Dandy & Rose

Bespoke Western Shirts, Handmade in England


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Having a spangly Christmas

I’ve had a lot of encounters with peacock feathers this year; I’ve made four shirts from Liberty’s ‘Hera’, after all.

But when I saw these tree ornaments in a local shop, they brought another peacock feather motif to mind – the one used by the great rhinestone tailors, Nudie Cohn and Manuel Cuevas, about whose work I am writing my PhD.

I had to buy them. And then I had to buy a Christmas tree to go with them. I am grateful for the Barbie pink theme they have brought to its decor.

After a bit of a search, I found a couple of examples of suits embroidered with the distinctive Nudie peacock feather – Elton John and Mike Nesmith are wearing them:

And then I remembered this clip of Jim Lauderdale, who likes to team his Dandy & Rose shirts with a pair of jade green Manuel trousers with peacock feathers embroidered on the lower leg. There’s a close up of them at the beginning of the clip, but keep watching, because just after that, he sings my favourite song of the year…


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Home from Nashville

It’s been a while since my last post!

I guess I must have been in recovery mode after my very exciting trip to the Americana Music Association Festival and Conference in Nashville back in September. And I’ve been catching up with shirt orders (photographs to follow!) as well as working on some features for Country Music People magazine.

It was my fourth AMA week and as always, it was jam-packed with goodies! It’s always a brilliant, inspiring musical week and though I come back exhausted, the memories make up for it. My report on the event will be in November’s Country Music People magazine.

http://www.countrymusicpeople.co.uk/

Quite apart from my journalistic duties, I got to go to the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum to see their wonderful Bakersfield exhibition, where amongst many other things, the cream of their collection of clothes made by the great western tailor Nathan Turk were on display. Turk is a little neglected – sidelined by his more flamboyant contemporary, Nudie – but his work is truly beautiful.

Here’s the ‘Grapes of Wrath’ suit he made for Fred Maddox of The Maddox Family Band – known in their day as ‘The Most Colorful Hillbilly Band in America.’

fred grapes of wrath

With my Dandy & Rose hat on (what does my Dandy & Rose hat look like? I must work on that) I got to make some new friends,  and to see my very special customer Jim Lauderdale host the AMA Honors and Awards Show at The Ryman Auditorium while wearing one of my shirts. From the collection I had taken along, he chose this one in the Liberty fans-and-ribbons print, ‘Wendy Woo’:

Just between you and me, I was hoping ruffles would be involved, but when I saw Jim onstage wearing his choice of shirt under a beautiful blue embroidered Manuel suit, I was not disappointed at all. He looked great. Not sure what makes that suit fabric so lustrous, but I am guessing maybe a touch of silk in the weave.

He was kind enough to pose for this picture after the show, too:

Photo by Rick Diamond, Getty Images

Photo by Rick Diamond, Getty Images

The Awards show is held in The Ryman Auditorium – the building known as ‘The Mother Church of Country Music’ – which was the home of the iconic radio show The Grand Ole Opry from 1943 until 1974. Many a western tailored suit has graced that stage, most of them festooned with embroidery and glittering with rhinestones. And yes, that means that Hank Williams stood there when he made his Opry debut in 1949 singing the hit ‘Lovesick Blues’. Did he really  have to reprise it six times at the demand of the crowd, or is that just an ole country music myth? Who cares? It may not be a literal truth, but it says it all about Hank’s famous charisma.

So just sitting in the audience at The Ryman is an experience full of resonance for any fan of country music. And to see something I made in my little workroom in Lewes up there, being worn by one of my favourite artists – well, I think my face says it all.


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Trial and error

The other day, someone hit this site as the result of a Google search for ‘how to make a Nudie suit’.

I must admit I smiled and thought, ‘If I only knew…’

The suits produced by Nudie Cohn for Nudie’s The Rodeo Tailors, and these days by Nudie’s former head tailor, Manuel Cuevas, are way off the scale of my skills.

Then I remembered how, back in my bold, brash youth, I had a go at making a jacket for myself based on this beauty,  worn by Dwight Yoakam  on the cover of his 1987 second album,  Hillbilly Deluxe.

dwight-yoakam-hillbilly-deluxe-vinilo-lp-usa-nuevo_MLA-F-3432562941_112012

Doesn’t he look fetching?

The whole outfit –  white dress  shirt; grey boots; hat; torn boot-cut Levis  with silver conchos, hand made in Mexico, running down the side – was put together with more than a touch of genius by the great Nashville-based hillbilly tailor known as the ‘Rhinestone Rembrandt’, Manuel.

It is currently on display at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville.  The jacket is short, in the Hispanic style, and made from a vivid turquoise wool. The piping around the yoke and cuffs, handmade from strips of bias-cut wool, is off-white. There are two ‘smile’ pockets and two piped ‘arrows’ (are they functional darts? Maybe. But there are two darts in the front anyway.) The silver horseshoes on the yoke and sleeve are appliqued; next to them is an embroidered gold lasso. Rhinestones, which in Manuel’s workshop are attached with a press like this one that I photographed in the workshop of Jaime Castenada in North Hollywood, are sparingly scattered around the design.

  DSCF2498

Dwight’s jacket fastens with oblong shaped turquoise buttons and is edgestitched by hand.

I thought it was beautiful the very first time I saw it and I still think so now I’ve had a really good, close-up look at it, and that 26 years have passed.

The skill – and talent – required to make it is immense and honed over decades of practice.  I took this photo of Manuel at work when I visited his workshop in 2010. When I asked him how he was going to make this collar, which had been cut a bit short, fit, he brushed my question aside with, ‘This is not my first rodeo!’

first rodeo

The hands of the master: Manuel working on a jacket in his workshop, September 2010

By contrast, when I decided, back in 1988, to make myself a jacket based on the ‘Hillbilly Deluxe’ masterpiece, it was, more or less, my first rodeo.

I don’t think I had ever piped or embroidered anything before, but if you don’t try, you don’t learn, that’s my motto. I don’t know why people hesitate over sewing projects – I mean what’s the worst that can happen? You put it in the bin.

Obviously, if you put on a disaster and go out in it, total humiliation can ensue, but I have a long history of being oblivious to that.

My  jacket was made from navy blue cotton drill – best not to spend too much when experimenting – and piped with lilac. This was in my mid-eighties lilac phase. I adapted a commercial jacket pattern, shortening it and adding a yoke. I piped the darts, which seemed like a good idea at the time. Having no idea about how to embroider arrowhead tacks, I made teeny tiny fabric arrowheads and stitched them on. Over many evenings, I embroidered the horseshoes by hand; in place of the claw-set rhinestones on Dwight’s jacket, I used humble sequins and beads. The lining was, of course, lilac.

The construction process provided lots of entertainment to my kitten, Patsy.

patsyjarmhole

The only time I remember going out in the jacket was when the Judds played The London Palladium. I was probably on my way there when this photograph was taken.

May 1988

May 1988

Two women in the queue for the ladies’ room complimented me on it and asked if I had made it myself. As all you seamstresses out there will know – this tolls the death knell of any garment. I mean, how did they know it was home made? What was wrong with it, huh?And why didn’t they ask me, ‘Did Manuel make that?’

In truth, compared with Dwight’s Hillbilly Deluxe jacket, mine was a bit rubbish. But I had great fun making it and I was still proud of it. The first time I visited Manuel’s shop, he pointed out a jacket that was on display. It was, he said, the first garment he had made completely alone – for Little Jimmy Dickens – after joining Nudie’s in the mid-1950s. He had cut, sewn and embellished it. He explained that, although he could make better jackets now, he still cherished that one because he had done the very best he could at the time and it captured a moment of achievement.

Sadly, I’m not able to get out my jacket and feel proud, or even smile indulgently at its clumsiness. At some point, I lent it to a family friend who line danced, asking her to return it when she had finished with it. Instead, she sent it to a charity shop, so now it’s lost forever. At the very best, some other line dancer is enjoying wearing it.

I must admit that when I first discovered its fate, I sat down and cried, but honestly, it doesn’t really matter. In a way, I still have it, in the form of the skills it helped me develop. And anyway, as soon as I get a breather, I plan to make myself a western-tailored jacket – no embellishment, just a lot of sharp piping and arrows.

Because if you don’t try, you don’t learn.


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That’s All She Wrote… for now

Trending_Now_51d1b1fe1af8d

 

Last year I gave a paper at a conference in Oxford and it has just been published as a chapter in an ebook. It’s my first academic publication! My chapter is called ‘Hillbilly Deluxe: Country Couture and the Performance of Masculinity in Country Music’.

In it, I ask the question of how such fancy, sparkly, colourful clothes as the ones made by Turk, Nudie and Manuel came to be accepted as male attire in the very straight world of country music. I talk about the influences from other cultures where floral decoration and pink are accepted wear for performers, or for men of status (matadors! ole!) and track the arrival of androgyny in country music..

An extended version will be coming out in a ‘proper’ paper book soon. The ebook is available here:

https://www.interdisciplinarypress.net/online-store/ebooks/ethos-and-modern-life/trending-now


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What people really wore in the 80s. Well, some people.

According to the anthropologist Igor Kopytoff, we can learn a lot about culture by studying the lives of objects. How they change hands, and what we swap for them; the emotional, sometimes magical values that we place on them; the uses we put them to – all these things tell us a lot about the societies where the things we make and own live. As all good students of Design History know, Kopytoff calls this the ‘cultural biography’ of objects.
Igor Kopytoff: it always strikes me as the sort of name that a bloke with a very big brain might have. And I have always reserved my contemplations of Kopytoff’s theory for the big brain activities, like essay writing. It never really occurred to me that that there might be an object with a ‘cultural biography’ in my loft.
That’s where, after a bit of a search earlier today, I found my purple suede fringed jacket.
tkmax

Yesterday, out shopping with my daughter in Nuneaton TKMaxx – an activity low in cultural capital if ever there was one – I tried on a fake leather fringed jacket. I would have bought it, if not for the overwhelming smell of vinyl it exuded.

But it did remind me that I owned a fringed jacket already – this purple suede number which I think I acquired in 1989.

frontsuede (2)

Professor Kopytoff would be interested to note that, as an item of western wear, it’s entirely fake. It came from one of those discount leather shops you used to see at the tacky end of Oxford Street and the label, to my surprise, says ‘Handmade in England’.
As soon as I saw it, I knew I had to have it: at the time, all shades of purple were a signature colour for me. I had read the 80s fashion self-help classic ‘Colour Me Beautiful’ and identified myself as a ‘summer’ – since when, I had acquired a wardrobe almost entirely made up of lilac, magenta, lavender, violet… you name the shade of purple, I wore it. All my jewellery was amethyst. Occasionally I broke the monotony with a splash of those other 80s favourites, fuschia or electric blue, but I mostly stuck to purple. The lilac chelsea boots in the photo, bought in a sale at the Covent Garden branch of Hobbs, were a particularly prized possession. I found them in the loft too and they still fit.

I wore this combo to lots of gigs. This was the era when cool country singers nailed their traditionalist colours to the mast by wearing jackets by the great hillbilly tailor, Manuel. Manuel liked purple too – look at this jacket and shirt he made for Jim Lauderdale, who still wears his clothes onstage today. And if Jim, and Dwight Yoakam and Marty Stuart thought western wear was cool, that was good enough for me.

budbud (2)

The older generation of British country fans didn’t agree. They thought that dressing western gave country music a bad name and was responsible for its reputation for naffness. And I do remember seeing, at my first ever Tammy Wynette gig in 1987, a middle aged lady dressed as a squaw. So I completely understand why the then-editor of Country Music People magazine greeted me, as I arrived in this jacket, at the Royal Albert Hall to cover a 1990 gig for him, with the immortal words, ‘What the f*** are you wearing?’

You see what I’m getting at here, Kopytoff-style? Just as a Manuel jacket was a signifier of authenticity for my favourite artists, this purple suede jacket had a meaning for me. It showed the kind of country fan I was: my discovery of country music might have been fresh, but I liked my country to sound old. And even now that I’ve read all that I have about country music history and I understand about different types of authenticity and even acknowledge that a softer style of country was the way the music started, still in my heart I know that, when I hear the searing fiddle and wailing steel guitar of a great honky tonk band – well, that’s the real thing.

Even so, the next statement that this jacket, with its huge shoulder pads, brash colour and unforgiving nipped-in waist, might have made could well have been one about the cruel whims of fashion. It could so easily have gone, long ago, to a charity shop, had it not become a piece of personal memorabilia for me. I think it must have been in 1991 that I wore it to interview the Queen of Country Music Authenticity, Emmylou Harris, in London. It’s the only time I’ve ever met her and she was so bright, so interesting and so gracious that I’ll never forget it. And as I came into the room she complimented me on my jacket. To be fair, I had teamed it that day with a fuschia skirt, so maybe she just felt she had to say something; I mean, she could hardly pretend she hadn’t noticed my outfit, could she?

The jacket’s fate was sealed: I was never going to be able to part with it, ever, after Emmylou had said she liked it. That’s how it came to spend twenty years in a loft – and to survive into a world where your mum’s old clothes are no longer laughably unfashionable, the subject of ridicule. They are vintage. I wonder how much longer I’ll be allowed to own it?

And one more thing: after I had accepted Emmylou’s compliment, she gave me a piece of fashion advice. She told me only ever to wear one piece of western wear at a time – so the boots, the jacket or the shirt, but not all or even any two of them at once.

Now. I have the greatest respect for Emmylou and I knew, even then, what a privilege it is to receive fashion tips from her. I nodded and agreed.

Then I took absolutely no notice. Put it all on, I say! Fringes, piping, rhinestones, pointed toes and Cuban heels. Kick ‘em up, cowgirl – however real or fake they, or you, are!