Danish Short Film, “The Trench”

True Love Video is a small collective of filmmakers and creatives based in Copenhagen, Denmark.  Dedicated to exploring, “beauty and the human place in the Nordic nature,” they have released the first in a series of short films that capture iconic outerwear and the humans beneath.  The series, entitled UDE, begins with that most traditional of menswear garments, the trench coat.

An art house styled short, Trench is slightly moody, narrated in Danish, and doesn’t even have a guy in it.  What it does do is convey the ubiquity of menswear and its easy movement between intended purpose and daily life, like a thoughtful, solitary stroll along the quay.

True Love Video producer Emilie Bredtved Hansen told OTC, “We want you to think of these works as morning walks.  As Something simple and pleasant and without any higher purpose.”

 

The Full Circle of Preppy

Actor Theo James on Nantucket GQ 684x1024 The Full Circle of Preppy

As with much of life, the modern aesthetic we refer to as “preppy” bears only a thin resemblance to the historical roots upon which it rests.  Often, the substance of a philosophy or belief is obscured over time as the surface decoration which was initially its outgrowth comes to define the entire idea.  The same can be said of preppy fashion.

It’s not too dramatic to state that the preppy fashion meme of today is but a shallow construct masquerading as some sort of cultural touch point.  The problem of course, is that preppy fashion has almost nothing to do with the culture it references, certainly not when it comes to actual, you know, culture.  However, as we move into the Spring of 2014, it would appear that designers are finally beginning to see the limits of the hyper-preppy overkill that has saturated the menswear space for several years.

The eye-burning excess of colors, patterns, crests, layers, skulls-emblazoned-on-everything, big plaid with little plaid with repp stripes, and velvet slippers to the office, finally seems to have exhausted even the most ardent of trend spotters.

So now, at long last, we can move onto the next phase in the ongoing preppy style circle of life.  As evidenced above in this relatively realistic GQ-styled take on preppy, a shift toward real life appears to be in motion.  Actor Theo James’ outfit, shot appropriately on Nantucket island, is thoroughly believable and wearable. Thank goodness.

The Influence of Real Life

Actual preppy style (that is, the preppy style of dress) evolved from life in New England preparatory schools, which by and large expressed conservative protestant values and social stratification.  Collectively, these influences created an environment which produced the uniform we know now as the preppy look.

Today, when someone is called (or calls themselves) “preppy,” it usually means that he dresses in a neo-traditional fashion, typically predicated on conveying a classically sporty lifestyle (crew, rugby, sailing, 1950s football, etc.).  Often, but not always, it is simply costume; no sense of history or understanding of the preppy culture.  That’s too bad, because actually, it’s a pretty interesting history.

Take Ivy Picture The Full Circle of PreppyMore so than other styles, preppy – East Coast, Ivy League, WASPy, call it what you will – has a real history behind it that clearly informs the fashion.

Perhaps that is why the style and implied lifestyle behind it, endures generation after generation.  While you can look polished and successful in a nice suit and carrying an expensive bag, you can convey many more social, cultural and status cues looking as though you just hopped off your Hinkley yacht after spending a week at the Cape house.

While for the most part it started at New England prep schools and ivy walled colleges, the roots of preppy style can also be traced to a focus on social achievement, uniformity of style, propriety, proper decorum and class distinction. Conformity of dress at school resulted in the basic uniform of coat, tie, button down shirt, grey flannels or chinos and loafers or lace ups. Codes, traditions and sports also helped to nurture a bond and familiarity among budding preps and instilled in them a feeling of belonging.

A culture of thrift and purpose also pervaded the Ivy League world.  Clothing was worn until it frayed, upon which it was patched and sewn.  Garments were handed down and cherished, signs of age and wear denoted a certain authenticity and personality that only time conveys.  Preppy style looks so good because it looks so worn and beat-up, lived in, and loved over time.  This focus on These

This environment helped create a culture of exclusivity that had real influence.  To say you prepped at Phillips Exeter (a feeder school for Harvard) or Hotchkiss (a feeder school for Yale) could win you access to the right social circle or get you into really great parties.  And once in the working world, to say you were a Yale man could mean getting the right job, joining the right club or vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard.

From Exclusive to Popular Culture

As preps sought to instill that sense of tradition and lifestyle in their own children, they looked, of course, to their own preppy past. To the oak paneled lecture halls of Exeter, the squash courts of Deerfield and the rowdy but stylish nights at Choate Rosemary Hall. So, their offspring were trucked off to the old alma mater and the cycle began again.

Kennedy Short Khakis The Full Circle of PreppyWithout question, it was an exclusive, self-impressed, and privileged world that gave birth to preppy style and the culture that underpinned it.  But, as with so many other attempts to create a homogenous bubble of exclusivity, the prep school aesthetic eventually moved beyond its original sphere of influence.

People want what they do not have or what seems more attractive than what they do. So, when the Preppy Handbook hit the shelves in 1980, its editor Lisa Birchach (herself a Brown grad) overnight became the arbiter of all things pink and green. People didn’t care that it was intended to be both a send-up of the “true” prep culture as well as a tongue and cheek education for those looking to emulate the life. They saw a way of living that was far more exciting, cultured, sporty and stylish than their own – and they wanted it.

For the first time, preppy culture had been distilled into a portable and easy to understand resource.  It was, and remains, the de facto guidebook to being preppy.  And, while she issued a follow-up, “True Prep” in 2010, the original remains unquestionably dominant in influence.

The privileged and windswept lifestyle that had taken generations of Blue Bloods to develop and refine was now a commodity to be bought and imitated. In that moment, the life of prep was effectively democratized. That is because once the Preppy Handbook came out, kids across the world latched onto the single most attractive and achievable aspect of the actual preppy’s life: its look – the rumpled and ironic blending of dress and casual clothes.

Ralph Lauren Preppy The Full Circle of PreppyIn the intervening years, preppy style has been interpreted, parsed, watered down and ginned up to such a degree that for many it has been commoditized beyond recognition.

In response, sites like Christian Chensvold’s Ivy Style launched as a sort of counterbalance, reminding people that this preppy fashion thing actually had a rich and important story behind it.  Yes, anyone can dress preppy, but “being” preppy is actually something altogether different.

When we first broached this subject years ago, one OTC reader pointed out that what some only know of as iconic Ralph Lauren branding, the mixing of dress and functional clothing, did not actually start out as a fashion movement.  His comment was in itself an expression of true preppy-ness:

“You don’t wear foul weather gear over your blazer because you’re a blue-blooded American demonstrating your accessibility without appearing tacky; you do it because you’re a wise-mouthed elitist who smugly tells your Latin professor, technically speaking, you haven’t broken any rules so there’s nothing he can do about it. And of course it’s sailing gear, because your father does own a yacht…”

The original audience for this rebellious “foul weather gear over the blazer” look was other preppies and their families. Yet, as this type of hybrid style came into its own, it seeped out into regular society. Eventually spreading to Madison Avenue, it was popularized by style influencers like the aforementioned Ralph Lauren.  Over time, the prep boom of the 1980s waned due to its extreme and vibrant interpretation of the preppy culture – the same issue facing the trend today.  At its apogee there was an almost cartoonish quality to the movement.  Sound familiar?

Finding Preppy’s Roots

What we see moving into the American preppy space now is an interest in a more reality-based look; muted colors and less overt branding and styling, singular pops of color rather than a cacophony that overwhelms.  Less “look at me, I’m preppy!” and more “oh, this old thing was my dad’s when he was in school.”

Hopefully, all this will translate into a more careworn, comfortable and vintage preppy personality; approachable and less precious than in the last few years.  Many of the style’s adherents are now looking for a little substance behind the flash, the story behind the fashion, and a more accurate read on the overall Ivy League look.

How wonderful would it be for the renewed focus on menswear quality, detail, provenance, and longevity to extend to the history and culture behind that most American of fashions?  Let’s make understanding the roots of American preppy as stylish as dressing in American preppy.

 

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

 

Stella Cidre Throws a Party

Stella Cidre on Display Stella Cidre Throws a Party

One of the hallmarks of having personal style is knowing how to have a good time like a grown-up. So, when global brewing brand Stella Artois invited OTC, along with writers from around the country, to Chicago to help celebrate the recent launch of its new premium apple cider, Cidre, I gladly accepted.

The event was a genuinely fun time that reminded me about the importance of taking advantage of exciting and new opportunities. Did I think about what to wear? You bet, and Paul Watson at Ledbury made sure I had on the season-perfect cotton and linen blend checked button down. What to tote my stuff around in? Thanks to Frank Clegg for the messenger bag, which everyone eyed and asked about. As expected, it wound up being a fun evening with some good friends, stylish guests, and time to relax and connect.

Stella at EPIC Chicago Stella Cidre Throws a PartyThere is actually a back story to the Stella connection that made this a sort of full-circle occasion. Several years ago, I had the opportunity to tour Stella’s main brewery in Leuven, Belgium. It was an amazing time – meeting with company executives to discuss global marketing, visiting the main control room that looked the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, and tasting Stella Artois right out of the gigantic holding tanks. This was all before the beer had really arrived in the United States, so even now I have a “knew it when” soft spot for the brand.

As with fashion, the spirits industry has its trends and flirtations with coat-tailing what’s popular at the moment. For example, flavored beers are becoming more accepted, apple being on-trend right now. So, a cider product from Stella Artois sounded interesting.

Not sure what to expect, we all were pleasantly surprised with Stella Cidre’s crisp and refreshing lightness which has a clean and simple reference to apple. It’s distinct, but not at all overwhelming or effete. The consensus among our group was decidedly positive. We had more.

Good Bad Fad at EPIC 2 1024x768 Stella Cidre Throws a Party

Tasting Stella Cidre at EPIC Chicago Stella Cidre Throws a Party

Now, this is no food site, but we do know branding. Stella has positioned this product as a premium alternative to light beers or white wine – on a warm summer evening, for example. It was served in an white wine-styled stemmed glass, with an etched Cidre logo. They were also serving Stella Artois lager in traditional branded chalices. The Cidre product itself is presented in an oversized bottle akin to a limited edition microbrew or other small-batch spirit.

Cidre Logo Stella Cidre Throws a PartyThe setting was equally fun. Chicago is a stellar city with a distinctive sense of style and its own swagger.  Call it Chi-Town, The City of Broad Shoulders, or The Windy City, but Chicago has a charm that gets me every time I visit.  Perhaps it’s the geography; it has the vibrancy of a true metropolis but the relaxed attitude of a Midwestern town.

EPIC is an open air rooftop lounge that comes with its own boule court and stage. For the evening, our venue was transformed into a skyline orchard and Stella Artois-themed park. It was fun, crowded, and lively. We also ran into a bunch of sharp guys and even one cool hipster photographer.  As it turn out – and this should remind us that substance always matters more than mere style – that photographer was none other than Brian Powers.  Brian is a former staff photographer for the Chicago Sun Times, and when he all the other Times’ photogs were recently let go as part of cost-cutting, CNN commissioned him to profile each one of those exceptional documentarians.

Brian, we raise our glass to you.

OTC at EPIC Chicago Stella Cidre Throws a Party

Stella Glasses Stella Cidre Throws a Party

Stella Photog at EPIC Chicago Stella Cidre Throws a Party

Boule at EPIC 2 1024x696 Stella Cidre Throws a Party

Stella Cidre Frank Clegg EPIC Stella Cidre Throws a Party

Judging Boule at Epic Chicago 1024x749 Stella Cidre Throws a Party

New Glass Same Cidre at EPIC Chicago Stella Cidre Throws a Party

Stella Cidre -Made with Hand-Picked Apples

Compensation was provided by Stella Artois via Glam Media. The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and are not indicative of the opinions or positions of Stella Artois.

 

A Time and Place: When You Know

1997 Innaugural 1024x682 A Time and Place: When You Know

How do you know when the person you think you like is actually the person with whom you want to spend your life?  In my case, that moment was tied up with a particularly stylish and unique event – of course.

Back in 1997, Bill Clinton was gearing up for his second inauguration.  Here in Washington, DC, it was a huge fete, as is any inauguration.  For Clinton however, this was a going to be a really big party.  It had been a decisive win and he was, like it or not, a rock star. This was the shingdig of the year.

It was an important time for me too, because I planned on surprising my then-girlfriend with hard-to-come-by tickets to one of the big inaugural balls.  The odds were very much against me, but I wanted to do something really special.

photo15 300x200 A Time and Place: When You KnowThis was no small effort because back in the day, it was like trying to get tickets to the biggest concert – everyone called the same number at the same time (no Internet back then).  Somehow I got through and secured two tickets to the swearing-in and two more to one of the best balls, at the historic Omni Shoreham Hotel.

I was nervous as heck because I was not sure exactly how into the whole political thing my new girlfriend would be.

There’s a time and a place for going all out for someone you love and for me, this was a big one.  Mount Gay Rum, the sponsor of this post, thoughtfully sent a bottle of their Black Barrel Rum to the OTC office.  Being obliging folks, we poured a few Black & Stormys and reminisced about that night.

As it turns out, she was thrilled.  The event was of course black tie, and while I had an old dinner jacket that would have been serviceable, off to Brooks Brothers I went.  After ordering a new dinner jacket and topcoat, I headed to the long-gone Britches of Georgetown where I found an great art deco styled formal vest.  I wanted to look my best – and I still have everything!

Mount Gay Logo 100x100 300x300 A Time and Place: When You KnowThe day of President Clinton’s swearing in was cold and windy, but we headed down to the Mall and took it all in.  The picture I still have of my then-girlfriend bundled up in an old ski jacket and scarf, the Capitol building behind her, remains an absolute favorite.  I still smile thinking of that afternoon.

The moment I really knew that I had found my other half was when we met back up for dinner that evening at our favorite restaurant, before heading over to the ball.  She had on an amazing black ball gown and my heart skipped.  Then, later that evening, when the president and Mrs. Clinton showed up to join in the festivities, my girl literally cleared a path to the front of the room so that I could have my close up.

She knew that it mattered to me, and so it mattered to her.  That’s when I knew I had found someone very special and that I was in this for the long haul.  I still am.

Every great story begins with a time and a place.  For Mount Gay Rum, that time is 1703 and that place is Barbados, the birthplace of rum.  Introducing Mount Gay Black Barrel, a double matured rum from the inventors of rum.  First matured in toasted whiskey barrels then finished in deeply charred bourbon barrels, Mount Gay Black Barrel balances full-bodied character with subtle aromas.  Learn more at www.facebook.com/mountgayrum

Disclosure: Compensation was provided by Mount Gay Distilleries via Glam Media.  The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and are not indicative of the opinions or positions of Mount Gay Distilleries.