Thursday, 22 July 2010

The Renaissance man

In recent years men have been described by many adjectives in light of the recent advancement in our human civilisation and socialisation of the 21st century. As the walkman was replaced with the ipod, the yesterday man and his mantle have been replaced by today’s man with his mettle.  The iconoclast verve epitomised by Beckham is the metro-sexual, diametrically in opposite to Claude van Dame, the brute of the 90’s. 
While the debate ensues on the world’s idealistic creature to amplify manhood- an amble crisis of sort has landed on male shores. Maleness crisis is symptomatic of how masculinity has become emasculated, blurred and the prospects bleak. Similar, to the 14th century nonchalance that persuaded individuals to seek inalienable truths of the world, rather than accept the then collective mantra. The answer then, as is now, is the Renaissance man.
A renaissance is a renewal; then in 14th century Italy it was a renewal of Athenian classical antiquity virtues and ideals. The Renaissance man was simply one who had mastery of skills or knowledge from a wide variety of fields. It was a belief that man possessed all the essence and determination to excel in all exertions mental, physical and aesthetic.
Samuel Johnson says “A man may shoot the man who invades his character, as he may shoot him who attempts to break into his house.”And so it was a man’s strength of character, determination and ability that saw him rise above the parapet of societal standards and distinguish himself amongst his peers.  Often the renaissance period is called the humanistic period, a notion in art, science, travel and idea that firmly puts the individual as the nexus of worldly experience.
The Athenian man was first a seeker and lover of wisdom. The word philo (love for) sophy (wisdom), thus he engaged himself wholly in the quest to seek the truth about the world and exercised logic in his daily life. He was a philosopher! The Renaissance man in 14th century Italy begun to study Athenian Philosophy and Homeric texts. From these he gained the substance and form of what life is and gained strength of character to discern foolishness.
And so I am confused when the current world lauds the metro-sexual, I ask myself if at all he is a lover of wisdom –a Philosopher beyond just reading, writing and counting?  The blame is squarely on Hollywood and our educational system that disguises knowledge with robes of exams. The man who succeeds is one who has mastered the ideals of passing an exam and not necessarily the man willing to die for the truth that he believes.
Another ideal of the Renaissance man was the Warrior ideal. In classical times, a man was a warrior, who defended his family, country and what he believed in. The Roman Empire grew on the basis of these men that would farm their lands during the growing season and fight to increase the empire during the winter. The most revered men were conquerors, men who had exercised ability, skill and determination in the world and not in some film in Hollywood.  Valour and a heroic spirit walked side by side with him. Today engrossed in repetitive 9 to 5, shuffling paper, nothing in a man’s spirit calls for his initiation and bravery. He risks nothing, and gains nothing!
Theodore Roosevelt has imparted wisdom and importance of being the man ready for battle; man in the Arena
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
 Recently in a bus I overheard a group of girls talking, one claimed she only dated Bankers and the other claimed she had been cursed with only Accountants. On reflecting and unveiling this conversation I was sad for a moment and sadder for the men mentioned. But such is the world we live in where a man is qualified purely by his vocation, never mind that the world has over a million doctors- he is just defined as a doctor.
Asked who am i? My vocation immediately conjures my personality, success and mindset.  My individualistic personality now hardly recommends me or like in most cases my vocation has become the straight jacket in which my individual personality has merely fizzled into. This contrast heavily with the Renaissance man ;perhaps the quintessential renaissance man of this period was Leonardo Da Vinci, who was an artist, an engineer, an anatomist and also pursued many other disciplines with great success and aplomb.
 Finally the classical definition of manhood was exemplified by conduct. Decorum was a virtue taught in every man, and each man would in turn become a poet in his life and create the flair -avoir un don pour- to personalise his deeds. Today’s language this is known as swagger, for the Renaissance man it is panache. Valour and Wisdom led the man to battle, but his conduct in battle was equally important. It was not just enough to win a battle, it was important to win with honour.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Why I love man's fashion: a short essay

Accomplishment is best capped by an immaculate dress sense. Those that have disagreed with this are usually of distasteful inclination to anything aesthetic or have a personality of an ant. Why should an accomplished man be immaculately dressed? Because a man like a chair can never be staid on one leg. A brilliant mind, ability and social grace can all be summed in impeccable dress.
 A man’s wardrobe, it has often been commented is an extension of his personality, I argue it is his personality. Think about it how can a snazzy dressed man with swooning presence turn out to be a bore? Dressing, done appropriately epitomises one’s outlook on life and a pedigree in aesthetics- a swagger with a tradition as long as washing hands with soap!
 Indeed this was a generally accepted rule in the days of yonder when a man would take at least 3 hours to dress up in the morning. The elaboration was not lost to the lady folk of the time who would scrutinise and deduct a man’s character purely based on his cloth and use of thread. A potential employee would list his bespoke tailor as a reference. Hitherto every man, commoner and noble distinguished himself through the cut and make of his attire.  Even when fighting his enemy, cavalry distinction was usually an extension of his beautiful uniform.
 So what has changed over the years? Today’s man is described as colour blind and with other non flattery expletives. I suppose like all medieval chivalry, it no longer matters if a man’s character is worth insignia. Men have even abrogated the six week bespoke tailoring experience to off-the rack internet based synthetic suit- and with no shame whatsoever his lady does the buying. Is there a worse insult, than your lady buying a suit for you? Never mind the glaring innuendos about the man’s sartorial sense; this alludes to just how desperate the lady is in the mating game. Imagine Al Capone or the architect Le Corbusier mating with a desperate lady who does his wardrobe shopping. This insult is inconceivable.
 Every super hero has a suit- this is not just mere coincidence that saving the world requires appropriately dashing attire, it should be the staple food for any man. Not just the gay man who has taken man’s fashion to be his fiefdom- the straight man needs to reclaim what has always been his kingdom. Savile Row remains the one place in the world I feel like a man, where an appointment with the tailor takes the same importance as a woman’s appointment with her gyna. Where every pampering accentuates my manliness and not as endeavours to question my sexuality. Where upon leaving I am gleaming as ever!
 So what is it that I love about man’s fashion, notwithstanding the current state of affairs? I love how naturally important and dashing an impeccably dressed man looks.  Because a man who puts much thought and effort to his clothing and sense of style has measured attention to his work and craft. An elegantly uniformed soldier will draw his elegant sword, and fight an elegant fight. Why else would a soldier dress in an immaculate uniform shine his buttons, sword and shoes only to fight in the meadows of dirt, blood gashing in all directions? It’s because he understands the importance of virtues and strength are exemplified by his uniform.
 Once on a plane trip, I complemented an elderly gentleman on his attire- he turned and looked rather surprised. For the next 20 odd minutes he spoke to me about where and how he got every piece of clothing he had on.  We talked of how the different fabrics available feel on the skin, laughed about what to do when you gain weight and the trousers don’t fit anymore and reflected on why Anderson and Sheppard made the best blazers in the world. We lamented the death of the full Windsor tie, chuckled at Hugo Boss attempts as a serious man’s clothier and agreed that probably the English are plain looking on account of their dress in as much as the Italians are effervescent on the same account and the German’s as stoic as ever.
 As a parting shot, the elderly gentleman gave me a business card. I looked at it and smiled, it was a Cobblers’ business card of one eminent cobbler from the hinterland of Florence. I have never been to Florence- but it has now become one of the places I want to visit and perhaps in the stride get a handmade brogue.
 Perusing over the top dressed man in history I came across a photograph of Sir Sean Connery and the caption captured my imagination, it went “ because has anyone ever made it look easier?”.  The 007, glad in a suit touting a gun and fighting the bad guys was probably my first encounter with Film, the word “espionage”, GQ magazine and then his seductive moves with the ladies made it all look easy, until I tried to buy a suit, watch, and tried one of those cocky lines- in all attempts I failed. And only because I failed did I realise what Sean Connery had and looked simple was just not only a Scottish accent!  The entrepreneur Lapo Elkann has taken over this dapper savant mantle in recent years.
 What has caused me to write this short essay on Fashion? Coming from Melbourne at the airport, bored stiff I went into a clothing shop with man apparels. I had no intention of buying anything – until I came across this Pictoria/Art illustration book by Jeremy Hackett simply titled Mr Classic with photographs by Garda Tang( book review) . My face lit up and impulsively offered my credit card. The shop keeper looked at me, smiled and asked if it not be better if I first perused the book and see if I would enjoy it.  
The Man of the shop angry at such a proposal looked at the lady shopkeeper and exclaimed in a loud voice- “Its Hackett for God’s sake, that’s enough convincing anyone needs”. I smiled a second time, as the gentleman decided to offer me a 50% discount on an aftershave- Taylor of old bond street.
 15 hours of flight I spent nibbling at every word Jeremy had to say, sighing at the very detail exposed by the photographs- exposing my ignorance in many sartorial matters, and gaining valuable lessons on life, manhood, courting a lass, clay pigeon shooting and many other adept subjects-and of course fashion.  Who says man’s fashion is boring?

Saturday, 3 July 2010

What is happiness

I never did learn much from high school, I was one of those students that breezed through. So every time a high school friend starts a conversation along the lines “do you remember back in high school when...” I shrill and freeze before nonchalantly nodding to whatever they remember. However, I do remember assemblies, and at a boys only school the experience was heightened by the male bondage when the school song was sang.

I don’t even remember the school song now! Usually after the school song, the gentlemen would sing a hymn. Of course I don’t remember most of the hymns but I rather remember this little chant that was sang with male passion and gusto. I don’t know why but I was humming to the tune today and it reminded me of what happiness is and why male bondage is an exceptionally unique ritual:

Happiness is where you are and what you want to be,
If you look you're sure to find the rainbow of your dreams,
Tomorrow's fuller than a thousand yesterdays,
With a vision of a new day in your heart.

Like many lessons in high school I never stopped to reflect. Amazing that with so many holes in my memory I can still remember these particular words. I sang the words but never unravelled the meaning. Today i fully understood the meaning.Happiness is where you are and what you want to be.......