Madras Ain't Over 'Til It's Over

In doing my duty as GQ's Style Guy, keeping up with the style-conscious, I'm regularly logging on to Ask Andy About Clothes and Style Forum, two virtual communities of natty fellows concerned with matters sartorial. From recent visits I've perceived a growing sentiment among the memberships that the recent revival of Indian madras has peaked, to the extent that it has been ruined for the stylish.

The straw that broke the camel's filter seems to be the new Old Navy madras media blitz. Of course it's always a pleasure to be in the vanguard of any style manoeuvre, and I understand the soreness that the trailblazers feel when the masses pick up on their style breakthroughs. But I can't begrudge the Old Navy hordes their madras and, on reflection, I feel that I can continue wearing my colors as if nothing had happened. I have never wavered from the Hindoo tartan over the decades since I first took it up. It was a joy to wear madras when I was in high school. Attending a Jesuit school where ties were mandatory, I delighted, along with my devious friends, in observing the letter of the law by wearing clashing madras shirts, ties, and trousers, to achieve a fantastic look beyond the dazzle of any patchwork pants or jacket ever made. I kept some of my old madras, and over the years have been picking up pieces here and there, mostly pre-owned. So if anyone should feel his secret is out, it is I.

And yet. And yet, all I can do is think about Anthony Blunt, the dean of the Cambridge Communist spies who went on to become the Royal Curator of Art. When asked how he could give up "all of this" (meaning the luxury and the aestheticism of his milieu) for "the people," he responded, "but I want all of this for everyone." Here is a picture of my young son and wife (background right) taken exactly one year ago yesterday. They continue to dress this way.


What about Robert Hawkins?


Dear old Hawkins, one of our most lamented exiles, is having the time of his life in London, where he just had a show at my old pal Steve Pollock's posh, semi-private art gallery in Hugh Grant's neighborhood. Robert recently sent me a picture of his newest painting, so I thought I'd exhibit it and post this little text I did for the show.

I have always been a huge fan of Robert Hawkins. I think it used to be a sort of secret thing. Like an art crush. I didn't really know him and I guess I was sort of scared of him for years. Not that I thought he was going to knife me or bite me or anything, although he really did look like a scary punk, with a fierce Mohawk, a really good one, and raffish leather with rude stuff written on it and big paratrooper boots and major tattoos and real fang implants and a nose ring... just a sort of generally forbidding presence. He also seemed to glare a lot, but now I think he didn't realize he was glaring. I do the same thing. It's like when my Latin teacher threw me out of class saying, "Wipe that smirk off your face Mr. O'Brien." I didn't even know I was doing it. I was just being natural. And that's what Robert is. He is more than natural. He is Nature. He is more natural than just about anybody I know, but more on that later.

Anyway, I was just afraid that if I talked to him he might say "What do you want?!" in a really loud voice or something. And in the art world getting shown up or embarrassed is far worse than getting stabbed. But in fact that was what I really liked about him. To me, in this world, if you're not a desperado you just don't get it. To be a good artist you have to be a desperado, and to be great one and to stay that way and to stay genuinely alive you have to be a desperado in your bones. Now that I know Robert, I realize that this shyness of mine was silly because it was all about his shyness. He is really a sweetheart, even the beast within him that he must nourish (see Johnny Cash). In fact, this air of ferocity, this attitude of apparent dangerousness, this flamboyantly built-in sales resistance, that desperado aura, is only the beginning of the things I admire about him. His cultivated terribleness protects a big heart of buttercream. (Punk's big secret. See Sid.) It's like barbed wire protecting a playground.


Not only is Robert Hawkins one of the great artists of my time, he has actually gone to more trouble to escape the usual consequences of this and say "Fuck you!" to the hideous, loathsome art establishment and its inverted public relations contortions than anyone I can think of who is still alive. Robert doesn't just suffer fools lightly, he is so allergic to them that he starts making you wonder if you are one. His scrutiny is not only survivable, it's healthy.

But now I have gotten past all that and I've come to think of him as a sort of pirate, a lovable pirate like the one Johnny Depp plays in the movies. He is ferocious, but that ferocity is so under the control of great good humor that there's nothing to fear unless you really deserve it. (And maybe you do. I don't know who's reading this.) Anyway, Hawkins is even a perfect pirate name. And in the dangerous seas of art he's definitely sailing under the jolly roger. He's a freebooter in the best sense. He's an outlaw because the law of the art world and the law of the jungle and a lot of law in general is really fucked, and Robert is a true noble by nature. He is, uh, Sir Robin of Locksley, a real Robin Hood type, who probably digs robbing the rich as much as giving to the poor. Hawkins is no pirate in the sense that he has never pirated anyone's work or style. He is utterly original. But he don't kowtow to no one, no how.

Anyway, to sum up so far: Robert Hawkins is not a big famous artist because he has resisted all attempts to make him that. And, up to a point, that was necessary and right. But now that he has a large, madcap, ferociously witty, and startlingly original body of work behind him; now that he has gone through his self-crucifixion phase and resurrected himself from the dead; now that he has allowed the smile to follow quickly the scowl; now, I think, it's time he can relax and enjoy making artwork on his own roving, druidical, picaroon, anarchic, swashbuckling terms.

The work has always been ardent and inflammatory and flagrant and pyrotechnically accomplished, but now it's really on fire. He's branding all the sacred cows with irons red-hot from the bonfires of vanity. Most painters need somebody swanky or official to tell people that what they are looking at is good, but when people walk into my living room and see Jesus waterskiing to the amazement of His disciples they don't need any help to get it. And, in a way, I think, they are nicely altered by that vision. And that's the job of the artist. To fuck you up good. To convince you you're lost and possibly offer some hint of orientation at a price.

Hawkins' work is both funny and mysterious. He's an initiate in the brotherhood of sacred folly and transcendental shtick. William Blake as Johnny Rotten somehow seems in the ballpark. His work reminds me, somehow, of the late, great Lord Buckley, who, in his prophetic work "H-Bomb" wrote: "It is the duty of the humor of any given nation in times of high crisis to attack the catastrophe that faces it in such a manner as to cause the people to laugh at it in such a manner that they do not die before they get killed." Robert Hawkins's work is fiercely funny and uniquely stylish (not a la mode but in the true sense of style--the deepest, unalterable essence that lives in every line). Every work is a grand jest, a delightfully improvised game with secret rules, a forgetful memento mori, a sending up of the absurd to where it belongs. This buccaneer can fire a broadside with the very best, he just likes hanging out on the horizon, behind a mist, where nobody can fuck with you, only to pop up out of nowhere when you least expect it and take no prisoners.



I like Ferraris, but I don't like the ones that look like they were designed by the same people as the Mach 3 razor by Gillette, like the FXX. Same with those out-there looking Lamborghinis and Lotuses. They are "look at me" toys, and they appeal to boys, and are we not men? Have you ever noticed certain woman snickering at $250,000 cars?

I must say I also have trouble with this glass bonnet covering the engine on the otherwise attractive Spider. Sure, it's a V8 that cost more than many people's residences, but there's something embarrassing about it. It's like a see-through blouse. It's showing something publicly that's more fun beheld in private.  I don't mind a little tease, like the red paint showing through Porsche's wheels, but engines should be heard and not seen.

Actually, I'm not crazy about most post-eighties Ferraris. I love the oldies. The 250GT 2 + 2, the 365 GT 2 + 2, the 208 GT4.  To me the really great Ferraris have a back seat. If I were to get a Ferrari I think it would be the old 400 or 412.  It's not really a sports car but what they called a "grand boulevardier," a high performance family coupe with a back seat. It's all about understatement. Apparently the idea was that on the Autostrade it could outrun any kidnapper in a BMW or Mercedes.  Although I bet my E500 wagon would give it a run for its money up to the electronically-limited 130mph.


Remembrances of Cravateurs Past


The most stylish man I ever knew was Fred Hughes, the right-hand man of Andy Warhol, who acted as the artist's agent, social secretary, decorator, and ambassador to uptown and across the Atlantic. He was a great character who would have fit in with the F. Scott Fitzgerald/Gerald Murphy crowd in the twenties, and his refinement and aestheticism seemed something of a throwback in the seventies and eighties, although he could be a party animal as well. Andy Warhol always complained that when Fred was drunk he started talking like Diana Vreeland, a favorite date of his. His other dates tended to be beauties like Patti D'Arbanville, Donna Jordan, Jane Forth, or Tina Chow, but I remember vividly Fred dancing animatedly with the aged Luchino Visconti in a black gay bar.

Fred died young of multiple sclerosis in 2001 at the age of 57, and the world lost a great man. He was impeccable yet diabolical and quite amazing to the end, which was sad, as he had lost the power of speech, and there were few more colorful and delightful conversationalists on this planet. Anyway, Fred turned me on to Calvin Curtis, a New York cravateur, shortly before the shop closed. I still have one of the ties I bought there in the early seventies, and one from Fred's collection that was given to me.


Recently, while antique shopping on LaBrea in L.A., I encountered a very strange scarf with the Calvin Curtis label. It seems to be an experimental form of scarf. The illustration is very Italian Futurist, in the manner of Giacomo Balla. I have worn it but I still haven't figured out the engineering principle. The "legs" are much longer than the poor photo would indicate.

Loitering with Intent

Went out my door last night and there were about 100 kids camped out on the sidewalk on Lafayette Street in the rain.  I've seen this scene before.  It happens here in front of Recon, the hipster fashion store owned by my old amigo Lenny McGurr, aka Futura 2000, one of the most illustrious of graffiti artists, and his friend Stash.

When I went out the door this morning there were about 200 kids lined up outside the store, those closest to the door being packed like sardines.  About half were Japanese.  This same scene happens occasionally down the street at Supreme when a new collection arrives.  The cause of the excitement was the release of a new limited edition sneaker by Nike, the "Kiss of Death" that costs $200 and has what looks like red alligator-hide swooshes on the sides.


Last night I related the story of the kids camping in the rain on the sidewalk to buy sneakers to some friends over an amazing dinner at Lupa, cooked personally by Mario Batali.  While we sipped extraordinary wines from the Bastianich vineyard, I explained this regular urban camping out phenomenon, which results in much litter and general annoyance to the neighbors.  Of course I can't call the cops because Futura is a friend, but I wonder out loud if this is, technically, loitering or some other misdemeanor.

Loitering was defined, in a law struck down by the Supreme Court in 1999, as "to remain in any one place with no apparent purpose." Of course, although these kids appeared to be loitering, in that they were standing about idly in the rain, they in fact had serious purpose.  One of my dinner companions told of a friend who bought a pair of limited edition Nikes in Berlin, then sold them on eBay for $6,000.

I have heard that many of the kids who line up at Recon and Supreme do in fact resell these trendy items at a tremendous profit margin.  It just goes to show you, kids might look like they're loafing or getting in trouble, but actually they're getting ahead.  There are several pairs listed on eBay right now, hovering around $500 with many hours left.  I'm a little more respectful of these skateboard kids now that I know most of them may not be desperate fashion victims after all, but wily entrepreneurs selling to desperate fashion victims overseas.


Here's a photo of me and Futura back at the height of our softball careers when he captained "The Escadrille" and I captained "The No Sox."

The Sartorialist


Meet Scott Schuman. I'm not blowing his cover. He's getting to be as much a part of the landscape as Bill Cunningham of the Times or Patrick McMullan, the Runyonesque documentarian of the End Time's 400. His blog, The Sartorialist, is the very best coverage anywhere of style, or fashion as it worn by real people. Scott's out there on the street daily, pounding the pavement in search of beauty and those certain visual twists that make this city alive with personality. He writes very perceptive commentaries to his photographs and his point of view is impeccable but utterly with it. He's got a good eye for the ladies, too, those visions on the street that occasionally remind us that life is worth living locally.

Who's My Tailor?


"Who is your tailor?" is my favorite cliché question from Hollywood movies. It's one that mostly goes unasked and unanswered today. Today we ask, "Where did you get your t-shirt?" or we could say, "Are the holes in your jeans real or were they manufactured?" But should you ask me "who's your tailor?", and I like the cut of your jib, I might reveal that my tailor is John Pearse of Meard Street in London.

John has a long and interesting history in the business, dating back to his days as one of the founders of the seminal Swinging London shop Granny Takes a Trip. Today he's more of a bespoke tailor, but he still practices haberdashery as a fine art. In addition to making custom suits and coats, he offers a line of fine shirts, handpainted ties after masters from Picasso to Warhol to Basquiat, and re-designed vintage items. Meard Street is located in Soho, not far from Carnaby Street, scene of a twentieth-century sartorial revolution. Here is a picture I took of John standing across the street from his shop. The sign on the door refers to another industry found in the lively Soho area, mostly after dark.

Decorating with Ricky


I have a feature in the June issue of GQ about how to decorate your pad. In it I discuss, among other things, what I've learned from my decorator pal Ricky Clifton. Decorator doesn't really cover what Ricky does, though. It's inadequate. Since I met him he's been a taxi driver, a framer, a famous party crasher, and a gallery owner, and now he's sort of the ultimate personal shopper and decorator to the art world. And now he's invited to all the parties. He's an artist who comes to your house and moves your furniture around, tells you what to get rid of and shows up with things you have to buy. Irritatingly, he's almost always right. I just thought I'd throw in a couple of pictures of one of Ricky's better recent efforts, an apartment he did for the owners of the Zwirner and Wirth gallery.


The plywood bed was made by an L.A. artist. It has a secret pornography compartment. The lamp is made from a joint compound drum. The ceiling mural was painted by Ricky.


The warthog holding the reading lamp once belonged, according to legend, to Warren Beatty, who gave it to Diane Keaton, or maybe it was the other way around.

The Standard Was Too Cool for Me

So my client wouldn't pay for the Chateau Marmont on Sunset in L.A. and I wound up across the street at the Standard, which used to be an old folks home until it was turned into a nightclub with rooms by Andre Balacz, who also owns the Chateau. Trusting in Andre, I checked in.

The Standard proved to be a sort of a collision of Area, the famed nightclub, and Motel 6, the famed motel. When I arrived from New York in the evening, tired and hungry, the lobby was in full swing, wild youth in hot pursuit of one another and ripe for Hilton-spotting. I was a little taken aback that there was a sleeping girl in a vitrine behind the desk. I hoped she was sleeping. I kept looking for breathing as I signed the register, and hoped for the best as I retired to my too-cool room.

Anyway, there were lots of good things about the hotel. Like the Warholy drapes and, uh... the friendly staff. Problem was I couldn't turn down the AC. Here I am with my second blanket. To be fair, they eventually fixed my thermostat. I hung out across the street with Mark Gonzales, who doesn't worry about the clients, and learned my lesson.


Where the Big Ideas Come From


When A Photographers Place on Mercer Street in Soho closed a few years back (to be replaced by a fancy lingerie store), there went New York's only photo book store.  It was one of those closings that seemed unbelievable and unfair.  There was nothing else like this wonderful, quirky store full of the latest books as well as a fine selection of vintage books and rarities, old photo magazines, antique cameras, and paraphernalia.  And the New York photographic community was lost.  Where were the fashion photographers and stylists going to get their ideas?

Well, years later the problem has been solved by Dashwood Books at 33 Bond Street, a small but brilliantly stocked shop a few steps down from street level, which sells the latest books, including hard-to-find items from Japan and limited editions, as well as fine vintage items.  Its owner is David Strettell, a splendid British chap who formerly worked as Cultural Director of the eminent photo agency Magnum and who knows his books.  It's a treasure and now the fashion community is happy.  I live down the block, so I now see stylists like Karl Templer and photographers like Wayne Maser leaving the place with bags full of ideas.  As with many treasures, you have to look carefully to find it, because right now it's behind a huge dumpster, across the street from Ian Schrager's new development at 40 Bond.

David is a new dad.  He's married to the lovely Ann Christiansen, the women's fashion director of the New York Times magazine.