Domenico Spano: Modern Day Apparel Arts Man
The style illustrations from the 1930s Apparel Arts magazine are for many who love clothes today a window into an elegant past. We gaze on the photos and wonder what it was like to live back then when seemingly everything was quality and what all men wore was already hashed out. In that elegant past, it was just a matter of taste and style that distinguished the well dressed from the very well dressed.
Like the old movies, the plates from Apparel Arts transfix our attentions and promise us a better life, a more elegant time. Almost subconsciously, we consider these drawings to separate the world as it should be from what it has become. They are us, but somehow also incredibly distant, like a black and white film.
Have not we all yearned for that bygone era when men were all wearing the same basic lounge suits with only their personality and flair to distinguish themselves from each other? Back then, it was a given that everyone wore the same basic articles, settled as convention, as a starting point, and it was then up to each wearer to bring personality to the ensemble through his own approach to style. Some men wore collar pins, others bowties and still others odd vests. I think the term we are searching for here is “subtleties”, subtleties separated men and underlined their personalities, and perhaps this is the art the modern day clothes enthusiast feels is lost in the sartorial sands of time.
We know that Apparel Arts tended to discuss the bolder elements of men’s clothing and style but we also acknowledge that it was all within the general bounds of excellent taste. We also know that Apparel Arts presented the ideal concept of the man of the times, a confident man; a mature one too. Drawn at a time when men wanted to look like a gentleman, rather than a gigolo, these plates are considered still today to be the way the modern man can properly turn back the clock and re-splice today’s reel of life with yesterday’s proper sartorial path.
Nowadays, it seems like we rarely see people dressed as well as these Apparel Arts men. Heightened clothing interest often seems to be the purview of the fringe or the effeminate. But, what of the mainstream man? The man who lives a full, happy life and still wants to look good, to look enviable in clothes without frittering the time to obsess over it? And how does a person learn to make all the varied elements work without frustration? How does he take it to the next level to look better than everyone else without looking the least bit studied? From Apparel Arts, to be sure, but are there no modern day men of flesh and blood to both relate and warm those cold, lifeless details? A flame was once lit in the style temple by the Beau, and it illuminated. Where are the keepers of this flame? The men who still practice without effort the stylish creed that Apparel Arts tried to instill in us all to before the darkness took over? I know of at least one man who embodies both the spirit and the outward appearance of Apparel Arts, a champion of the style gods. His name, Domenico (Mimmo) Spano.
Mimmo is originally from Calabria in Italy. He served in the Italian army for 8 years and immediately became a paragon of how to keep one’s uniform immaculate. In fact, he was often chosen for special guard duties for the exceptional beauty with which he maintained his military kit. Emigrating to the USA in the early 70s, he began working in retail. Today, he has his own custom clothes shop for men, many of whom seek him out as much for his teachings on style as for the wonderful clothes he produces for them.
Mimmo loves old movies as much for their gripping scripts and cinematography as for their wardrobes. His style icons include the usual suspects, The Duke of Windsor, Fred Astaire, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr, George Raft, Charles Boyer, William Powell, Cary Grant, Gary Cooper and Randolph Scott. Who can argue with a pantheon of style gods such as these?
He doesn’t like solid black suits for men’s day wear, which he says are only appropriate if you are one of the “Blues Brothers.” Many stop him in the street to remark on his outfits. They are mostly young people both girls and boys who ask him about his clothes. That makes him feel good about the sartorial future. His favorite look is the 1930s look, and a British version but with a definite modern interpretation. Edward Green shoes are his favorite. He loves heavy tweed suits (16 oz) with odd vests and bold designs that proclaim both their individuality and tastefulness to the observer.
He has exclusive bolts of cloth made up by Mills such as Fox, Moxon and Taylor and Lodge. Their fabrics are often to men’s suiting what Raphael’s brush was to the canvas, rich, timeless and luxurious to the eye beyond all possible mortal measure. One particular bolt by Taylor and Lodge in medium grey worsted with a black chalk stripe is one of the nattiest I’ve seen in a while (it is set and executed perfectly), and proof that where the mind is creative, wonders are still possible.
What forces shaped Mimmo into a man of style, what higher calling? He is a dandy to the bone. And what is a dandy? Simply put, a man who loves dressing well. Dressing with inventiveness and keeping within a genre. To enjoy dressing well, one needs to be a tactile person who desires to be both smartly attired and pleasing to the eye of the observer. Mimmo is this very prefect balance of a man who lives to swath himself in the next terrific outfit and wants to create a beckoning impression. How similar then is this to those Apparel Arts men of yesteryear?
And what makes him a living embodiment of the Apparel Arts man? Those qualities we assign to those color plates, manners, joie de vivre, gravitas, an erudite and self effacing sense of humor, glibness, generosity, an ability to tell a fascinating story (often from his own experiences), and kindness. Mimmo possesses all of these qualities in abundance. When someone meets him, they soon realize this is no ordinary man and that they may be in for special treatment. They are never disappointed as Mimmo is pleasant to a fault, and always little original, a little different.
Always a little bit different? That is Mimmo’s approach. Similarly, Apparel Arts always tested the boundaries of the “rules” to demonstrate the most elegant a man could be after they had mastered the hum drum. When you meet Mimmo, you will notice that his navy flannel suit has a caramel chalk stripe, that his dress shirt is made from 220s 2×2 blue end on end (he’s not a fan of the white shirt for his own style), with a burnt orange bowtie, baby blue silk pocket square and darkest brown suede monk straps with bright blue wool hose. Or, a navy mini self herringbone single breasted suit in 100% worsted cashmere, paired with a blue shirt with yellow candy stripes and a black bowtie with a white jolly roger printed on it, a light blue linen pocket square with a hand rolled pale yellow edge, chamois wool hose and beautiful Edward Green lace up cap toes in a medium brown, burnt pine, complete the look. Always sharp, always evoking admiration but always a bit different, whether it’s a 3 piece, rust windowpane on a navy flannel, a Single breasted peak lapel suit with a lime green triple pinstripe on a dark postman’s blue worsted, or the occasional vintage cloth he has recreated in a softer, lighter weight for a more centrally heated era. Always with his inimitable cream colored, tea sized carnation invitingly angled in his boutonniere.
Sometimes it is a dreamily airy Fox flannel with a cashmere content and a look, if not a weight, from the 30s, or a Lumb’s golden bale barathea (black or the cognoscenti’s choice of midnight blue) for a double breasted dinner jacket from the stately Moxon, Or, a brilliantly designed navy with a pale blue nails head and tight double box over plaid by the geniuses at Taylor and Lodge, truly they are the mills of the sartorial gods, producing the woolen equivalent of ambrosia.
Whatever, the combination, Mimmo will wear it with aplomb. His bowtie is just so, his shirt collar is always crisp but sans starch and his shoes are always polished to a bone shine. His ability to wear clothes in both a formal and degage manner is a defining part of his style. You notice he is immaculate but it never seems out of place, even for the first time viewer. That, then, is part of the art of dressing well, combining elegance with ease.
Mimmo is the Apparel Arts man. You see them but rarely, crossing the street, or getting off an elevator in a crowded lobby. They make your head turn to admire their clothes and you wonder if you should not trot after them to compliment their rig and offer to buy them lunch in exchange for tips on how to upgrade your own efforts. In an earlier time, drawings would be made of whatever he wore and wherever he went, greedily fingered by us in each anticipated issue to see what our style gods currently fancied. We would then all dash to our tailors to have it copied to the letter. In an earlier time, he would be brought to you monthly, today you need to seek him out and befriend him yourself.
An Apparel Arts style illustration. Produced in abundance for an age when men wanted to gaze on examples of stylish dressers for hours on end in the privacy of their own abodes.
Navy fabric with blue nails head and blue double windowpane. Designed by expert fabric artists to a gentleman’s requirements.
The well dressed man always appreciates that tweed was one of the “original” country and leisure fabrics. Before street gear made its garish debut, tweed was the highbrow mark of the casual, modern man, especially when done in certain clean but “drapey” silhouettes. This beauty is a single breasted, peak lapel, district check tweed (country green with a yellow, red, navy mix windowpane pattern from Harrisons of Edinburgh ( Porter and Harding,14ozs), odd vest in wool challis forest green with pheasants printed all over. A pale blue, royal oxford cloth shirt with broadly spaced maize Bengal stripes with an attached point collar. A green repp silk bowtie with gold stripes and a yellow pocket square with small olive and red foulard design. Country in spirit but also smart enough for city strolling.
A well chosen sports jacket is no easy feat. One must pick a pattern and fabric that reflects one’s own personality, sense of ease and still pays homage to the canons of gentlemanly discretion. This jacket is an example of answering all three calls with aplomb. Of course, Mimmo cheated a bit, he designed the cloth himself. The jacket is a worsted with a slightly unfinished surface to create just the slightest amount of texture. Pants are an obligatory grey flannel, and the shirt is a high thread count poplin. Notice the relationship of bowtie, shirt, jacket and pocket square all compliment each other without the slightest hint of pushiness, whilst the neutrality of the pants serves in the role of sartorial sorbet.
Inset with more detail.
Brown in Town! At one time this combination would be considered “improper”. Now, only the smartest dressers know that a striped brown suit is one’s unique ticket on the style express. All aboard, next stop, anywhere the wearer would like. This version is a charcoal brown flannel with an ochre chalk stripe. A 140s 2×2 cotton broadcloth shirt in saffron with a blue and white over plaid. This outfit is completed with the sophisticated addition of a navy bowtie with butter polka dots, and a soft yellow pocket square with a white hand rolled hem. A navy tie with a brown suit can be quite the look if done properly.
Again, more detail.
Black and white and all the shades in between will always be part of the language of classic men’s urban style. It is how one puts it all together that either increases or decreases the outfit’s sophistication and proclaims its purpose. Here, the outfit’s message is clearly imperial. 14oz grey flannel suit with white chalk stripe, double track graphite colored, horizontal striped shirt on a white background with contrasting white collar and cuffs. Black and white shepherd’s check bowtie tie the whole look together which is both stately and approachable. The carnation here adds a bit of warmth.
Sublime flannel chalk stripe from, the aptly named, Fox Flannels. Their cleverly designed flannel fabrics are to men’s tailored clothing what Rolls Royce is to automobiles.
The ne plus ultra of men’s luxury suiting. A navy nail’s head worsted, in a slightly wider spatial setting than usual, with a 20% cashmere content. Created by the design geniuses at Taylor and Lodge whose ability to create both exciting and original cloth qualities and colors/patterns within the boundaries of upper class taste continues to dazzle.