC hotspot, The Huxley, it was clear that he is someone comfortable in his own skin.  Overall, he was surrounded by a stylish crowd, although some guests were trying a bit too hard to be GQ-awesome while others appeared to have opted for a cautious DC law firm look.

Looking somewhat professorial in a simple Anderson & Sheppard grey suit, blue checked shirt, and yellow tartan tie he wore his famously inscrutable expression with aplomb.  When informed that we were chatting with O’Brien, Alan Flusser responded without hesitation, “Glenn is one of the few forces for intelligent manners and intelligent fashion.”

Gentlemen, all the way around.

 

The Ivy League: A Personal Review

The Ivy League The Ivy League: A Personal ReviewIn the six years that Off the Cuff has been around, I have made a point to try and keep my personal life and background out of the picture. Occasionally, articles have alluded to my upbringing and the Ivy League-ness of the world in which I was raised. While a rich and interesting background to me, it was far from the shiny, coiffed and aspirational world of Ralph Lauren. A more accurate picture may be Lisa Birnbach’s worn around the edges J. Press-ivy-walled-summer-house-by-the-shore take on life.

Privileged to an extent, I suppose, but for the most part fairly grounded and typical.  As one of my oldest friends likes to say, I’m the only person he knows whose childhood chores included polishing the family silver. I had never sought to leverage my preppy background on OTC as I simply never thought it overly interesting.

Then the new coffee table book from ASSOULINE, The Ivy League, landed on OTC’s doorstep.

Ivy League v. Preppy
Available at Assouline.com and at ASSOULINE boutiques worldwide, this large, beautiful book is less a treatise on preppy dressing and social signals than it is a love letter to the Ivy League culture. Indeed, Mr. Capello understands something important yet easy to overlook in the midst of the current resurgence of preppy style. And it is this: while one who is preppy may very well be Ivy League, the Ivy League is not simply “preppy.”

Where “preppy” is a style that can be created through presentation, “Ivy League” is a bit more complicated. A certain way of dressing, yes; but it is also a culture that incorporates a decided outlook on life and shared experience. Ivy League is more a way of being than simply a style of dressing, even though style is very much a part of it.

The Ivy League captures this distinction in a wonderfully academic fashion. Each school is profiled and documented with pictures, words, and historical notes that places it within both the Ivy League itself and the larger American culture.

More than any other academic construct, the Ivy League continues to influence the very idea and ideals of American higher education.  It also deeply influences the styles we broadly refer to as American traditional, preppy, East Coast, classic, or – yes – Ivy League.  Where preppy is a fashion statement, Ivy League is the cultural underpinning which gives it form and the nuances of which are much harder to affect without personal experience.

This has already become a cherished addition to our library, and not only because of its outward beauty and dense content – both of which are exceptional.  This book is meant to be displayed and explored.

For me, The Ivy League represents part of my family’s story, reaching back through Ivy League history more than 100 years. Now, allow me to point out that this article is somewhat lengthy and a personal reflection of sorts.  I have never put words to paper, so to speak, describing the impact of growing up with a strong Ivy League influence. Honestly, it never really occurred to me until now, because of this book.

And to be clear, I myself did not attend an Ivy. No, I am a proud alumnus of Boston’s Northeastern University. Far too distracted a high school student, I never even contemplated applying to Yale or Harvard, even just to collect some elite rejection letters. Instead, I wound up flourishing at what continues to be an exceptional and world-class university. However, at my core I will always be a bit of a Yalie.

Yale
As children, my brothers and I were surrounded by generations of Ivy League influence. I quite literally grew up in and around Yale University. Every fall meant weekends at the Yale Bowl, tailgating with friends and family. Yale professors were our family friends and of course, the old Yale COOP was our defacto department store. We would wander through the Old Campus, exploring the city and sometimes listen to the debates at the Yale Political Union.

The Ivy League Yale The Ivy League: A Personal ReviewI still have my lending card from the Sterling Memorial library. It’s a breathtakingly Gothic homage to a medieval cathedral; a secular temple of knowledge. Our favorite place to go for lunch with mom and dad? Mory’s. One of my cousins was a Wiffenpoof and it was always fun to sit listening to the young men sing there on Monday nights.

“You are a Son of Yale”
My father attended Hotchkiss preparatory school, Yale College, and then Yale Medical School. Opting to return to the New Haven area after service in the U.S. Army, he has remained close to the school ever since. Now a Fellow of Berkley College, he was also named a Son of Yale for his work with the medical school alumni association. He even taught a clinical diagnosis class at the medical school after retiring from being a full-time physician.

Of course, I am proud of my dad regardless, but these accomplishments are noteworthy to me because he grew up working class on the wrong side of the proverbial tracks and was a scholarship boy throughout his prep and Ivy years. While of little consequence today, to be on scholarship at Hotchkiss and Yale in the 1950s was tantamount to carrying a mark of shame. In fact, one of his scholarship obligations at Yale was to wait tables, white gloved, and serve his fellow non-scholarship students.

On the other hand, getting into Yale back then was a tad less stressful. Called into the office of Hotchkiss’ headmaster early in his senior year, my father was asked if he had given thought to yet to college. Yes, he replied. He wanted to attend Yale. The headmaster nodded, made some notes and picked up the telephone. He spoke, “Yes, I have another one for you…” It was done and back he went to class.

While being on scholarship scarred him in some ways, the overriding appreciation of what Yale gave back to him is what truly framed his life moving forward. He is the definition of a modest New Englander, instilling in his sons an abiding passion for education, never forgetting his roots, and never playing his Ivy League hand. But he is and will always be a Yale Man.

IMG 5885 300x225 The Ivy League: A Personal ReviewMy mother’s side of the family has a long history with the school. Her father, Jerome F. Donovan, attended Yale College and received his law degree from Columbia Law School. His father somehow skipped college altogether, was accepted into Yale Law, and went on to serve in Congress as a democratic representative of New York’s 21st district.

Mom’s maternal grandfather, John Lee Gilson, was a giant of a man and a figure who still looms large in our family to this day. Literally, I have a huge portrait of him in our dining room. It used to hang in the New Haven County Courthouse, where he was consecutively elected judge of probate for more than 20 years. It was painted by Deane Keller, Yale’s unofficial portraitist whose other works still hang in the U.S. Capitol’s Senate Cloak Room. The story goes that the courthouse gave it back to our family as they already had too many of his portraits and needed the wall space.

Mory’s
Gilson, a prodigious fellow, was a cultural and political butterfly. Dapper and elegant, convivial, intellectual, and worldly, he was always in motion. A Yalie through and through, he was president of the Mory’s Association for 16 years until his death, upon which the association passed a resolution, which reads in part, “We know further how many and how broad his interests were: how prodigal he was of his friendship, yet he has left with us an abiding sense that Mory’s lay close to his heart; that he found it the most congenial outlet for his great capacity for friendship and his love of Yale.”

We still have his Mory’s Cup – a beloved family treasure. And in the Mory’s clubhouse, what is presently called the President’s Room had been known for decades as the Gilson Room.

One of the most memorable times for our family was my parent’s 50 wedding anniversary, which we celebrated at Mory’s. Dozens of family and friends filled the private rooms upstairs and the Cups, including the family Mory’s Cup, made their rounds. It was one of the last private events held at 306 York Street before the old Mory’s shut down. Happily, Mory’s lives again – fresh and updated – but to me it will always be the timeworn, coat-and-tie only place of my youth.

From the party…

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Dartmouth
While I have cousins who are Harvard, Brown, and Columbia alums, Dartmouth is another school embedded in my childhood. My family has a small vacation house near Hanover, New Hampshire, home to Dartmouth College. And those who have been up there know, Dartmouth is Hanover.

So even before my oldest brother attended college there, it was a place familiar to us, if only to attend the Yale v. Dartmouth games when not in New Haven. The Dartmouth Winter Carnival, with its massive ice sculptures and towering bonfire was an annual winter event, cemented in the family calendar.

No pressure on the rest of us, but being a classic first sibling and role model, brother #1 was accepted to Yale, Harvard, and Dartmouth. This remarkable feat was repeated by no other son. Not even close. Being an outdoorsy hippie, he opted for Dartmouth because, among other amenities, it has its own mountain (Mount Moosilauke) and its own ski hill.

50th Anniversary 024 300x200 The Ivy League: A Personal ReviewBeing completely self-effacing and disinterested in status markers, the Green Mountains suited him better than Harvard Square. It was fun being the youngest brother back then. I remember spending the night at his room in Casque and Gauntlet’s building, the “Dartmouth Outing Club President” sign on his door. That position got him a huge corner room with a fireplace. If it weren’t for all the smelly hiking gear, ropes, and crampons hanging from the ceiling, the place would have had a cool Harry Potter feel.

This did not mean he wasn’t up for Ivy League rivalry when the opportunity presented itself. His shot came one year when the Dartmouth football team was playing Yale, at New Haven. Using our home as his forward operating base, he and a classmate somehow snuck into Yale’s iconic Harkness Tower. Climbing right up to the top, they hung a huge “GO DARTMOUTH” banner from the side and crept away undiscovered. Being experienced mountaineers helped as they were trapped outside for a while when the tower’s organist stopped by for an impromptu evening practice.

Ivy Culture (& Style)
And what about those Ivy League style influences? While similar to the preppy aesthetic, there is a certain tang to Ivy League that is deeper than just dressing a certain way. It’s a cultural aesthetic born of social terroir.

Dartmouth’s rugged location and harsh weather gave birth to an LL Bean- and later Patagonia-influenced lifestyle. It’s not an affectation, it’s design born of necessity. Cool autumns and punishing winters lead to the likes of warm beaver coats and later classic parkas, corduroys, thick sweaters, and heavy woolens. Shorts and trainers, sporting-influenced wares, mixed with dressier country fashions matched the outdoorsy and sport-focused warmer months.

j press and barrie ltd 20  10   10  20 tonemapped ele1 935x1024 The Ivy League: A Personal ReviewYale’s style on the other hand was inspired by its town and country influences. New Haven is a city, but it’s located along Connecticut’s coastline. Town clubs and yacht clubs vied for social and sartorial influence.

Yale was also where the classic concept of traditional blue blazers and loafers, khakis and button-down oxfords helped to define the very image of Ivy League style. Coat and tie was a requirement for class, and J.Press was where you went to get appropriately outfitted. You picked up some new bucks at Barrie Ltd., and your Gant button down oxfords at the COOP.

But it was the cultures surrounding these schools and influences of your peers and professors that helped to guide and instill the cultural patterns and social morays that were the building blocks of Ivy League style. These traditions are passed down father to son, friend to friend. But it is more than just dressing, it’s the meaning underneath, even if that meaning is just tradition.

 

For the Bookshelf: The Gentry Man

Gentry Man Cover For the Bookshelf: The Gentry Man

One of the exciting side effects brought about by the sustained and evolving resurgence in menswear, elegantly executed lifestyles, and well-crafted luxury goods, is the recent release of some great new books geared toward men.

For the past several years, there has been a coffee table drought of sorts; a lack of interesting books devoted to mens style.  Alan Flusser’s contributions are de facto bibles when it comes to elegant dressage and, as he so eloquently coined it, “permanent style.”  However, few titles have been able to give him a worthwhile nudge on the bookshelf.

Things changed in 2009, when “Take Ivy” was published.  Previously beloved as a cult classic in the fashion world, the Japanese language book was republished in English.  The publisher was stunned with the intense demand once word got out.  Apparently, men were starving for quality style guides and substantive books filled with interesting, useful, historical, and practical information about how to dress, how to live, what to drink, and how to behave.

Authors obliged.  Some of the weak offerings were no more than a collection of generalizations and pictures of people on boats and sitting on tartan chairs.  Others, like the impressive “Preppy,” sought to delve deep into the fashion and philosophy of the preppy lifestyle.  “The Ivy League,” a stunning new book, which will be reviewed soon on OTC, captures both the style and culture of the Ivy League world.  It prompted a deep reflection on this editor-in-chief’s own upbringing and resulted in a major article currently undergoing final edits.  Finally, the quality of menswear books is beginning to meet demand.

the gentry man c. CoolHunting.com  For the Bookshelf: The Gentry ManPerhaps the most interesting book to land on our doorstep is “The Gentry Man: A Guide for the Civilized Male.”

Gentry was a landmark magazine for men from the 1950s, which covered all aspects of gentlemanly pursuits.  It lead with a distinct worldly, intellectual approach; a cross between today’s Esquire and Monocle magazines.

From cocktails to suiting, automobiles to academic treatises.  Art, culture, and travel mingles with fashion and interior design. It was a magazine for the thinking man’s dandy. Playboy, but without the nudity.

Editor Hal Rubenstein collected some of the best articles from the magazine’s 22 issues – far too brief a run. Of course the technology is out of date and the fashions a touch stodgy, but that is beside the point.  The hefty book, 256 pages, is divided into distinct sections that take advantage of the subject matter’s depth and breadth: Style; Homes, Cars, and Travel; Food and Drink; Sports and Culture; and Art and Architecture.  Thomas Crowne likely read Gentry.

Much of the advice perfectly relevant for today, especially the underlying message of gentlemanlyness and intellectual curiosity. These are the hallmarks of a true man and this wonderful book is a guide-cum-historical reference for those seeking to put some substance behind their style.

The Gentry Man goes on sale May 8, 2012.