Faded Jeweler Shines Again

August 31, 2010

There is a machine just inside the door leading out of Bulgari’s Rome workshop which is designed to scrub shoes clean as employees leave the shop and step onto one of Italy’s most ancient streets.

The point isn’t to turn out well-spiffed jewelers, says Francesco Trapani, but to reclaim errant gold dust.

Bulgari chief Francesco Trapani.

Mr. Trapani is Chief Executive of Bulgari, the high-end jewelry and watch maker founded by his family in 1884. The inflation of gold prices is a constant worry for the company, which saw the cost of the metal jump significantly in the last several years. With prices hovering at $1,000.00 an ounce, the small things (like a machine that collects gold dust from shoes) start to add up.

Mr. Trapani has long seen opportunities in the small things; he was the first Bulgari chief to expand into watches and perfume, and substantially increased the brand’s small-goods wares. $1,000.00 rings and bracelets account for nearly half the firm’s yearly revenue, edging out higher-end baubles (Bulgari offers a number of necklaces that top $70,000.00).

Bulgari’s watches are poised for an upswing too, despite having lately lost ground: they’re quartz watches and thus excluded from the stratum of Rolex and Panerai and the rest of the mechanical pantheon, being instead lumped in with mid-priced rigs from fashion houses like Gucci.

That form-over-function approach worked well for both companies in the 1990s but fell off soon after. In response, Mr. Trapani bought two venerable Swiss watch houses, Gerald Genta and Daniel Roth, hoping to infuse his own brand with some of their skill and artistry.

After hard going in 2009, Mr. Trapani seems to have set his family’s company on course for a profitable 2010. Already, second-quarter profit statements demonstrate an uptick in revenue. That performance, and the company’s presitge and cache, are attracting suitors. Swatch Group AG was recently rumored to have made overtures, and other sharks are circling. But Mr. Trapani isn’t interested:

“The company is not for sale. The family has no intention of selling this company we have proudly built and managed for 125 years.”


August 24, 2010

Your editorial staff has lately been contributing to the Ivy Style blog, though contributions suffer foreign edits previous to publication. One recent post, describing Mercer & Sons shirts as being roomy “the way boat sails are roomy,” met with this comment from an Ivy Style reader:

Great site overall. Not to be a pedant, but the roomy sail analogy speaks volumes about a lack of sailing savvy. As a cruising and racing sailor for nearly 40 years and a tradition BB dresser for even longer, I would posit that any worthwhile sail is designed and carefully cut to to enable adjustments to the wind conditions. Adjusted for flatness in stiff winds — and left open at the top to spill unneeded air; trimmed to semi-flatness in a moderate breeze, and, finally, with outhaul, cunningham and vang released trimmed to a roomy disposition for light air and downwind runs.

Maybe that is why I tuck my blousey, ape-armed, old BB oxfords in the back with a deep lateral crease when under a suit so that I don’t look like I’m wearing an old, retired tri-radial spinnaker for a dress shirt. With and oxford and khaki’s, let the spinnaker fly!! And under a shetland, who cares??

Unsure of our fellow site’s comment-and-reply policies, we’ll respond here, on home turf:

“Not to be a pedant”… but you are. And what’s worse, a pendant with no skill for proofreading; the worst kind. You’re likely a traditional “BB dresser,” not a “tradition” dresser, unless you dress up in costumes which represent different traditions, or unless you somehow actually dress traditions, like a window dresser in a department store. Not sure how that’s possible, but perhaps you’ve managed a way.

Assuming also “BB” stands for Brooks Brothers, and that you don’t actually put clothes on bb’s.

Though I’m out of my depth (ha!) re. archaic aspects of seamanship, I’m sure that “khaki’s” takes no apostrophe because it’s not possessive and because it’s not short for “khaki is.” You likely meant plain, old “khakis.” You likely also meant to use only one exclamation point and only one question mark at the end of your sentences, unless you’re a teenaged girl leaving comments from a pink BlackBerry Pearl. OMG, certainly.

“And under a shetland, who cares?(?)” Whoever was unlucky enough to get stuck under a miniature horse, that’s who!

You solipsistic ass.

Bill Millin, War Piper, Dead.

August 21, 2010

The Scottish bagpipes, because of their inspirational properties in war, were outlawed in their native Highlands centuries ago. Though the ban faltered after, it was resurrected by the English after World War I because of great losses suffered by British soldiers following the pipes into battle.

“Ah, but that’s the English War Office,” Lord Lovat, hereditary chief of the Fraser clan, told bagpiper Bill Millin on the eve of D-Day. “You and I are both Scottish, and that doesn’t apply.”

Bill Millin at Edinburgh Castle, 2001.

Bill Millin was born in Glasgow to a policeman in 1922, and first played the pipes for the 7th Batallion of the Highland Light Infantry. He volunteered for the British commandos in 1941 and met Lovat while training at Achnacarry, north of Fort William. The Scottish Lord took Millin on as his personal piper and, when Lovat’s men disembarked later at Normandy’s Sword Beach, Bill played them ashore. From The Telegraph‘s obituary:

“Millin began his apparently suicidal serenade immediately upon jumping from the ramp of the landing craft into the icy water. As the Cameron tartan of his kilt floated to the surface he struck up with Hieland Laddie. He continued even as the man behind him was hit, dropped into the sea and sank.”

The piper, bearing nothing in the way of arms save a ceremonial dagger stowed in his kilt, kept it up along the beach all that day, fielding requests from Lovat for different tunes. When the brigade moved further inland, Millin piped along the road to Benouville. Lovat’s men took sniper fire along the way and stopped their march long enough to stalk and kill the shooters. Returning from a field with the corpse of one, Lovat told Bill, “Right, piper. Start the pipes again.”

“I shall never forget hearing the skirl of Bill Millin’s pipes,” said Tom Duncan, some years later. Duncan had been wounded contemporaneous to the invasion and heard Millin play later, in a field hospital. “It is hard to describe the impact it had. It gave us a great lift and increased our determination. As well as the pride we felt, it reminded us of home and why we were there fighting for our lives and those of our loved ones.”

German prisoners later told Millin, whose pipes sustained shrapnel damage at one point but who was never himself harmed, that they hadn’t shot at him because he seemed to have “gone off his head.”

Millin took a job on Lord Lovat’s estate after the war, but was soon bored and left to tour and play with a theatre group. He returned to play the lament at Lovat’s funeral in 1995.

Bill Millin died on August 17, 2010. He was 88 years old.

Prof. Jeff Hart on WFB

August 15, 2010

Dartmouth English professor emeritus Jeffrey Hart wrote this essay, “Understanding William F. Buckley,” shortly after Mr. Buckley’s death. It appeared first in The Dartmouth Review, the collegiate newspaper inspired by the late intellectual’s National Review and to which your editorial staff briefly and poorly contributed. In it, Professor Hart offers a glimpse, frustrating in its brevity, of what made Mr. Buckley so indespensible a man: his intellectualism and curiosity and determination, but equally the joy and tenacity with which he experienced life.

The essay is re-printed here slightly abbreviated; the Professor’s analysis of National Review’s political stances has been sacrificed to afford his memories of summers in Gstaad with the Buckleys more room.

I did not meet Buckley until the summer of 1962, and then almost by accident. I was teaching a Columbia summer term course in the Victorian novel. One of the students in this course came into my office for a conference. She noticed on my desk a copy of The Fabric of Society by Ernest van den Haag and Ralph Ross, a brilliant and comprehensive summary of the social sciences, economics, psychology, political philosophy, sociology. The student asked me if I would like to meet Van den Haag, and when I said yes invited me to a cocktail party at her apartment in Greenwich Village.

William F. Buckley, Jr. at work.

There I found that she affectionately called him “Ernie Pooh.” He certainly did not seem Pooh-like. He seemed very European, dark, with a sharp nose and a black comb-over, smoking a thin European cigar, wearing tight European trousers, and narrow shoes made from the skin of some reptile. Anyone less Pooh-like would be hard to imagine. At the cocktail party he had a friend with him, Anatole Broyard, a man famous in the Village and later an incisive book critic for The New York Times. Friends soon told me that Van den Haag and Broyard cut a wide swath through the female population of the Village and were the opposite of discreet about their adventures. Broyard later wrote a memoir of life in the Village with the humorous title When Kafka was the Rage.

Van den Haag and I became friends and it developed that he was a talent scout for Buckley. “Would you review books for National Review?” he asked me, and I said I would be glad to. This led to some extraordinary experiences, including work as a speechwriter for Reagan and then Nixon in 1968.

Soon I received a phone call from Buckley’s secretary and agreed to meet him at the National Review office, then at 150 E. 35th Street, and go to dinner with him. I did not know at the time that this secretary Gertrude Vogt had been a passenger on the Orizaba and had seen Hart Crane jump off the stern of the ship and disappear.

When I arrived I met Buckley in his office evidently doing some last-minute things to the magazine before it went to the printer. He was bent over a table with pages of typed copy scattered over it. The tail of his J. Press shirt hung out as he worked hurriedly. His tie knot was down to his chest. Finally, he pulled himself together and we headed out to a local Chinese restaurant. He was excellent company and I had a preliminary glimpse of what many would later experience as his genius for friendship, which transcended differences of opinion. As I would discover, he was passionate about enjoying life, sailing, skiing, playing the piano harpsichord, paining, good wine and cigars.

Some astounding characters wrote from National Review, at least one of them, Willmoore Kendall, a Yale professor and genius. He was a political philosopher in the Leo Strauss tradition, and advocate of “majority rule” democracy. That meant that we governed ourselves according to the Constitution. He was suspicious of “rights,” which could de-rail majority rule.

A couch still exists at National Review, The Willmoore Kendall Memorial Couch, on which he had been caught inflagrante with one of the secretaries.

Of the major figures at National Review, I learned most from Kendall and James Burnham: constitutional theory from Kendall, policy analysis from Burnham. I also developed a friendship with Buckley that would last until his death in March 2008. Buckley had a way of drastically changing peoples’ lives, and it was fascinating to be connected with his magazine as it went on to change its leadership twice, and with that the value of the magazine itself.

Matthew Hart, the youngest of my four children, is Buckley’s godson and now lives near Lake Tahoe in California; when he heard that Buckley had died he sent me an e-mail:

I just wanted to send you my condolences about Mr. Buckley. I know you have been friends for a really long time. He was always nice to me as a kid and still wrote to me on my birthday up to my 20s. He didn’t have to, but he did. It really shows class when someone like him takes time to engage us as kids. He could have spent the time talking with adults who were around (and probably wanted more of his time) but he didn’t. For some reason he seems like the type of person who doesn’t exist anymore. I’ll always have the memories of Switzerland and skiing with the A Team and being reminded not to pass the Leader but being led off into some sort of gulch we had to hike out of in three feet of snow. Well, what can you do? We made it out after all. That’s what happens when you leave the trail I guess. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere.

Matthew was in Gstaad only once. I went several times beginning in the 1970s – I had been a senior editor at National Review since 1969 and a few impressions of life at Gstaad provides a sense of the joi de vivre that was characteristic of Buckley’s life.

At Gstaad, the Buckley schedule ruled our social life, and his schedule was always the same. We all skied in the morning while Buckley worked in his chateau on some writing project. Then all the skiers met for lunch at one or another restaurant at the base of one of the mountains. After lunch, fortified by plenty of wine, we followed the leader to another mountain and skied there until late afternoon.

At the top of one of the mountains was a restaurant called The Sky Club, members only. One morning Buckley and I were skiing together, and he decided to have lunch at the Club. As we were putting our skiis on the rack outside Buckley indicated to me an elderly man in a one-piece blue ski outfit also putting his skis on the rack. Buckley whispered to me that he would tell me about him when we found a table.

Over lunch he said that he had stayed with this man, the Count von Something at his castle in Germany to do some research for a novel he was writing. The first night they sat down in front of the fireplace and had some drinks and there above the fireplace on the wall were life-sized oil portraits of Josef Goebbels and Herman Goering. Came the obvious question: Why were those portraits there? “Because they were my godfathers,” said the Count. Oh.

Buckley’s chateau, which he leased annually, was an enormous place located at the base of one of the mountains. It was in Rougemont, a few miles from Gstaad. You could finish a day by skiing right to its rear entrance.

On my first visit to the chateau I entered through the front door, which seemed the normal way for drive-up guests to get in. But I found myself in a large kitchen with a stone fireplace for cooking a large piece of meat on a spit. All it needed was a dwarf cook, preferably with a leather apron.

On the second floor of the chateau, up stone steps of course, was Buckley’s office where he worked in the morning, and also his studio. He painted in oils, when the creative urge moved him mountains, sailboats, unrecognizable portraits. Buckley had many talents including being the most influential journalists of his time, but painting was not one of his gifts.

I heard that once, before I had begun to go to Gstaad, David Niven had told Buckley that Marc Chagall was coming to Gstaad, that Chagall enjoyed Buckley’s spy novels and would like to stop to say hello. “Fine,” said Buckley. “I’d like to meet him.” “Wait a minute, Bill,” said Niven. “Chagall is a real artist. World famous. You wouldn’t take him to your studio, would you?” “Of course not,” Buckley replied. Niven and Chagall showed up at the chateau, Buckley took him immediately to his studio, and Chagall, gazing at Buckley’s paintings, said in French, “The poor paint.”

Another time, Ted Kennedy visited the Buckley’s in Rougemont, skiing and partying. On one occasion he asked, “Mind if I borrow one of the cars and drive into Gstaad?” “Hell no,” Pat Buckley said, “There are two bridges between here and Gstaad.”

I doubt that Kennedy considered that thigh-slapping funny.

Social life at the chateau resembled that at the Buckleys’ 73rd Street and Park Avenue duplex: interesting and civilized people, usually accomplished in one way or another; conservatives but not only conservatives: Kitty and Ken Galbraith, David Niven, Taki Theodoracopolis (a glamorous multi-millionaire, great skier, and good enough at tennis to compete at Wimbledon).

Other guests included: the latest actor to play James Bond; “Swifty” Lazar the agent; Arthur Schlesinger. Once I asked Arthur about Jack Kennedy’s off-the-charts womanizing to see how he would handle that question. Everyone knew that Kennedy’s behavior made Bill Clinton look like a monk in comparison. Of course, Arthur professed to know nothing about it.

David Niven was one of the pleasantest people you could meet, witty, debonair, civilized. One year when he was ill with Lou Gehrig’s Disease, we were instructed not to say anything funny, since if Niven tried to laugh he might choke. Since at the Buckley gatherings, wit was the coin of the realm, this inhibition tended to produce near silence: “Good skiing today.” “I hear Ali Khan is in town . . .” “Looks like snow tomorrow.”

But with the illnesses of Pat Buckley and then Bill, the good times in Gstaad had to end.  

Mercenary Couture

August 10, 2010

During the Prussian wars of the seventeenth century, Croatian mercenaries tied scarves around the collars of their shirts to hold them closed during battle. Owing perhaps to their usual dearth of logic, French aristocrats adopted the look and called their scarves cravats, after the French word for Croat. The look flourished in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to such an extent than Frenchman Honore de Balzac wrote a book about it.

In short order, cravats became bow ties. It’s not clear if neck ties evolved simultaneously or came later. Bow ties are found most often in two types: the bat-wing, which is parallel-sided like a cricket bat, and the thistle, also called a butterfly, which flares at the ends. More uncommon types include those with pointed ends and, very rarely, some with one pointed tip and one squared-off.  

The more traditional bow ties are made in fixed lengths, usually between 14 and 20 inches, corresponding to the collar sizes of men’s shirts. Less pure types come in adjustable lengths. Fixed-length is preferred with formal shirts so that the adjustable buckles aren’t exposed at neck’s back.

Either way, bow ties are, by virtue of relative scarcity, indicative of individuality. As Warren St. John wrote in The New York Times:

“To its devotees the bow tie suggests iconoclasm of an Old World sort, a fusty adherence to a contrarian point of view. The bow tie hints at intellectualism, real or feigned, and sometimes suggests technical acumen, perhaps because it is so hard to tie. Bow ties are worn by magicians, country doctors, lawyers and professors and by people hoping to look like the above. But perhaps most of all, wearing a bow tie is a way of broadcasting an aggressive lack of concern for what other people think.”

"An aggressive lack of concern."

College Coach Enters Open

August 4, 2010

Rich Parker teed up at the 1990 United States Open golf tournament, his first and only meddling in professional golf at that point, and didn’t make much of a splash. When play begins tomorrow in the first round of the U.S. Senior Open, he’ll try his luck again.

Parker, who spent the last seven years as Head Coach to the Dartmouth College men’s golf team and as local pro and general manager at the Carter Golf Club in Lebanon, New Hampshire, will play alongside Hale Irwin, Nick Price, and Jay Haas in the Senior Open, held at the Sahalee Country Club in Sammamish, Washington.

Parker qualified for the professional event by shooting a round of 65. The score was good enough to earn him a spot on the course with Irwin, a tree-time U.S. Open champion. Parker’s former Open foray was at Medinah Country Club, where Irwin won the last of those three championships.

Parker (who PGA Tour winner Olin Browne described as “Jack Benny in a crew cut”) has grown contemplative with the passage of years, and somewhat detached. He entertains no misconceptions about the grand golfing galaxy, in which his isn’t exactly the brightest-burning or most immediate star. 

“I know there’s a ton of people in New England who are following this, and this whole thing is awesome,” he recently told The New York Times. “If I play good, awesome. If I don’t, hey, I’m not trying to go to the moon or something. This is golf. It won’t be the last time I play.”

Curses & Twain

August 1, 2010

Mark Twain’s billiards room took up the entire third floor of the Hartford, Connecticut home he occupied from 1871 to 1891. His wife and children were prohibited from entering, being required to make do with only the lower two levels of the house. The billiards room was for Twain and male guests only, a retreat from the domestic chaos below. Explained the author:

“There ought to be a room in this house to swear in. It’s dangerous to have to repress an emotion like that… under certain circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer.”

Mark Twain's Hartford billiards room.