Tools of the Trade: Moleskine

Today, my calendar being almost too clear, I thought I’d clean up around my desk. The first target was the windowsill. I don’t like using a windowsill as a shelf, and the one next to my desk had become the worst sort, a jumble of miscellany, lost and found, unfiled documents, and stacks of blank books, notebooks, and tablets, some unused, some filled with notes and jot. As I cleared out this minor eyesore, which I blame entirely and probably unfairly on the poor performance of an assistant, I began to look through the notebooks. Ripping out pages here and there, as they irritated me, and reliving moments from the last few years. I was amazed by how many Moleskine notebooks I’ve accumulated, and amused by some of their contents.


Moleskines are my favorite notebooks. They are well-made, from the paper to the hard binding, and they are closed by an elastic band and come with a placemarking ribbon. They come in black and red and in a variety of sizes. I have used lots of the journal size (5.25” x 8.25”), and I especially like the 3.5” x 5.5” reporter’s notebook that flips up instead of opening like a conventional book. I always get black. It’s a classic, very Clark Kent. Moleskine also make nice paper notebooks, city guides, planners, and watercolor books—a perennial favorite of chic bohemians. Moleskines were tools for the likes of Picasso and Hemingway. The original family business went bust in 1986, but it was revived in the next decade by the Milanese publishing company Modo & Modo—and today it’s one of the most popular accessories of the contemporary creatives, both genuine and wannabe. I never go anywhere without one and a Uni-ball vision pen, fine point, black.

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I have never been a diarist and I never will be, but I am a serious notebook user. What you’ll find in mine might appear abstract. Sometimes there is an actual handwritten essay, usually jotted in a moment of clarity away from the computer, but probably more significant are lists, names, ideas, and phrases.

Here are some jottings that I found scattered among the books.

I assume these are painting-title ideas, from my being a semi-regular panelist on Mark Kostabi’s television game show Title This:

“Hey, where’s that ark?”

“We fell in love at Hollywood Squares.

“Ministry of Bad Vibes.”

“Tonight God has asked her to love me as a favor to Him.”

“Ancestor communicating through alphabet soup.”

“First Amendment Massage Parlor.”

“If you were Van Gogh’s wife he would have cut off his whole head.”

“The non-representational pile of leaves.”

“Transmission loss has an inverse accrual of distortion gain.”

“My silence was the silence of ten men.”

“Banco Bipolare.”

“God’s Day Off.”

“Digital Analogy.”

“I Wanna Be Your Gerbil.”

“High Tide Panic Attack.”

“Revolt of the Sauce”

“Kama Sutra Intern.”

“Last Tantrum in Paris.”

“Blinking Red Light District.”

There’s a big chunk of one book devoted to notes I jotted at the last ready-to-wear shows in Milan and Paris—mostly in the dark, so they read like code and are skewed at an odd angle in a weird hand reminiscent of the webs researchers recorded after giving spiders LSD. I swear it was just the darkness, and maybe a little Champagne.

Notes from the Hussein Chalayan fashion show, Paris, Fall ’09: “H.C. foamcore Tom Sachs butt crack hip boots with garters…Sprouse NASA print lunar landscape tech printouts….taking illustrational idea of Versace and Hermès and abstract realism….10th Victim leather breastplate and ass plate—like Gladiator Roman soldier moulded body armor—flesh leather butt shaped."

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Notes from Maison Martin Margiela: "Bride stripped somewhat bare…perp walk leather jacket as veil…girl in a cloud in a planetarium…"

Fendi: "Trancy straight & narrow…women’s choir like religious Modernaires…"

Max Mara: "Italians shouldn’t have escalators….Little Red Stepford Riding Hood."

Roberto Cavalli: "Models should never be pilots. Half of them can’t find the end of the runway."

Givenchy: "Hair shirt hair skirt…potato faces…legionaire’s stovepipe hat…nose cone bra…lace over glitter…tits that mean business…tubular bells meets Cousin Itt…"

Brioni: "Obstacle course runway….the girls are in trouble. Shoot the DJ!"


“There’s a brand of heroin in Harlem called Tommy Hilfiger.”

He’s not the only celebrity who’s been appropriated thus:

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“Yesterday in the NY Times there was an article about a French Roquefort cheese farmer who was arrested for attacking a French McDonald's. Is cheese farmed?”

And then shards of poems or jokes:

“Rhythm shook me like a thermometer.”

“I was in fashion once, but I made bail.”

“The third ear is the first to hear.”

“Tomorrow the anniversary of JFK’s head shot dead. New Frontier same as the old frontier."

Is this a title? "A vibrator named John Henry."

And quotes from what I’m reading:

“The goddesses that existed alongside the gods in primitive religions are in fact no longer within our emotional range,” he thought. “Any relationship we might have to such superhuman women would be masochistic.”—The Man Without Qualities, Pt. 2, p. 748

“In times to come when more is known, the word destiny will probably have acquired a stastistical meaning.”—The Man Without Qualities, Pt. 2, p. 783

“Bond mistrusted anyone who tied his tie with a Windsor knot. It showed too much vanity. It was often the mark of a cad.” Ch. 25, From Russia With Love.

And questions for interview subjects: "Is art all offense or is there defense? Do you believe in the Communion of Saints? Is the hand of God visible in the random? What does Wooly Bully mean?”

Lists of band names: “Cocktail Slipper, Morlocks, Henchmen, Vatican Sex Kittens, Stabilisers, Robin Kitschock"

Questions for myself: “Whatever happened to philippics?”

Quotes: “Frank says that artists today have become snobs about being alive.” Elaine de Kooning, 1959.

Notes to self: “Get GQ to send me to world capitals.”

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Shopping list: “The Beautiful Fall, Pahlmeyer red wine, Scott’s Turf Builder, white buck bag”

Notes to self: “Get umbrella back from Lapo, thank Mats Gustafson.”

Did I say this, or someone else? “Why be difficult when with a little extra effort you could be impossible.” I hope it was me. “Modernism is not a done deal.” I bet that was Dave Hickey, not me.

Novel title? The Moon and Sixpence a Word.

If you don’t have a notebook, where are you going to store this sort of stuff? The alternatives aren’t pretty. The archives from my days as a standup comedian are mostly torn pieces of paper, bar napkins, and coasters. And who knows how many comedic gems and pearls of wisdom have fallen by the wayside when I was not prepared to jot. And so, my fellow travelers on the highways of philosophy and the byways of wit, it pays to be prepared with archival quality receptacles for the treasures of observation and reflection.

One word of warning, however, and that is to fill in the "In case of loss please return to:" form on the flyleaf. I left one of my notebooks in a business-class seat pocket on a flight back from China and never got it back. Thanks United Airlines! Moleskine conveniently adds, "As a reward: $_________." I don't put a number in there, but simply "yes," or, "substantial." Why limit their imagination? My imagination has filled that notebook with parts of a novel, a screenplay, and ad copy lines suitable for almost any luxurious product.

Summer Vacation with Tie

You may have noticed a lack of activity in this space. I was on vacation, and I wasn't fooling around. I was determined to do no work and I almost got away with it. It's pretty easy when you're in Italy without your laptop. I did take some work on a little 1GB USB necklace, and I managed to file the one story I had due from an Internet café on an Italian PC. Hey, I can't even use an American PC. Their excellent coffee helped out.

In the spirit of my vacation, I'm not going to report on it. At least one place I went I won't mention because I don't want anybody else to find out about it. I did go to Puglia, the "heel" of Italy, where I had never been, and I had a wonderful time despite the fact that the day I arrived the temperature hit 104°F, two days later it hit 107°, and the day after that 109°. The humidity wasn't too bad, but the locals were bugging. Unlike our President they have no doubt that strange changes are afoot in the ecosystem. And it was quite spectacular driving to Rome on the Autostrada and passing through a forest fire with flames shooting fifty feet in the air. The fire was on the other side of the divided highway, but managed to spread to the side I was on. I flew through the cloud at about 160 kph and when I looked back it was like Sodom back there.

It's great being in a foreign country for a good stretch. It gives you a different fashion perspective. I got a lot of ideas, and now I'm working up some fashion designs of my own, including full-face sunglasses and thong jeans. I did manage to do a little shopping. I went to one of my favorite stores in Rome, Bomba on Via dell'Oca. It's the shop of Cristina Bomba. It opened in 1980, and ever since has offered women's clothes in a most independent spirit, as well as some great things for men. They sell the most beautiful fine-gauge knit ties. Every time I'm in Rome I buy myself a new one. They come in extraordinary color combinations and in what I consider an optimal width: 3 inches.




Please excuse the pictures. This was the beginning of a camera meltdown that concluded with my seven-year-old photographer dropping the instrument on the cobblestones.

I made another discovery in Rome. Walking down Via Coronari, a street of great shops, I saw some interesting ties and vests in a window, peeked in and saw a sartorial vision, Alberto Valentini, peeking back. He was dressed in a brown blanket plaid tweed suit with a matching tie, a big fat tie like those favored by many smart Italian gentlemen. I had never seen a tie made to match a suit, or anyone who looked quite like Mr. Valentini, so I had to go in. I was very taken with the clothes in the shop, expecially the vests and big ties, which could also be had in matching patterns. I wound up walking out with a matching vest and tie, in a Burberry plaid. I thought I'd try the big tie look on for size. It seems like there are times when it works. Of course, for a big tie you need a shirt with a big collar, and so I wound up buying a beautiful white shirt to complete the look.

To make a long story short, someone lifted the package containing the tie, and so now I have a very extravagant vest and a very beautiful white shirt with a big collar. When I replace the tie I'll model the whole nutty look for you. I quite liked Alberto Valentini's tailoring style, too. His suits are nicely proportioned and modern in a delightfully idiosyncratic way. Maybe the jackets weren't just right for me because of their big shoulders. I have big enough shoulders already, but Mr. Valentini is a bespoke tailor who has outfitted a wide variety of customers, from the last Pope to George Bush—the older, well-dressed one. I would highly recommend this delightful little shop (at Via Coronari 17) for anyone visiting Rome.

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Introducing Mr. Mort


There's always something going on at the Jack Spade store at 56 Greene Street in Soho. It's not only a boutique with lots of cool products of character and distinction—including bags, books, ties, sunglasses, socks, iPod cases, flyswatters, and lots more—but it's also sort of like a museum, and sort of like a social club and lounge. They have a lending library, and I bet they even have an ashtray hidden away somewhere.

Last weekend they took the Jack aesthetic to the streets with an alfresco exhibition of a new line of old ties called Mr. Mort. Mr. Mort is the brainchild and nom de cravat of the young, natty, and witty entrepreneur and sartorial consultant Mordechai Rubinstein, who acquired the entire stock of a defunct Brooklyn tie factory. It was an N.O.S. fiesta on the sidewalk in front of Jack Spade, where Mr. Mort himself set up Andy Spade's large wood desk as a showcase for the line of not-too-wide, not-too-narrow ties. Although many fine neckties found new homes for Father's Day, I am assured that the surface of the Mr. Mort collection was barely scratched, and it is now available indoors at 56 Greene.

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Papa's Got a Brand New One

Ricky Clifton is an artist who is perhaps better known as a decorator, but in fact he's the decorator to the artists, so I guess that makes him an artists' artist.

This is Ricky, showing off his new beard style and trying to scare the kids:


Anyway, whatever you call Ricky, he knows a good gift when he sees one, and a month or so ago he gave me a splendid one. He called it a DJ bag. It's from MZ Wallace, the accessorists located at 93 Crosby Street in Soho, and at the store they call it a "Grant Bag," but in fact it is the perfect bag for DJs, especially those of the vinyl persuasion. This is the bag I took with me to Venice for my last jockeying gig, and it held more than enough vinyl for me to play from midnight until after sunrise.


My bag is the expensive one, made from Kevlar with leather trim, which means it's so strong it's bullet-resistant, so had anyone taken a shot at me, I probably would have survived, along with most of my set. I'm not sure exactly how many 12" discs fit in it, but it's a lot, and they fit snugly and securely. And there's also a zippered compartment that was big enough to hold the few 7" 45s I took along, including Edwin Starr's "War," and William DeVaughn's "Be Thankful for What You Got." According to the store, the Kevlar bag is $350 and the nylon canvas version is $225.

My bag is in camouflage, and perhaps that's why it was the only thing that attracted the attention of security as I was heading to the gate for my plane. Maybe camouflage always gets looked at, but I'm sure that no RPG comes packaged in anything this smart. I recommend it wholeheartedly to DJs and civilians alike.

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The Dandiest Shades

For those of you who don't read every magazine, Lapo Elkann is a young man (in lots of mags lately) who is often referred to as "the Fiat heir." Lapo was a golden child, born with a titanium spoon in his mouth, and he had a great career going with that famous company—with projects like reviving the Fiat 500 (in the manner of the Mini and Beetle) and creating cool Fiat brand merch—when he was interrupted by a severe attack of partying, and wound up in rehab mode.

Well, Lapo's back, and we ain't seen nothing yet. The man has big plans, and I have no doubt that he will realize them in a groovy and spectacular manner. The guy is brimming with energy and ideas and he projects a splendid vibe.

It is often pointed out that Lapo inherited some great clothes from his famously suave and sartorially splendid grandfather Gianni Agnelli, but that's not why Lapo is on the ballot for the International Best Dressed List. He's on there because he is very much like his grandfather in his sense of style, and probably in some other excellent ways as well. There aren't too many guys you can talk about tailoring with. I can talk about it with Lapo and our mutual pal Wayne Maser. Lapo is the guy who got Wayne to switch from Anderson & Sheppard of Savile Row to Caraceni of Rome. Now he's working on me.

I was up at Lapo's penthouse on the DMZ between Chinatown and Little Italy the other day, and he showed me a white suit with navy stripes from Caraceni with fantastic details. The button holes were very subtle, almost invisibly sewn with thread in the colors of the Italian flag. It sounds a little twee, but it totally worked, as did the belt in the back of the trousers. I'm ready for a visit to Caraceni myself. I'm thinking about Irish buttonholes. Substitute orange for red.

Anyway, I don't want to talk about Lapo's new company Italia Independent too soon, but my friend Andy Spade and I did get a preview of their new line of carbon fiber sunglasses. They are excellent. Like the rest of the products Lapo has planned these will be offered, with customization, through the Internet. I think Lapo really understands how boring the same old must-have "it" items have become, and that intelligent people want things that reflect their own personality and style and not the glory of some company with a ritzy logo. His amazing shades are just the tip of an iceberg of cool, conceptual products that will eventually roll out of the company. Check out their website. If you have a webcam, you can actually see yourself wearing the product.

Here's Andy Spade, CEO of Jack Spade, wearing eyewear from Italia Independent.


And yours truly:


Lapo is only 28, but I think he shows the potential to become a dandy for our age. He personifies what a dandy can be. A dandy in the true sense, like Beau Brummell or Oscar Wilde or John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester, is a philosopher who uses style to express himself, to bring about political and social change. A dandy is not a fop, but an artist of living. Stay tuned to Italia Independent.

University Tie R.I.P.

Brooks Brothers brings out the diehard in a guy. Even though 346 Madison Avenue has for all practical purposes ceased to contribute to my wardrobe (except for pajamas), I still drop by once in a while in the hope that they've come to their senses. Some months ago, lo and behold, they had a whole table of ties that looked just right to me.

Now, I know I'm some kind of a nut, but for many years I bought mostly Hermès ties because I considered them to be the ideal width. Here at last were some very nice rep ties that were a perfect 2 7/8" inches wide, labeled Brooks Brothers University. Fantastic! I bought two, and over the next week or so decided that Brooks Brothers was coming to its senses and was on the way back.

Well, I checked in right before Christmas and was told these ties have been discontinued. Here is the University tie, pink and navy, and below it a standard Brooks 3 3/4" inch tie, which I affectionately refer to as a lobster bib. Write to your Congressman!



Worth & Worth It

I've been wearing fedoras since ancient times, like before the Mudd Club opened, before Ronald Reagan, even. I think I felt that hats had been out long enough and that their general disappearance from men's kit was a cultural loss. In a hat I felt dressed. I found that a hat really tops off a good look and makes it feel complete. You can also tip your hat to a lady, or take it off in a show of gallantry, or pull the brim down over your eyes to avoid your enemies.

I wore my gray Worth & Worth felt fedora with suits or with my black leather Schott motorcycle jacket. And I've been wearing hats ever since. I'm still wearing lids from Worth & Worth, as well as from Christy's of London and Bates of Jermyn Street, and I have a fantastic violet Borsalino with brown-ribbon trim on the brim.

A few days ago the nice fall weather gave me a yen for a new hat, so I met up with my friend Kate Simon, who was going up to Worth & Worth's new shop at 45 West 57th Street to pick up a new hat from her pal Orlando, who runs the place.

Worth & Worth has been around since 1922, and has a complete selection of traditional handmade felt and straw hats, even stocking bowlers, homburgs, and top hats. But they're also totally on the tip fashion-wise, with modern touches and trims and fantastic colors. I picked up two new fedoras, one a rich chocolate brown, the other in a beautiful pale loden green. It never occurred to me to get a green hat but Orlando insisted that it was the hat for me.

The chocolate brown:


The pale green:


(These photos were taken by Kate, who's a professional photographer.)

They also have a beautiful yellow fedora. I don't have the complexion for it, but I could see my old pal August Darnell tipping it to the ladies with total success.

When I got it home I realized that the hat was totally working, bringing out the color of my eyes and giving me a very subtle look for March 17th. My new hats are totally luxurious, but also increasingly necessary. A man's got to have a hat.

Grab Your Hat, Leave Your Troubles at the Doorstep

It's not exactly the sunny side of West 57th Street, but it does have southern exposure. And New York's premiere hatter, Worth & Worth, is back on the main drag, even though it's on the sixth floor.

The new showroom at 45 West 57th is sunny (with a skylight), spacious, and filled with terrific hats, from the old mainstay Italian felt fedoras favored by traditional gents to the more eccentric shades and shapes worn by such radical sartorial practitioners as Tom Wolfe. Orlando Palacios is also turning out a line of cool lids that should attract such heads as Pete Doherty or his producer, Mick Jones. I think there's actually a picture of Mick in the store, and one of Johnny Lydon in a straw hat in Jamaica, taken by ace photographer Kate Simon. And speaking of straws, this is the place for Montecristi Panamas.

This is also a full-service hatter. I took my badly crushed Montecristi to Orlando a year or so ago and he shook his head when he saw it, but it came back perfectly blocked.


Here's Orlando (in the hat, natch) with art dealer Patrick Fox. You can reach Orlando at 1-800-HATSHOP, or visit


Creme de la Boheme: Poet Gillian McCain and photographer Kate Simon, hats off, at Worth & Worth.

I Got a Medal

Sometimes I'm an atheist. I love H.L. Mencken, America's greatest philosopher, and I go around quoting him all the time—like, "The most common of all follies is to believe passionately in the palpably not true. It is the chief occupation of mankind." On the other hand, I grew up Catholic, and always got off on the spectacle of Latin high mass. I'm a sucker for European cathedrals. Incense gets to me. It's not easy to quit that stuff. But other times I think that there's nothing wrong with Western Civilization that a complete reversion to polytheism couldn't cure. So usually I'm a pagan. That's the highest form of Catholicism, baby.


Gore Vidal's Julian, the story of the Roman emperor who attempted to restore paganism after Constantine had made Christianity the official religion of the state, is one of my all-time favorite books, and I'm of a mind with the great writer Robert Graves that things were far better when the Goddess was running the heavens. The good thing about Catholicism, as practiced by someone like my dear departed grandma Flora, is that it is so pagan. The Virgin Mary is the goddess, and the gods are all there, mostly celebrated on their ancient days, disguised as the Saints. In little villages in Italy the same feasts and rites have been practiced for thousands of years. They make the sun come up, and the barley.

I don't think that's what Mary Jo Pane had in mind when she created Miracle Icons, her line of jewelry. She finds wonderful antique Catholic medals and mounts them on chains and bracelets of fine patina. You can find them at Barneys New York, Maxfield, Fred Segal in Santa Monica, and Traffic L.A., among other places. Funny, but it turns out that many of her best customers are Hollywood stars not known for their piety, and often people whom you might expect to wear a Star of David rather than a St. Maria Goretti or St. Francis of Assisi. I guess you could say that these icons have been de-accessioned, but one's nominal faith isn't really important. As the atheist said, "I'm not taking any chances."

I haven't worn a medal since high school, but it's a good look and I'm moving back into it. It's a very Mickey Rourke-Eric Roberts-Pope of Greenwich Village-Vinnie Gallo kind of aesthetic. (Although the last time I saw Vinnie he was wearing the compass-and-square of that famous secret society.) It's badass spiritual. Anyway if you see me wearing one of Mary Jo's chains, it's not that I'm a pro-Benedict guy (although I do like him better than the last Papa) but that I'm chained in honor of Aphrodite. She's very green, you know. I like all the goddesses and I'm all for feminizing heaven. And on earth as it is in heaven.

I'm placing myself under the protection of Mary, the Mom, and also Magdalene and her other incarnations Isis, Venus, Hera, and Diana. Have mercy, baby! In an era of increasing intolerance, with holy wars proclaimed against novelists, comedians, and cartoonists, not to mention those who crack the boiled egg on the wrong end, there is a certain relief in polytheism. It's not so "fascist." If you don't like what God says, you can always get a second opinion.

Mencken said, "The way to deal with superstition is not to be polite to it, but to tackle it with all arms, and so rout it, cripple it, and make it forever infamous and ridiculous. Is it, perchance, cherished by persons who should know better? Then their folly should be brought out into the light of day, and exhibited there in all its hideousness until they flee from it, hiding their heads in shame." But it's okay to wear some medals when you're doing it for good luck. In the End Times, while the big three monotheist conglomerates maneuver to finish the others off, we do what we can to protect and nurture culture, nature, and each other, along with a little help from the gods—and the saints, the sprites, the fairies, and leprechauns.

In Praise of Brand-Name Ties


Not so long ago, before the auteur theory hit fashion and the designer craze was born, certain brands were known for excellence in one area, like shirts and ties. I was a nut for Gant and Wren shirts as a young preppy. In the old days there were also brands known mainly for their ties, like Countess Mara and Vera. In fact Ralph Lauren started out as a tie brand. As a young dude I liked Rooster ties. Rooster was sort of the art tie brand. They came in distinctive, often clever patterns, they had a nice slim shape that went well with the Ivy League cut, and you could tell them by their squared-off end. They are about as close as ties ever got to art, except maybe Fornasetti, and they are exactly what designers are trying to emulate today. You can still find 'em in Salvation Army stores and thrift shops. Here's one I picked up recently. It's a kind of luminous silk (usually Roosters are cotton), and it's wider than the usual Rooster, so it must date from the seventies, but it's just right for today.