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Debra Shriver, a 12th generation Southerner, Francophile, passionate preservationist and jazz devotee, is the author of two books on New Orleans: Stealing Magnolias: Tales from a New Orleans Courtyard (Glitterati Incorporated) and In the Spirit of New Orleans (Assouline). Although she is an inveterate New Yorker, living and working as a media executive here in the city, her heart belongs to New Orleans.

Shriver recalls, “Creating both books was a labor of love. Each was written in less than a year. I’d been collecting clips, photography, and books on New Orleans for years. I have always been a student of the city. Both volumes are a great mix of old and new, of vintage, historical, and contemporary street scenes, portraits, landscapes and still lifes.

The first book, Stealing Magnolias, was a very personal book. “There were many intimate vignettes taken throughout the house, like a café au lait served in the morning or a beautiful banana truffle adapted from a recipe I remembered as a child.

“New Orleans feeds all the senses,” Shriver said. “For me, ‘chic’ is another word for beauty. It could be the scent of a perfume, or a bottle of wine just poured, or the color of flowers on the table, or a person walking down the street with a bigger-than-life attitude.

“I opened Stealing Magnolias with a beautiful quote by Roald Dahl: ‘And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.’’

Read the full story at THE CHIC.

Photograph: REVS / Photo © Jaime Rojo/BrooklynStreetArt.com

Photograph: REVS / Photo © Jaime Rojo/BrooklynStreetArt.com

Steven P. Harrington and Jaime Rojo are Brooklyn Street Art (BSA), one of the most successful and influential websites dedicated to the underground ART scene that has taken the world by storm. Since 2008, BSA has been documenting the creative energies that take root and flourish in the street, like an insistent flower spouting through slabs of concrete.

Street Art is public art, usually unsanctioned work, which is executed outside of traditional art venues. Because much of it is posted illegally, it exists as a conversation between artist and audience independent of traditional realms for making, selling, and displaying art. With Street Art, there is no product. There is simply the idea made visual and expressed in physical form for all the world to observe.

Today, artists who choose the streets as their gallery are sharing their work in every corner of the globe, which makes BSA one of the most important hubs in the publishing world. BSA documents the trends in Street Art, covering the new hybrids, new techniques, and new mediums as they continue to expand our understanding of public art, speaking at length with The Click about the way in which photography and publishing preserve what is amongst the most ephemeral of all the arts.

Mr. Harrington and Mr. Rojo recall, “BSA started as an abbreviation for our first book Brooklyn Street Art (Prestel/Random House) and a way for people to quickly refer to us. The site initially was a simply page to give people an online location to learn more about the book with additional information about the scene on the street. We didn’t have any idea that it would grow into a clearinghouse for a global scene—in fact our first month we got 53 visits.”

Read the Full Story at THE CLICK.

Photograph by Guzman

Photograph by Guzman

“We thrive on confusion, on not being pinned down. You should not have to be the same person you were five minutes ago,” Connie Hanson says, sharing of a point of view that has endowed Guzman with a wit and a joie de vivre. Guzman itself embodies the Dada charm of the absurd, as the husband/wife team of Russell Peacock and Ms. Hanson let it be known that Guzman had a back story. He was a fifty-five year old Czech man with a grey Mercedes. Guzman had also lived in various hotels throughout Paris. And perhaps this is because Guzman is a spirit that inhabits the space between the photographer, the subject, and the stage.

Shoots will have unlikely things, like bouquets of bok choy. Or they will unfold as happenings, a way of art and life that was of a place and a time that defined New York as a bohemia and into this personalities appear. It is just this ability to create alternate universes that makes a Guzman photograph a complete affair. Whether constructing suits of various checked patterns to be born alongside Louis Vuitton accessories (because the brand did not yet have apparel lines), Guzman came along with a complete vision of how Vuitton appears in our lives. It is in this same way that they fully inhabit fashion as a way of life that Geoffrey Beene collaborated with Guzman throughout his career.

The quintessential outsider, Mr. Beene had his own way of doing things. He created Summer/Winter, just because he could. He broke every rule and created another in its place, and in his indomitable way, he was decades ahead of the curve. It was this vision of design that Mr. Beene brought to Guzman, and together they created a series of images that blur the boundaries, as we see not only a dress and a design, but the very idea of the way in which fashion can make us feel. It appears as architecture for the body. It lays between us and the world itself, and it is this which appears as the metaphor dancing across the photograph. It is both object and idea at the same time, and in this space Guzman plays with dark and light, with a blur of boundaries and the transformation of space, as the garment slips from three dimensions into two, and what remains is a beautifully selected collection of images that take us back into time to the glamorous life that New Yorkers do so well.

Guzman shares stories of Geoffrey Beene with THE CHIC.

Juergen Teller: The Face, 1989

Juergen Teller: The Face, 1989

For the past three decades, Ziggi Golding has set the bar for a standard of originality and creativity in the fine art and commercial photography worlds. She is devoted to cultivating talent and style within her roster of artists. As she notes, “I’m an enabler. I like to help people develop and realize their dreams.”

Since first becoming an agent in 1983, Ms. Golding has developed the careers of many of the top talents in the art, photographic, fashion, film, and music industries today. She sits down with The Click to discuss a life in photography.

Ms. Golding remembers, “Growing up in Jamaica, my mom always had a Roliflex. It was the one you looked down in. It was unusual then. It’s interesting that photography wasn’t my love. It was painting and drawing, art in its trues form. But I got interested in photography when I fell int modelling at the end of the 70s.

“As a job, I didn’t find modeling that interesting. I was more into the process of photography itself. After about six years in the industry, I started my own agency, the Z Agency. I wanted to protect models, as they were young and put in compromising positions. I also thought modeling was what you do when you didn’t know what to do with your life.

“I chose interesting people with a good look, amazingly talented people, and I started representing photographers early on like Andrew McPherson, and Geoff Stern, who had made the film, ‘Underground.’ It was part of my role to make things happen on a bigger level. For the ‘Underground’ I helped make a deal with Palace Pictures and Collin Callender, who went on to be the President of HBO Films. I made an early point of generating original work, in addition to booking people.

“With i-D and The Face, all through the 80s, two thirds of the content was connected with Z Agency, whether it was the photographers, models, stylists, make-up or hair. However I was not fulfilled by the modeling side of the industry. I was more interested in being the master of the project.”

Read the full story at THE CLICK.

love is power

July 17, 2014

Portrait de la comédienne Marie-Anne de Châteauneuf by Nicolas de Largillierre, 1712 (detail)

Portrait de la comédienne Marie-Anne de Châteauneuf by Nicolas de Largillierre, 1712 (detail)

The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.
~Marcus Aurelius

Photograph by Eric Johnson

Photograph by Eric Johnson

Freddie Leiba is the embodiment of elegance. He is at once both very cool, and warm. His lyrical voice soothes and charms. Once seated in his resplendent abode in midtown Manhattan, Mr. Leiba begins to reflect on the early days, and how they laid the path to a life in fashion, photography, and style that is undeniably glamorous. His vision has been seen on some of the most beautiful women of our time, from Iman to Beyonce, Meryl Streep to Sandra Bullock. He recounts his humble beginnings, and the path he took, back and forth across the Atlantic, though our story begins in the Caribbean.

Mr. Leiba recounts, “I was born in Trinidad and left at the end of the 1950s to go to England. When I grew up, there was no TV. Instead you joined the library and hopefully, you for a good book. I remember as a young boy, my mother took me for a walk one Sunday, as we often did, and we saw Rita Hayworth filming ‘Fire Down Below.’ I had never seen anyone like that in life. I was fascinated by this woman who looked like a goddess on a Caribbean island.

“I would go to the library and research books, then to the movies where it would cost twenty-five cents to see a double feature. I felt at home in this world, but it still felt untouchable. I didn’t think there was any way I would ever be a part of a world like this.

“When I went to London, I really found my place. I just fell into the right group of people. I was attending the Royal College of Art, the most prestigious, most respected art school in the world. I drew incessantly. I drew women in dresses. I was obsessed.

“My mother was broad-minded and had no problems with me doing dress design. She sewed for a living, and taught herself how to sew, and how to play the piano. She worked and worked and worked—and never complained about anything. Everything starts at home, no matter how rich or poor you are. She was a single mother. She did everything to make everything possible for me. I will never forget that. I wouldn’t ever disappoint her even though she’d dead now. She worked so hard to get me to the place I am. I still feel I have to shine. I just have to do it.”

Read the full story at THE CHIC.

Ominta / Barn / Tara 2009 © Nicola Lo Calzo

Ominta / Barn / Tara 2009 © Nicola Lo Calzo

The Republic of Niger, the largest nation in West Africa, ranked 186 of 187 on the United Nations’ Human Development Index for 2011. With over 80 percent of its land covered by the Sahara desert, the country’s predominantly Islamic population of 15 million is mostly clustered in the far south and west of the nation. The capital city of Niamey is located here, situated on the Niger River, the third longest river in all of Africa.

As photographer Nicola Lo Calzo writes in the afterword of his book Inside Niger (Kehrer Verlag), “The origin of the name Niger has proved enigmatic among modern researchers, and thus cannot be traced with certainty. The most accepted hypothesis is that the name derives from the Tuareg word: ‘gber-n-igheren’ or ‘river of all rivers’…. Since time immemorial, the Niger River has been a meeting point and a place of exchange among various ethnic groups. A genius loci, the river has served as a depository of myths and legends, as well as being the abode of great deities like Ba Faro (mother of humanity) and the all-important Noun. The Niger River is a fountain of living waters and a breath of life.” And so it was that Lo Calzo began to photograph the people of Niger as he followed the river some five hundred kilometers through the land.

Lo Calzo photographed people that work and live on the river, where most of the commercial activities take place, such as universities, public works, markets, fishing, slaughterhouses, vegetable gardens, and tanneries. The portraits show us people who are employed in a nation known by its high rates of unemployment, thus giving us a glimpse at the haves in a world of have nots, ensuring we understand how vital work itself is to the pride and identity of (wo)man.

The result is at once powerful and provocative, challenging any and all assumptions about Africa as anything other than a majestic world. As Laura Serani notes in her introduction to the book, “Lo Calzo’s empathy and respect towards his portrait models transforms them into heroes; a transformation that echoes the words of the Italian journalist Pietro Veronese: ‘No, all men are not equal; yes, races do exist and are divided between inferior and superior. Superior to all is the African.’”

Lo Calzo’s photographs reveal the heroism of a people living on the brink, caught in a web of poverty and environmental degradation that keeps them in harms way. Yet despite a quality of life that is virtually unfathomable to all in the first world, the people photographed by Lo Calzo maintain a dignity that belies their circumstances. Each portrait reveals only the subject’s first name and their location, bringing us face to face with the people who defy all odds by simply surviving in a nation facing constant hardship.

Most of Lo Calzo’s subjects are men of various age, and as they stand before his camera we witness a pride of being that challenges commonly-held Western perceptions of gender, class, and race as it pertains to the African man. Whether a ractor of the Catholic Church, clothed in the finery begetting his position, or workers in a slaughterhouse, covered in layers of blood, the men stand before Lo Calzo as they are, with a strong, silent, and somber masculinity that demands our attention.

Respect comes when respect is earned, and when it is given it is returned ten thousand fold. The men who stand before Lo Calzo like a mirror facing itself, and the honor and prestige bestowed upon the most common of men resonates like nothing else. His portraits recall nothing so much as the Biblical passage Matthew 20:16, “So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many are called, but few are chosen.”

Lo Calzo portraits show us that though we can never fully know what fortune has bestowed upon us, when we look into the eyes of his subjects we can see all that we have been given—and all that has been lost.

First published 25 Janiary 2013 in
Le Journal de la Photographie

Assada / Tannery / Niamey 2009 © Nicola Lo Calzo

Assada / Tannery / Niamey 2009 © Nicola Lo Calzo

Azize / Vegetable garden / Niamey 2009 © Nicola Lo Calzo

Azize / Vegetable garden / Niamey 2009 © Nicola Lo Calzo

Kevin Davies

Kevin Davies

Photographer and subject have a distinct relationship that is based on the sharing of ideas in mutual exploration of that which does not yet exist until the two come together to bring forth the work, the image that holds the wall or rests, nestled inside the book. The photograph is the space where two become one and what we see is the way in which they create something the world has never seen before.

“Every hat I have ever made has begun in my mind as a photograph. I can see it on the model, at the right angle, before I even begin. I can see what the girl’s going to look like and how it’s going to be worn. But it’s something that’s just for me,” writes celebrated milliner Philip Treacy at the introduction to Philip Treacy by Kevin Davies (Phaidon), an intimate and breathtaking retrospective of Mr. Treacy and Mt. Davies’ two decade-long partnership.

Mr. Treacy continues, “Photography, like design, is an obsession: an obsession with the final image. And most photographers, like most designers, are control freaks, because they care so much that it all looks incredible in the end. We believe in it. Whether you’re a make-up artist, stylist, designer, architect, photographer or anyone working in the creative industries, your work is a point of view. It’s your point of view.”

Mr. Treacy’s hats recall nothing so much as a time long gone, a time when men and women dressed head-to-toe before stepping out of the house. Hats are the last hurrah of a bygone era, a time when attention to detail was as important as expression of self. Mr. Treacy’s hats remind us that glamour is a state of mind, for to carry off one of his superb chapeaus one must have presence, power, and fearlessness.

Kevin Davies’ photographs of the hats themselves are a spectacle of the simplest effect. Set upon a faceless mannequin head, set against a white backdrop, there is nothing to see except the hats themselves. Photography is a comfortable reminder that this is likely as close as we shall ever get, but this closeness will set your heart aflame. That the hats can be worn seems almost too grand. To simply gaze upon their eloquent and effortless form would be enough.

Mr. Davies speaks with THE CHIC about his partnership with Philip Treacy as it developed throughout the years. Read the full story at THE CHIC.

Ernst Haeckel illustration from Art Forms of Nature, 1904

Ernst Haeckel illustration from Art Forms of Nature, 1904

Claude Monet, The Boat Studio on the Seine, 1875

Claude Monet, The Boat Studio on the Seine, 1875

I am not afraid of storms,
for I am learning to sail my ship.

~ Aeschylus

Photograph: Kelty, E.J., Hunt's 3 Ring Circus 1921

Photograph: Kelty, E.J., Hunt’s 3 Ring Circus 1921

W.M. Hunt is renovating his Upper Westside apartment. We stroll through the rooms, perusing the collection of art that exists in two dimensions and in three. Everything appears to be as he describes a photography collection to be: “I like pictures that are incredibly orderly and incredibly chaotic.” This effect is echoed in the renovations going on outside a humble room filled with gens. Flat photographs laid out, stacked, rolled, stored, safe and secure. The photographs represent Mr. Hunt’s two collections: Blind Pirate and Dancing Bear.

From these collections, primarily the former, an exhibition will reveal itself, an exhibition like no other that opens Monday, July 7 at the Rencontres D’Arles in the South of France. Mr. Hunt returns to his old stomping grounds with “Foule: Hunt’s Three Ring Circus” which will run through September 21, 2014. “Foule” features more than 250 works dated from the late 19 century through 1950, in large banquet or panorama style, several of which are more than two meters in length.

Mr. Hunt reveals, “I collected pictures in which you cannot see the person’s eyes. That first collection began forty years ago at an auction. It was a portrait of a veiled woman. It went for $325. I went and bought another one in a gallery. When it was pure instinct, I never made a mistake. Knowledge became the great stumbling block.”

“It took awhile in my own collecting to have the confidence in my own ‘eye’ to be image driven as opposed to being caught up in the reputation of the artist.  A long time ago, I taught some classes about collecting. People seemed to burden themselves with knowledge. You ought to have some connoisseurship to collect but the best thing to bring to it is nerve.  A little knowledge goes far.  Educated decisions are not as instructive. The hardest thing is to get back to reacting to what’s immediate, to walk in and be present and have it hit you. Everyone is going to insist everything is great—but it ain’t. If you see a couple of really good photographs a year, celebrate that.  Dance around with it. Whatever the neurosis is about collecting, I worked my way through it. The picture that makes you fart lightning… Who knew your nipples could see?”

Indeed. Not we, that is, until Mr. Hunt sat down with us to speak about photography. Read the full interview at THE CLICK.

Nick Knight: Flora

July 2, 2014

LILIACEAE Gloriosa verschuurii

LILIACEAE
Gloriosa verschuurii

PASSIFLORACEAE Passiflora alato-caerulea

PASSIFLORACEAE
Passiflora alato-caerulea

Passion is a flower, a strange and exotic thing, an energy that burns deep within and underneath and through it all, the candle that lights the dark, the darkness forevermore vanquished, vanished, or at least it seems to be, for once we can see, we believe we know.

The photograph does this, reminds us time and again. The more passionate the photograph the more we return to it. And so it is that a specimen arrived the other day, between two long slips of hardboard were pages sewn together at the spine, and between these two large slips of board the pages turned. Long white layers upon which a flower appeared, not just any flower but dozens I had never seen until I laid my eyes upon Flora by Nick Knight (Schirmer/Mosel).

Flora is a garden of earthly delights, an archive of pressed flowers, each photographed like a portrait. Each plant is from the herbarium of the Natural History Museum in London, a collection which contains more than six million plants from all corners of the world. The book, first published in 1997. is being reissued on the occasion of the publisher’s 40 anniversary. And rightfully so, for Flora is a treasure trove, a magical portal, a veritable repository of soul.

In the book’s preface Mr. Knight observes, “I was struck by the fact that these plants didn’t look dead. Life was very apparent. I could see the movement of the wind blowing through their leaves ad petals. Sense the water flowing through their vessels and their flowers straining to turn and open into the suns’ rays. But these plants had one important difference—the fragility, the tragic urgency that had gone and they had taken on a new certainty of being; a statement like boldness. They have escaped their fate.

“There are few things that make me happier than discovering a new way of seeing the familiar. Seeing in a way I could not have imagined. It is a very liberating seeing and one that makes me feel very optimistic.”

Indeed, for a photographer, the act of seeing is the act itself. To be able to see anew, again and again, to take it all in, to set it down, on paper slipped between boards, to edit from a collection of hundreds until the final 46 came forth. Forty-fix flora taken at full size, collected in this bouquet unlike any other. To see is to believe is to know that we need to feed our eyes to serve the soul. We consume, effortlessly, endlessly in all that exists, but to charge one’s self with looking—that is the next level. Mr. Knight knows life, and now he knows death. The flora here are eternal, preserved forever more as we peruse the pages of Flora.

SCHIZAEACEAE Lygodium palmatum

SCHIZAEACEAE
Lygodium palmatum

Knight_Flora_2014_Cover_full

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Photo by Marcia Wilson/Widevision Photography

When I began my career as a book publicist, Calvin Reid was the first journalist I met in person. His warmth and wit, his disarming charm, and his knowledge of the book publishing industry cannot be underestimated. As Senior News Editor of Publishers Weekly, the premier trade publication, Mr. Reid has been at the forefront of the major changes in book publishing for the past thirty years.

More than a reporter, Mr. Reid is a businessman. He understands the nature of the medium to the point that he has been a central figure in the rise and success of graphic novels as a genre of publishing. But more than that Mr. Reid is an artist himself, which came as a wonderful surprise to me as we spoke at length for The Click.

Mr. Reid observes, “I always loved books as a kid. As a job, it was a pure accident. They used to call book publishing, ‘The Accidental Profession.’ A lot of people entered the profession from very disparate fields. Often they started in business, and couldn’t bear it any longer. They made career turns and lucked into publishing. I came about it the same way.

“My background is as an artist. I have a BFA in Art Education with a minor in Photography from Howard University, and an MFA in Printmaking from the Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. I came to New York to be an artist. I arrived June 7, 1981. I continued to produce etchings and lithographs as well as drawings after I moved to New York and I have exhibited widely in New York and in shows around the country. Moving to New York and meeting and marrying my wife were the two best decisions of my life. My plan was to find a way to work and to do the artist thing. I got a job as a temp; I was a “Kelly Girl” (laughs). I worked for Kelly Services in different places including Matthew Bender, which is a legal publisher. Later I switched jobs and became a typist at Library Journal, which eventually led to me becoming a journalist.”

Read the Full Story at THE CLICK.

PUNK: An Aesthetic

June 25, 2014

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Do It Yourself. The ethos of the punk movement that began in the 1970s with a kind of we-ain’t-got-no-money joie de vivre. Style is using what you have at your disposal and putting it to work; being crafty, creative, criminal if need be. Turning everything on end to what end? Perhaps just notoriety. But is that such a bad thing? Asking questions, turning heads, upsetting applecarts—in many ways the punk aesthetic forever altered our assumptions about progress by taking back the means of production and giving it to the artist themselves. Whether music, fashion, graphic design, photography, typology, illustration—so many categories revitalized by the outpouring of art students in our brave new world.

Punk: An Aesthetic, edited by Johan Kugelberg and Jon Savage (Rizzoli International Publications) is a beautifully produced collection showcasing the development of a visual language that has become a lexicon of street style that has been standardized by youth culture around the globe. Here, Kugelberg and Savage present some of the most famous and infamous examples of the punk aesthetic. It is all here: the record covers, posters, newspapers & magazines, flyers, t-shirts, comic strips, collages, and all sorts of ephemera of the era, including a manuscript page from The Great Rock & Roll Swindle screenplay (1977). Here, page after page features photographs of all sorts: concerts, promos, portraits, and snapshots, energies filled with casual glamour and teen angst, a theatrical display of sight and sound that, when it first appeared, shocked polite society.

As Kugelberg writes in the book’s introduction, “Punk, like hip hop, in an odd way was about performance—about Saturday night, getting loaded, elegant swagger, and the unfiltered nihilism of romance.…. The legacy of punk is simple: the immediate implementation of D.I.Y. grassroots culture among the young. No distance. Form a band, start a blog, become an artist, a DJ, a guitar player, and editor. There is no meaning stemming from authenticity: an authentic experience occurs, regardless of whether or not the art produced id authentic.”

The photographs featured in Punk: An Aesthetic reveal an exciting dialogue between design, type, and imagery that is one of the hallmarks of the movement’s style. Among the most notorious images is Jamie Reid’s Sex Pistols poster for God Save the Queen: here Queen Elizabeth II’s face is covered by text and set against the Union Jack, at once exalting her, defacing her, and questioning our assumptions about the monarchy. In this image we see the royal portrait subverted in the service of a greater purpose and here punk shows its true colors. Punk: An Aesthetic reminds us that creativity is heightened when economy is bad because we must look inside ourselves in order to speak truth to power about the times in which we live.

In Jamie Reid’s “Death Culture Stalks the Suburbs” we see the style at its height, appropriating the 1950s happy home and turning it on its head, literally, with a skull at the center of the sunken living room, where a coffee table should be. And the couple speaks to each other, in comic book bubbles, with words written on a typewriter in capital letters, and then at the bottom, a summary of the story of Nigel and Cecilia and the skull, which had first appeared as, “a blurred image on the thick pile carpet, but as the weeks progressed it materialized and solidified behind the crushed velvet pouffe.”

Heavenly creatures, each of these pieces turns out to be, each with its own story and style, taking on the here and now, the supernatural, the unnatural, the years of past, present, and future. Punk is the liberation of imagination, the independence from becoming a market acquisition, by becoming the object itself and thus it must be experienced—rather than consumed, as a capitalist market would demand.

Here, as with the performance of music, experience of dance, and the appearance of style and fashion, we give of our time and energies to be part of the scene, to connect with the people and the art being produced in the most intimate of manners. Punk breaks down the barrier between audience and art, and encourages the audience to participate so that everywhere we turn, everyone and everything becomes a part of the greater whole. Punk is art in its purest sense; it is about taking what you already have and fashioning it into an expression of self.

First Published 19 October 2012
LE JOURNAL DE LA PHOTOGRAPHIE

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The poet's hand by Ralph Gibson, 2005

The poet’s hand by Ralph Gibson, 2005

Max Blagg arrives, apologizing for being but a few minutes late, his British accent quite debonair. He steps into the salon, sitting on the sofa, allowing Glitterati mascot Alfrieda the basset hound to snuggle on up, as he recounts the adventures of an Englishman in New York.

“I was the youngest of twelve children. We lived in a small town in the English Midlands. We were working class. There was lots of love. It was a great family. But I was the only one with the inclination to read books.

“I started writing at 15, a gift that was triggered by my sister dying of breast cancer, a slow motion event that happened at home. It was truly awful. Writing poems about her pain seemed to give me some relief. At the same time, I was becoming interested in girls. A bizarre collision of sex and death. Looking back, I wrote a lot of pretty bad poetry back then. But I also played soccer for the school team. I had a double life.

“In my house, higher learning was not encouraged. It was that working class mentality: Don’t expect to rise above your station. At 17 I passed the A level exams and qualified for college. My mother had no intention of letting me go away, but I secretly applied and got into a college in London with a very generous government grant. The poorer your parents were, the more money you got. That would never happen today.

“I wasn’t that comfortable in London, it’s under the sign of Capricorn. But after almost getting a B.A. degree I met a lovely girl at a jumble sale who gave me lots of American poetry to read. I was so entranced by Frank O’Hara that I quit my job as a bricklayer’s laborer and bought a one-way ticket to NYC. I had one address, 118 Spring Street. I want to put a little plaque on that building. I showed up there, and Ignacio and Caroline, kind folks I hardly knew, put me up for months. We’re still close friends. Soho back then was deserted, a playground for artists. I got a job in construction on 53 Street, Street, across from MOMA where Frank O’Hara had worked. New York, miraculous place. Instantly felt like home.”

Read about Mr. Blagg’s life as an Englishman in New York at THE CHIC.

Screen shot 2014-06-23 at 7.14.50 AM

Janette Beckman and I meet Dapper Dan in his brownstone in Harlem on a sunny day in April. We are in the sitting room; the wood is dark, the ceilings are tall, the art is African. On a bench laid before us is a child’s suit in red and white leather, boasting the name ERIKA. Beside it, red and gold cap is perched, with the double FF logo of the great Italian fashion house Fendi prominently displayed. The cap is an inverted trapezoid, in the style made famous by 80s emcee Just-Ice. The gold F shines bright, catching my eye over and over again, until Dapper Dan enters the room and commands my full attention. Dap wears a long sleeve shirt, vest, and slacks with spats all in shades of cream and brown; against a skin of rich mahogany, Dap carries the look effortlessly, befitting a man of his stature and renown.

For those in the know, Dapper Dan is a name of distinction. It stands for quality and style. It stands for a way of living that is equal parts art and business. It is the name that defined the sartorial style of uptown in the 1980s. Dapper Dan is Harlem, from his cap to his spats to the way he stands straight. Dapper Dan is the man who Africanized Europe’s luxury brands. Gucci. MCM. Louis Vuitton. These were the logos and insignias he silkscreened on skins in the studio above his shop, which was open 24/7 on 125 Street for ten years.

After printing the skins himself, Dapper Dan employed a team of Senegalese to create custom apparel for the body, as well as for the car. A haberdasher to the stars of Harlem World, everyone from the streets came calling, whether hustlers, gangsters, Hip Hop artists, athletes, or simply those with an eye for the flyest, freshest, most cutting-edge styles. Dapper Dan’s work was worn by everyone from Mike Tyson, Run-DMC, and Bobby Brown to LL Cool J, Salt N’ Pepa, and Eric B. & Rakim. Paid in Full, indeed, ‘cause Dap gave no discounts whatsoever on the merchandise.

Dapper Dan’s pieces were as original as his techniques. His most famous piece, a parka known as the Alpo Coat, was made for Alberto Martinez, one of the most famous drug dealers of the era. It featured double pockets in the front, all the better to hide or dispose of something, like a gun. Violent crime in New York was skyrocketing, with the murder rate hitting an all-time high in 1991. Crack was the nexus between money and murder in those days, and as a result, some customers had special needs. Kevlar lining was added to the lining of coats at a client’s request.

As Fat Joe recalled in The New Yorker, “I remember going to a club in Manhattan and walking in with my Dapper Dan suit, the red-and-white Gucci, with my jewelry. They were looking at me, like, ‘Who is this? He gotta be somebody.’ And I wasn’t famous—I was just a nigga with a Dapper Dan suit. And that suit made me famous.”

Mark Twain memorably said, “Clothes make the man,” and if there was one man who defined the styles of the times, that man was Dapper Dan. I asked Dap about how Twain’s words made him feel, to which he replied with great heart, “Yo! That’s my thing. You hit it right on the head now! To make people. They knew that. To create something that’s going to make you. You see it every day in Hollywood. They looking for that thing that’s going to make them. You see that Busta Rhymes come here, and Puff Daddy come here, and they say, “I want that 80s look!’ They are looking for that sensation, that crack. They are looking for that crack. I want to give them that crack and they feel like, ‘Whoa, I am here.” Like that Cadillac.”….

The full story appears in the Summer 2014 issue of Jocks & Nerds.

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