When warm weather finally arrives there’s a natural desire to get into the optimism of the season. You drink Negronis with a vengeance, dust off the fly rod even though the fishing hasn’t picked up yet, you even watch the Mets before they take their annual swan dive in the standings. Spring is a time to express yourself, and that’s a very fine case for white shoes. Real shoes mind you, not Vans or something straight from the court: bucks, cap-toe oxfords, cricket shoes, even wingtips. A few years ago, Crockett & Jones released an elegant pair made of deerskin—they were practically criminal.
Some time around 3am Sunday morning, the end of South by Southwest drew nigh. The phones needed to be recharged and the people did too. The streets were full of walking wounded and you vowed you were never going to subject yourself to this again. Then you remember you said the same thing last year, and maybe the year before too. A man stood on a balcony dressed as a Pope, but his hat was green, so eager was he to honor St Patrick’s Day, just a few hours old.
Near the closing bell we nearly stumbled over a man’s seeing eye dog in the back of a dark club. What was it doing there? That’s a worthy question that we didn’t ask. After four days strung out on music, performed everywhere from Goth clubs to sunny backyards, you’re not sure what you’re seeing. Was that really an origami swan sitting in a martini glass? When we looked again it was gone. Somebody probably tried to drink it.
You may know Michael Hainey from GQ, where he’s the deputy editor, a writer and resident wise man. He’s an elegant and reassuring presence in a menswear world that can breed exhaustion. You may also see Mr. Hainey on television, walking in the West Village or on your favorite street style site. He carries himself with a sense of courtliness that makes him seem approachable, which is very much the case. Prepare to get to know him much better—his new book, the memoir “After Visiting Friends”— is deeply personal and incredibly moving. It’s also a brilliantly reported, completely absorbing mystery about the death of his father, which happened when Michael was a boy. It’s a genuine accomplishment by one of New York’s dapper men of letters.
We spoke recently at the Spotted Pig.
David Coggins: The title of your book is “After Visiting Friends.” Can you explain what it means? It’s a good introduction to what the book’s about.
Michael Hainey: It’s the reason the mystery begins. You could say it’s a euphemism, but really it’s a line inside of a couple of the obituaries that ran after my father died. One said he died after visiting a “friend” and the other said “friends.” It gave an address in Chicago, so as a young guy I said “who are these friends?” So it’s the engine of the mystery.
We’ve ruminated in the past on Lloyd Blankfein’s sartorial strategies and the tradition of executive dressing, particularly among Italian titans of industry who know how to do it. So we were curious to discover recent shots of Mr. Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, in Davos, with a beard. Apparently he grows them when he’s on vacation and this time he felt confident enough to go on the record before the cameras.
While this did not cause as much comment as the First Lady’s bangs, it does represent the migration of the beard from the urban woodsman to the corporate boardroom. Mr. Blankfein’s beard is certainly not radical—it’s more of a thin layer of snow than an avalanche of white—but it is progress of a sort for those of us who support beards in all tax brackets and all locations, including the corridors of power.
This is an age of cocktail enlightenment—savvy drinkers aren’t surprised to discover artichoke infused vodka or persimmon bitters in their glass or a shiso leaf as garnish. They venture forth seeking vision and innovation, the eccentric and the unfamiliar. Yet it’s a classic cocktail, of all things, that causes consternation among the imbibing faint of heart. We speak of course of the endangered Bull Shot.
Why is this downright nourishing drink more difficult to find? In a phrase: beef broth. Yes, the Bull Shot is essentially a Bloody Mary that substitutes goodly beef broth for tomato juice. So rare is this historic concoction that on a recent trip to Florence we were overjoyed to find it listed at Harry’s Bar (not the endangered Venetian original, but, after more than 50 years on the bank of the Arno, nothing to scoff at).
At Harry’s, upon ordering, the broth arrives from the kitchen and the barman takes it from there. Where does that Bull Shot take you? Well, it’s a hearty daytime drink, unusually good when you told yourself you were going to take a day away from liquor. It’s downbeat but reassuring—like an old cardigan, like Chet Baker.
To know JP Williams is to enjoy the pleasure of his company while being continually surprised by his relentless aesthetic sensibility. He’s a creative director and designer, a Southerner who’s traveled widely. He maintains his singular blog and just happened to have been painted by the late Richard Merkin. He wears white shoes and drinks gin year-round, which is a lesson for all the kids out there. He has an exhibition opening tonight at Mondo Cane in Tribeca, Little Things: A Flaneur’s Finds, that’s full of brilliant, idiosyncratic objects that are carefully considered without losing their light touch.
JP’s range of knowledge is unmatched, his perspective is even better. What follows is one of the most wide-ranging interviews we’ve ever conducted. He’s a friend of ACL. and believe it when we tell you we’re proud of that fact.
David Coggins: Let’s talk about your collections and the objects you made.
JP Williams: I have different categories of collections. And one of them is that when I travel around the world I always buy a ball of twine. I go to a hardware store or a market. So each one that I’ve had cast is from a different place, one of them is called Florence, one is called Dusseldorf. This one is from the Paris flea market, it must be from the 1840s. There’s a little bit of a character to them. When the economy was poor, instead of buying things I started looking at my collections. That’s why I started the blog. I started to revisit box after box of things. Then I started writing the stories behind them. I have a great memory for detail.
Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis’s first novel, was published in 1954 and promptly entered the pantheon of British postwar literature. It’s just been reissued by the invaluable New York Review Books Classics, which is the literary equivalent of receiving a case of Laphroaig. Our hero, Jim Dixon, a young university lecturer, grapples with a stream of improbable academic cranks, pretentious artists, neurotic women, a vengeful oboist and his own self-destructive streak. The novel is trenchant, knowing and audaciously misanthropic. It may be the funniest book ever written.
Yes, that’s an absurd statement (Jim himself would surely raise an eyebrow at such a sweeping claim). But Lucky Jim remains the benchmark for satire, misbehavior and the absurd demands of adult life. Strangely, some Lucky Jim partisans struggle through the book’s opening the first time they read it. In fact, it’s not uncommon for people to take pause before they plow their way through it. Why is that? Like watching Shakespeare’s plotting villains or early episodes of Deadwood, it takes some time to acclimate yourself to the incredibly specific, rarefied language. But that makes it sound as if it’s an exalted enterprise: it’s not.