"I was dressed flamboyantly: top hat, long velvet coat, gloves. My one concession to American sensibilities was to remove my nail polish. I thought that would get me through." ? Sebastian Horsley
What exactly is a Dandy, anyway? According to Wikipedia, a dandy is a man who places particular importance upon physical appearance, refined language, and leisurely hobbies. In Sebastian Horsley's case, his physical appearance includes custom suits in pinks, reds, blacks, his refined language means refining language ? language used as an extreme sport, and leisurely hobbies includes a previous addiction to drugs and the use and support of prostitution. Here, then, is the root of it all: Sebastian on what it means to be a Dandy.
? Carrie, Publisher, Harper Perennial
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I have made this rather long because I haven't the time to make it shorter.
The parade of dressing up came from Mother. If she had been Queen of England she would have worn her crown at breakfast. I can remember her dressing once with great care in front of the mirror before going out, demanding that one of her children accompany her. "Which child?" the nanny asked.
"I don't care," Mother snapped. "Whichever one goes with red velvet." (Naturally it was me.)
She lured me into an life-long exotic swoon from which I have never really recovered. When I think of her swirling in her hats and furs like a vamp of the silent screen, what gaudy ghosts I see in the rear-view mirror of my own life. Our relationship was more like conspirators than parent and child. Mother didn't breast feed me. She said she just liked me as a friend. I was happy with this. It is so frightfully common to be loved by one's parents.
One day I stole into Mothers dressing room and, draping myself in her black feather boa, slid on her pink silk gloves. I sat at her dressing table and painted myself with her brightest red lipstick. I can still remember the sticky aroma and the strange waxy texture on my lips. But I was dazzled by the gash across my face. Copying Mother, I rubbed my lips together, pursing and pouting in the mirror. The transformation was intoxicating.
I had no choice. I had not created myself but I was stuck with myself and when I was stuck with myself I would create myself. By the time I got to my velveteens, with an exuberant explosion of sequins and silk I had arrived.
Goodbye School. Hello Tailor. I remember having my first suits made ? with their cuts and their plunges, their sweeps and their collars. As the tailor draped me in a sevenfold velvet shield of insignificance I knew that I was finally free. We are all imprisoned in our own skins, for life. No longer. Dandyism is the lion skin in which the lamb masquerades.
In a suit made to measure I went in pursuit of pleasure. Shoes. I made straight for Lobbs ? famously the finest makers of footwear in the world. Everyone who is anyone ? or else absolutely loaded ? goes there for brogues. Shirts. Turnbull & Asser (shirt makers to the shirt lifters: The Prince of Wales, Prince Edward, Al Pacino and me ? not in order of importance, I hasten to add). There were ties ? handmade of course and always gratifyingly expensive even when I started to wear them round my arm instead of my neck. There were scarves. My favourite was the rabbit but I'd don any fur. An animal should be delicious and fit well. There were socks (if you haven't got any you can't pull them up) and they came in an impudence of colours and endless materials to match with the climate and all monogrammed just in case I forgot who I was. And of course there were shoes. I made straight for Lobbs ? famously the finest makers of footwear in the world. Everyone who is anyone ? or else absolutely loaded ? goes there for brogues.
All my clothes were made from natural fibers but everything else about me was artificial. At 21 I had discovered the recipe for happiness. There are few problems in life that cannot be resolved promptly by either a bag of gold, a visit to your dealer or a visit to your tailor.
So what is dandyism? Dandyism is a form of self-worship which dispenses with the need to find happiness from others ? especially women. And yet the estrangement of the thorough going dandy is not from women, but from life. It is taking up a posture of ironic detachment from the world and living it out in scrupulous detail.
Dandyism is social, human and intellectual. It is not a suit of clothes walking about by itself. Clothes are merely a part ? they may even be the least important part of the personality of the dandy. Dandyism isn't image encrusted with flourishes. It's a way of stripping yourself down to your true self. You can only judge the style by the content and you can only reach the content through the style.
Being a dandy is a condition rather than a profession. It is a defense against suffering and a celebration of life. It is not fashion; it is not wealth; it is not learning; it is not beauty. It is a shield and a sword and a crown ? all pulled out of the dressing up box in the attic of the imagination. Of course life is nothing but a game of dressing up and make-believe. All dress is fancy dress except our natural skins. I know I am a pretend artist and a pretend writer. But I play with all my heart. Play transforms us, magically. Dandyism is a lie which reveals the truth and the truth is that we are what we pretend to be.
Of course, there is a lot of noise about me which stops people listening. It is deliberate. A lifetime in England has made me learn to regard blandness as the most suspect front of all. Most people are fakes; they're like plastic thrones covered in gold leaf veneer; it doesn't take much to make them peel and crack and reveal the inferior substance at their core.
I respect people who refuse to be astonished by me. My role as a poseur is itself a pose. It is part of my quest for truth and beauty. It is a filter to weed my social garden. It is designed to do barter with the outside world. It is designed to get rid of phonies. You see, once it hots up, the snow melts and you get to see the dog shit underneath. All I am left with is great people who can see through me but still enjoy the view.
The only way of tolerating existence is to lose oneself in a perpetual orgy of absurdity. A true dandy will never abandon his mind to the grossness of reality. Nothing solves the meaningless absurdity of life. But we can clothe the abyss and make it wearable.
When I hear thunder, I take a bow.
When I hear rain, I assume it is applause.
And so like the sun, I shine, having no alternative.
Yes, darlings, I shall be a reprobate dandy; that's my job. And the good lord will forgive me: That's his.