Books

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The Exquisite Clothes in The Great (and Glamorous) Gatsby

A costume sketch of Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby.
A costume sketch of Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby.
Baz Luhrmann‘s deafeningly-hyped interpretation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is many things. It’s excessive, it’s artificial and it is, indeed, visually arresting. And it’s a great study on a guy who works so tragically hard to acquire all the stuff – the house, the clothes, the cars, the parties, the fake friends – and still doesn’t get the girl. Money won’t save us, kids.

One of the most exciting things to look at in the film is undoubtably the clothes – on both the women and the men. Costume designer Catherine Martin and the team of hair and makeup artists must have been like kids in a candy store with a project that looked like the ultimate game of dress-up.

But unlike many other period films, the clothes in The Great Gatsby are actually quite wearable today (which explains the licensed and film-branded ‘The Great Gatsby Collection’ from Brooks Brothers). I’m no clothing historian, but I have seen some films and countless photos from the early 1920s. Ms. Martin seems to have remained reasonably faithful to the period while taking license with some modern twists, particularly with fit. I couldn’t help but notice the “Thom Browne Effect” on Tobey Maguire‘s trim thee-piece tweeds, for example. But the film does suggest the notion that modern men’s dress hasn’t changed all that much in the last century. Even much earlier, when Beau Brummell demonstrated restraint with a more sober mode of dress in the early 19th century, the modern dandy was born.

The suits, jackets, shirts, ties and hankies on the three male leads in Gatsby are exquisite, particularly on the “rich” characters Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). From the moment Tom Buchanan shows up fresh off a horse in stunning, form-fitting polo wear to the moment we meet Jay Gatsby in a perfectly cut peak lapel tuxedo, and beyond, we are shown extraordinary detail in fabric, stitching and tailoring. The hankies and ties were beautifully chosen, too. These are men who give a good damn how they look, and they look great. Fabulous and restrained, without being gaudy.

I would put forth that The Great Gatsby might go down in film history as one of the great men’s (and women’s) style movies. Not since Marcello Mastroianni in La Dolce Vita has a movie star looked so good in a perfectly-cut ivory suit like the linen one worn by DiCaprio. Overall, there was a word that kept coming to mind as I observed the clothes in the film – a word that eludes a lot of popular men’s wear today. That word is glamour. Refined, masculine glamour. There’s a lot of it in The Great Gatsby, and it’s fun to see.

Leonardo DiCaprio. Copyright © 2013 Warner Bros.
Leonardo DiCaprio. Copyright © 2013 Warner Bros.
Leonardo DiCaprio in that ivory linen suit. Copyright © 2013 Warner Bros.
Leonardo DiCaprio in that ivory linen suit. Copyright © 2013 Warner Bros.
Tobey Maguire and Leonardo DiCaprio. Copyright © 2013 Warner Bros.
Tobey Maguire and Leonardo DiCaprio. Copyright © 2013 Warner Bros.
Leonardo DiCaprio in a tailored robe. Copyright © 2013 Warner Bros.
Leonardo DiCaprio in a tailored robe. Copyright © 2013 Warner Bros.
Tobey Maguire in a classic trench coat. Copyright © 2013 Warner Bros.
Tobey Maguire in a classic trench coat. Copyright © 2013 Warner Bros.
Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire and Joel Edgerton. Copyright © 2013 Warner Bros.
Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire and Joel Edgerton. Copyright © 2013 Warner Bros.
Joel Edgerton. Copyright © 2013 Warner Bros.
Joel Edgerton. Copyright © 2013 Warner Bros.
Tobey Maguire and Elizabeth Debicki. Copyright © 2013 Warner Bros.
Tobey Maguire and Elizabeth Debicki. Copyright © 2013 Warner Bros.
Leonardo DiCaprio. Copyright © 2013 Warner Bros.
Leonardo DiCaprio. Copyright © 2013 Warner Bros.
Tobey Maguire and Leonardo DiCaprio. Copyright © 2013 Warner Bros.
Tobey Maguire and Leonardo DiCaprio. Copyright © 2013 Warner Bros.
Promo poster with Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan. Copyright © 2013 Warner Bros.
Promo poster with Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan. Copyright © 2013 Warner Bros.
Promo poster with Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway. Copyright © 2013 Warner Bros.
Promo poster with Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway. Copyright © 2013 Warner Bros.
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Jesse Thorn Talks with Fran Lebowitz on Bullseye

Last week on on Bullseye, one of my favorite podcasts, host Jesse Thorn spoke with writer, public speaker and dryly hilarious (and honest) social critic Fran Lebowitz. In 47 of the most worthwhile minutes I’ve spent listening to a podcast, Lebowitz speaks of her childhood in Morristown, NJ, her high school years, her first years in New York and many of the things that make Fran Fran. In one of my favorite quotes from one of the most quotable people I’ve ever read or heard, she says:

“I would say that the luckiest thing in my life is that I am as free of envy as a human being could be. That doesn’t mean I never feel it, but I almost never feel it… Even as a child, I always knew that you can’t just covet something someone has. You have to be that person.”

This September, Lebowitz released the audio book of The Fran Lebowitz Reader, read by Lebowitz herself in her inimitable way. And if you missed Public Speaking, Martin Scorcese’s wonderful documentary for HBO on Fran Lebowitz, do yourself a favor.

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Just Ride: A Radically Practical Guide to Riding Your Bike

Grant Petersen is on a mission. The mission is to blow up the unnecessary but pervasive and powerful influences from the professional racing world on bicycling. He hopes to bring us back to the simple joy we had riding a bike when we were kids.

In terms of equipment, attire and bicycles themselves, for example, bicycle riding has been overrun by the idea that we need specialty shoes that lock into the pedals, unflattering scuba suits refitted with taint padding, and expensive carbon fiber racing bikes that literally crack under pressure. If one is a racer training for actual racing pursuits, these things might be justified. But for the rest of us (“unracers,” as Petersen calls us), these accoutrements are unnecessary and expensive.

Grant Petersen has been riding a bike every day since April of 1970. He’s been a racer and has pedaled on tours, trails, commutes and even a cross-country ride in 1976. He worked at the U.S. headquarters of Bridgestone Cycle, Japan’s largest bike manufacturer, from 1984 until they closed the U.S. office in 1994. He then opened up his own bicycle business: Rivendell Bicycle Works in Walnut Creek, California. His mission with the book is to address stories and complaints from his customers and friends, and to explode the bad advice and ill-informed “wisdom” people have reported to him during his decades as a bike professional.

The short chapters of this brisk book are nested in eight parts of bicycling and its philosophy as Petersen sees it: Riding; Suiting Up (clothing); Safety; Health and Fitness; Accessories; Upkeep; Technicalities; and something the author calls “Velosophy,” which is essentially a cycling philosophy from the perspective of a non-philosopher.

The author humorously brings us back down to earth with bicycling, or at least back down to our non-Olympian, non-Tour-de-France plane. All the fuss about the lighter bike made of carbon fiber, for example, is bullshit for the unsponsored non-professional. As it turns out, he demystifies the myths about the ridiculous quest for the ever-lighter bike and clearly explains why a bike frame made of good old fashioned steel is the way to go for us unracers.

As a reader and cyclist who likes to look good on the go, I was particularly amused by the chapters in the “Suiting Up” section of the book. His take on unracers donning racing gear is hilarious. It reminded me of my years as a golfer, watching amateurs new to the sport blow ridiculous amounts of money on the most expensive clubs, bags, balls, clothes and shoes, thinking it would make them better or at least “real” golfers.

Without a doubt, the most controversial chapters of the book are the ones about helmets. Ostensibly, it may seem like Petersen is anti-helmet, and it would be easy and convenient to brand him as such. (For the record, he’s not.) What he does do is bring up an interesting point about the illusion of helmets’ safety, backing up his argument with indisputable physics. And he’s not shy about reminding us how ugly helmets are. After outlining his argument, he pointedly asks: “Are we safer wearing a helmet and overestimating its protection, or going helmetless and riding more carefully?” I don’t want to give anything away, but it’s safe to say that he makes his own opinion clear while letting the reader arrive at his own conclusion.

Essentially, Petersen remains consistent with the title of the book: just ride. If you enjoy riding a bike, as a casual enthusiast or committed rider, or if you think you might want to re-engage in bicycling but are put off by the gear, garb, and bad practices of Lance Armstrong wannabes, I think you’ll get a lot out of this book. I certainly did.

Below is a fantastic 15 minute interview with author Grant Petersen on WNYC with host Brian Lehrer from July 23, 2012.

Purchase Just Ride from Rivendell Bicycle Works.

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The Wonderful Maurice Sendak

Photo of Maurice Sendak with Herman, his German Shepherd Herman, at his home in Connecticut by Tim Knox for The Guardian.

Maurice Sendak died today. He was 83. Having written and illustrated many children’s books and poems, he is most famous for his 1963 book Where The Wild Things Are. He was a man who devoted his life to his art, never having children and coming out as a gay man late in life. (He lived with his partner Eugene Glynn for 50 years until his death in 2007.)

The audio clip here was from his interview with Terry Gross from NPR’s Fresh Air on September 20, 2011. It is one of the most marvelous and exhilarating interviews I have ever listened to. In fact, one of my reasons for including it here is so that I can listen to it again and again. While it makes me cry, it also makes me happy. In the interview, the man is an unbridled open wound, selflessly pouring out his love for life and for the people he misses. It’s beautiful.

“I have nothing now but praise for my life. I’m not unhappy. I cry a lot because I miss people. They die and I can’t stop them. They leave me and I love them more. … What I dread is the isolation. … There are so many beautiful things in the world which I will have to leave when I die, but I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready.” – Maurice Sendak

Listen here:
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Maurice Sendak on Fresh Air (September 20, 2011) – 20 min.
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“Live your life, live your life, live your life.” Thank you, Mr. Sendak.

Maurice Sendak’s obituary in The New York Times.