Wednesday, June 2, 2010


... that I am thirsty: When I saw a ludicrous dress of whisks (see below) in a slideshow, I thought of Compton Mackenzie's Whisky Galore. I know, I know, the two do not complement one another. I'm pairing them anyway, for the model, as grim as a Chinese terracotta warrior, needs a dose of fun in her life. (Granted, the attempt to make the "feminine" cooking utensils into "masculine" faux armor is gimmicky enough to make the happiest model unhappy. Oh, but I opine when I should be thinking about whisky.)

Mackenzie's book was made into a marvelous movie (with fun movie posters--see below). It makes thorough sense that it was released on Christmas Day in 1949. Whisky Galore! is a sheer delight that increases my love for coy and cooing Joan Greewood and bumptious Basil Radford.

And now, the poster:

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Lady Whose Book Was Peach

On the left, Cautionary Tales for Children (1907), written by Hilaire Belloc and illustrated by Basil Blackwood, who decorated some of Belloc's books but died in combat in the First World War in 1917. On the right, "St. Mercer St., Soho" posted by the Sartorialist on Monday May 10, 2010.

I don't know whither the hands of this elegant lady have gone, but I would like to imagine that if her left hand were present she would be holding this famous Belloc book. It goes so well with her finger waves, Mary Poppins medicine bag, and salmon polka dots. And it goes so well with her sly smile, as if she at one point had been a Matilda "who told such Dreadful Lies" or a Rebecca "who slammed Doors for Fun."

Belloc was once asked why he wrote so much. "Because my children," he replied, "are howling for pearls and caviar."

Saturday, May 8, 2010

P.S. Plum Perfect

Plum readers,

Here's a small gem I found this morning: a P.G. Wodehouse interview in 1975 published in the Paris Review when he was 91 and a half years old. There's a little bit of everything covered, from his year in a German internment camp to how he is utterly awful at giving directions even to his own home in Long Island. His happy temperament is on perfect display throughout the 23 pages, one of which is a picture from his notes for a Blandings novel he was working on at the time of his death.

I am glad to know his favorite character of his own device is Lord Emsworth, with whom I'm about to spend this perfect May afternoon in Pigs Have Wings.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Plum Perfect

Summer is starting its yearly conquest of Spring, and the days for wearing spring coats are dwindling. Nevertheless, when packing for my New York trip last weekend, I included in the mix my favorite spring coat, a Theory trench the color of a pale biscuit. I hoped there might be proper occasion—cold weather, wet weather—to wear it. (The trench to the below right is a finer thing, a Burberry confection). I used my biscuit coat just once, to be exact—in the cool of an excellently priced Bolt Bus, not outside in a park of flowers, pigeons, and pugs. But while we were rolling along the highway from Washington to New York through a light smattering of rain—this was the one time it rained—I noticed that my coat complemented rather well my book, Leave It To Psmith by P.G. Wodehouse (1881-1975). And like yours truly, Psmith was reading en route—but on a train and with a monocle. Still, I felt like I was in a real life matryoshka doll, somehow of the English variety. This served to lighten my mood considerably.

The edition I carried is as pictured to the left. It is by Overlook Press, which has been reissuing (almost) all the Wodehouse titles and is scheduled to finish the marvelous task by August. Overlook's are arguably the best volumes to buy: The pages are sewn, not glued, the illustrations are all charming and suitable for each book's contents, the boards a lovely light blue cloth, and the inside covers papered in pale yellow and cream vertical stripes. Everything about the design suggests whimsy, leisure, a light heart, surprise, and intelligence. I think Jeeves would nod in approval of these editions, and Psmith (the "P" is silent, he says, as in "pshrimp") would be so happy as to insert a pink chrysanthemum—or, perhaps, this time a carnation—into his buttonhole. Bertie Wooster would have Jeeves make him a whiskey-and-soda in celebration.

Another Plum book to consider is called Week-end Wodehouse (1939), a compilation of Plum's stories and excerpts with illustrations—or "decorations"—by Kerr and an introduction by Hilaire Belloc. Belloc writes, in closing, about butlers and the importance of Jeeves:
It is probable that the race of butlers will die even sooner than other modern species. They rose to meet a need. They played a national role triumphantly. That role is now near extinction and they are ready to depart. You may say that Jeeves is not exactly a butler, but he is of the same rare divine metal from which butlers are made. He leads among those other butlers of Mr. Wodehouse's invention and indeed he leads all the gentlemen's gentlemen of the world. I should like the foreigner or posterity (much the same thing) to steep themselves in the living image of Jeeves and thus comprehend wha tthe English character in action may achieve. Talk of efficiency!

I have just said that those of whom Jeeves is the prototype or the god are perhaps doomed, and this leads me to the last question which one always asks of all first-rate writing: Will Mr. Wodehouse's work endure?

Pray note that literary work does not necessarily endure through its excellence. What is called "immortality" (wheras nothing mortal is immortal) is conferred upon a man's writing by external circumstances as much as by internal worth. I can show you whole societies of men for whom Keats would be meaningless and I know dozens of Englishmen well versed in the French language who find Racine merely dull. Whether the now famous P.G. Wodehouse will remain upon that level for as many generations as he deserves, depends, alas, upon what happens to England. For my part I would like to make it a test of that thing—"What happens to England."

If in,say, 50 years Jeeves and any other of that great company—but in particular Jeeves—shall have faded, then what we have so long called England will no longer be.
Or, in the words of a young lady in The Code of the Woosters, "Jeeves, you really are a specific dream-rabbit," to which he replies, "Thank you, miss. I am glad to have given satisfaction."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Springtime for Plaid

A nattily dressed friend and fellow Lambist tipped me to Sir Sean Connery's annual springtime fashion charity event in New York, Dressed to Kilt. Various designers, actors, musicians, models—and a few Olympians—joined to walk the Connery runway in sundry outfits, ranging widely in style, from dandy to gypsy, but each incorporating a yard or two of plaid, which, Sir Sean somehow thinks, is excellent to wear year-round, even (or especially) in the warmth of Spring.

Seasons aside, my friend was reminded of several books when looking at the slideshow of Dressed to Kilt. Here is one he thought of:

Here, the Olympian Shani Davis (swining his arms like a windmill, though he is not even outside) with a Penguin edition of Dubliners, nicely echoing his own bizarre movement. I only wish Shani had worn a hat like those in the painting. A wasted opportunity. If he wishes to wear a book that doesn't reminder onlookers that he is missing his topper, he would do well to carry either the below oatmeal-colored edition of A Portrait of a Young Man decorated with little band-aids of tape (to remind him that he should heal his look with a hat)—or, if it is Christmastide, this red-rimmed issue of Time.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Cheap Frills: Penguin redesigns the classics, again

If there is one thing Anthropologie is good at, it's selling clothes—and accessories, and bed linens, and jewelry, and other do-dads—that are mass-produced, overpriced "one of a kinds." In other words, they are items that are supposed to look like you (or grandma) made them. Except you (or grandma) didn't. The artsy folks at Anthropologie did. Cheaper, more charming, and more unique things can be purchased at your local vintage shop—or on eBay!

Now Anthropologie is selling 12 new embossed canvas-covered books of various classics by Penguin, including Alice in Wonderland, Great Expectations, and the Odyssey (which translator? Fagles? Lattimore? Tell me!). The books happen to jive quite well with Anthropologie's modern vintage aesthetic. They can be used easily as accessories with Anthropologie outfits. (Indeed, they are listed under "Accessories" online.) I suppose one could style the Odyssey with any of their featured "aquatic looks" of "seaside simplicity" such as "bubbling surf" and "rush of kelp." And if someone asks what you're wearing, you simply chime, "oh, a little something from the submerged series ... by anthropologie ... and homer."

Granted, I do rejoice when book design and clothing design mingle—but only as long as the books aren't treated just as acessories. I have seen and handled the new Penguin books, which appeared a few months ago in book stores (I found them at Barnes and Noble last winter), and they don't feel like books. For one, they are suspiciously light for hardbacks. Also, the paper quality isn't great, especially when you're paying 20 bones per novel. These amount to disposable versions of enduring novels. One would do better to tote an earlier printing of any of the classics, such as this one or this one, perhaps with a waterproof trench that can withstand Poseidon's blows. I think Aquascutum (Latin for "water shield") should do the trick.

Oh, and this just in: Urban Outfitters is selling the new Penguin classics, too! Along with these loud-covered, socially concious books. But of course. It's another store that mass-produces what it is to be "unique" and/or "cool."

P.S. Read more about the books at Penguin's blog here.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Drop Dead Red

On the left, Eclipse (The Twilight Saga) by Stephanie Meyer. On the right, a look from the Talbot Runhof Fall 2010 RTW collection.

I had to pair them. She is wearing transparent greaves and patella protectors to ward off teething werewolves. And she is wearing a jawbone-skimming collar—enhanced with a giant, distracting rose—to ward off vampires.

This outfit really makes the model into the ultimate Twi-femme fetale. (And that jacket? Yes, I think it is made of genuine sunlit vampire skin.)

Unrelated, unscientific post-script: In case you are wondering, that fantastic red on the model's legs can be made with paint. Layer glazes of Cadmium Red Light and Alizarin Crimson, one after the other on a white ground. It's the sort of hue that will never come from just one tube. It looks especially vibrant beside neutral grays tinged with green.