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Friday, December 8, 2023

Douglas Fairbanks on stage – Everlasting Model

By Tom Mastronardi.

Anybody that is aware of me appreciates my resolute affection for being well-tailored. Whilst a child raised in a decidedly blue-collar neighbourhood on Chicago’s South Facet, I by no means required any coaxing to don a jacket and tie.

However of all the reasons for my embrace of bespoke, the very best and positively the truest has its genesis in a primary date: one which marked the fruits of a teenage crush on an outstandingly pretty (after all) younger woman.

Now, in my dotage, I realise my reminiscence is perhaps barely porous, however nonetheless, I’ve the fondest recollection of an unforgettable night spent with stated pretty – and, extra to the purpose, with the (distant) presence of Mr Douglas Fairbanks, Jr (above).

Okay, then – a boy and a woman and a Hollywood icon. However how does a story of younger romance – even one with a Hollywood model of a Fairy Godfather – result in my enduring enthusiasm for tailoring?

Let’s return even additional to 1958, when a brand new play entitled The Pleasure of His Firm by Samuel A Taylor and Cornelia Otis Skinner premiered on Broadway. (The New York Instances discovered it to be “totally pleasant.”)

The plot of the play follows the return of a wayfaring bon vivant father, one Biddeford ‘Pogo’ Poole, who has returned to San Francisco for the marriage of his now grown (however lengthy uncared for) daughter, in addition to to pursue his former woman, the mom of the bride. Charming hijinks ensue – which is why the French title is, with good cause, Mon Séducteur de Père. Racy stuff in Eisenhower-era America.

Quick ahead to 1971 when, on the eve of my 16th birthday, I used to be within the throes of a mad crush on the aforementioned woman (whom I’ll henceforth discuss with as ‘Olivia’, owing to discretion and her overwhelming resemblance to Olivia Hussey of Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet, additionally a major presence in my youthful aspirations).

The way to win her coronary heart (or no less than get her consideration)? The planets aligned after I was given a pair of tickets to a road-company revival of The Pleasure of His Firm at Chicago’s Drury Lane Theater, starring the nonetheless esteemed Douglas Fairbanks, Jr, who toured the play for various years each within the US and internationally.

(Full disclosure: again then, we had solely the Late Present to supply context, so my familiarity with the actor was confined primarily to movies like The Prisoner of Zenda, Gunga Din, and Sinbad the Sailor – nonetheless, all of it sounded good to me).

I used to be sure that this might tick all of the containers for a memorable first date:

  • Cultural uplift? Actually.
  • An unchaperoned public transit journey to a glittering metropolis? Passage on the Orient Specific couldn’t be finer.
  • Two-plus hours at midnight, sharing an armrest with the main woman of my private romantic reveries? The sheer pleasure of the thought thrills even as we speak.
  • Topped off with the pleasure of an precise film star’s firm…Huzzah.

I requested, she accepted.

On the appointed night, I sported my best three-piece swimsuit. As I recollect it was the very best Robert Corridor needed to supply, and featured a reversible vest that cunningly matched each the self and the accompanying odd trousers. Olivia wore a velvet mini-dress (no points with recollection there) that solely enhanced her lit-from-within magnificence.

Off we went – by ever-so-romantic Chicago Transit Authority – from the outdated neighborhood as much as ‘Downtown’ Chicago. Dinner someplace that was optimistically, madly, elegant (learn: white tablecloths) and at last, the theatre.

Curtain up.

Act 1, an interlude, Act 2, and closing curtain.

Adopted by tumultuous applause.

Within the midst of that good night, I realised that, along with younger love, one thing extra, one thing distinctive had marked me for all times. I used to be, after all, riveted – gob-smacked – by Mr Fairbanks Jr’s wardrobe.

To this present day, I can’t let you know precisely what he was sporting; simply that it appeared nice (though that most likely had as a lot to do with Himself because the aptitude of his tailor) and was largely realised in shades of gray (completely complementing the nice man’s silver mane).

What he wore was, looking back, clearly much less necessary than how he wore it: with grace, with appeal, dignity, pleasure, and positively with out pretense – all key components of his distinctive type, and all attributes which, callow youth that I used to be, I now desperately yearned for.

And by chance, past Mr. Fairbanks Jr’s explicit sophistication, I found one thing that supplied a certain and sure software – a handbook, if you’ll – for me to attain the singular sophistication I looked for myself.

One thing that, conveniently, I held in hand. The Playbill.

Regardless of all of the issues unfolding round me – the younger woman’s shoulder brushing mine (for the lifetime of me, I nonetheless can’t keep in mind anything concerning the first twenty minutes), the glow of the stage lights, the air redolent with cultural sophistication – it was the Playbill, which famous the supply of every merchandise of Fairbanks’ impeccable wardrobe, which has stayed with me all of those years.

As in:

Mr Fairbanks’ fits by STOVEL & MASON, London

Mr Fairbanks’ hats by LOCK’S, London

Mr Fairbanks’ footwear by GUCCI of Rome and by A. CLEVERLEY, of London

Mr Fairbanks shirts and ties by TURNBULL & ASSER, London and by ASCOT CHANG, Hong Kong

Mr Fairbanks high coats by HUNTSMAN, London

All this and his signature crimson carnation. Identical to that, I used to be hooked. Take care of the Satan dealt — and marked delivered.

This, I concluded, was how a correct gent progressed.

All you wanted to be well-dressed was the appropriate names (as sartorial icon Adolphe Menjou’s autobiography made clear within the title, It Took 9 Tailors – plus assorted shoemakers, hat makers and so on) and I used to be henceforth ready to hitch that line of worthies that stretched again no less than so far as Beau Brummell.

It could be a decade after which some earlier than I may afford my first bespoke garment – and there was a full run of designer fits within the meantime, beginning with Pierre Cardin, extending by Giorgio Armani and working right into a bevy of different erstwhile Italian RTW.

However his preliminary lesson took. There was regular however not rash accumulation of those craftspeople since.

Fairbanks himself mentioned the strategy of acquisition in in Salad Days, the primary quantity of his autobiography: I’m moderately conservative about fits…Nobody in public life can afford to overstep. One has a duty, and earlier than I get something new, I brood about it, strive it out on my spouse and daughters, and maybe on somebody within the Membership.”

If ever there was an angle to emulate, it was this.  The notion of extra — or no less than enthusiasm – tempered by moderation.

(Although I do surprise what Mr Fairbanks would make of Instagram— moderately than the approval of the spouse, or attaboys on the Membership, utilizing social media because the laboratory for proposing and analysing minimize, color and mixture.)

Importantly, I do consider Olivia loved herself; and I did get a kiss at night’s finish — which I thought-about a wild success. A line from the play comes again to me: “I’m nonetheless crammed with the glow and romance of it”.

Nonetheless, I can’t assist however surprise all these years later, if younger Olivia realised the bullet she dodged, had issues turned out otherwise. Probably the very best individual to ask is the girl with whom I’ve been sharing a closet — albeit lopsidedly — these a few years (“why sure; my love, however that does certainly seem like one other new swimsuit…”), and to whom my solely excuse is yet one more bon mot courtesy of The Pleasure of His Firm, this one delivered by Pogo:

“Oh, I do know. I’m sorry. I get carried away.”

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