Styling The Man

Category: CULTURAL IKONS

Curtiss

PlaneGlenn Hammonds Curtiss was one of the most influential figures in American History that you’ve never heard of. He made the first long distance flight in America in 1902, from Albany to New York City. His lifelong fascination with speed made him one of the great pioneers of human flight.

In 1878, in a small village sitting on the southern end of Keuka Lake, known as Hammondsport, Glenn Hammonds Curtiss was born to parents Lua Andrews and Frank Richmond Curtiss. At a young age, Glenn became fascinated with bicycles and how fast he could make them go, and would ride the bicycle his grandmother bought him-up and down the mountain roads in his neighborhood. Like those other pioneers, the Wright Brothers, Curtiss designed, built and repaired bicycles. Being the constant innovator that he was, he soon begin to experiment, adding combustible engines to his bicycles and started racing them. In 1903, Curtiss set a motorcycle record, riding at 64 miles per hour. Four years later in Ormond Beach, Florida, he rode the world’s first V8 motorcycle he designed and built-at a whopping speed of 136 miles per hour. That same year he built the handlebar throttle. The Media of his time nicknamed him “fastest man in the world”.

In 1907, Curtiss joined Alexander Graham Bell’s Aerial Experiment Association (AEA). The next three years, he snagged the Scientific American Trophy with planes built by Alexander Graham Bell’s Aerial Experiment Association. In 1909, at the first International Aviation Competition Meeting held in France, Curtiss narrowly beat France’s own Louis Bleriot in the main event to take the gold cup. But, his greatest triumph came on May 29, 1910, when he completed the first witnessed cross-country flight in the United States. With hundreds of thousands of people lined up on the Hudson just to get a glance of their local hero, Curtiss flew 150 miles from Albany to New York City. Thirty-four years after his death, Curtiss was enshrined into the The National Aviation Hall Of Fame.

The Curtiss Museum in Hammondsport, NY is a spectacular way to discover and experience the wonders of aviation and invention. The moment I entered the Museum, I felt like a kid in a candy store, I didn’t know where to begin my exploration. The Museum offers a remarkable insight into the life of one of America’s most significant figures, with a precious collections of artifacts, dating all the way back. From vintage motorcycles, bicycles, cars, period furniture, antique guns used in combat by the U.S. Military, to guided tours, interactive exhibits, and get this, a movie theater that sits up to 75 people. There are even restoration shops, with people actually restoring old airplanes, vintage cars, bicycles.

Even though the story of aviation may begin with the Wright Brothers, Glenn H. Curtis made many noteworthy contributions that led to sweeping changes in aviation.

Happy Birthday, Ralph.

Ralph Lauren The genius of Ralph Lauren has always been his expansive imagination, which fills his inspirational passion and spirit for design.

I remember when the doors swung open to Ralph Lauren’s inaugural venture into Soho, the focus of a dynamic stronghold of the art scene downtown. The concept was to bring the customer closer to the designer’s working process of his vision. The design studio hybrid boutique melded the various lifestyles, drawing creative royalty from around the globe. The product looked fresh and inviting, it was luxury done to perfection and, everyone wanted to get their hands on some.

Soho was the place to be, it had an energy like no other neighborhood. The aroma of fresh perfume always filled the air, as events were bountiful. From captivating art exhibits, and nightly parties at Peter Beard and Peter Tunney’s gallery, to various social gatherings, there was always excitement to be had on any given night. Fashion, art, creativity, socialites, models all found a place to socialize.  Fridays heralded a jam session at 357 Magnum, a chic spot two doors down from Kenn’s Broom street bar, where live drummers added a third dimension to the DJ spinning vinyl. You might just dance into Lenny Kravitz or Lou Diamond Phillips, or even the peripatetic Mick Jagger with the fabulous legginess of Jerry Hall in tow, on a usual evening.  Conveniently across from our store was Cipriani Downtown, a favorite of our work crew, where we frequently kicked back after a long day’s work, sipping on delicious Bellinis, while munching on freshly, crisp baked bread sticks.  Sunday nights around the corner on Prince street, you found Boom Cafe, where a cool mix of Euro and locals all gathered, in the name of fun, the energy was sexy and not too overly sophisticated. Maximiliano, one of the owners who managed the weekends, drew a crowd of the cool and fascinating. There was always a D.J. ensconced in the dimness, rocking exotic mixes. It was the mid 90s, and we as a freshly assembled staff we enjoying the benefits of a booming economy, and basking in the radiance of the new arrival of a true Icon.

One of my fondest memories of those times was the occasion of Ralph Lauren’s 66th Birthday, when our then-store manager decided we should collectively get Ralph a present-as one could only imagine, what a tall challenge this posed. What do you get a man with such incredible taste, for his birthday-a radiant being, who has everything? Well after days of meandering around possibilities and fizzling ideas, our then-vintage buyer Bob Melet came to the rescue. He found an American flag, made entirely of vintage denim, dating back to the early 1900s. Since Ralph is clearly a fan of true denim and, passionate about the American flag-it was a perfect match for a life icon.

Gentleman that he is-we received the most genuine thank you note.

What I do is about living. It’s about living the best life you can and enjoying the fullness of the life around you-from what you wear, to the way you live, to the way you love.

 

Happy Birthday, Billie!

LADY DAY born Eleanora Harris in Baltimore Maryland, Billie Holiday was one of the greatest Jazz vocalist of her time and a legend whose music has aged timelessly, long after her death.

Billie and Ella were the women whose music my parents played constantly on their stereo and I still listen to them this very day. When I was a young teenager, Billie Holiday’s voice, was like nothing I’d ever heard before, and the lady, when in top form, was incomparable. I remember seeing her picture for the first time on the LP jacket of Lady Sings The Blues and how smitten a 13-year-old I was. Billie had the most striking face with a gorgeous set of round eyes and soft cheekbones that made me melt.

Inside Billie, stired profound sensitivity and pain, and beneath the pain, she showed a toughness that made her so unbelievably attractive. Even as a teenager I somehow understood the magnitude of the pain this brave women’s heart felt, as her music expressed an incredible depth of emotion that spoke of hard times and injustice as well as triumph. Billie’s career cooled somewhat in the later 1940s due in to personal problems including her mother’s death, alcohol abuse and a heroin addiction, that saw her loose her cabaret license to perform in New York.

With no licenses to perform in New York City nightclubs or on stage, for the majority of the 1950s, Billie traveled to other states throughout the U.S. performing. As a result, her audience and popularity grew even larger than before and she became a hit with the critics. Year after year, they crowned her the greatest vocalist in America. After the death of her dear friend, legendary saxophonist Lester Young in 1959, feeling as though she had nothing to live for, Billie died at the young age of forty-four.

Though her career was relatively short and often erratic, Billie Holiday bestowed upon this world a body of music as great as any vocalist.

Billie Holiday

KIND OF BLUE

kin of blue recording session Aug 17th of 2013 marked the 54th anniversary of ‘Kind Of Blue’, one of the most influential Jazz albums ever recorded and Miles Davis, who grew up a soft-spoken, shy young man in East St Louis, Illinois, was the leading force behind this epic recording.  Miles and a few of his legendary friends got together and created a masterpiece that to this day, still occupies a sentimental spot, in the hearts of many, many Jazz fans, across America and Europe. Yes we can all agree that Miles Davis was one of the most enigmatic men of our time and we probably wouldn’t want our daughters to bring him home, but what ever people may say about him, he believed in his heart of hearts, that quality has no substitute.

Miles Davis bent for no one and wasn’t afraid to let you know how he felt. He attended the prestigious Juilliard School of Music in New York City, but received the most important of his musical training playing with legends Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie at the 3 Deuces down on 52nd street, which may explain his insatiable, innovative spirit. Said Miles of the whole experience, “…in a matter of seconds I had more schooling down there, than I had in my whole life, musically.” Miles was never a passive onlooker at new music as it was created, he instead was a natural explorer, embracing a wide variety of music-all of which remained permanently in his musical palette. Though firmly rooted in blues, his remarkable oeuvre incorporates pop, flamenco, classical, rock, as well as Arab and Indian music. Like most innovators, Miles knew talent and chemistry. And even though his quintet underwent frequent personnel changes, never once was this rich music’s quality or integrity ever compromised. It remained fresh and extremely potent. Many greats such as Tony Williams, Shirley Horn, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and Jimmy Cobb, who all passed through the ranks and have moved on to innovations of their own, always speak most highly of this ICON and the way he elevated their performance.

I remember as a teenager reading about Miles Davis and being fascinated by the degree of influence he had on so many musicians from all genres of music and every-day people from all walks of life-young and old. I read that he admired the work of Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, whose music interestingly, is known for its stylistic diversity. Miles was truly one of the greatest musicians and music innovators of the 20th century-a social mover who stood proudly at the forefront of several important musical paradigm shifts in America.  Along with legends Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, Miles helped pioneered a musical revolution known as Bebop, a style more melodically and more rhythmically complex than traditional jazz, and more obscure.

During the decade of the 1950, Miles collaborated with composer and arranger Gil Evans, creating yet another new sound-a sound representing a more breezy, subdued mood that made the big-band arrangements seem easy-even at its most complex. This came to be known today as Birth Of The Cool, (a defining, pivotal moment in jazz) which was a reaction to Bebop’s urgency. This new music was an important time for Miles, in that he was not only trying to shake the reputation of a heroin addict, but he was also beginning to create his own unique style, different from that of his own Hard-bop days and Bebop’s frantic tempo, created mostly by Charlie Parker. Miles’ compulsive need to constantly change and develop new music seemed less out of a desire to change because of boredom. It had more to do with the fact that when it came to music, he was so deeply perceptive, that the music in turn dictated to him in which direction it needed to go.

In 1959 over at Columbia’s 30th street studio in midtown Manhattan, something monumental and special took place, that forever changed the face of music in America. At the peak of their careers, Miles Davis and his sextet, made up of heavy-hitters like drummer Jimmy Cobb, pianists Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers, and saxophonists John Coltrane and Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, recorded Kind Of Blue, one of the most supremely lyrical albums ever produced. I remember the first time I listened to Kind Of Blue and thinking to myself (as I still do today) that this was like nothing I had ever heard before. Each session, each note played by those five gifted musicians sent chills down my spine. From its opening note So What, you’re greeted with that divine sense of intimacy Miles injects into every song. The asthmatic whisper of his trumpet cuts sharply through the speakers with such sentiment and soul-you immediately feel why his music causes such a stir in people. No matter how often I listen to Kind Of Blue in its entirety, or even just Blue In Green, my favorite jazz song, I always feel mesmerized, invigorated, inspired-very real reactions to something very real in this masterpiece. Each tune, each medley will undoubtedly have some special meaning for every listener.

Everything it is possible to say about Miles Davis’ musical achievement has been said many times before in every language. The man was a genius in every meaning of the word, a man who sustained a burning desire to make music. Not since the great Louis Armstrong (aka Satchmo) fifty years earlier, had anyone changed the trumpet’s sound, UNTIL Miles CAME ALONG. He was abrasive at times with his friends and family, including the women in his life and was sensitive to his core-as expressed poetically through his timeless music, which was always full of risks, full of mystery and a little mystic. Miles felt misunderstood and was never afraid to wear his emotions on his sleeves. Behind the cool dark shades and calm sentimental ballads, hid a lonely boy, haunted by his demons and by the prejudice he faced at a time when the “risk of assault, verbal and physical, was a daily reality-not least from the police.” He took shit from no one, not even the young, cocky New York City detective who split his head open, all because he was standing, peacefully smoking a cigarette outside the club he was gigging. But while cynicism and what seemed to be arrogance formed the cloak of protection for his vulnerability, Miles Davis shared his musical gift with humanity in his unique manner, which never ceases to inspire human warmth and innovation.

Kind Of Blue

BLOW UP

blow-upReleased in 1966, Blow-up made an indelible debut in swinging London and was immediately hailed as a masterpiece.

In his seminal film Blow-up, writer director Michelangelo Antonioni examines the existential nature of reality interpreted through photography, pantomime and landscape paintings. Blow-up centers around a young stylish, successful London photographer with big blue eyes and a head full of chestnut hair, name Thomas-who lives a life of cynicism and melancholy. This superbly directed mystery, was Antonioni’s first production on English soil and it became a classic from the moment it hit the big screen. Blow-up is injected with doses of deviltry, and sinister overtones throughout, depicting pubic hair and strong nudity to American audiences-at a time when no other mainstream English-language movie had attempted it. Blow-up even got away with not being rated as a film for mature audiences.

During a stroll one day through a local park, on a quiet, mildly breezy, slightly overcast afternoon, Thomas catches sight of a mysterious couple acting playfully and flirtatious. Amused by the their apparent bliss, he stands behind a tree from a distance and proceeded to take a series of photographs, in an almost voyeuristic manner. Back at his studio, struck with curiosity, the young photographer develops the roll of film, only to discover he may have been the witness to a murder in the park and inadvertently photographed it. The plot thickens, when it soon becomes apparent, that someone from the scene of the crime, followed Thomas back to his studio, determined to retrieve the film through whatever means necessary.

Blow-up is truly a masterpiece and Hemmings as the young mod photographer, gives an stellar performance. There are some priceless and revealing moments in Blow-up you have to pay close attention to in order to fully understand Thomas. The interactions between him and his neighbor Patricia, played by Sarah Miles, who lives with a young painter across the way. Another important scene is where we find Thomas in the park at early dawn, watching college kids play tennis with an imaginary ball. These powerful scenes give us an important glimpse into Thomas’s desires and in my opinion, sets Michelangelo Antonioni apart as a master storyteller.

BLOW UP from Ranjith Daluwatta

“People thought i was dead. But I wasn’t. I was just directing The A-Team”

David Hemmings

David Hemmings in Blow-up

 


TUTU

Miles Davis + Irving PennMiles Davis and Irving Penn working together, for their first and only time, created an unstoppable synergy; one, a constant perfectionist of his ground-breaking music and the other, a constant perfectionist of his ground-breaking photography.

When master photographer Irving Penn and Master trumpeter Miles Davis hung out together for the first time, it became a collaboration, in the photography and music world, of epic, proportions. This stunning photograph is one of my favorite images from that encounter between these genuiues. It was for Davis’s long awaited album TuTu, in 1986. The controversial but memorable TuTu was written in tribute to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the first black Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa. These two icons, whose paths had never crossed before, clearly had a natural chemistry in the studio-as expressed movingly through this series of images-and why not? Miles and Penn were masters of their craft, who embraced changing times in the 80s, during which, a new kind of music known as “Birth of The Cool” was incubating.

TuTu was the birth of a new kind of cool-mostly duets. It was heavily inspired by mid-80s R&B and funk, with heavy use of organ like synthesizers and drum machines. Full Nelson, which incorporates the pop element against the asthmatic whisper of Davis’ trumpet, is a very special track and a favorite on the album. It alludes to then imprisoned South African politician, young Nelson Mandela. Davis originally wanted pop icon Prince to be on the album, but it never ended up working out. Word has it, Prince, mr perfectionist, recorded his tracks, but in the end didn’t think they were up to scratch with the rest of the album’s material.

Davis reached out to legendary baseman Marcus Miller who laid down some tracks and the two completed TuTu, and it was finally released at the end of 1986. (to the joy of warner bros’ happy brass ). TuTu became an instant classic upon its debut-winning Davis the Grammy for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance on an album, in 1987. Brief, but notable appearances on TuTu were made by violinist Michal Urbaniak, Brazilian percussionist Paulinho Da Costa, keyboardist and our friend from the west coast, mr George Duke, among other musicians. For TuTu’s album cover, this was the image chosen from the series.

Mr. Renaissance

Gordon ParksGordon Parks was one of the most influential and prolific photographers of the twentieth century, whose artistic vision was boundless.

During a multi-faceted career that spanned over six decades in America and across the world, master photographer Gordon Parks was the embodiment of the Renaissance man. He was cool, confident and a man of great. Born in Fort Scott, Kansas, the youngest of 15, Parks successfully wore several creative hats throughout his artistically diverse career. He was an accomplished essayist, novelist, poet, screenwriter, composer and was the first African American to write, produce, direct and score a film. He was also the first African American to work at The Office of War Information and The Farm Security Administration (FSA), experiences he credits largely with influencing and informing his photojournalism approach and integrity in his work.

One morning in 1948, after a brief stint at vogue, Parks took his portfolio to Wilson Hicks, then picture editor of Life Magazine and asked for a job. To Parks’ surprise, he was offered a job-making him not only the magazine’s first African American staff photographer and writer, but also its youngest staff member to be assigned to its Paris bureau. In fact, even before he was officially on the magazine’s staff, Parks was sent to Europe to do assignments, a move the magazine wouldn’t normally do for a young photographer just starting out. His first assignment for life was a photographic essay on 16 year old Harlem gang leader Red Jackson, during a time when gang wars were on the rise in Harlem. The essay was published, winning Parks much widespread recognition and praises. Parks also had an incredible ear for music and with the encouragement of a friend, while on assignment in Paris for Life Magazine from 1949 to 1951, he wrote and composed concerto for piano and orchestras.

In 1969, Parks’ became the first black artist to direct a major film in Hollywood and it was The Learning Tree-an autobiographical novel he wrote, about a coming of age adolescent black boy in rural America. In the 70s, he served as editorial director for Essence Magazine from its debut in 1970 for the next three years. Many credit him as being one of the magazine’s founders. Around the same time of his gig with Essence, Parks subsequently made the cult-classic action flicks Shaft and Shaft’s Big Score. The first movie I saw that Parks directed, starred Roger E Mosely who brilliantly portrays talented, but troubled blues and folk singer Leadbetter, nicked name Leadbelly. (Notice a young Ernie Hudson in his movie debut.) Every time I watch this movie, I discover something new and exciting. Only a photographer with a master talent like his, could have directed Leadbelly the way he did, especially with the way he used that Southern lighting he knew so well. Leadbelly has all the elements of a Gordon Parks project, a great storyline, vibrant colors, wonderful lighting, all set against the rural countryside.

Gordon Parks had a special feeling for humanity and was always involved in things that were happening to people. No matter what color they were, whether they were Indians, or blacks, the poor white person or anyone who he though got a bad shake. His phenomenal body of work represents Americans of all levels of society-from the rural and laboring of the South to the wealthy and leisured of Park Ave. His powerful images of the civil rights movement, racial segregation and poverty throughout the South, remain some of the most vivid and important images in telling America’s social legacy. From a very young age Parks was very strong-willed and independent minded.  He refused to be defeated by racism, poverty and especially gang violence, which he saw as the enemy. In 1997 in his book Half Past Autumn, he wrote, “in my youth, violence became my enemy …Photography, writing, music and film are the weapons I use against it…”

Whether it was through his photographs, the movies he wrote and directed, his beautiful books, concertos he wrote applying his style of reading music or his brilliant poetry, Gordon Roger Parks was a man of indomitable courage, who was always searching for a deeper meaning of life.

Half Past AutumnGordon ParksMuhammad AliBy Gordon ParksGordon Parks for VogueBy Gordon ParksBy Gordon ParksBy Gordon ParksBy Gordon ParksBy Gordon ParksElla Watson, 1942

The Gordon Parks Foundation

Jungle Fever

I’ve always been attracted to the bold, paradigm-shattering work of Jean Paul Goude.

Through his visually stimulating, socially conscious, sometimes provocative photographs and advertising films he directed, Jean Paul Goude speaks a powerful language of acceptance and toleration. In constant dialog with the French avant-garde, Goude’s work is visibly influenced by girls of color and French colonialism-a result of having grown up in a predominantly black neighborhood.

Between 1968-69, Goude was offered a position as Art Director of Esquire, which he accepted-prompting an immediate relocation to New York City. It was at the tail end of the disco era when the young graphic designer met Grace Jones, a then fresh faced model with big aspirations, who became his muse and mother of his son. For the next three decades, Goude worked on Jones’ commercials, her album covers, music videos, and countless photo-shoots, producing some memorable and thought-provoking works. In 1983, Goude published Jungle Fever, a beautifully illustrated book in full color with Goude’s sometimes outlandish and sexually explicit photos, artwork, drawings and collages. He highlights Latino and African-American models along with everyday people in the most colorful concepts, that are uniquely Goude.

When it was first published over thirty years ago, Jungle Fever broke new ground by exploring traditional concepts and pushing them beyond the bounds of appropriateness and cultural norms. Chances of finding a copy today in perfect condition are slim to none. Depending on what state of affairs it’s in, a copy can fetch anywhere from $200 up to $700 dollars. But, it’s a collector’s item which only appreciates in value with time and is worth every bit of your hard earned cents. On a side note-does anyone remember the super model Toukie Smith who was a long time partner of Robert De Niro, with whom she has two sons? Well, there are some fascinating scribbles by her in this book you’ll find interesting.

Grace Jones ©Jean Paul Goude

junglefever

Jungle Fever ©Jean Paul Goude & Grace Jones

Goude & Grace

Pierre Cardin

Pierre-Cardin-Cosmos-Collection-1964MAN OF MANY STYLES   Designer Pierre Cardin is one of the founding fathers of permanent fashion and first designer whose clothes I became acquainted with.

When the Editor-in-Chief of Elle Decor Uk, Michelle Ogundehin sat down for a conversation, with 90-year old iconic designer Pierre Cardin, it was evident the designer’s heart still had a burning desire for creativity. Cardin sat comfortably in his office in downtown Paris, an all too familiar scene of organized chaos, usually favored by the creative minded. “Fashion creates everything, even if you’re rich or poor,” said the designer, surrounded by old relics, fashion magazines, sketchpads, tear sheets, art books and all sorts of muses. Cardin reflects on his legacy and people he met throughout his successful career. He happily talks about magazine editing and being the ambassador for UNESCO-activities he is clearly very proud of. I was especially amused when he confessed to “see shapes, colors and materials in the night when it’s dark.”

Pierre Cardin was born in Italy, then moved to Paris in 1945. He was a rare visionary, who was one of the first to explore many new and exciting creative avenues, in the world of high fashion and big business, of which most notably, was licensing his name to fashion apparel and food. He was the first haute couture fashion designer to launch a women’s ready-to-wear collection in the 1950’s. (think Mad Men)  He was also the first designer, who attempted to put high-end fashion, into the reach of everyday people. (An idea altogether new for its time.) As a result, the designer was excoriated by fashion elites.

In 1960, Cardin successfully unveiled his first men’s couturier line-it was well received and became a big hit. His jackets were cut with higher shoulders, given a tapered European look, which created that ever so slight flair. In addition, sleeve heads had slight rolls, adding yet another unique layer to men’s style, while trousers were given bell-bottoms and without pleats.

Pierre Cardin for Elle Decoration from Chris Tubbs

Happy Birthday, Champ!

“I know where I’m going and I know the truth, and I don’t have to be what you want me to be. I’m free to be what I want.”