In his new book DANDEMONIUM – The Dandy Defined, journalist Robin Dutt explores the history of well-dressed men in Mayfair. By Lucie Muir
If you thought that the Dandy, a term given to a man “unduly concerned with looking stylish and fashionable”, was the stuff of 18th-century caricatures and latter-day eccentrics, then a new book written by journalist and bon viveur Robin Dutt could change your mind. Launching later this month, the book, published by Kerseymere, challenges the notion of the Dandy of the past and considers how we view the Dandy today. Discussed over 12 compelling chapters, there are plenty of iconic fashion images to boot.
London-based Dutt, a self-confessed British Dandy who likes to spend his days at the chic Mayfair members' club Home House, decided to write the book as a way to convey the true spirit and concept of the Dandy. ‘Dandyism has always been about sartorial elegance, not overblown and showy, but it was really the mind of the historical character that I wanted to get into.’
So, what defines the Dandy? ‘He, or she, for that matter, will wear clothes which are not loud, not immediately remarkable but they will transmit that special nature of elegance which we may call true style. I always say that when I'm walking down the street, I'm a walking autobiography – so what you see is what you get. There's no mask to Dandyism, you are simply representing your truth.’
Cue arguably the best-known Dandy of all time, George Bryan “Beau” Brummell – to whom the author dedicates an entire chapter. ‘He made real Dandyism his own through appearance, word and deed,’ says Dutt. Indeed, Brummell's connection to Mayfair and in particular Jermyn Street and Bond Street during the Regency era is well documented. Other well-known figures including the Duke of Beaufort, who formed part of the Bond Street Loungers. This group of smartly dressed men would parade up and down Old and New Bond Street, stopping to be admired along the way.
No doubt if Brummell and the “Loungers” were around today, they would shop at Gucci or Saint Laurent and have amassed an impressive social media following. ‘Oh, absolutely!’ laughs Dutt. ‘In a way you could look at the plethora of satirical caricatures by the celebrated Regency caricaturists James Gillray and George Cruikshank, and see this as an early element of social media; life drawn on parchment. That need for the visual is what we are also very familiar with today on our smartphones and other devices.’
As for Mayfair's role in the life of Dandies past and present, Dutt adds: ‘Personally, as well as visiting the beautiful arcades, Burlington and The Royal Arcade, I love the idea of the hotel bar such as Claridge's or The Ritz, and Fortnum’s, of course. That element of fine dining and luxury shopping hasn't left the area at all. To take tea or have a cocktail in an elegant setting is still a very Mayfair/Bond Street thing to do.’
Meanwhile, as well as touching on the Dandy's personality through clothes, the book explores the multifarious nature of sexual identity. Gender-fluid fashion is, after all, the preserve of many a public figure today. Here, Dutt cites the actor Timothée Chalamet along with Tilda Swinton as exemplary modern-day Dandies and Dandizettes.
Finally, in “Dandies Met”, a series of interviews that concludes each chapter, the writer recalls meetings with characters that represent the dynamism of Dandyism, and have a link to the past. Take Andy Warhol for instance, whom he met at the Anthony d'Offay Gallery in Dering Street, London, in the 1980s. ‘Warhol was such an enigmatic figure, so remote and yet so personal. His reticence to divulge was his magnetism. His responses were typically, “Gee”, “Oh really”, “D'ya think so?” Childlike – yet knowing.’
How very Dandy indeed!
£100; available online at shreejinewsagents.com/products/dandemonium
Lucie Muir writes for the Financial Times HTSI