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Tattoos, hip hop and swagger: The 21st Century dandy

(Daniele Tamagni)

(Daniele Tamagni)

The fey fops of yesteryear have been replaced by a new breed of dandy: one with tattoos and swagger. Is ASAP Rocky the new Lord Byron?

As London Collections: Men, the three-day menswear fashion week in the UK capital, draws to a close, one sartorial trend shows no sign of going away. It’s a style endorsed by online retailers like ASOS, who show how to ‘shop the look’, and was the inspiration for Savile Row tailor Richard James’s latest collection.

The dandy is alive and well, and on city streets around the world. But what does it mean to be a dandy these days?

Traditionally, dandyism was associated with a refined style of dressing, where the finest details mattered but an air of indifference was cultivated. It emerged at the end of the 18th Century with figures such as Beau Brummel, who set trends by abandoning wigs and adopting well-fitted trousers instead of breeches. Later, the word became associated with an effeminate, foppish style; in the 19th Century, dandies like Lord Byron and Oscar Wilde were mocked.

But the spiritual heirs of Brummel don’t just care about an elaborately knotted cravat. A new book I Am Dandy, a series of portraits photographed by Rose Callaghan and written by Nathaniel Adams, features some unexpected entries.

Photograph by Rose Callahan from I am Dandy, Copyright Gestalten 2014

Tony Sylvester (pictured above) described by his friends as a ‘gentlethug’, is the British lead singer of Norwegian ‘deathpunk’ band Turbonegro. His well-trimmed ‘Edward VII’ beard is accompanied by tattoos and a sturdy frame. “Oscar Wilde was a big man,’ he says. ‘He had big Irish genes. History remembers him as a Quentin Crisp, but he wasn’t at all.”

Meanwhile, Barima Owusu-Nyantekyi (pictured below) takes his sartorial inspiration from an era eschewed by many dandies: the 1960s and 1970s. The English-Ghanaian pairs double-breasted suits with a tiepin featuring a steel Ashanti warrior’s battle hat, and takes inspiration from Peter O’Toole and Gabonese president Omar Bongo.

Photograph by Rose Callahan from I am Dandy, Copyright Gestalten 2014

Callaghan has been photographing dandies since 2008 for her project The Dandy Portraits, and her images document the unique. But for some, dandyism has moved firmly into the mainstream. “I’d almost say that every man under 30 is a dandy today,” argues former Vice style editor Daryoush Haj-Najafi. “Everyone wants to be beautiful these days:  it's not transgressive and it's not edgy to be into clothes or be camp.

“One of the dandified mainstream’s menswear heroes is rapper ASAP Rocky, who pals around with and walks the runway for camisole-wearing fashion designer Shayne Oliver.”

With rappers like Outkast’s André 3000 and Tinie Tempah (one of LCM’s ambassadors) donning sharply tailored suits, hip hop is absorbing elements of dandyism to create something new. American curator Shantrelle P Lewis set up the Dandy Lions film and photography project in 2010 to document black dandyism.

“The style isn’t something new: you’re now seeing the appearance of black men who are combining this more traditional, classic, European style of dress with more contemporary urban sensibilities. What’s unique about black dandies today is they’re taking bits and pieces from the hip hop era and infusing it with a more classical aesthetic to create and flaunt this new form of dandyism.”

Italian street photographer Daniele Tamagni’s Gentlemen of Bacongo series (main image) reveals the dandies in the Republic of Congo’s Brazzaville. They are known as ‘Sapeurs’, which Tamagni considers “a revolutionary movement, because dressing up is a way to escape and forget poverty”.

For many, it’s attitude and not dress code that marks out the modern dandy. Creative Director of British fashion label Beau Homme, George Bunker, pinpoints him as “a man who rejects the accepted conventional male archetypes and instead ventures out to create a more nuanced persona. He is a fearless individual.”

It may no longer be the preserve of eccentrics, but dandyism will never follow a well-trodden path either. Former member of Andy Warhol’s Factory, Glenn O’Brien, argues in I Am Dandy: “A man who steps out of uniform is a hero, in his own way. You can only be a hero in your own way.”

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