FEATURES : STYLE / FASHION

I am Dandy - Rose Callahan

By Tom Ran

Published October 10, 2013

Nick Wooster

Photo: Rose Callahan from I am Dandy, Copyright Gestalten 2013

Nick Wooster

At home with writer Gay Talese and his hat collection

Photo: Rose Callahan from I am Dandy, Copyright Gestalten 2013

At home with writer Gay Talese and his hat collection

Left: Hamish Bowles, European editor-at-large for American Vogue; Right: Kevin Wang, graphic designer and partner at Hvrminn

Photo: Rose Callahan from I am Dandy, Copyright Gestalten 2013

Left: Hamish Bowles, European editor-at-large for American Vogue; Right: Kevin Wang, graphic designer and partner at Hvrminn

Massimiliano Mocchia di Coggiola on the cover of

Photo: Rose Callahan from I am Dandy, Copyright Gestalten 2013

Massimiliano Mocchia di Coggiola on the cover of

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Photographer Rose Callahan has been with us since 2009. Her work has helped propel some of our most notable features. From the What’s In Store series with Daiki Suzuki and Todd Snyder to our short films with Roman & Williams and Billykirk, her photographs have given personality and delight to our stories.

Aside from shooting many of our features she’s been working on a project of her own called The Dandy Portraits. For the past four years, the series has brought us into the homes of men who are more than particular about their wardrobe. It’s a fascinating look into the lives of these dapper dudes.

These portraits have evolved into a book from Gestalten this fall. Rose collaborated with writer Nathaniel Adams on I am Dandy: The Return of the Elegant Gentleman. It spans the gamut of dandyism, from the natty gentleman to the flamboyant peacock, it’s a mixture of sharpened taste and extravagance.

We spoke to Rose following her European book tour to learn more about her fascination with these personalities and her opinion on what it really means to be a dandy.

The Scout:Was there always a plan to publish a book? How did that come about?
Rose Callahan:Once The Dandy Portraits started to take shape as a personal project, I certainly had it in the back of my mind to create a book. I just didn’t want to be too attached to that from the beginning, because I didn’t know how, or if, it would actually happen. So I thought, ok I will just do the work and have fun. The blog, which I created in 2010, gave the project focus, a name – The Dandy Portraits: The Lives of Exquisite Gentlemen Today – and helped it find it’s audience. From that visibility, the writer Nathaniel Adams found me in early 2011. Nathaniel, who had been working on his own book on the history of dandyism while at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and had traveled the world to do research on it under the Lynton Fellowship, had interviewed many of the same people I had photographed – and none of the subjects ever mentioned it! Essentially he had no images and I don’t enjoy writing, so it was quite natural and auspicious for us to meet. At first we weren’t sure about collaborating, but over time we became friends and we felt more comfortable joining forces.

In 2012 we decided to go for it and developed a book proposal that combined photos and text. It was a series of frustrating fits and starts with publishers and agents for about a year. Then one day I got a simple email from Sven Ehmann (creative director at Gestalten in Berlin) saying he loved The Dandy Portraits and asked if I ever thought about making a book of the work. So, without an agent, we all met soon after that when he was in NYC. He wanted to know what our concept was for the book, then to see some of the images – but never wanted to see our book proposal. A very smart man! He said he preferred to develop the concept further with his team in Berlin just according to some sample material we would send. Natty and I felt he intuitively understood the project, but it was a leap of faith for sure. In the end he did a brilliant job of editing the material, and stayed true to our original concept.

The Scout:You just returned from Europe to promote the book. How has the response been?
Rose Callahan:I have been touched by the people who have come out to support the book. It is amazing to meet people face to face who have followed the project for years. There is just no substitute for that. We had terrific turn out in London and Paris. In London we got almost all of the men in the book together – no small feat! Paris especially was a huge crowd, mostly owning to the collaboration with the blog Parisian Gentleman, which is wildly popular in Europe. I don’t think the publisher expected the Parisians to be so interested, but they are! What I heard from several people is that “dandy” has a different meaning there – not as much negative connotation as in the United States. More a kin to a “personality” or “flair.” That said, I also heard it is still fairly unacceptable to stick out and be eccentric in Paris.

The Scout:Our impression of what a dandy is has been altered after flipping through the pages. Initially, one wouldn’t think Nick Sullivan or Nick Wooster to be a dandy. Is there a defined look for what a dandy is or has the definition loosened up through the years?
Rose Callahan:The concept of Dandyism in the book is not tied to any particular time period or style – like for example Victorian or Regency dress – because it is a way of approaching life, and, as Nathaniel proposes half-joking in his introduction, a mental disorder. Essentially it is an obsession with masculine elegance, and I would say that Mr. Wooster and Mr. Sullivan have that in spades! Granted, much of the personal style of the book subjects centers around the classic menswear staple – the suit – and all it’s variations, but the book shows that the pendulum swings from more conservative, but no less fastidious, such as Bruce Boyer, Ed Hayes, Nick Sullivan, to the rarer birds such as Mr. Burton, Patrick McDonald, Fyodor Pavlov. Dandyism has never been easily defined, and I don’t think my book makes it easier! My hope is that it brings up more questions for the reader, but in the end they have empathy for the men.

The Scout:Aside from the wardrobe, what other characteristics define a dandy? Is etiquette and interest a big part of their character?
Rose Callahan:The men are all fiercely independent, and I think a lot of them like to be against the grain, which makes finding what connects them very elusive. So I like to approach it as an exploration of how dandyism is expressed today, through individuals. I think we can begin with the idea that what defines a dandy, besides being extremely well dressed, is that it is their whole world – it is full time, and it is not a costume. Contrary to what an outsider might see, they are not trying – this is just who they are. A lot of the time I see that the same keen interest in the minutia of clothes or the predilection for collecting happens in their surroundings. Their environments become an extension of their style. I see this as natural for someone with a very developed sense of self and aesthetics to want to create a world around them. When the world can be hideous, why not create beauty and elegance?

The Scout:Is the project complete now that a book has been published or do you feel there’s still another chapter to be told and document?
Rose Callahan:The book does give me a wonderful feeling of completion, but there are still so many people I keep meeting that I would love to document – and many more I have heard of or who have written to me from all walks of life. When I think of traveling the world to discover and document more men – in stills and motion – I get incredibly happy. What a great adventure that would be! I just know there are dandies in every town, city, or village. There are of course the places that would be the first stops – like Italy, Congo, South Africa, Japan, Sweden, Germany – but then I imagine what would it be like to go to a Mongolian village and find the dandy? I just know he is there! I think there is an opportunity now, because of the book, to explore an even deeper story about the phenomena of dandyism and masculinity. I have to remember that sometimes just when you feel like something is “done” it is really just the beginning.

I am Dandy: The Return of the Elegant Gentleman is now available through Gestalten. To accompany the release, they recently produced a short film interviewing Nathaniel Adams, Rose and a few of the dandies from the book.

They are Dandies: The Return of the Elegant Gentlemen from Gestalten on Vimeo.

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