Tuesday, June 7, 2011

New Orleans Installment Four: Higgins and Haspel

Here’s Andrew Higgins and Harry S. Truman. I’d like to think that Truman is wearing a Haspel suit. Lore says that he preferred them and God knows, summers in Washington D.C. can be as Haspel requisite as almost anywhere in the world. Except New Orleans…Haspel’s hometown.
My hometown haberdashery—my Trad Instructional Dojo, sold Haspel seersucker, pin cord and poplin suits. I’m not certain where they were made by the time I began working there but assuredly, since my hometown Trad shop opened in 1927, most of their Haspel receipts originated from the old Haspel plant in New Orleans. Speaking of the Haspel plant, John Kennedy Toole worked part time there at some point and it’s said that the Levy Pants factory in Confederacy of Dunces is loosely based on his brief Haspel plant experience.
As clothes crazy as I’ve always been, my college cache of rags was predictably, for a college boy with no money, a bit limited. But I did have a few Haspels. Three actually…olive poplin, blue seersucker and a blue pin cord. And my summer internship in Washington D.C. affirmed why men like Harry Truman would prefer a Haspel or three in their wardrobe.  D.C. can be a dreadful place during some summer weeks. Not quite as challenging as New Orleans but close. To quote Eugene Morris Jerome in Biloxi Blues… “It was hot. Africa hot. Tarzan couldn't take this kind of hot.” Haspel’s unstated strategy, I think, from the beginning was something like…cotton clothes for when it’s too hot to wanna wear ‘em.
After college I drifted away for a while from the ultra Trad flat front three button sack suit…trousers hemmed slightly too short…Weejuns on the rig’s south end. You see, I’d fallen under the influence of a book…Clothes and the Man written by a guy named Alan Flusser. While I couldn't yet afford his clothes, I began to order Corbin suits with pleated trousers and would pick up a Polo suit on sale from time to time with more shape and drape than what Haspel would allow. My Weejuns were reserved for the weekends and my shoddings began leaning fuzzily towards brown suede wing tips and cap toe lace ups. By this time I’d seen photos of the Prince of Wales wearing them and Tom Wolfe allowed Tommy Killian to sport them in Bonfire of the Vanities so why not? 
But Cary Grant proved that Haspel and elegance weren't necessarily bi-polar. Grant was wearing Haspel in Charade. On the other hand, Cary Grant looked elegant in anything.
But then I moved to New Orleans. My poplins and seersuckers were long ago lateralled off to someone or simply lost in one of my moves. And by the end of my first May in the Crescent City, I found myself miserably swathed. Surely, if I had to be in Baton Rouge at the legislature for something or at a meeting with the Louisiana Healthcare Authority, I’d wear my tropical weight navy blue suit. But I was still miserable. By the way, whatever one would wear back then, to a meeting with any stakeholders in the above two Louisiana deliberative or administrative bodies, would be covered in graft and taint by the time you got home and “smelled something kinda funny” on yourself. I think I mentioned in my long ago  and best to have been lost, post on moving to New Orleans, that one of the reasons I resigned and left was that I couldn't shower enough to rid myself of that taint.
Ok, so I digress. What's your point? Shut up. I needed cotton suits and I needed them fast. So I went immediately to Perlis…the Uptown go-to haberdashery for all things cotton and Trad. “One tan and one olive poplin please.” In an instant, I was as cool (temperature…NOT style wise) as one could be when having to dress for work. Flat front trousers hemmed with no break…Alden tassels on the south end. What comes around goes around or whatever. Sort of a Haspel Saṃsāra I reckon.
So Haspel is to warm, humid weather like Andrew Higgins is to D-Day. An essential ingredient. Ike was a bit more enthusiastic in his characterization of Higgins... "Andrew Higgins ... is the man who won the war for us. ... If Higgins had not designed and built those LCVPs, we never could have landed over an open beach. The whole strategy of the war would have been different." Even that maniacal bastard Hitler had something to say about Higgins. “Hitler recognized his heroic war efforts in ship production and bitterly called him the "New Noah.””
And I assume that Higgins was a Haspel man as well. It’s obvious from photos that even though he probably ambled around boatyards and production lines with regularity, he always seemed to have dapper flair. Bottom line is that this shallow-draft watercraft genius…a man who struggled to get the Pentagon to take a serious look at his craft and his crafts…played a vital role in the success of D-Day. Or should I more accurately say that the thousands of workers who built Higgins boats at a frenetic pace in New Orleans, played a vital role.
I’ve always known about Andrew Higgins but I’d never seen a Higgins boat. And until my visit to the WWII Museum in New Orleans the other week, I hadn’t known the Higgins was also one of the manufacturers of PT boats. 
Peering into the Higgins LCVP conjured chilling thoughts of all the boys who stepped off of these vessels, never to return. More than twenty five hundred of the boys who plopped into the Omaha beach water once the bow front opened, died before sundown.
My mentor, another surrogate father to me and love interest of LFG, landed, courtesy of Higgins, on Omaha Beach D-Day plus one…June 7th 1944…sixty seven years ago today. Here he is after making it all the way to Paris. God only knows what kind of carnage he stepped over as he made his way beyond the surf. And he made it home...forever shaped by what he saw and did after being dropped off by Higgins. He only spoke about it during the last few months of his life and surely, I got the highly edited version of events. 
More on that later but for now, I’ll end this little ramble on a happy note. He and LFG genuinely loved each other. And I feel so fortunate that they were able to revel in each other’s company for her first and his last six years of life.

Onward. Haspelating in the heat. I said in THE heat. Not IN heat. Shut up.


Laguna Beach Fogey said...

Perlis, seersucker, and cotton suits...good.

Hot, humid heat...bad.

The soccer moms lap this kind of thing up, so why even pretend?

M.Lane said...

A great post about one of my favorite suit makers. And a great family post too.


Anonymous said...

Even Haspel has come to love the second vent, and they seem to have more linen these days. The one I don't think I will ever understand is the THREE PIECE pincord we all had in days of yore- vest weather OR pincord weather. I've never seen a SC day that could be both, have you?

Idnatius J Cousinage

berenmind said...

So many wonderful quotes that I could pull from your commentary. So many wonderful thoughts. So many wonderful directions you have taken us.
So many....so many........
Thank you. I have missed this in your posts.

ADG said...

berenmind...thank you. It's just been a function of time lately. I just haven't had much of it. It might be that I'm settling into a once a week story as opposed to three or four flurries of brief bullshit.

Idnatious...do you pronounce your last name Coo or Cuz ? YES. I'd forgotten about the vest. Butcept I think I spilled ranch dip on mine at a KA mixer with the Zetas.


Laguna...there is no pretend or pretense here my man. Like you, I'm transparent.

garden and gun said...

surely you must have discovered Terry and Juden Clothiers on Carondolet street when searching for trad clothes after moving there!

Patsy said...

Higgins revolutionized boat manufacture and design. The drop bow configuration is still in production by builders today. They also made PT boats. They were churning out 700 boats a month, amazing.

Mitch said...

I am lucky enough too have married a Haspel and with that came a collection of vintage Haspel suits.

Laguna Beach Fogey said...

Transparent? I'm not sure.

I'd like to think I'm rather opaque, like my eyes are after I've had one too many cocktails.

Lettin' it all hang out in OC.

ilovelimegreen said...

Is it my imagination or have you not been saying "shut up" for somevtime until this post? (Thanks for the Cary Grant mini-fix.)

ADG said...

LimeGreenist...I was on a bit of a shut up sabbatical.

Mitch...send me somethin' vintage man.

Patsy...yep. Amazing is an understatement.

GardenGun...I didn't really buy anything in New Orleans but a couple of poplin suits.

Anonymous said...

Searsucker and poplin will forever remind me of my darling father-in-law in summer. Yes it may be hot as blazes (makeup and big hair particularly hate the humidity), but how I do love and miss New Orleans.