This last week I’ve been taking a respite in New Mexico and during this time I have realized a little oversight on the part of the Boulevardier when it comes to [deep breath] functionality. To get to our casita (that’s Spanish for castle), we had to walk about a mile through a field of mud and during the 6th or 7th time I realized I needed to reconsider my attitude toward mud and clothes that can handle the elements. I’ve been reticent to go this route in the column because I think many mansies use utility as an excuse to give up on all style and appearance, but after walking a mile in some ugly borrowed Xtremist hiking boots, I now see that this needs to be addressed, post haste. My first inspiration along these lines came while rereading Gogol’s Dead Souls, which I decided to pick up after it was featured so prominently in Bruce LaBruce’s Otto.
In the book, Chichikov is a sort of dandy-cum-grifter who travels around getting people to give or sell the deeds to their peasants that have died so that he can mortgage them later, a classic recipe for hilarity. Being a grifter, he is constantly conscious of his appearance and makes every effort to look as upright and sophisticated as possible, something I’ve touched on before in this column. The peak of his grifter dandism occurs at the end of the book where he’s about to be uncovered for smuggling, fabricating a will and acquiring dead souls on false pretenses, but instead of trying to secure his future he goes to the tailor and buys a suit made of this extremely rare and fashionable fabric, that is like the flames and smoke of Navarino:
Chichikov magnanimously paid the tailor and, left alone, began to examine himself at leisure in the mirror, like an artist, with an aesthetic feeling and con amore. It turned out that everything was somehow ever better than before: the little cheeks were more interesting, the chin more alluring, the white collar imparted its color to the cheek, the blue satin tie imparted its hue to the collar: the shirtfront, pleated in the latest fashion, imparted its hue to the tie, the rich velvet waistcoat imparted its hue to the shirt front, and the tailcoat of the flames and smoke of Navarino, gleaming like silk, imparted its hue to everything! He turned to the right- good! He turned to the left- even better! The curve of the waist was like a courtier’s or some gentleman’s as jabbers away in French so that next to him a Frenchman himself is nothing, one who, even when angry, does not disgrace himself indecently with a Russian word, who cannot even swear in Russian, but will give you a good scolding in French dialect. Such delicacy! He tried, inclining his head slightly to one side, to assume a pose as if he were addressing a middle-aged lady of the latest cultivation: it was a picture to see. Painter, take up your brush and paint! In his pleasure, he straightaway performed a light leap, like an entrechat. The chest of drawers shook and a flask of eau de cologne fell to the ground; but this caused no hinderance. He quite properly called the stupid flask a fool, and thought: “Whom shall I visit first of all? The best…”
At this point in the story he is arrested and thrown in jail, but nonetheless it’s a delightful scene, and a warning for all fashionable mansies to watch your back! Now to return to the mud, Chichikov in his endless hustling, finds himself doing a great deal of traveling on roads, not unlike the ones that I found myself on in New Mexico, and even when his britzka is overturned in a mud pit he still manages to maintain his dignity and would never resort to a hiking boot or other contemporary vulgarities. This is possible for the mansy as well, I think the riding boot can be a perfect substitute for the Xtremist option and the trench coat can be worn as well, so long as it has flourishes that demonstrate restraint and poise, and avoids all goth references at all costs. Now while I think Rick Owens tends to design menswear for himself, ie: an LA rocker (more on my anti-rocker activism to come!), I think he did a bang up job designing the fashion for Otto and has a few pieces in his other collections that approach this Chichikov idea of utility while maintaining form.
This pieces are clearly more drab than I would prefer for myself, they certainly don’t invoke anything close to “the flames and smoke of Navarino” but still I think they are a good start. Maybe if Rick Owens somehow magically combined with Katy Early’s collection based on the Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita, we’d have something to work with…
Oh, and here’s a pic from the sartorialist that I’m in love with, though definitely not mudwear, note the trenchcoat.