Frowsy. The Duke of Windsor made it the rage when he wore the Anderson & Sheppard ample-cut, soft-front, and lightly padded suit right through abdication and into infamous exile.
Alan Flusser is the leading evangelist in the United States for the frowsy English drape suit and all its accessories: braces (suspenders), elegant linen squares folded just so in the breast pocket, custom-made shoes for all occasions, silk foulard-weight dressing gowns, socks and gloves.
Inherent is the quality in the $1,000 custom-made suits from Anderson & Sheppard which should last a lifetime. So should any frowsy item, no matter if you, like the Duke of Windsor, would give your new custom-made shoes to the valet to wear down and break into a soft old scuff. And if, like Fred Astaire, as the legend goes, you decide to ball your new Anderson & Sheppard suit into an egg roll and bang it against the dressing room walls endlessly, that only means you want a distinctive patina, a certain texture to your clothes.
Alan Flusser beats the streets with true frowsy, right down to the heels of his custom-made ghillies which lace up the feet like some Virginia Woolf sensible moor shoes. As he click clacks along the white marble floors of Mr. Chow, the rhythm comes from tiny nails inlaid into the heels of his shoes like some delicate mosaic.
Everything you would ever want to know and buy in this style is listed in Flusser’s directory of men’s clothes— “Making the Man” (Simon & Schuster). He also writes regular articles about haberdashery and drape in the cut of the cloth for TWA’s in-flight magazine “The Ambassador.”
Alan Flusser, who used to rent motorcycles at the University of Pennsylvania to save up money for his custom-made suits as a teenager, has been designing men’s clothes for over twenty years. He once designed Pierre Cardin sportswear for the U.S. market.
His own line of clothing, which depends heavily on interpretations of classic European clothing, is available in leading retail posts such as Perkins Shearer in Denver, Colorado or Wilkes Bashford in San Francisco, California.
Flusser is married to a French woman who grew up, like Eloise of the Plaza, in the Carlyle. Marilise, his wife, is now redesigning the wardrobe for D.C. Comics’ Lois Lane, as well as a Lois Lane doll.
ANDRE LEON TALLEY: Since your sensibility about men’s furnishings is very Old World, traditional, stick to the standard rule, how do you fuse personality into your collections?
ALAN FLUSSER: The maine thing I keep in mind is that the first thing you should see is the person, not the clothes. The shape and the cut of my clothes are very, very uncalling attention to, unless you look specifically at them. I think they are subtle. It’s very hard to merchandise humor, individual personality. What I aim for is not to impose a peculiar or particular color sense or manner of dressing. You don’t have to match up anything I design. I do believe in proper collar fit, jacket fit, but you can take any of my designs and put them together and not look designed. I also do lots of amusing things. I make suspenders with golfers teeing up on one side, putting on the other side, socks with big hearts on the ankles with arrows running through them. I am making a lot of men’s jewelry like this (Flusser points to his Thirties cuff links which are a jockey’s cap on one side, a riding crop on the other side). I am doing a golf ball and club cuff link. I have neckties with Scottie dogs, a strong necktie with a small nude woman.
ALT: Do you have any socks with champagne glasses?
AF: Funny that you would mention that. I am doing a sock for the fall with a kind of tilted champagne glass with just a drop of champagne on the sock. Accessories are the area where people can express personality. What I am most involved in is exposing people to what I’ve come across in terms of how to dress well. This means starting with someone who wears a blue suit, a white shirt, a white handkerchief, and a blue and white dotted tie, and showing him how to put that together in an elegant way. I like neckties and shirts done properly, the clothing around them has to be very soft, and almost in a sense, totally relaxed. There has to be balance. I like a certain precision to tailored clothes.
ALT: Is it difficult for you to find manufacturers in this country who can come up with the precision on a scale equal to our own European wardrobe?
AF: It is very difficult to make clothes in a quality way. This is a generation, ours, which has not been demanding quality clothing. What has been in demand is usually disposable clothing.
ALT: How much is a Flusser off-the-rack suit?
AF: Five hundred fifty dollars.
ALT: Half the price of your own Anderson & Sheppard suits. How do you translate that English drape you love into a ready-to-wear suit?
AF: First of all, my suits are hand-made. The essential part of my clothing is hand-finished. Collars are set by hand, shoulders are set by hand, working buttonholes. They all have striped sleeve linings, put in by hand. The buttons on sleeves should as much as possible kiss each other.
ALT: Is that some English commonpoint, four buttons touching on the sleeve?
AF: It’s a subtlety of custom-tailoring. One day Tom Wolfe wrote an article about the late Lyndon B. Johnson on a plane observing the late John F. Kennedy’s clothes. Sometimes you just have to look awhile to see that yes, they should kiss as they say, the buttonholes.
ALT: I saw a coat of yours that looked like some fisherman’s wading coat or a duster from the turn-of-the-century. It was almost to the ground. Is that a bit offhand for your customer?
AF: That’s an original duster coat, worn at the turn-of-the-century when people didn’t have tops on cars. The coat transforms into two legs on the side with straps to attach the panels to people who ride motorcycles or horses. It is something I wanted to update in canvas or linen. It may not be totally Old World elegance, but it is an item that will last. The quality is there, it is made by a factory in New York that used to do clothes for Abercrombie & Fitch, Brooks Brothers. The essential thing about my clothes is the introduction of shape worn by people like the American traditional best-dressed men: Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks, Fred Astaire. These men, at one time or another, had suits made at Anderson & Sheppard. They wore drape clothing in a period when they were recognized for their own style. I also believe the drape suit is the most comfortable thing a man can wear as a suit. You can’t be elegant without being comfortable.
ALT: Well, some French Kings wouldn’t agree. Try Louis XV. Would you ever make a pastel sherbert pink or banana flannel suit for warm weather, resort weight flannel?
AF: I don’t care what color or fabric, the cut is the crucial thing.
ALT: Do you think Gary Cooper was elegant?
AF: Well, I know Cooper was an Anderson & Sheppard customer for forty years. Anybody who subscribed to the innate sense of relaxed, sporty cut, I feel must have an inner sense of elegance. A lot of people have Adolph Menjou as a reference point for elegance. His cut was more severe, drawn, tense, fitted.
ALT: The average American male doesn’t have this body that looks good in a soft, melting suit. American shoulders are broader than European. So how do you apply English drape to a big strapping honcho lawyer or a broker who builds up at the gym?
AF: Anderson & Sheppard, unlike other tailors, will only make one thing. That is some version of the drape suit for any size, race, color, or sexual persuasion. Years ago they used to make suits for women. English drape is not for a guy with a forty-inch waist.
ALT: How do you stay fit?
AF: I jog every morning. Play a lot of tennis. Marilise and I have a house in upstate New York. It’s part of the Gipsy Trail Club, a very old-fashioned riding community. We have a log cabin house with an electric garage. Actually, it’s a big, three story house built on logs. Very Old World in mood.
ALT: What is great clothing?
AF: Clothing that begins to take on the shape of the individual when he wears it. Today clothes which are manufactured are glued together. So every form is the same basically. Soft suits become the person. And one should never look as if he is wearing a new suit.
ALT: Why don’t you wear only Alan Flusser suits?
AF: I can’t learn about the things that make suits more comfortable unless I have my own suits made for me.
ALT: John Duka is a big fan of your contrast toe and heel socks. Do you think socks and garters are for men what lace briefs and bikini bras are for women?
AF: Helmut Newton might think that way.
ALT: Describe Alan Flusser.
AF: I am an academician of clothes, for sure. Eccentric and eclectic. I basically like to think, underneath it all, people will be happier and more comfortable if they wear my clothes. I do want to add to a certain sense of not only aesthetics about clothes, but about life in general.