Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Fred Astaire Goes to London…April 1923

I was thumbing through Steps in Time…Fred Astaire’s rather bland autobiography and did run across a couple of sartorial nuggets. Fred and his sister Adele made their first trip to England in the early spring of 1923 aboard the Aquitania. Certainly, the performing duo was far from wealthy at this time and Fred would turn a youthful twenty-four in May. But youth and what must have been less than unlimited funds didn’t keep Astaire on the sartorial sidelines. I remember my first walk on Savile Row and Jermyn Street...but as I've shared before...and unlike Astaire...I was too intimidated to walk into A&S.
“I went on a clothes buying binge on Savile Row, mostly at Anderson and Sheppard’s. It was difficult not to buy one of every cloth that was shown me, especially the vicunas. They never wore out. I outgrew most of them.”
“It was Hawes and Curtis and Beale and Inman for shirts and such."
“I’d get lost for days in the Burlington Arcade.”
Astaire also mentions his admiration for a uniquely cut white waistcoat worn by his new acquaintance, the Prince of Wales. Upon learning that it was made by Hawes and Curtis, Astaire called on them to make an identical version for himself; whereupon he was told that “it won’t be possible Sir.”
And finally, Astaire recalls feeling quite complimented after actor Adolphe Menjou asked him who made the tails he performed in one evening. I reckon the young Astaire had no idea that in not too many years to come, he would run sartorial circles around the over studied, too well contrived, stiffly formal Menjou. Astaire was Menjou’s swathed antithesis.
And if you’d fancy a well curated source for sartorial Astaire, I’d recommend G. Bruce Boyer’s Fred Astaire Style.

Onward, ADG II


Anonymous said...

ROYAL WEDDING was directed by South Carolina boy Stanley Donen and I think it features FA shopping for clothes briefly, or at least looking in windows.

Bearuegard de Mainabouche

Chris said...

Menjou looks fine, except for his bulbous chapeau and rat.

Reggie Darling said...

Fred Astaire overcame a skinny boy physique, a too-large (and hair-challenged) head, and weirdly enormous hands to become one of the world's most elegant men, and a style icon if there ever was one for those of us who consider such matters as more than incidental. Along with others in the limited pantheon -- Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, and others you write about -- that come to one's mind.

Young Fogey said...

Early in "Royal Wedding," Tom (Fred Astaire) is walking along a street in London with Edgar, the extremely Anglicized twin brother of his agent Irving (both played by Keenan Wynn). While Tom is looking at something in a shop window, he and Edgar get separated. Tom, thinking he is talking to Edgar, unintentionally says something to a woman who happens to be standing there (I think he asked for a light). Afterwards, the woman, Anne (Sarah Churchill, Winston's daughter), gets annoyed when Tom seems to be following her; actually, they are both on their way to the theater where auditions for the English production of Tom's show will be held.

Other than that, I can't think of a shopping scene in "Royal Wedding" (unless you include the scene where Lord Brindale "shops" at his family's estate for a present for the royal couple).

Incidentally, Fred Astaire had more songs written for him than Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra combined. It's said that he introduced more songs that went on to be standards/classics than any other singer. Irving Berlin, the Gershwins, Jerome Kern & Dorothy Fields--composers and lyricists loved how Astaire interpreted their music.

Fred Astaire was a rare combination of acting, singing, and dancing talent, with an extraordinary sartorial sense.