22 May 2018

On the Erotics and Etiquette of Wearing Gloves

Jean Patchett by Erwin Blumenfeld 
Variant of US Vogue cover (May 1949)


I'm just old enough to remember a time when respectable women (including my mother) still wore gloves as a matter of course; not just as an elegant fashion accessory to be matched with hat and shoes - nor simply to protect the hands - but as a sign of culture, discipline and breeding. 

Gloves encoded a set of values. They were worn to display one's knowledge of (and conformity to) a complex series of social norms governing polite behaviour.

In other words, the wearing and - just as importantly - the removal of gloves was a question of etiquette, belonging to a wider politics of style. If one wanted to look just the ticket, then one was obliged to follow a whole series of (often unwritten) dos and don'ts.

These rules can briefly be summarised as:

Don't leave the house without gloves; whether attending a formal reception, a garden party, a church service, or simply popping down to the shops, gloves should be worn at all times. However, don't eat, drink, or smoke with gloves on - and don't play cards or apply makeup wearing gloves either. Note also that, with the exception of bracelets, jewellery should never be worn over gloves.

Finally, whilst it is perfectly acceptable to shake hands wearing gloves, they should be removed if the other person is clearly of a higher status (such as the Queen). But, when removing gloves in public, one should always do so discreetly and not as if performing a striptease of the hand.

This final point brings us on to what might be termed the erotics of the glove ...


For the amorous subject, the erotics of the glove (a sign of high culture) is often tied to the pleasure of glimpsing naked female flesh (a sign of base nature) exposed between two edges. In other words, it's "the intermittence of skin flashing between two articles of clothing" which they find arousing.

Long black evening gloves, for example, which reach over the elbow but not as far up as the armpit, have an analogous function and provoke a similar frisson of excitement to black stockings; they do for the arms of the woman wearing them what the latter do for her legs.

Of course, there are fetishists who love gloves in and of themselves and couldn't care less about glimpsing the flesh or intermittence; their concern is with the length, style, colour and - often most crucially of all - the material of the glove (be it leather, silk, cotton, or latex).

For the sophisticated pervert, the devil is always in the detail (and the object) - not the beauty or the wholeness of woman as created by God.

See: Roland Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text, trans. Richard Miller, (Hill and Wang, 1975), p. 10.

This post is for Tim Pendry who suggested it.

21 May 2018

On the Art of the Long Neck 2: Modigliani's Neckrophilia

Modigliani: Portrait of Lunia Czechowska (1919)


Almost 400 years after Parmigianino painted his Madonna with the Long Neck, another Italian artist was allowing cervical partialism to determine his subject matter and style. 

But whereas the former lengthened the neck of the Virgin because he was interested in exploring the possibilities of Mannerism, I suspect Modigliani's obsessive desire to erotically display and elongate the necks of his models in one canvas after another was rooted more in fetishism.  

Not that there's anything wrong with that ...

In fact, I can well understand the arousal derived from a lovely female neck; so elegant, so shapely, so vulnerable. This highly sensitive area of the body has what might be termed a special kind of nakedness and it's not just vampires tempted to bite them, nor only perverts who love to lace them with pearls.


Like Parmigianino, Modigliani lived fast and died young. But the handsome Jewish bad boy of early-twentieth century art has left behind him a body of work (and a legend) that has captured huge public interest and affection (critical acclaim being somewhat more restrained and qualified). His star may not quite have risen to the heights of Van Gogh, but, nevertheless, a Modigliani nude sold at Sotheby's in New York earlier this month for $157 million and you can buy a lot of pasta for that!

Although remembered primarily as a painter, Modigliani really wanted to be a sculptor. But mostly, from the time he arrived in Paris in 1906, he wanted to lead as debauched a life as possible. For Modigliani, creativity was born of chaos and fuelled by sex, drugs and alcohol. Unfortunately, in his case, these things only led to ruin (although it should be noted his premature death at 35 was due to tubercular meningitis rather than a bohemian lifestyle). 


The following remark, made by the American art critic and poet Peter Schjeldahl, pretty much sums up my own position vis-à-vis Modigliani and his work:

"I recall my thrilled first exposure, as a teenager, to one of his long-necked women, with their piquantly tipped heads and mask-like faces. The rakish stylization and the succulent color were easy to enjoy, and the payoff was sanguinely erotic in a way that endorsed my personal wishes to be bold and tender and noble [...] In that moment, I used up Modigliani's value for my life. But in museums ever since I have been happy to salute his pictures with residually grateful, quick looks."

See: Peter Schjeldahl, 'Long Faces: Loving Modigliani', a review of Modigliani: A Life, by Meryle Secrest (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011), in The New Yorker (March 7, 2011): click here to read online. 

To read the sister post to this one on Parmigianino and his Madonna with the Long Neck, click here

On the Art of the Long Neck 1: Parmigianino's Mannerist Madonna

Parmigianino: Madonna dal collo lungo (1534-40) 
Oil on wood (216 x 132 cm)

Despite what some people mistakenly think, Parmigianino is not a type of Italian hard cheese grated over pasta dishes, or shaved on to salads. It's the name, rather, by which the progidiously talented 16th century painter and printmaker Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzola was commonly known.

Like other artists who worked in the Mannerist style, his work is characterised by its artificiality, its elegance and its sensuous distortion of the human figure. This is clearly seen in his iconic (but unorthodox and unfinished) picture known in English as the Madonna with the Long Neck (1534-40).

The painting depicts Mary seated on a high pedestal in luxurious blue robes and surrounded by half-a-dozen angels who have gathered round to take a peek at the (oversized) baby Jesus lying awkwardly on her blessed lap.

In the lower right-hand corner of the picture is the figure of St. Jerome, the theologian and historian who translated the Bible into Latin and a passionate devotee of the Virgin. Whether he's tiny in size or simply far away I'll leave for others to decide, but Parmigianino is clearly playing with perspective in this work.  

The thing that immediately strikes most viewers, however, is the fact that Parmigianino has given Mary a swan-like neck in a bid to make her look graceful and perhaps relate her story to that of other figures within religious mythology. Her slender hands and long fingers also suggest a becoming-swan - either that, or the artist's model was suffering from the genetic condition known as Marfan Syndrome, which affects the connective tissue.  


The Madonna with the Long Neck can be seen in the Uffizi Gallery (Florence).

To read the sister post to this one on Amedeo Modigliani's erotico-aesthetic fascination with long female necks, click here.

19 May 2018

They Came from Outer Space

One of the more amusing oh, if only it were true, stories doing the rounds this week concerns our old friend the octopus ... According to a group of researchers, octopuses are extraterrestrial biological entities; i.e. alien beings from another world and not just highly intelligent deep sea creatures. 

Of course, there's no actual evidence to support such a claim and it's not only been rejected by the wider scientific community, but mocked in the media: You've got to be squidding me! being a typical tabloid headline.   

Despite anticipating such a reaction, the authors of the paper published in Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology, boldy insist that the so-called Cambrian explosion - a sudden burst of life that occurred c. 540 million years ago - can only be explained as an event with cosmic origins.

Essentially, the idea is that alien viruses were transported to Earth by a meteor and infected the life that already existed here; in this case, a population of primitive squid-like organisms, causing them to mutate into an alien hybrid - commonly known as an octopus. Alternatively, some suggest that fertilised octopus eggs came ready frozen from out of space.

Either way, this is obviously a reimagining of the panspermia hypothesis which posits that life exists throughout the universe and was seeded on Earth via comets, asteroids, space dust, or shooting stars. It's an old idea - very old; even the ancient Greeks were speculating along these lines and the first known use of the term is found in the writings of the pre-Socratic philosopher Anaxagoras.

More recently, Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe have been influential proponents of the theory; indeed, the latter is one of the authors of the new paper on alien cephalopods. He and his colleagues argue that so suddenly did octopuses evolve their astonishing features (including large brains and a sophisticated nervous sytem) that it is plausible to suggest they were "borrowed from a far distant future [...] or more realistically from the cosmos at large".

Having said that, the authors concede that such an extraterrestrial explanation for the emergence of these and other unusual features does run "counter to the prevailing dominant paradigm". And, of course, there are good reasons why this is so ...

For a start, it's borderline crackpot; although they may not wear tinfoil hats, not one of the authors is a zoologist and much of the speculation rests on the claim that the genetics of the octopus is uniquely mysterious. A 2015 paper published in Nature, however, revealed that the genome of the creature in question had been fully and successfully mapped and one of the things it showed was how the octopus fits into the generally accepted theory of (terrestrial) evolution.

Thus there's simply no need to imagine an alien origin - no matter how otherworldly the octopus may be in appearance or how unnatural its abilities may seem to us.        

See: J. Steele et al, 'Cause of Cambrian Explosion - Terrestrial or Cosmic?', Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology, (available online 13 March, 2018): click here

For an earlier post in praise of the octopus that anticipates this one, click here.

16 May 2018

Simone de Beauvoir: Brigitte Bardot and the Lolita Syndrome (Pt. 2)

IV. BB and the Feminine Mystique

Four years after de Beauvoir published her fascinating little study of Bardot and the Lolita syndrome, the American feminist Betty Friedan gave us her seminal work The Feminine Mystique (1963).

In it, Friedan examines the problem that has no name - namely, the pressure exerted upon women to fulfil an ideal of femininity that is mysterious yet, nevertheless, rooted in biology and closely related to the creation and origin of life.

According to the proponents of this feminine mystique, it's a fatal mistake to think women are just like men, or can behave and become just like them. Instead, they should accept and value their own nature "which can find fulfilment only in sexual passivity, male domination, and nurturing maternal love".

It is this kind of thinking that has succeeded, says Friedan, in burying millions of women alive. But it is this kind of thinking that Bardot seems to challenge. And thus whilst all men are surely drawn to her seductiveness, by no means are they kindly disposed towards her. BB simply doesn't play the game that they are used to and expect of her:

"Her flesh does not have the abundance that, in others, symbolizes passivity. Her clothes are not fetishes and when she strips she is not unveiling a mystery. She is showing her body, neither more nor less, and that body rarely settles into a state of immobility. She walks, she dances, she moves about. Her eroticism is not magical, but aggressive. In the game of love, she is as much a hunter as she is a prey. The male is an object to her, just as she is to him. And that is precisely what wounds masculine pride."

In other words, BB silently asserts her equality and her dignity; she's never the victim and never anybody's slave or fool. She disturbs men by refusing to lend herself to phallocratic fantasy or idealistic sublimation, restoring and limiting sexuality to the body itself; to her breasts, her bottom, her thighs, etc.

De Beauvoir writes approvingly of the manner that Roger Vadim brings eroticism back down to earth in a society with spiritualistic pretensions. For when love has been disguised "in such falsely poetic trappings", it's refreshing to see a woman on screen who is libidinally prosaic.  

Having said that - and perhaps reminding herself that existentialism is, after all, a humanism - de Beauvoir regrets the rather dehumanising aspect of Vadim's project; i.e. the manner in which he reduces the world, things and bodies "to their immediate presence" (without history or a context of meaning).

Vadim does not seek the viewers' emotional complicity; he doesn't care if we find his films unconvincing or fail to relate to his characters. We know no more about Bardot's character (Juliette) at the end of And God Created Woman than at the beginning, despite having seen her naked. In effect, Vadim de-situates her sexuality, says de Beauvoir, turning spectators into frustrated voyeurs "unable to project themselves on the screen."

No wonder so many men describe (and condemn) Bardot as a pricktease [allumeuse].

V. Afterword on BB and Free Speech

De Beauvoir closes her little study of Bardot by expressing her hope that the bourgeois order will not find a way to silence her, or compel her to speak lying twaddle: "I hope that she will not resign herself to insignificance in order to gain popularity. I hope she will mature, but not change."

One can't help wondering what de Beauvoir, who died in 1986, would have made of the woman Bardot is today ...

Would she still declare her to be the most liberated woman in France and an engine of women's history? Would she regard her recent statements on immigration and Islam as a legitimate expression of free speech, or as an unacceptable form of hate speech?

Bardot certainly hasn't been silenced or resigned herself to insignificance in order to gain popularity - but has she matured, or simply become an elderly reactionary? She's certainly changed. But then, as Bardot herself says, only idiots refuse to do so and she doesn't give a fig about politically correct forms of feminism.  


Simone de Beauvoir, Brigitte Bardot and the Lolita Syndrome, (Four Square Books / The New English Library, 1962).

Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique, (W. W. Norton, 2001).

To read part one of this post, click here.

Simone de Beauvoir: Brigitte Bardot and the Lolita Syndrome (Pt. 1)

I. Initials BB

In 1959, Brigitte Bardot - the world's most outrageously sensual film star - was the subject of a 64-page study (with many half-tone illustrations) written by Simone de Beauvoir - France's leading female intellect.

De Beauvoir is intrigued by the sneering hostility that many of her compatriots feel for BB. Not a week goes by, she notes, without articles published in the press discussing her love life and analysing her personality; "but all of these articles [...] seethe with spite".

Many parents, priests and politicians seem to object to Bardot's very existence. At the very least, they call for her films to be banned in order to prevent her corrupting influence on society, particularly amongst the young. Of course, as de Beauvoir writes, it's nothing new for self-righteous moralists "to identify the flesh with sin and to dream of making a bonfire of works of art" that depict it in pornographic detail.

However, such puritanism still doesn't quite explain the French public's very peculiar hostility towards Bardot. After all, many other actresses have taken their clothes off on screen and traded on their physical charms without provoking such anger and dislike. So the question remains: why does BB arouse such animosity?

II. The Lolita Syndrome

If we want to understand why Bardot was regarded as a monument of immorality, it's irrelevant to consider what she was like in real life. The important thing, rather, is to place her within a modern mytho-erotic context and examine what de Beauvoir terms the Lolita syndrome; i.e., what is for some the shocking and deplorable truth that older men are often sexually attracted to much younger girls.   

Idealists want their arts and entertainments to have an element of romance. But they also expect things to remain wholesome and familiar. The male lead in a movie, for example, should be clean-cut and the object of his affection a woman who doesn't deviate too far from the girl-next-door. And at the end of the film there should be the sound of wedding bells. 

Post-1945, however, serious film-makers were heading in a rather different direction. Their model of eroticism was obsessive and destructive: amour fou. And they were interested in creating a new Eve who was part hoyden, part femme fatale and whose youth opened up that pathos of distance that seems so necessary to (middle-aged male) desire:

"Brigitte Bardot is the most perfect specimen of these ambiguous nymphs. Seen from behind, her slender, muscular, dancer's body is almost androgynous. Femininity triumphs in her delightful bosom. The long voluptuous tresses of Melisande flow down to her shoulders, but her hair-do is that of a negligent waif. The line of her lips forms a childish pout, and at the same time those lips are very kissable. She goes about barefooted, she turns her nose up at elegant clothes, jewels, girdles, perfumes, make-up, at all artifice. Yet her walk is lascivious and a saint would sell his soul to the devil merely to watch her dance."

III. BBeyond Good and Evil
But BB is not just sexy in a conventional sense. Nor even is this "strange little creature" fully human:

"It has often been said that her face has only one expression. It is true that the outer world is hardly reflected in it at all and that it does not reveal great inner disturbance. But that air of indifference becomes her. BB has not been marked by experience [...] the lessons of life are too confused for her to have learned anything from them. She is without memory, without a past, and, thanks to this ignorance, she retains the perfect innocence that is attributed to a mythical childhood."

In a sense, Bardiot is inhuman - or superhuman - or both; a force of nature who doesn't act before the camera but just is. Nevertheless, she does seem to reinforce traditional ideas of femininity; temperamental, unpredictable, wild, impulsive ... a feral child in need of taming and the guidance of an experienced male. 

However, this sexual stereotype and sexist cliché - which so flatters masculine vanity - is no longer tenable; cinema goers in the post-War period were no longer prepared to believe in this phallocratic fantasy in which the old order was restored and everyone lived happily ever after.

And this is why Roger Vadim's 1956 film starring Bardot - Et Dieu… créa la femme - is a great work; one that doesn't fall into triviality and falsity, but remains honest to the spirit of the times by presenting us with a character, Juliette, who will never be subordinated, or settle down and become a model wife and mother.

De Beauvoir writes:

"Ignorance and inexperience can be remedied, but BB is not only unsophisticated but dangerously sincere. The perversity of a 'Baby Doll' can be handled by a psychiatrist; there are ways and means of calming the resentments of a rebellious girl and winning her over to virtue. [... But] BB is neither perverse nor rebellious nor immoral, and that is why morality does not have a chance with her. Good and evil are part of conventions to which she would not even think of bowing."

She continues:

"BB does not try to scandalize. She has no demands to make; she is no more conscious of her rights than she is of her duties. She follows her inclinations. She eats when she is hungry and makes love with the same unceremonious simplicity. Desire and pleasure seem to her more convincing than precepts and conventions. She does not criticize others. She does as she pleases, and that is what is disturbing. [...] Moral lapses can be corrected, but how could BB be cured of that dazzling virtue - genuineness? It is her very substance. Neither blows nor fine arguments nor love can take it from her. She rejects not only hypocrisy and reprimands, but also prudence and calculation and premiditation of any kind."

Bardot is a woman who lives only in the present - now/here - and for whom the future is one of those "adult conventions in which she has no confidence". And this is why so many people fear and hate her. If she were a conventionally bad girl figure - coquettish and calculating - there'd be no real problem. But when evil "takes on the colours of innocence", then good people everywhere are radically disconcerted. 

In sum: BB is "neither depraved nor venal". She might lift up her skirt and flash her knickers, but there is a kind of disarming candour, playfulness, and healthy sensuality in her gestures: "It is impossible to see in her the touch of Satan, and for that reason she seems all the more diabolical to women who feel humiliated and threatened by her beauty."

See: Simone de Beauvoir, Brigitte Bardot and the Lolita Syndrome, (Four Square Books / The New English Library, 1962).

Note: this post continues in part two: click here.

13 May 2018

Reflections on the Vulture 2: The Poetic Vision of Robinson Jeffers


I had walked since dawn and lay down to rest on a bare hillside
Above the ocean. I saw through half-shut eyelids a vulture wheeling high up
    in heaven,
And presently it passed again, but lower and nearer, its orbit narrowing, I
    understood then
That I was under inspection. I lay death-still and heard the flight-feathers
Whistle above me and make their circle and come nearer. I could see the
    naked red head between the great wings
Beak downward staring. I said "My dear bird, we are wasting time here.
These old bones will still work; they are not for you." But how beautiful
    he'd looked, gliding down
On those great sails; how beautiful he looked, veering away in the sea-light
    over the precipice. I tell you solemnly
That I was sorry to have disappointed him. To be eaten by that beak and
become part of him, to share those wings and those eyes -
What a sublime end of one's body, what an enskyment; what a life after
                                                      - Robinson Jeffers (Last Poems 1953-62)

This is a very lovely poem about what is believed to be a very ugly bird and the even uglier fact of our own mortality. 

But Jeffers has the knack - as a poet in his own right and as a reader of Nietzsche - of making ugly things and terrible truths seem beautiful and desirable. Not by sugar-coating them with the lies and aesthetic illusions of moral idealism, but by placing them within the context of his own Inhumanism and affirming all things as belonging to a general economy of the whole.  

Jeffers encourages us to revel in our experience of life as is - not seek refuge from it, nor try to transform or transcend reality via flights of fancy. Like Lawrence, he wants us to intensify our perception of (and participation in) the natural world, which is red not just in tooth and claw, but also hooked beak.  

For Jeffers - a tragic poet in the noble sense - it is the sacrificial essence of existence that makes life beautiful. It's astonishing that things are born and grow; but it's equally astonishing that they decay and die. In 'Vulture', he expresses his eco-paganism in relatively simple language, but with all the visionary dynamic of a man for whom the god-stuff is roaring in all things. 

Give your heart to the hawks - but let the vultures pick over your bones ...

See: The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, ed. Tim Hunt, (Stanford University Press, 2001).

To read part one of this post - on Lawrence's philosophical dislike of vultures - click here
To read an earlier post on Robinson Jeffers and his Inhumanism, click here.

This post is dedicated to Simon Solomon, who introduced me to the work of Robinson Jeffers.

Reflections on the Vulture 1: Lawrence Doesn't Like Them


Vultures are large scavenging birds of prey. Although they rarely attack healthy animals, they may move in for the kill if they chance upon a wounded or sick individual.

Found in both the New and Old World, many think of them as secretly belonging to a dark and disgusting Underworld due to their penchant for feasting on the decaying flesh of corpses until their crops bulge and they vomit like an Ancient Roman. They're able to safely digest putrid carcasses infected with dangerous bacteria thanks to exceptionally corrosive stomach acid.
Their looks don't do them any favours either; particularly the bald head, devoid of feathers. And - just to ensure their repulsiveness - nor does their habit of pissing on themselves in order to keep cool and clean (the uric acid kills those bacteria picked up from walking through blood and guts).  


According to D. H. Lawrence, the vulture was once an eagle who decided that it was the high point of evolution and thus no longer in need of any further change; it would henceforth remain as it was for all eternity, in a state of static perfection.

The vulture, in other words, is a perfectly arrested egoist as well as a foul carrion-eater; fixed in form and corrupt of soul. It should be noted that Lawrence says the same of the baboon and the hyaena too, but here I'm only interested in his particular fear and loathing of vultures: shameless birds with "obscene heads gripped hard and small like knots of stone clenched upon themselves for ever".     

His ornithophobic vision is a crescendo of vulture hatred:

"So the ragged, grey-and-black vulture sits hulked, motionless, like a hoary, foul piece of living rock, its naked head and neck sunk in, only the curved beak protruding, the naked eyelids lowered. Motionless, beyond life, it sits on the sterile heights.
      It does not sleep, it stays utterly static. When it spreads its great wings and floats down the air, still it is static [...] a dream-floating. When it rips up carrion and swallows it, it is still the same dream-motion, static, beyond the inglutination. The naked obscene head is always fast locked, like stone.
      It is this naked, obscene head of a bird [...] that I cannot bear to think of. When I think of it, I never live nor die, I am petrified into foulness."

As we'll discover in part two of this post, other poets have a rather less negative view of the vulture - and some even manage to write about the actual animal, without immediately assigning it a symbolic role within their own philosophy.

Lawrence, however, can never resist lapsing into metaphysics. Indeed, the argument has been made that ultimately - for all his sensitivity to the otherness of birds, beasts and flowers - Lawrence only has two great objects of concern: (i) himself and (ii) language.

Amit Chaudhuri is right to suggest that Lawrence never accurately describes creatures at all, nor directly touches on them as things in themselves. Rather, he recreates and imitates them for his own artistic and philosophical amusement, assembling a menagerie of textual mannequins and symbolic beasts.  


D. H. Lawrence, 'The Crown', in Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine and Other Essays, ed. Michael Herbert, (Cambridge University Press, 1988). 

Amit Chaudhuri, D. H. Lawrence and 'Difference', (Oxford University Press, 2003).

To read part two of this post - on Robinson Jeffers and his poetic vision of the vulture - click here

12 May 2018

Mr. Erbil: Revolt into Style

Members of Mr. Erbil Gentleman's Club


Some stories are just too perfect to be true: and the story of Mr. Erbil - a Kurdish gentleman's club spreading positive socio-cultural change via sartorial elegance - is one such story. For theirs is a genuine revolt into style that demonstrates the importance of fashion in the never-ending struggle with fundamentalism and militant stupidity (of whatever shade or stripe).

London hipsters should, I think, take note and learn from these Kurdish dandies that it's not only important to dress well and look good with lovingly-trimmed beards, one must also endeavour to construct an ethical life. In other words, as the chaps at The Chap have always rightly insisted, the key thing is to expand your mind at the same time as refining your wardrobe.

While the autonomous region of Kurdistan in northern Iraq was somewhat sheltered from the war, in 2016 the black flag waving lunatics of Islamic State descended from Mosul and onto its borders. Most young men - and many women - joined the Kurdish military (Pashmerga) ready to fight not only for their way of life, but their very lives.

Obviously, armed resistance was absolutely crucial. But a small group of friends who liked to talk clothes and football over tea and shisha, realised the importance of also displaying cultural defiance in the face of an enemy that despises art, fashion, beauty and joie de vivre. And so, Mr. Erbil was founded, cleverly mixing Western styles with their own history and heritage.  

Starting with an Instagram page, they soon established a large following across social media and grew to over thirty members. They also launched their own line in men's grooming products and began to advocate for women's rights and equality across the Middle East (female activists and artists were invited to address events held in Erbil).

One can but admire and respect the founders and members of Mr. Erbil and send them the very warmest of fraternal greetings.


Mr. Erbil can be followed via: Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

For an excellent feature on Mr. Erbil in The Chap (13 Dec 2017) by freelance photojournalist Elizabeth Fitt, with pictures by Mustafa Khyat and Shwan Blaiye, click here.

This post is for my beautiful friend Nahla Al-Ageli at Nahla Ink

11 May 2018

Don't You Ever Stop Being Dandy: In Memory of Bunny Roger

Bunny Roger by Francis Goodman (1951)
© National Portrait Gallery, London

Neil Roger - known by friend and foe alike as Bunny - was a couturier, war hero, and what the Victorians would have politely termed a confirmed bachelor. A man loved within fashionable society as much for his kindness as his impeccable (sometimes flamboyant) style.

It's said that everybody's favourite fictional dandy, John Steed - played so beautifully by Patrick Macnee - was partly based on Bunny and his neo-Edwardian wardrobe that featured long tight-waisted jackets, narrow trousers and a high-crowned bowler hat. His exquisitely cut suits showed Savile Row tailoring at its very finest.

As a boy, his Scottish parents sent him to an independent boarding school in East Lothian. Founded in 1827, Loretto School is currently under investigation as part of an inquiry into historic child abuse. Bunny then spent a year reading history at Balliol College, before deciding to study drawing at the Ruskin, having determined on a career designing clothes.

The Oxford authorities had their eye on him, however, and he was eventually expelled from the University, accused of homosexual activities. The fact that he enhanced his good looks with rouge and hair dye didn't help his case (though I don't know if he even attempted to mount a defence against the charges made: Never complain, never explain).

In 1937, aged twenty-six, Bunny established himself as a London couturier who could name Vivien Leigh and Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent among his clientele. His shop, in Great Newport Street, was decorated in camp Regency Gothic style. Unfortunately, his career as a dress-maker to the rich and famous was cut short by the outbreak of the Second World War.

Serving as a commissioned officer in the Rifle Brigade, Bunny saw action in Italy and North Africa. He was greatly admired by his fellow soldiers for his courage under fire - and for the fact that even in the most demanding of circumstances he always made sure his makeup was carefully applied with a showman's resilience and went into battle wearing a mauve chiffon scarf, brandishing the latest copy of Vogue.  
Following the War, Bunny was invited to run the couture department at the exclusive West End store Fortnum and Mason. He seemed to enjoy his job. And he certainly enjoyed his colourful social life, holding lavish and often outrageous parties for his many friends and specially invited guests, until his death in 1997, aged 85.

Indeed, party-giving was arguably Bunny's true vocation; he had a great passion (and talent) for dancing, dressing up, and entertaining. One notorious fetish-themed party in 1956 even provoked tabloid headlines.   

In an obituary published in the Independent (28 April 1997), Clive Fisher closes with the following rather touching paragraph:

"All dandies need an audience, but Bunny Roger inspired what almost amounted to a following - partly because by word and deed he never stopped entertaining; partly because we are all nostalgic for style. Most crucially, however, he was true: beneath his mauve mannerisms he was stalwart, frank, dependable and undeceived; to onlookers a passing peacock, to intimates a life enhancer and exemplary friend."

Only the puritans of Dandyism.net seem unable to resist casting aspersions upon his character ...

For Bunny, they insist, was not a prominent figure within the history of dandyism; just an old school queen too prone to wearing sequins and rightly regarded as a marginal character. Indeed, all that saved him from being "just another flaunting, excessively camp clown like Patrick McDonald", was his Edwardian-infused sobriety and "genuinely good taste in conventional attire".

Unfortunately, nothing saves the Junta - as the staff of Dandyism.net like to refer to themselves - from lapsing on this occasion into ill-mannered homophobia.


Clive Fisher's obituary for Bunny Roger can be read in full by clicking here.

The Dandyism.net editorial (14 Nov 2007) can be read by clicking here.