Friday, 25 March 2011

Giving up bespoke

 I will admit that on occasion I have been known to steal away a few minutes from the crowd and clandestinely- with a hat covering my face- buy off the rack apparel. Once I came across a suit that had the details and lining to tempt me a fitting. I sneaked into the fitting room, hurriedly suited myself and looking into the mirror I did admire the fine posture and tailoring. Of course I had one or two details I was not happy about but in all sincerity the suit was wearable.

 It was a Gucci suit, brown pin striped, single button, light wool and thin lapels. I bought it, and when I arrived in my apartment I nicely cut off all Gucci insignia before taking it to my tailor for “enhancements”. My tailor was visibly distraught-but the financial crisis meant he could not turn away a customer and so agreed to the enhancement. Being curious he tried to find the label of the suit but none sufficed, he turned to me and I remained as brood as ever and did not bat an eye-lid. After sitting down and agreeing on the amendments I happily returned a week later to a well fitting suit. To ensure my tailor remained happy I ordered a shirt from him.

Bespoke ( cloth/fabric in the tailor’s shop that has already been spoken for)suit tailoring is a dying art and Savile Row remains unflinchingly dedicated to this art. We live in a world of instant gratification, instant coffee and instant Polaroid.  Instant coffee- which by the way is not coffee at all- takes roughly 7 minutes less to make than filter coffee (provided the beans have already been roasted.
If it takes time and consideration then perhaps it is not worth it the current mantra goes. This is a funny state of affairs- Ipad2 is introduced even before one has gotten around to unpacking Ipad1. Some may want to motivate the reasons for this, but I cannot understand why. Medical reports allude to life expectancy increasing and yet people can no longer wait. It is good to know I will live longer than the six week wait for a suit, but more importantly I do not suffer from buyer’s remorse a disease those people in high street suffer from.  Indeed, Instant joys are never everlasting; they fizzle out as quickly as they come.

It is easy to be dismissive of my treatise as pure snobbery or aristocratic pretensions. My reflections are of neither but stem from the very gallantry of self-made persons. My family blood, background and connections ensured no advantage in life. From a time my father passed on I have had the burden of family and personal ambition. I have worked hard, sweated blood to simply survive. Yet the more and more I continue on the journey the more I am proud of being a self-made man. In my travels I have met men who are recommended by family and political connections, men from low abode who have made it their ambition to marry into rich families or politically powerful families.

Or those already given the advantage of blood and so only seek connections with those of similar breed. Such is the playground of life, which my disposition and pride could never fathom. I had to fight purely on merit. But from this comes a self awareness of one’s personality and creed. I owe no allegiance to anyone but only to my whims and desires. Invariably, over time I have become acutely aware of those endeavours that accentuate and perpetuate who I am as an individual. Bespoke is naturally the only dressing endeavour that enhances individuality. A man is just as the wolf in sheep’s shire

While many have a heritage to keep and others a heritage to perpetuate, I consider myself the first to build a heritage. It becomes important to furnish my life with those distinct attributes future generations can find as worthy heritage reserves of knowledge, talent, will power and above all aesthetics. I imagine and model myself as the original Medici family and propagating the foundation on which the renaissance period would be etched, as the “ dazzling light to future generations of  what man can be and do”. Fashion is one aesthetic pursuit and bespoke a necessity. My collection of suits and shirts tailored as presenting a peculiar heritage shall be handed down to all my descendants as symbols of personality and art. Bespoke tailoring is the haute couture of the self-made man.

Bespoke gives me the benefit of total control over the fabric used, the colour of the suit, its structure/build and any peculiar subtle fine detail I may require.  It gives me unlimited access to a tailor whose scissors is the chisel modelling stone into sculpture. Many instances a man finds himself clothed in whatever the ignominy of high street and high labels have deemed to be in season. Everything is mass produced and manipulated to pander to the crowds. For a moment picture those hideous high collar shirts (with three collar buttons) our young men are prone to wearing these days.  If there is a revolution that we should take seriously in these times its the burning of such shirts-I am rather tolerable of Mubarak than these shirts.  . Bespoke on the other hand is truly an extension on one’s skin, an appendage to one’s personality.  It is an expression of gallantry and charm of the wearer and not borrowed adroitness.

I have invested all my savings into a business; invariably I do not have extra dollars for my fashion pursuits especially for visiting a bespoke tailor. I face the inordinate trivia of either not shopping at all, or joining the off the rack band wagon. Indeed I have given up shopping. For a while now I have not gone shopping. It makes sense to me, why should I shop and get instant gratification for something that is not real at all that builds no heritage for my house. So I have given up bespoke for the meantime while I sort out my finances.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

The Dream called Franschhoek

The best of the world is usually in us or in Franschhoek. Those that follow my writings would perhaps be at pains to know where in history this quote is from. No spatial reference to history will yield except that I came up with this saying after spending and taking a double take of Franschhoek, enjoying the heightened experience of my palate.  Indeed with no palate, the essentials of Franschhoek are lost on an individual.

Asked once what my occupation was I lied to impress; “GQ’s international stylist at large but mostly a gentleman of leisure” I said with such aplomb. You see she looked like she had just sprung out of a page from Vogue and her tan in the middle of winter  betrayed  habitual summering  in those Caribbean islands that are very hard to pronounce. She looked at me, the least surprised and I reckoned a “wow” would suffice. None sufficed but a snigger and retort- I “work for GQ you know” and I am coming from Franschhoek. She walked away, with a triumphant stride, but Franschhoek stuck with me!

My board was a quaint Cape Dutch cottage on a wine estate within the vicinity of the village. If you are interested in the history of Franschhoek, 1694 this dream was “founded”. The story goes the Dutch sailors given to highly intoxicating drink, merriment and the love thereof where somehow unable to preserve correctly the wine they imported from France. The story continues either they finished all the barrels before the cape of Goodhope or whatever was left was badly preserved. The innovative answer came to bare- invite the Frenchmen from the vineyards of Bordeaux and Champagne and in Franschhoek (French corner) they would make the finest and best wines and the ready market of thirsty Dutchmen would pay for their keep. The Frenchmen got more sun on skin and the Dutchmen more wine in their blood. 

This anecdote was furnished to a rather enthusiastic wine tasting crowd by a rather excitable, funny (in an off the cuff sort of way) and slightly inebriated fellow at Haute Cabrier- the makers of the finest South African champagne and wines. The tour was grand, and after tasting the Magnus opus Ratafia my head was dizzy, I was slightly giddy- and noted the dangers of a desert wine before lunch!

How does one capture the total magic and setting in Franschhoek, a little village town surrounded by vineyards owned by the best gentlemen of South Africa. Best, purely on account of having the good sense of buying real estate in this space where anything not Cape Dutch, white, spacious, vintage, is decidedly frowned upon. It must be a relief knowing your neighbour is not only Rothschild & Rupert (or similar iconic name) but because of the municipal bylaws, MTV grotesque architecture is forbidden. The Law, ladies and gentleman is peculiarly stylish in these parts.

The best afternoon was spent in cheese tasting at Fair view. It is a 30 minutes drive from the village and there I had my dalliance with the finest cheese in the world. Reminds one of the teenage dalliance with the best looking girl from the best girls school. A whisper and brush of the lips was enough to get me excited then, now it’s cheese and yogourt!

Feeling romantic,  Dieu DonnĂ©, the restaurant that overlooks Franschhoek was our rendezvous. She had her hair pulled back wearing a pencil slim cherry skirt with a white body hugging vest- her black heels matching her belt. Conversation flowed, but I could not get over her body in the cherry skirt. We viewed the village lights in awe and wonder and speculated if ever a place on earth was as close to perfection as that moment. And if ever possible two beings can be in that perfect moment. It was a perfect picture!

Monday, 14 March 2011

"Being Black"

No one subject has been the epic of conversation than the idea of what it is to be black. February, the black history month is littered with praises to this idea called black. Beyonce, inspired by Fela Kuti has added to the dogma, in her own way. Whatever the disagreements in the conversations, the essentials of being black are topical. There is of course the stereo type of what black is, flip the coin and one finds what black is not.

I have toyed with the idea of blackness and tried to understand wherefrom this idea stems and where to this idea takes me. This essay, I warn the reader is rather biased. I make no apologies for this. However, I do hope the reader burdened with my thoughts would be kind enough to be a passenger to my discourse and enjoy more the journey in conversation with a stranger than where we end up.

I was born Black- itself a pejorative term I was branded with on my birth bed. Of course as a baby I was branded in more ways than this. I was given a shona, Christian name to go with my shona ancestral surname. The contradictions were blurred, tradition interred. I was given a totem, tribe and village- my birth rights were confirmed by a piece of paper. Thus the nurse- in mandatory duty inscribed on my hospital tag-black. She had, I am sure performed this task many times. The joy of a new born baby was not on her face but rather on my mother. Hers was a mechanical performance. As far as she was concerned another black male had been born. She performed the national and worldly duty of recording on a card that another black male had been born.

This journey, from my first breath to the many decades I have been on this earth has been the same. The most identifiable feature about me is my blackness- something I never chose, I was simply branded. There is a difference between a feature and a trait (embodied in character). The feature is perhaps what the nurse saw on my birth bed- if one were to ask her she would say she saw a black baby.  And the world does this so often, I do it as well. I see certain features and I immediately infer whether black or any other race- conjecture is little.  Second to this are particular traits- the usual “oh that’s so black” leaves one with an inference that indeed there are traits and qualities that are black. It is the feature meshed with trait that the world goes by in composing blackness.

I cannot with certainty question this insight. Perhaps it is what it is. The kinky hair, chocolate skin, thick lips and broad behinds are a matter of fact. The laugh, expressions, language and customs are identifiable traits. It is what it is. But to end there is a failure of the mind and failure to interrogate the essence of blackness.
This essay is essentially an interrogation of “being black” rather than the features and traits that stereo type blackness. By identifying what “being black” means I hope to knock on the door of black consciousness and walk the annals of an idea cradled in the heart of Africa.

The movie gladiator has a scene I have often pondered on. The emperor Marcus Aurelius sits and whispers to his favoured general  Maximus and talks of taking back the Roman Empire  to the senate and making it a republic again. In melancholy he questions the war victories and the military show of might- desperately trying to find meaning. Maximus chastises the Emperor, and beguiles the virtues and might of Rome- the city state the soldiers have defended. The emperor asks Maximus how he can defend and uphold the virtues of a city he has never been to- for an idea he was never part of in creating. Maximus, a Spaniard (i.e not even Roman) in defending the idea called “Rome”, a civilisation that was like no other, is illustrative of the idea of being.
That is the idea of of “being Roman” was not particular of certain features or traits. The Emperor representative of all that was glorious and might about Romans, blood as pure as ice was far away from “being Roman”.   

The paradox continues later on in the movie when the son as new emperor wants to mate with his sister to produce a pure heir to the throne (this was the culture especially in Egypt where a pharaoh had to be of pure blood to sanctify his rulership) .It took a foreigner, a person of vile slave background, impure blood to be the general and symbol of “Being Roman”.

Heidegger in his study of Being-called it an ontological expedition of Dasein. To simplify- what does it mean to exist? What is the very nature of existence?  Existence is that which is alive beyond the physical.

“Being black” entails an idea that is alive beyond the physical features and traits. It must invoke the idea of blackness beyond what the nurse saw, what people see. The debates that have ensued have dwelled and laboured hard in arguing a feature is what is black. They have argued, black was never defined by black people themselves but rather by white people. The white race in defining what is black ensured exclusivity to what is white. Thus, the argument goes, a white man in Africa cannot term or identify himself with Black Africa because he has not the requisite features or traits. His features are European. Only pure bloods, only pure bloods are allowed.  That is foolish.

It is foolish to tribalise consciousness. I as an individual can never characterise my very consciousness. What is alive in an individual is not the physical manifestation of one's being. What is alive is rudderless, matterless, featureless, dimensionless conscience . It is quite so with nation hoods and state hoods. A people can never be bordered and defined by the physical planes of a place. 

We have seen this with the Diaspora, sons and daughters of three or four generations that have never been to Africa but identify with the idea of being black. It is very much so that the kindred spirit of being black is alive.

The essence of blackness is hard to fathom and I would like to believe further interrogation is in order. But I know enough to know what is not Black. Meat and bone coloured with a certain shade of black can never be the essence blackness.  “Being black” is not an absolute phenomenon, it cannot be what we see. It is an idea that very well encapsulates our existence as black people. One should not be easily fooled by the expedience of identifying blackness with affirmative action, Black Economic Empowerment, returning land to the "true" owners. This is spatial, shallow and it too shall pass. To retain credibility supporters and beneficiaries of such programmes have to tout and define blackness as an absolute manifestation. However much booty they may acquire their folly should never be ours.