02 November 2016

O My Preening Tumescence!

I can't even speak in the face of an automobile this hot. This is the 1970 Pontiac GTO Judge convertible in palladium silver with a deep-red interior. One of the most iconic muscle cars ever made, this Goat was the car that had no comparison, between its massive horsepower and torque, its sleek lines, and the fact that only 168 of them were ever built in this model year. So much power and beauty, who wouldn't rise to this occasion?

01 October 2016

Ta-ta, Tatalah!

Sadly, the news on Friday of the legendary Carnegie Deli closing at the end of this year, another institutional nail in the coffin of what used to be Gotham, left me with a lingering sense of indigestion, bordering on despair. This town has become so beige and quotidian, it's barely itself. 9/11 really changed its soul, irreparably. The recovery was as radical as a sex change. The intervening years have seen it purged, amputated, dislodged, extracted and erased of every kind of idiomatic chiaroscuro, whether of temperament, rhythm, patina or silhouette; scrubbed of every delicious, scabrous contour and characteristic; devoid of vexation, serendipity and surprise. It's Stepford. Worse, it's the remake of Stepford. Only it's where New York used to be. I'm so tired of mourning it. Bored stiff by how predictably colorless it's become. I just want to move.

28 September 2016

The Signature Rose Is Counterfeit

Hey, Lord & Taylor, that was cagey, sending me some kind of an invitation for a "shopping get-together," whatever that is, paired with Esquire magazine, no less, a publication last relevant, at least journalistically, in 1973, just so that that magazine's "head of men's fashion" would share his "curations" for fall. Notwithstanding that I take no style cues from anyone but myself, least of all some clueless glossy aimed at a demographic of aspirational lemmings, I'm writing to expostulate with you on that sneaky introduction of yet ANOTHER new logo: this one a subtle tweaking of that obscenely tacky signature written with a Sharpie that you released late last year--and at Christmas, no less. 

Your branding gurus argued that it was time to update the grande dame of speciality stores--harrowed thinking, if there ever was--but do you honestly believe that closing the counter of that A and adding a loop to the tail of that Y doesn't remind you of standard cursive writing from a 20th-c. elementary school chalkboard and NOT the signature of a venerated emporium that's achieved its bicentenary? You keep fucking up, Lord & Taylor! Is this some kind of Canadian drubbing? Because I did not expect this crap from Hudson's Bay when they bought you. No, what I expected was that a company incorporated by English royal charter in 1670 as The Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson's Bay--when it functioned as the de facto government in parts of North America before European states and later the United States laid claim to some of those territories--would have unassailable taste.
I'm shocked you thought this subtle bit of graphical sorcery was lost on my eyes, and if you thought this was some kind of olive-branch solution for the previously egregious misstep, you are as misguided as you are benighted and I'll have none of it. This limp, fallow gesture is even more abominable than I could have imagined. I grieve the loss of your dignity as America's oldest department store, and I pray for the souls of Messrs Lord and Taylor, who founded you with higher ideals. You are 200 years old, goddamn it, act your fucking age! First, stop your palling around with Wendy! Yeah, don't think we didn't notice you'd been hanging around her lunch table! WTF? If she wants to wear that ghastly font, fucking let her--she's BENEATH you! This is conduct unbecoming I cannot countenance whatsoever! 

I demand a full restitution of your 1970s logo, shown below, in case you've lost all manner of heritage! It is eminently readable, classic and stylish and that's the best thing that can be said of anyone. Now pull up your stockings and get in the race!

18 June 2013

Smack, Crack and Pop!

Holy smokes! My dear friend, Armen, just sent me a video from Gothamist, the website of all things New York, containing some rediscovered footage of singer and East Village resident (at least in 1993), Iggy Pop giving a tour of the neighbourhood I left behind a year later. At the time, he was living at Christodora House, a high-rise luxury condo conversion at the corner of East 9th and Avenue B that was the first nail in the gentrification coffin to this bohemian oasis in 1986; and a far cry from this building's philanthropic origins as a settlement house for low-income and immigrant residents when it was erected in 1928.

I lived at East 6th and Avenue B, in 1993, so this retro tour of an East Village I left 20 years ago was bizarre in the extreme, especially since I have mixed feelings about the three years I lived there: I was back at school, at Columbia, where I'd left a suite in university housing to move in with my brother, who'd occupied several EV apartments since the '80s and now had a vacancy in his then-current two-bedroom flat: a spacious domain we would re-do together to create a salon, of sorts, that allows art and books to furnish a room, which we so favored (as had, apparently, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas before us), even as we were more preoccupied with the spate of weekly dinner parties we gave, as well as the larger 75+ oyster and drinks bacchanals with which we enticed intrepid friends generally too fearful to venture past Avenue A.

I spent a lot of time walking my new neighborhood in what was then called the Lower East Side; since today's LES was, at least in 1993, still completely off-limits to nice white colonists, like me, who knew little about the local proclivities for heroin and anarchy, two attractions that flew in the face of my more pressing interests in cashmere sweaters and Belgian shoes; neither of which I could afford on a student's work-study stipend, but neither of which were impervious to my recklessness with what little reserves I had, later pleading with Mother that I had additional books to buy so as to augment my squandered allowance from her. 1993! Apparently this was a seminal year, as evinced by the recent and rather enjoyable show at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, occupying its place these days on the Bowery in what would have been an inconceivable idea for a cultural institution's locale, back in the day.

But if the cultural and political tides were turning in 1993, as we learned from that show, this was lost on a still fairly quaint EV, where an eager Iggy walks his beat, identifying his haunts. Ah, the comically cheap and plentiful sandwiches from the late and lamented Pedro's Bakery, right there, on Avenue C: then such a grotty and rather dangerous destination for most, but not Iggy and certainly not I. For did you happen to notice the abundance of street peddlers purveying their wares? This video was clearly shot on a Sunday, the day when all of those merchants of theft were out, en masse, their teeming inventory of fenced goods from the better neighbourhoods spread across blankets; an urban Harrods for the underclass! I learned quickly that an eager consumer--endowed with impeccable taste but impecunious otherwise--could make out like the proverbial bandit in those parts: a frontier of drugs and guns at night; but on those Sunday mornings, a hallowed ground of merchandise that constituted the sabbath for those who get high off a bargain.

I would rise at 6am each Sunday to be the first one on the scene--not easy with the previous evenings often spent on a stool at Temple Bar. If ever I'd had an athletic bone in my body, I don't think it's bragging to say how quickly I could scan for booty! Still can! My snake eyes were given a rigorous training on that miracle mile. This shit went for literally nothing: gorgeous tweed jackets, 2 and 3 dollars; silver services (a veritable embarrassment of riches for those who observe the 4pm ritual, as I do); so much Staffordshire and English ceramics and transferware, I could plate a banquet; club chairs (I bought two Harvard chairs for a friend of mine, $5 the pair) and ottomans, objects d'art and the decorative adornments to a drawing room so favoured by the rich, such as a globe on a mahogany pedestal, some representational sculpture that would make for tasteful bookends, and lots of botanical prints and art that never offends; linens aplenty and simply outrageous deals!

Because the bulk of the shopping demographic hailed from the projects on Avenue D, where only the electronics, kitchen items and other devices that either glittered or held some sort of sheen were coveted, it's probably moot to say I had little competition for the finer neckties and the like. The vendors all knew me, and knew my scam, but they also knew I'd spend regularly. They could count on me. In a day's good grab, I'd drop $40, which was a ton, considering how much I'd bring home; and sometimes I'd have to dash back and drop off my treasures just long enough to grab two other bags I'd had at the ready, so I could race back and buy more. I was addicted to Avenue C: who needed heroin! The high that comes from stealing is so staggeringly euphoric, I can't begin to articulate its ecstasy. And of course, my proximity lent itself to my getting there before this market caught on among in-the-know bargain-hunters who'd begun venturing over from other neighborhoods. Some would see me with bags filled with fresh plunder, and I'd tell them it was a dry day, and discourage them from staying. I'm not proud of my bloodthirsty avarice in those days: a student's life left my purse strings hamstrung by anything retail. (Not unlike my current actor's life that's left my purse strings hamstrung by anything retail...gosh, have I been poor that long?)

But back to the video: Iggy walks by a maroon Volvo wagon at one point, just like the one I had. How I loved that car. Got me through five accidents and a DWI. That was in the '80s, but I digress...again. Back to the video. Right, the NYPD's cars were still light blue, still late '80s-era Chevy Caprices. I love that Iggy hates cops and details his various arrests for us. I'll certainly spare you mine. I also love that Iggy cannot pronounce Lois-I-EEDA, despite an international existence that finds him saying something in French and German and letting us know he's lived in Paris and Berlin. In all, he's actually quite conventional for someone I always thought was cool: "[In New York] the streets are laid out a certain way...." Do you mean, a grid, Iggy? No, he's not articulate, alas. But he's earnest and I like that. I wonder if that squatter's park on E. 9th between B and C is still there...and that hideously painted façade Iggy liked a little up from that park? God, that was always dreadful, and I hope it's been razed: I hated that building. Oh, that's right, Iggy was making Coffee and Cigarettes for Jim Jarmusch when I lived there. Yeah, I wouldn't call it acting either, Iggy. I hate when people say CON, for Cannes; it's not that it's pretentious, it's that it's ignorant.

So funny to see those streets as they were, still abandoned, occupied by the squatters, whom Giuliani would later evict with his power of eminent domain. It was still such a chill place to live, back then, in that there was nothing to see or go to, past Avenue B, which itself was lean on attractions, outside of a bodega or two, and a couple of bars for the locals, mostly, and Time Cafe, which served great drinks but an awful menu. Iggy moving into the Christodora must have been scandalous: it was considered blasphemy among the locals to even look in that direction; and sheer sedition if one moved in, especially if having already lived in the 'hood. Sleeping with the enemy and all that jazz.

Of course, Mars Bar is now gone, so how long before 7B becomes a Le Pain Quotidien? It was a small neighborhood in those days; but by the following year, I saw the writing on the wall, and when I had to leave for Savannah, I said goodbye for good to heroin addicts in my stairwell and Jersey boys peeing on my front stoop. I was over it.

I never should have left Morningside Heights.

29 November 2012

No Soup for You, New York Times!

Ah, The New York Times's much-vaunted Fashion & Style section--that soi-disant arbiter of the beau monde--has declared the dinner party a dying entity in New York; its headline in today's edition, tauntingly entitled Guess Who Isn’t Coming to Dinner.

Well, guess what? They are coming, at least to my dinners. I've three teeming guest books that speak to 20-plus years' of fantastic evenings chez nous! A proper dinner party requires generosity, foremost. And not of the pocket. One can have eight to a seated supper on $50. But it necessitates a generosity of time and an attention to detail, expending effort days before to polish silver and iron linens (neither is a picnic without a maid!), and to clean the apartment (the only time it gets cleaned) and then fragrance it: popping down to Zitomer for the usual blue Rigaud candles that the Carlyle uses in the Gallery (Red Room); or heading to the Davidoff shop in Time Warner Center for the Charleston oil to fill the Lampe Berger.

Dinner at 8 means dinner is served at 9, possibly 9:30. Serve comfort food and limit individual courses and plating unless one has help. Everyone brings a bottle of wine. Have two or three standard guests on hand, stalwart friends, whom you know to be gracious minglers, to engage those who've been invited for the first time and are apt to plop down and never budge. The music must never intrude on the din of conversation, but be kept at a decibel level of instant recognition. Yes, even the most zealous non-smokers ask for cigarettes, so buy the generic brand and put them on the side tables. Keep ashtrays everywhere; emptying them frequently allows the host to circulate! Serve one round of cocktails, then move to wine, and don't let your guests get too sauced before supper. Subtly alert each guest which setting his/her goblet came from, so that when you adjourn to table you won't have eight befuddled drunks trying to determine where they're seated. Dispense with the boy-girl seating nonsense (that's some pedestrian rule for other people; rather like not wearing white after Labor Day): seat your guests according to what they have in common, and make that clear to them to get the ball rolling. Seated at the head, the host must look about regularly during dinner to see who's quietly pushing peas, and rush to engage them with some flattering tidbit for the others to turn their attention towards. Consider this something akin to social CPR; and a thoughtful guest list should preclude this from ever happening.

After supper, repair to the living room for dessert/brandy/port. Unless they ask for coffee/espresso, it is not on the menu. Suggest instead they open the sterling Dunhill cigarette box for a more holistic digestif: fresh, abundant marijuana, and lots of accoutrements with which to smoke it (discreet pipes and one-hitters only; rolling papers are déclassé). Pour more wine. Lots more wine. Those with jobs or children are likely to leave early after midnight. Fine. Bid them farewell, but first make certain they sign the guest book. Keep the wine flowing for the stragglers, then turn up the music and dance!

30 August 2012

Tretorn as Memento Mori

I rather like and admire the Ovadia Brothers (Ariel and Shimon), whom GQ magazine anointed Best New Menswear Designers in America, earlier this year. With their eponymous label, Ovadia & Sons, for which they serve as creative directors, these Yeshiva-educated twins have tweaked the full-line gentleman's wardrobe for a younger generation, with classic tailoring for town and country. They appear to be warm, articulate and unpretentious in the interviews I've read with them, despite a deluge of press I'm certain they are forced to court by necessity. They are, after all, in business: the business of merchandising their collections of men's tailoring; and as such, they have become--to invoke that loathsome word--a brand. As an actor who toils in low-budget independent film--which is to say, oblivion--I am not without cognizance of this essential drum-beating in the rabid age of Web 2.0's ubiquitous grandchildren, the social media. But I don't see the Ovadias in the social pages (as yet), and that leaves me heartened, and possibly assured that they care more about their craft than they do their celebrity. News today that they have teamed with J. Press seems a likely collaboration, at least overdue if not summarily inevitable; and one hopes that this teeming step in their continued success won't go to their collective head. 

Now I don't wear "designer" clothes, per se; but if I did, or more precisely, if I subscribed to--and to that I mean, simply, that if I were of the mind and purse to be able to acquire one's entire collection, head to toe--it would be, unquestionably, theirs. They have--plainly put and without any credible assailant to which I'm apt to grant the most astute dissent--the most impeccable taste; which, tossing all modesty aside, is, relatively speaking, not at all dissimilar to mine: gentlemanly and urbane, and--as much as it crushes me to see this continuing as some proliferated trend--preppy. Yes, preppy right down to the signifiers which, once upon a time, most non-preppies would have never, ever, spotted, even as they mimicked the so-called "look."

I shan't digress and launch a tirade against this "heritage" fashion movement--inflamed by the most plebeian bloggers, who've pilfered the wardrobe articles I've so long cherished for their insouciance and bestowed them, as if by some ingenious discovery, to the Toms, Dicks and Harrys, who wouldn't know a Harkness table from an old-school tie. No, I shall not digress; not here, not now. We'll save that for another occasion. One can only hope that the zenith repercussion of this sartorial fever, culminating, it appears, in "Ivy Style," a full-on exhibition and symposium, to be staged at the FIT Museum this fall, is also its denouement.

But one sees evinced in the Ovadias' sensibilities some of these small gestures of sprezzatura that only the genuine-article preppy once sported, whether the sterling-silver engine-turned monogrammed belt buckle (best if it comes from Tiffany's), Boast polo shirts (now revived), Weejuns (ditto), Ray-Ban aviators, the ever-present pocket square, the trouser sans break and two-inch cuffs, the necktie with a four-in-hand knot producing tips of equal length, or a certain tennis shoe from Sweden that bowed in 1967; a shoe so disarmingly understated in its design that the few who wore them probably knew one another: the Tretorn Nylite, or just plain Tretorns, as they were known, before Puma bought them--a fact deliberately hidden for fear of brand contamination--and decided to leverage Tretorn's noted luxury with a zillion other styles. Yes, German Puma owns Tretorn, but Tretorn is still Swedish. Right. Like Dunlop is still British (wink).

The Ovadias first collection for Press features Tretorn Nylites aplenty; and that seems a suitable accessory, I suppose. But given the hallowed place of coveted items with which I'm loath to part--or see commercialized to the most pedestrian degree--these sumptuous tennis shoes are just about the last vestige of preppydom I care to see flee from the precincts unto which they belong. I detest the fact that my tried-and-true tennies, my absolutely favourite shoes, which I've worn since my foot grew into men's sizes, at age 11 or so, have suddenly become so damn trendy. To see this graceful sneakers shod on the most ghastly people is a dagger to the heart. And I say this at the risk of sounding terribly snobbish, and I'm not, I swear.

It's just that I take these tennis shoes very serious--and despite the years Björn Borg wore them on the professional courts, these are not my tennis shoes of choice on any surface other than clay. In fact, tennis shoe is a misnomer, because their comfort is more akin to a slipper: its interior the softest, silkiest nylon and its rubber sole that dances off the macadam belies the succor beneath its simplicity of design. Over the years, it's been tampered with--as the following photograph depicts: the older shoe, above the current model resting below it, and some six years old, was "updated" with a thicker terrycloth interior and a wider signature on the side of the shoe; both of which have since been banished in favour of the current, more original model--but I've never waned in my devotion to this sneaker. And, despite its commercialization and patronage among people for whom this is nothing more than a passing fancy, I will endure the heartbreak of its sudden popularity, resting assured that both of us can expect better days ahead.

10 May 2012

Judging a Magazine by its Cover

I had a most delightful reunion with an old friend last weekend, when the Times Magazine debuted a new face to its family of typography, those extant fonts exclusive to the Times for their subtle finessing by the great British type designer and MacArthur Foundation Fellow Matthew Carter, who was commissioned to refine this face for the pleasure of the Old Gray Lady, just as he has the numerous others deployed in their pages.

I saw this old pal first on the cover, where, to my sheer joy, I recognized its jovial entry, always there to add a pronounced sense of mirth to the proceedings. I first met this chum in the middle 1970s, when CBS used it for a good deal of their advertising (much of it in the Times), the kind that  all the TV networks once ran daily, back when they were still the dominant fare in home entertainment.

It's my sincere pleasure to introduce you to ITC Kabel Ultra, the chubby variant and Good Time Charlie, shall we say, in a family of lithe and leggy types with august Nouveau and Deco origins, dating to 1927, when the great designer, Rudolf Koch, introduced this typeface, while still in the employ of the Klingspor Foundry, in Nuremberg, then one of the great centers of printing.

If you aren't the kind who appreciates underlined words disrupting your read, those  seemingly tacit requests to jump to another page, allow me, please, to identify ITC Kabel Ultra for you, directing you to the white headline in the center of the cover above, from which I've added this enlarged snippet below:

OK, let's! But first, let's question why the Times would have seen fit to match the byline of Adam Davidson, sheathed in Mr Carter's version of Stymie (known as a slab font for its utility as a headline type) with this jovial debutante? Their tandem heft alone is not why Stymie seems to live up to its name. No, I'm not sight-challenged, I can see the serifs of Stymie that are meant to complement what ITC Kabel Ultra hasn't got; but these fonts simply don't work together, each wrangling for the supremacy of the marquee, their corpulent audacity a boxing match between heavyweights. Which renders for us something of an ironic metaphor here, given the opportunity the Times had to pair ITC Kabel Ultra with the more appropriate face, the one used in the prop newspaper headline: Hoefler & Frere-Jones's elegantly versatile Knockout, seen on the cover in its No. 67 Full Bantamweight version, and enlarged below:

This disparity in weight would have trumped the convention of pairing serifs with sans-serifs, especially since a reduced point size for Knockout would have stood out. Not so, alas, the stocky Stymie. But, of course, the really smart solution would have been to pair ITC Kabel with one of its cousins; in fact, the slimmer ITC Kabel Demi, known to many as the face of L'eggs Pantyhose (see below), would have done the trick nicely.But this was not to be. The debutante's cotillion was, yes!, stymied.

Now lest you think such a festive reunion would have left me deflated after Stymie's officious interference, a most glorious rekindling, something of a post-cotillion after-party, was awaiting me on the Contents page. There, ITC Kabel Ultra went into full gear, doing what it does best: serving as a display font for a run-on of letters and sentences, spacing tight, kerning tighter, just as CBS once engaged it, when to highlight the strength of their comedies, they ran a full-page ad in the Times, that simply read:

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha...well, you get the picture.

[Many thanks to Mr Stephen Coles, editor and typographer, living in Oakland and Berlin, for assisting me in identifying ITC Kabel. He publishes Typographica.orgFontsInUse.com, and MidCenturyModernist.com. You can learn more about him at StephenColes.org]