I had the distinct pleasure of making his acquaintance at a recent forum in New York City, featuring G. Bruce Boyer, Dr. Andre Churchwell, Nickelson Wooster, and the lovely Rose Callahan. It was quite the education on a concept that is oft misunderstood and thus easily convoluted. I spoke with Nathaniel (affectionately known as ‘Natty’)–formerly of Against Nature and currently co-directing Secret Empire- a men’s bespoke service slated for a summer release– to bring some clarity to one of sartorial history’s most intriguing and, quite personal, developments.
Natty: “As I say in the introduction to “I am Dandy: The Return of the Elegant Gentleman” today there are two definitions of the word dandy, one more colloquial and one more archetypal. The first and most common definition, is just a well-dressed man. It’s not that difficult to find people who fit that criterion. The archetypal, cultural dandy, however, is a trickier one – past dandies as diverse as Oscar Wilde, Baudelaire, Beau Brummell, and Gabriele D’Annunzio make it hard to come up with a definition that includes them all while still retaining some strength and meaning. Most of the men in the book don’t call themselves dandies, which I think is partly out of a reluctance to place themselves in the company of some of the major figures who have preceded them. But Rose and I found that, despite some protest, “dandy” is just the right word. What else would you call them? “Clothes horse” is mundane and doesn’t suggest anything in terms of attitude or personality – to say nothing of the passion, obsession, and intellect at work when these men dress. “Fop” is too disparaging and archaic to boot, and “fashion plate” does the men a disservice by reducing their lifestyle to the level of a trend. Dandy will simply have to do.”
On being dubbed 2013’s ‘Dandy of the Year’:
“It was a total surprise! Christian Chensvold, the editor of Dandyism.net, showed up at Against Nature, gave me a beautiful porcelain camellia boutonniere, and interviewed me. I was both honored and a little wary – Dandyism.net is a website known for its irreverence, so I thought the award, which is obviously a bit tongue-in-cheek, might be an elegant Trojan horse leaving me open to attack on the site’s comment threads. Turns out I needn’t have worried. They wrote a warm but witty and teasing appreciation of me and the comments were overwhelmingly congratulatory.”
I asked how ‘I Am Dandy’ had influenced his scope on Dandyism personally:
“My perception of dandyism hasn’t really changed since the publication of the book, but while we were making the book and I was interviewing this diverse group of men, it definitely shifted some of my opinions. For one, I became much more open to different styles. When I interviewed men whose style was something I’d never wear myself and they told me why they dressed that way, I had a newfound appreciation for it – I tried to let their enthusiasm infect me. I’m also glad that the book refutes a few common preconceptions about the sort of many who might be called a dandy– mainly that they’d all be rich, white, gay, and work in fashion. The diversity of the men in the book dispells that. It also, hopefully, shows people that dandyism isn’t a movement or a subculture or a community – it is, by and large, an individual pursuit, which is something that I think is undervalued across the board these days.”
Style is an evolution. How has “I Am Dandy” contributed to your own?
“Working on the book obviously influenced my style – when you’re interviewing Gay Talese or Hamish Bowles in his home you start to see how much farther you can go with your style. It’s also emboldened me to try new things and experiment, which is something that I hope other people get from the book. I’m not going to put on makeup, but the fact that Patrick McDonald does that every day and looks great and goes into the world with confidence leaves men with little excuse but cowardice and fear of others’ censure in dressing themselves a little bit more boldly. My position at Against Nature also enabled me to build a large bespoke wardrobe of my own design, which is an advantage not many people have. So my style over the past five years has involved a lot of experimentation – trying things out, keeping what works, casting aside what doesn’t. As that process continues, something like a personal style is distilled from it – it’s an evolution by artificial selection. And I’m consistently inspired by the men who try new things, take a few risks, and style themselves instead of just imitating what they see in advertisements or magazines or on style blogs.”
Every man has at least once signature element in his manner of dress. What wardrobe items mean the most to you?
“In terms of significance I have a lovely signet ring from Digby + Iona that my girlfriend gave me for Christmas/my 30th birthday. As far as my suits go, my favorite one is always the next one I’m having made. This might not be very cool, but some of my favorite items are my pajamas. I don’t have a lot of them and they’re not particularly unusual or luxurious, but there’s something I love about the very idea of sleepwear.”
You have an extensive literary background and an obvious love for the written word. You mentioned the influence of what you’ve read on how you dress. What roles do you play? Is there one specifically of most impact?
“What a great question! It’s true that I do often feel like shades of various characters are influencing me, and that my personality itself is a blend of many personalities (not that I’m schizophrenic!). And on some days I choose my outfit with a character or type in mind, someone whose attitude, philosophy, or manner I feel like emulating or, just as often, someone who already fits the mood in which I find myself. But is there one character that looms large and attracts me more frequently than others? I’m really not sure. The truth is, I don’t actually play a character – different outfits give me different feelings and those feelings are often linked in my head to literary (or even historical) figures, but not always specific ones. I may dress vaguely like a character in a Graham Greene or Evelyn Waugh novel – although not a specific character. Or I may dress in a way that makes me think of Byron or Goethe’s Werther or some other romantic figure, either fictional or historical. Whatever I’m wearing, I’m always playing Natty.”
Read more from Natty here.