TONY MARCUS: IDENTITY

FROM THE VOLT (SPRING SUMMER 2011)

As a writer I have no job. No fixed identity. But I can become different people if I change my clothes and hair. Sometimes I wear a slender, vintage Saville Row suit and slick back my hair. I become Al Pacino (I am small with dark, Italian features) and a certain kind of lawyer. This is the image I give the world.

Some mornings I slide out of bed and I don’t comb my hair. I relight an unfinished joint (or the memory of those mornings) and put on tight black jeans that are never washed. I will also  stay in the threadbare soft black t-shirt I slept in so that it carries the taste of tousled bed. I wear an old leather jacket –  slung or draped – and I channel all my morning after rockstar fantasies. I am somehwere between the Rolling Stones and The Clash, in America, in the years between 1973 and 1980.  I slide between hotels and beds, late mornings and a life that is casual and photographed.

As a writer I could adopt a more writer-ly look. I could model myself on photographs of Saul Bellow or William Burroughs; a man in a quiet, well-fitted suit with a classical hat like a homburg and slender black leather gloves to protect his delicate, useful fingers. And I have been this man; clipped in sentence and trim in dress. PR people have taken me out for coffee and I have made well received references to deQuincey, Borges and Jean Patou.

And there is also Tom Wolfe who fixed himself in white. Which was a Southern US reference.  But it is interesting that he sourced or fixed his style to his geographic and cultural roots. Mine are North London, late 80s suburban post-punk; I grew up with The Clash and Soft Cell, Sid Vicious, John Lydon, Siouxsie, William Burroughs (again) and The Cure.

So it doesn’t feel easy for me to be the effete, well-suited fellow. I carry a thousand trace memories of the very young Robert Smith (from the Cure) photographed in misty black and white wearing black jeans, frayed white school shirt and a gauzy worn-out black v-neck. The look is sixth-form sensitive.

I also like the 1930s post public school style of the English writers Auden, Spender and Isherwood. I sometimes fancy I could dress this way; vintage suits, turn-ups and bags, boarding school shirts. But would this be costume or performance dressing? Or is this a deal between my inner life and outer style. At some point in his life does every man have to draw a line – in his wardrobe – and stand by it…

In his book on the Hell’s Angels, Hunter S Thompson says their look, the grease in the hair, for example, does not begin as a fashion performance or decision. These men had grease in their hair because they were mechanics and motorbike mechanics and riders. This is why they were in work-wear, denim, leather and were greasy. Their look was a natural expression of their natural daily life.

My natural daily life; according to fashion theory the modern man is continually constructed, dissolved and reconstructed at the level of media. So is my natural daily life a series of responses to Clooney and Jagger, magazines and videos; am I just lost in this supermarket?

A photograph from Vienna, 1902; Gustav Klimt and artist friends Emil Orlik and Kolo Moser. Klimt’s pals wear black Victorian suits, the jackets long like frock coats. The accessories are images from Freud and  Magritte: hats, sticks and pipes.  . There is something funereal about them but also masculine and indulged. Their dress makes me think of period male pleasures; brandy and brothels. 

The 1902 image…Klimt himself is wearing a dress. It is a huge, flowing thing like the robes of a monk or Japanese ceremonial costume. The reason Gustav was in a dress, or robe, was that he was interested in dress reform. The turn of the Century movement, usually associated with a revolt in women’s fashion, against the corset, crinoline and tight-lacing.

Klimt was often photographed in these flowing smock-like dresses. He was interested in the ‘natural’ aspect of this dress; like his loves for swimming and wrestling with his male models. I can’t see myself in one of Klimt’s smocks. But I admire the fact he drew a line in the sand and said ‘Yes. I will wear dress this way. This is my decision’. But in terms of Klimt and style then I prefer a beautiful photograph of him taken in banker Fritz Wearndofer’s garden; it is summer and Klimt is wearing an elegant, tight, white three-piece suit.

Fashion theory says that masculinity is increasingly predicated on matters of how men look rather than what men do.

The artist Marcel Duchamp didn’t do anything particualry manly. There are no records that he ever exercised or welded or motorbiked. But he was a serial seducer of women and  impersonated a cheese dealer to cross Nazi lines. There is hardly a single photograph of Duchap that doesn’t show a very stylish man.

Duchamp was tall and slender with good cheekbones. He is nearly  always photographed in a black suit and white shirt. His hair is short and either slicked or pushed back.

His style is refined and minimal. The artist William Copley visited Duchamp’s room at 210 West 14th Street New York.  “It was a medium-sized room. There was a table with a chess board, one chair, and a kind of packing crate on the other side to sit on, and I guess a bed of some kind in the corner. There were two nails in the wall, with a piece of string hanging down from one. And that was all.”

Image of Duchamp: a photograph from 1912 with his older brothers, Gaston and Raymond. The moustaches, suits and high, stiff shirt collars of his brothers date back to the heavy, dark Victorian period. Duchamp has no facial hair. His hair is slicked and he wears an elegant double breasted. The entire shebang prefigures 1970s Bowie. Photographs of Marcel always show him impeccable, exquisite, fitted, co-ordinated.

There is a little information on how he styled.  “He owned one suit, which he brushed and cleaned himself,” says Calvin Tomkins in his life of Duchamp. When he went to visit friends in the Hamptons, Duchamp never took a suitcase. Tompkins: “He would wear two shirts, one on top of the other, and carry a toothbrush in his jacket pocket.”

But today and tomorrow and  the next I move through London. I travel on public transport. I turn up my collar against the cold. How many options have I? Could I invest in just one or two perfect black suits and wear my hair back. Shall I become a ‘fashioned’ man, mapping my clothes against Dior, Petri’s Buffalo and Gaspark Yirkievich. Maybe I should become one of Frank Leder’s Berlin architects. The list is long.

I have a feeling it is good to work from envy. I could collect images  of images of the men whose style I most admire and desire.. And then, over time, when I shop and when I can, I shall make myself like the men in the pictures.

Now that I have drawn this line maybe something like this was always happening in my mind. Have you asked yourself why you bought a certain sweater or shirt or pair of trousers. There must have always been a perfect fashion form, dream or fantasy behind the decision.  But until this moment, this very now, I had never though to make such a clear, intentional system of style.

So from this moment things could be different. I could draw a line. Make a stand. And then shop.  

by Tony Marcus

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