Judging a Book by its Cover

It’s raining menswear books, but I’ll save my hallelujahs for the following books that have languished on my to-read list for years, or at least long enough that I’ve forgotten why I want to read them except because of their titles… and if the more recent flash flood of men’s clothing books has taught us anything (big if), it’s that you generally can judge a book by its cover, especially if you’re as cynical as I am.

The Memoirs of Chi-Chi le Chow by “King of the Dudes” Evander Berry Wall’s dog, memorably depicted by the caricaturist Sem at Charvet in collar and neckwear alongside his owner, who was demanding “a Chinese neck-tie [sic] for my dog!” Who knows what tales that pooch could tell?

30 ans de dîners en ville (30 Years of Dinners in Town) by Gabriel-Louis Pringué, a prominent writer and magazine editor chronicling his life in Paris high society from the Belle Epoque until the Second World War, including among others recollections of the former courtesan La Païva whose old townhouse became my buddy @Dirnelli’s haunt The Travelers’ Club. I suspect it’s because of Pringué that I ended up reading Eric Mension-Rigau’s sociological study of the French upper classes Aristocrates et grands bourgeois because I can’t remember why else I would have bought it.

Never Judge a Man by His Umbrella by Nicholas Elliott. Elliott was closely linked to the group of turncoat Russian agents known as the Cambridge Five, although he was never directly implicated or compromised. Nonetheless, the title of his memoirs of his diplomatic career opens a Pandora’s box of fatefully tempting allusion. It evokes British class tensions with its emphasis on judgment, and on the umbrella: a waterproof class barrier Evelyn Waugh memorably drew in his daft dictum from Howards End that “All men are equal--all men, that is to say, who possess umbrellas.” At the same time, that crook-handled scepter of empire was also an espionage weapon fatally underestimated in the London assassination of Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov, poisoned by a ricin-coated pellet surreptitiously fired into his leg from an umbrella.  What stories of comparable if not toxic juiciness would Elliott’s memoirs hold?

Hail to the Chin: Further Confessions of a B Movie Actor: Bruce Campbell is to B-movies what Bryan Ferry is to music: a slightly underappreciated genius and god. His earlier memoirs, If Chins Could Kill, are one of the funniest books I ever read. Of course I lent them to a friend who used to be in “the industry” as they say in SoCal and never saw them again.

Bernard Boutet de Monvel: At the Origins of Art Deco by Stéphane Jacques Addade: Today every seller of old junk uses the keywords Art Deco in his or her item description in order to draw views from curious eyes interested in the highly stylized, ornate but accessible designs of that period.  Boutet de Monvel was a leading illustrator for elegant and fashionable magazines of the time, and a preferred artist and portraitist for men of style.  Those converged in his illustrations for the original version of Monsieur magazine, among others.

In Menswear Everything Has Two Prices, One For The Fool by Ivan M. C. Chen: I strongly suspect the amusing title of this book says everything the book itself can say, especially since its Amazon description is not encouraging. However, I too associate menswear with tomfoolery… or at least more fool me.

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