By Andrew Yamato
Once upon a time, Manhattan sidewalks in December were thick with bejeweled ladies and starched gentleman making their way between the various formal events of the holiday season. These days, you sometimes have to make your own occasion. On Friday, December 2, 2017, we did just that at the National Arts Club in Manhattan with “A Formal Evening with Alan Flusser” — a discussion between Alan and host David Zyla about the exact science and vanishing art of men’s formal eveningwear.
Located on Gramercy Park South, the National Arts Club was established in 1898 by New York Times literary and art critic Charles De Kay as a gathering place for distinguished artists and patrons. It continues its mission today, organizing elegant, educational, and entertaining arts-related events that are free and open to the public. In recent years the club has also become something of a fashion hotspot thanks to the popular “FashionSpeak Fridays” series curated by Zyla and other members, of which our event was part.
The evening started with cocktails. A capacity audience (which had overwhelmingly observed the suggested formal dress code) mingled in the ballroom until 7:30, when the lights dimmed and Alan ascended the dias in a pink silk pleated shirt and a green tartan double-breasted shawl-lapelled dinner jacket. Seated across from him was Zyla, an award-winning fashion writer and celebrity stylist in his own right, resplendent in an emerald velvet smoking jacket. Behind them a trio of our mannequins stood at attention, dressed in our formal finest, while a slideshow offered a visual history of getting dressed to the nines.
For over an hour the conversation flowed fast and ranged freely over the historical origins of male formal eveningwear, its fundamental distinction from daywear, the intelligence of its details, and its time-tested modern incarnation, the (technically semi-formal) tuxedo. Alan was able to illustrate his points by calling upon various gentlemen in the audience to model their rigs, and when the discussion was opened up for questions, they were generally quite knowledgeable.
The Q&A could have gone on indefinitely, and indeed Alan gamely held court for another hour of book signing as our friend and brand ambassador Michael Arenella called up his trio to play a set of hot jazz. The evening finished with the Arts Club tradition of a sketch lounge, in which artists pack the ballroom to draw life models — in this case featuring a dozen Flusser friends and associates, including Michael and yours truly (clothed, needless to say).
Institutions like the Arts Club are themselves rare and vanishing specimens — vestiges of a time when a gentleman’s circle was largely defined by his club, which were essentially professional, educational, or social fraternities that served as homes away from home (indeed, members often kept domestic attire like a smoking jacket and slippers there for convenience). I for one am thankful the Arts Club is perhaps a bit less exclusive than it once was, regularly welcoming a diverse crowd of sartorialists who see in its grand old world interiors the perfect setting for beautiful clothes. Clearly there still exists a culture (if not cult) of elegance in this city, and we were honored to have been the occasion of its convening.
Next month we return to clubland with Michael Arenella for his annual black-tie “Sweetheart Soiree” at the elite Norwood in Manhattan. If you’d be interested in attending this or future Flusser engagements, drop us a line (or better yet, drop by!) and let us know. Even better if you’re a member of a club you think might be interested in hosting an evening of high sartorialism with Alan. Our kind of clothes are almost as much fun to talk about as they are to wear. The dress code would of course be your call...