Dandy & Rose

Bespoke Western Shirts, Handmade in England


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Broken Hearts and Rhinestones: The Song Title Suit

jim podium

Jim Lauderdale hosts the 16th Americana Music Association Honors and Award Show. Jim’s suit by Manuel Couture, shirt by Dandy & Rose. Photograph by Tennessean.com

Did you see that suit that Jim Lauderdale wore to present the Americana Music Association Awards Show the other night?

Of course, the first thing I noticed was that Jim was wearing a Dandy & Rose shirt that I made for him. But that suit! It was a suit in a great country music tradition: the Song Title Suit.

The heyday of embroidered, rhinestone-encrusted suits was in the 1950s and early 60s, when country stars used them as a kind of branding. They would use their pictorial embroidery to illustrate their name, or their nickname, or the title of a career-defining song.

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Porter Wagoner (1927 -2007) in suit by Manuel Couture

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Ray Price (1926-2013) in suit by Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Porter Wagoner had his suits with wagonwheels; Ray Price had his totem pole- and thunderbird-embroidered suits to remind us he was the Cherokee Cowboy; and Ernie Ashworth… well, Ernie Asworth had his Talk Back Trembling Lips suit, to honour his 1963 number 1 hit of the same name.

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Ernie Ashworth 1928-2009

You can watch Ernie singing his signature song and wearing his signature suit – and his signature toupee – in this clip:  Ernie Ashworth – Talk Back Trembling Lips Go on, click on it. You won’t regret it, I promise.

There have been many western tailors, some of them great – Nathan Turk and  Rodeo Ben come to mind – but the architect of this style of suit branding was Nudie Cohn. Nudie was born Nutya Kotlyarenko in Kiev, in what is now Ukraine, in 1902. His family suffered unimaginable hardship during persecutions of Jews in Russia, so his parents paid traffickers to smuggle 11 year old Nudie and his brother Julius across the border into Poland and onwards to the USA. Familiar story? I guess the world was ever thus. Once in the USA, young Nudie battled poverty and worked at a range of careers, including professional boxing. But tailoring came out top and after a travelling life, he and his wife Bobbie settled in California, where in the mid 1940s they established the business that would become Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors .

The Nudie style went out of fashion, mostly, when country music went uptown in the Nashville Sound era of the 1960s; as the Nashville establishment reached to capture a suburban market, rhinestones were out and polyester leisure suits were in. Meanwhile, the more mainstream country rejected it, the cooler the rhinestone suit became. It was taken up by the countercultural artists of the hippy era – most famously, the Flying Burrito Brothers, who all wore Nudie suits on the cover of their 1969 album Gilded Palace of Sin. As the glam rock era approached, Nudie became the darling of rock artists like Elton John, too.

And then, in the late 1980s, the group of country artists then known as the New Traditionalists took up the rhinestone style. For them, it was a marker of their authenticity – a sign that they aspired to be the real deal – and their tailor of choice was the great Manuel Cuevas, who as Nudie’s son-in-law and head designer had worked with The Flying Burrito Brothers and many others. Dwight Yoakam, Marty Stuart and Jim Lauderdale are all New Traditionalists who began wearing rhinestones at the start of their careers and continue to this day. It’s part of their identity as artists.

And now, for Jim, Manuel has revived the tradition of the Song Title Suit. The suit he wore for the AMA Awards show had Manuel’s signature roses on the front. But look carefully at  Amos Perrine’s photograph (below) and you will see that Jim is wearing his heart on his sleeve – in fact several hearts, each with a very definite crack across them. And do those hearts have moustaches, like the King in a pack of cards often does? I think they do. It’s The King of Broken Hearts Song Title Suit.

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Jim Lauderdale on the Red Carpet at the 16th Americana Music Association Honors and Awards Show, photographed by Amos Perrine

The King of Broken Hearts is just one of this prolific Grammy-winning singer songwriter’s ace – to carry on the playing card analogy – songs. When Jim introduces it – as he does at all of his shows, because it’s one song that is always in the set list – he explains that he wrote it when he lived in California in the 1980s, a move he had made to be close to the spirit of an artist he idolised, Gram Parsons. Reading a biography of Parsons, he came across an often told story: playing George Jones records to introduce his music to friends, Gram began to weep and through his tears, remarked, “Man, that’s the King of Broken Hearts!”

The song is a tribute to Lauderdale’s musical heroes, Gram Parsons and George Jones.Click here to see and hear Jim celebrate being presented with the Wagonmaster Award at last year’s AMA Award Show by singing The King of Broken Hearts with George Strait, who recorded it for the film Pure Country in 1992

Parsons and Jones were, of course, both customers of Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors themselves, and their style of dress has clearly been almost as big an inspiration  as their music for Lauderdale. Parsons’ most famous Nudie suit was the one he wore on the cover of Gilded Palace of Sin, whose embroidery featured poppies, weed, pills, naked women, the flames of Hell and, on the back, a huge, sparkling redemptive cross. You can see it on display at The Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville.

 

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Photograph by Gene Owen

Gram never had a Song Title Suit, although some people call the one above the Sin City suit, after a song on Gilded Palace of Sin; it clearly reflects themes that preoccupied him in his songwriting. But he wasn’t above a bit of literal representation, as you can see from this submarine suit. He commissioned it from Nudie’s in 1967, when he fronted International Submarine Band and later gave it away to Jon Corneal, who drummed with ISB and, in a long career, with many other bands. Mr Corneal still owns Gram’s jacket and kindly showed it to me when I spoke to him as part of my PhD research recently. That lining!

 

 

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But George Jones, who very certainly was the King of Broken Hearts and indeed the greatest country vocalist ever, was also the King of the Song Title Suit. This White Ligthnin’ suit, with its moonshine jars surrounded by lightning flashes is on display at the George Jones Museum in Nashville.

My favourite ever Song Title Suit is the one that was made to illustrate George’s 1960 hit The Window Up Above. The song is the tragic story of a man who glances out of his bedroom window late one night, only to catch a glimpse of his wife canoodling with her lover. He approaches the situation with a mixture of self-excoriation and resigned acceptance: “You must have thought that I was sleeping” he keens “And I wish that I had been. But I guess it’s best to know you And the way your heart can sin.”

 

 

 

 

The lyric was translated  into embroidery by Nudie with magnificent disregard for the art of subtlety. Once again, it can be seen today at the George Jones Museum.

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There’s a house, there’s a window, there’s a man looking out of the window, down towards a woman whose head is at the bottom of the trouser leg. As story-telling, it’s not refined and it’s not sophisticated. But look at the skill with which it is made, and at that beautiful powder blue wool fabric. It’s not just the chainstitch embroidery, it’s the handstitching around the edges and those perfect arrowheads at the edge of the pockets. It has been made with all the skill that any well-trained tailor would lavish on an important client’s order. Ultimately, this is what I find so fascinating about Nudie suits: like country songs themselves, they send a simple message in an straightforward way. But they carry with them a hidden history of craft, talent and tradition.

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Photograph Tennessean.com

 

 

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Agandca

Agandca back yoke

I did a lot of thinking before I cut into this fabric!

‘Agandca’ is one of the most intriguing Liberty prints I have worked with. It is based on a 1910 design from the Liberty archive and the complicated pattern looks a bit like embroidery. It’s arranged in wide stripes – but unlike your average stripe, they are asymmetrical.

Cue shirtmaker headache.

I decided to use the stripe by cutting the yokes and pocket flaps ‘on the bias’ – I explained what that means last time I used the technique here

Agandca left front

The three strokes in that cross motif in the design inspired me to finish the shirt with a triple line of topstitching.

Agandca cuff

 


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O-sew-retro

Thor busy issie left front

Thor Platter has a new album coming out in October, which I can’t wait to hear. He asked me to source a Liberty print with a retro look, in dusky browns, greens and oranges, to chime in with the artwork for the record sleeve.

It took about a week, but finally I remembered filing this one away at the back of my brain.

thor busy issie back

So retro!

Thor busy issie cuff

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Catching up

This year has been such a busy one for research, writing and shirtmaking that I have got rather behind with this blog.

So here are all the shirts I have made so far and not blogged about:

First up a marvel of symmetry in Liberty’s William Morris-designed print ‘Lodden’. It belongs to Thor Platter, a singer songwriter who tracked me down at last year’s Americana Music Association Festival in Nashville. I’m very glad he did!

Then in February, I came across some of one of my favourite out-of-print Liberty designs, a psychedelic paisley called ‘Forty’. So I snapped some up and made two shirts: a black one with red piping for redoubtable Americana tour manager, Andy Washington; and an all-over print for Jim Lauderdale.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Sixties men’s fashion recently and just for fun I made this ruffled shirt in another psychedelic Liberty print that has been a favourite:

amelia star ruffle side front

Find this one for sale in my online shop

A few months later, I was commissioned to make another shirt in the same fabric, this time in a western style:

As summer arrived, I made a couple of short sleeved shirts. The first was for a young man looking for something special for his birthday party. He chose the classic Liberty peacock feather design, ‘Hera’ and went for a non-western style.

The second was made from vintage fabric that I bought from a lady who inherited it from her mum. There was quite a collection and it was hard to choose, but this was one of my favourites:

Finally, this shirt in a sweet, fresh Liberty floral was commissioned as a gift from a husband to a wife. I love being part of that!


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Is it a yoke? Is it a pocket flap?

lagos laurel back

Yokes that turn into pocket flaps are an established element of western wear design. I’ve had it at the back of my mind to try some on a Dandy & Rose shirt, but the idea really took hold when I was doing some research for my PhD in the Nudie’s archive in The Autry Museum of The American West a few months ago. I kept seeing jackets in the style and was suddenly inspired to try the same thing, but with mixed prints.

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My friend and customer Bill DeMain, who is a songwriter and journalist as well as running Walkin’ Nashville, a fun and informative walking tour of Nashville (where, in fact, he and I met), gave me the chance. He picked out a Dandy & Rose favourite, the Liberty paisley, Lagos Laurel. I suggested mixing two colours of the print, and Bill opted for blue and red. Although it’s now a Liberty classic, ‘Lagos Laurel’ was introduced in 2012 in celebration of the London Olympics, and features a laurel wreath in amongst the paisley motifs.

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D & R at home (and in London)

Dandy & Rose’s biggest champion, the Grammy-winning singer songwriter Jim Lauderdale, toured the UK during July and excitingly, he played in Lewes, the hometown of Dandy & Rose!

Jamie Freeman of Union Music Store, who is also a singer songwriter, suggested that after the show, we might be able to set a world record for the most Dandy & Rose shirts worn in the same place at the same time. And we did!

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Left – right (back row) Jamie Freeman, Stevie Freeman, Alasdair Mackay, Andy Washington, Michael Hingston  (front row) Jeff Tickle, Jim Lauderdale, me (Janet Aspley), David whose second name I don’t know!

It seemed wrong that Jim didn’t have a new shirt for his tour, so the following week we picked out a print from Liberty’s current range called ‘Wild Flowers’. It was designed by the paper cutting artist Su Blackwell, who says it reflects her childhood experience of wandering the countryside, discovering native flora. Su’s work is stunning and you can see more of it here:  sublackwell.co.uk

wild flowers folded

Just as I was giving the shirt a final press before dashing up to London to deliver it to Jim before his London show (which was great!), I noticed the word ‘Strawberry’ hidden amongst the stalks and leaves in the design.

IMG_3208.JPGHow wonderful to work with designs that are so detailed and exquisite that there is still something to discover in them when you have been looking at and handling them for many hours!

 

 

Jim teamed his new shirt with a pair of sparkly, embroidered trousers by Manuel. The combination was marvellous!

wild flowers with trousers

Jim Lauderdale in his Dandy & Rose shirt in Liberty’s ‘Wild Flowers’ print, onstage at King’s Place, London, July 27th 2017

 

 


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Ole!!

Years ago, I learned some flamenco dancing. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t resist this pattern.

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I mean, those are FLAMENCO SLEEVES if ever I saw a pair!

I wanted to make it is silk, but lack of funds had me searching for paisley polyester crepe de chine. This was calling my name but I can’t recall exactly which site I found it on.

I gave the edge of the sleeves a little tug while edgestitching them on my trusty overlocker to give them a nice fluted edge.

It’s pretty straight forward and fun to make. And I think it’s going to be fun to wear!

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