(Above: Gregory looking im-Peck-able).
On Thursday evening The Weejun attended the semi-underground launch of the much awaited coffee table tome, Hollywood & The Ivy Look at John Simons store in Chiltern St.
Authored by Tony Nourmand, Graham Marsh, Alison Elangasinghe and one J.P. Gaul this book has been much anticipated in certain circles. Happily remaining incognito for most of the evening, I had avoided several attempts by Guy @ John Simons to get me to take a peek inside a copy of the book. Not because I feared the book would not live up to expectations, but because from the few shots already previewed I absolutely knew that it would, and having already pre-ordered a copy I wanted to savour the first look, page by page.
However, once the chaos of the evening had died down, and in order to put me out of my misery, Tony Nourmand kindly gave me a sealed copy to take home and review. Anyone who reads this blog knows that I only review stuff that I love, so this is no blogger freebie PR session, I’d already put down cash for a copy of this!
Needless to say, the minute I got home I started working through the hefty volume, page by careful page.
Make no mistake, the genius of the American empire of the 20th century was down, in no small effect, to the part played by Hollywood in creating the mythic American Dream. For better or for worse, whether politically sponsored or opposed, the images that Hollywood sent to the rest of the world showed a confident, homogenous nation at work and play. A place of easy work and even easier relaxtion.
Regardless of the truths of this and the underlying social issues throughout ‘the American Century’, it was the look of movies and of movie stars that had such a huge impact on rest of the world from the earliest silents onwards and changed forever the national styles of nations.
The worldwide acceptance of casual clothing came from the earliest movies and their depictions of American ‘sportswear’ clothing. The drip, drip, drip of this influence gradually softening the stiff European look until today we have a global style that may be watered down, but is the direct result of American cultural influence with movies at the forefront of its influence. Most of those who today sport chinos, or who wear the globally ubiquitous Ralph Lauren button down shirt, usually have little concept of how that came about or the context in which the Ivy League style took elements of Edwardian British upper class clothing and filtered the stuffiness out of it, passing it through fifties and sixties teenage fashion, via seventies and eighties preppy, into standard everyday office wear in the 90s and onwards. This book shows a moment, crystallized in time, when a pure version of that American look had become distilled into what we know call the Boom Years of Ivy Style.
One guy at the launch, Mark, was commenting that in the early 80s in London if you saw someone wearing these clothes you’d almost be obliged to stop them in the street and introduce yourself. He’s dead right. From when I moved to London in 1982 to about 1986 when the vintage and preppy style began to go mainstream there, I often regarded myself as a throwback to a past era (the photos on the About Me page were taken in 1983, but look like 1963 and not by accident!) so meeting someone else dressing this way was always a shock (and admittedly, sometimes tinged with a spot of jealousy or snobbery!). For the general population, this was the era of New Romantics, mullets and stone wash denim.
Even in John Simons at Russell St, most of the punters were not teenagers, but men in their twenties to forties (some of them present at this launch!). The fact that the crucible of this style in Britain had already been for so many years the shops of John Simons, it was fitting that his book launched in John’s latest Ivy store incarnate.
Before even jazz and album covers entered my consciousness in my teens, it was old movies that I was obsessed with, mostly American, but anything stylish from the forties to the sixties, and I’d watch any movie no matter how poorly plotted for glimpses of the clothes (and the even rarer glimpses of shoes!) and a style that at that time was so hard to find yet so exclusive to wear in England.
Such films as The Sweet Smell of Success (after first seeing it at The Everyman, the search was then on for a pair of Hunsecker frames – even though I didn’t need glasses at that age!), The Subteranneans featuring George Peppard’s leather jacket and button down shirt and Jim Hutton’s cord jacket, the obscure Youngblood Hawke for Anthony Franciosa’s navy 3/2 roll blazer and flat fronted flannels (a heresy here in the days of ‘pegged’ trousers), Mission Impossible or The Man From Uncle for just about anything and The Dick Van Dyke Show for the shortest side part hair.
Anyone who follows this blog knows that I haven’t stopped this obsession (witness the screen grab of the Playboy chukkas worn by The Penguin, Burgess Meredith in 1941’s Swing Time), but to see so many stills of The Look together in one bound copy is still extraordinary. These are not images that you could find searching Google. The authors have dug deep here.
Hitherto hard to find images, some mostly seen in B&W (Monty Clift reclining in Oxford BD), and some never before seen pack this book to the swelled seams. Before Hollywood & the Ivy Look was even published it drew controversy – both from those who said ‘Oh no, not Steve McQueen again’ when they saw the cover to ‘Billy Bunter’ trashing the book on his Abercrombie & Fitch-style blog before he’d ever seen it; simply because it was created this side of the pond (and by people who were wearing these clothes when he was still in Rupert Bear nappies and monocle).
And why not put McQueen on the cover? He is perhaps the most famous purveyor of the early 60s casual Ivy look as worn by real people despite the majority these days probably thinking he invented the look he wore. The object should be to help sell the book, to reach the widest audience. I don’t believe this dilutes the ‘specialness’ of the things we all love. The casual browser will only see pictures of famous actors, directors and film composers (great photos, mind) and not understand or care a jot about the (to them) bemusing text reporting on the corduroy suit of Anthony Perkins or the LL Bean camp mocs of Paul Newman.
But these are the details that all of us obsessives seek, details that rarely, if ever, feature in other books about Hollywood’s golden era actors. Anyone with even a passing interest in the Boom Years of Ivy (when even the padded shouldered Robert Mitchum or the roué-moustached Clark Gable succumbed to the Brooks Brothers makeover) will find hours of browsing material, details to pore over and influences to garner (no pun intended, but of course, James G of the Rockford windcheater also features).
Paul Simons’ sister, the lovely Natasha (who incidentally is seeking to launch a ladies range at JSA!) asked Guy and me what the interest was for us in this particular book. I told her that for me it was a kind of ‘wholeness of inspiration’ – something to dip into in order to re-energise your own use of your clothes (what Herb Lester calls ‘shopping your own wardrobe’).
One of the great things about classic period American clothing is that the styles and subtle details are so wide and varied. By avoiding most of the stupidly self-imposed rules of some forum posters (who shall remain nameless, but readers know who they are) it’s possible to travel from the far edges of collar pin and tie suit of Madison Avenue to the laid back of West Coast jazz and even the ski slopes, and pull inspiration from all of these sources. Every type and element of clothing has its ‘ivy’ version and to me that’s what makes it so interesting and stops it short of costume.
Again, what this book manages to show are even TV actors like Jack Klugman (remember Quincy MD? the man who every week had a new ‘lost old friend’ in trouble that you never saw again in another episode?) were once cool offscreen dudes. Jason Robards is a revelation in his Hutton Playboy chukkas, tapered stone chinos and dark wool polo shirt – proving that the ‘McQueen look’ was actually widespread offscreen, as is the great photo of Billy Wilder with Baracuta and lace-up loafers.
I decided not to go into the book in great detail in this review – I simply don’t want you to spoil your first look at it either, although I thought I’d publish some of the images that haven’t been online yet. By the way, this book is extremely well printed and anything untoward in these few shots (like poor Gregory Peck’s jacket appearing to be two colours from left to right, are the result of my dodgy digital camera – I wasn’t going to break the spine of this book on my scanner, not even for you, dear reader!). Rest assured every page in this book looks splendid.
So go ahead and order this book now, or get your loved ones to give it to you for a holiday present.
But remember, Hollywood & The Ivy Look is not just for Christmas, it’s for life…