HISTORY OF DENIM THROUGH THE AGES | WESTERN WEAR GOES HOLLYWOOD

I was in 5th or 6th grade, 10 years old, when I started making my own money. I’d go with my Mom on the weekends to the restaurant where she was working at the time out at little ol’ Litchfield Airport in Arizona. The place was called Barnstorm Charlies. I’d bus tables there, re-stock, clean-up, help out in the kitchen– whatever they needed. It made me feel independent, and like I had something to offer the world. I worked hard and didn’t complain– I was proud to have a job, and wanted to be the best employee I could be.

With my hard-earned little fistful of cash, the first thing I remember buying was a pair of Levi’s 501s. I still recall heading to the local Smitty’s, going through the stacks of shrink-to-fits looking for my size, doing the shrinkage calculations printed on the Levi’s tag in my head, holding that dark, rigid denim in my hands– and feeling a wonderful inner glow that’s hard to explain. It was the birth of an intense Levi’s ritual that is still a part of my life.

The preamble is meant only to let you know that denim, Levi’s in particular, probably means more to me than it does to most people.  It may sound strange, but denim represents all that I consider to be good and of value in the world. It’s  pure, honest, unpretentious, reliable, hard-working, American tradition that gets better with age. It doesn’t get any better than that in my book. The story of denim is forever entwined with the story of America. It’s part of our heritage, and a genuine American Icon.

Jack Benny, Dick Powell, Ken Murray, Bing Crosby on drums, Shirley Ross.

Jack Benny, Dick Powell, Ken Murray, Bing Crosby (in head-to-toe denim) on drums, Shirley Ross. Tommy Dorsey is just out of sight on the right on the trombone. Amateur swing contest, ca. 1939.

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THE ULTIMATE CARROLL SHELBY MUSTANG | THE GT500E SUPER SNAKE

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carroll shelby le-mans win

Carroll Shelby after winning the 1959 24 Hours of Le Mans (in his signature striped coveralls, no less).

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OK, so surely you could smell a Shelby sequel coming.  There is no one more iconic in the world of high performance American sports cars in terms of both racing and design than the charismatic, plain-talking Texas farm boy, Carroll Shelby.  Shucks– back in the day, Shelby would even rush from the farm to the racetrack for practice– wearing his old work overalls.  His ‘original’ racing attire got him more than a few chuckles and publicity, so he stuck with it.   Seen sporting the striped overalls above, (after winning the 1959 24 Hours of Le Mans) they became his trademark look.  But more memorable than those overalls, as cool as they were– is his legacy of Shelby original sport cars.   Each one better than last, and perhaps  the one most talked about these days in nostalgic circles is the mythical Shelby Mustang GT500E (oft referred to as Eleanor) Super Snake.

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1967 Shelby GT500 Super Snake

1967 Shelby GT500 Super Snake --photo via SuperSnake.org

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THE FORD MUSTANG GT350 | CARROLL SHELBY & THE AMERICAN PONY WAR

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Carroll Shelby, whose Ford powered cars have been a constant contender in International racing, plays a toy flute to charm a toy Cobra out of its basket on the hood of his latest offering to the automotive world, the Mustang GT 350, at the first showing of the car- January 27th, 1965 in Riverside, CA.  The Shelby is a modified Ford Mustang Fastback, with a 289 Ford Cobra engine, front disc brakes, and improved suspension for road racing or high speed driving. -- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Carroll Shelby, whose Ford powered cars have been a constant contender in International racing, plays a toy flute to charm a toy Cobra out of its basket on the hood of his latest offering to the automotive world, the Mustang GT 350, at the first showing of the car- January 27th, 1965 in Riverside, CA. The Shelby is a modified Ford Mustang Fastback, with a 289 Ford Cobra engine, front disc brakes, and improved suspension for road racing or high speed driving. -- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

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Carroll Shelby was undoubtedly the greatest single force behind American auto racing over the last 60+ years.  From his legendary racing career, to reinventing the image of American road-racers in European competitive racing and beyond.  In 1962, and with no official engineering background, Carroll Shelby created the legendary, stallion-slaying Cobra, which soon ended Ferrari’s all-out domination of the World’s Manufacturing Championship.  For him, the recipe was simple and oft repeated– put a massive engine in a lightweight, nimble car.

In 1965, the Shelby Mustang GT350 made its production debut setting off  a legendary battle for power and prestige between rival Detroit automakers– which would from that day on be known as  the “Pony War”.

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The legendary Shelby Mustang GT350

The legendary Shelby Mustang GT350

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TSY STYLE HALL OF FAME | BRYAN FERRY

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Style Icon-- Bryan Ferry.

Suave Style Icon-- Bryan Ferry.

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Affectionately known as ‘The Electric lounge Lizard’, Bryan Ferry has maintained his status as one of the coolest guys going with his magic elixir of suave personal style and smooth crooning– both coming with seemingly little effort.  His tastes in all things are refined, and well documented– beautiful women, fine art, fashion, design, etc.

Among them– Ferry’s many relationships with top beauties (most famously Jerry Hall, who left him for Mick Jagger), his longtime partnering with clothier Antony Price (of London’s King’s Road, who together created Ferry’s signature image & look), and his love for beautiful spaces.  It’s been said that Ferry is the sort of rock star that would more likely redecorate a hotel room than trash it.  That says it all.

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THE TSY FASHION FLASHBACK | AMERICAN MENSWEAR DESIGNER ICONS

Ralph_Lauren 1970s

The Coty (American Fashion Critics’) Awards first officially acknowledged excellence in menswear design back in 1970, with the honor going to none other than Ralph Lauren.  It signaled a new designer age in American menswear. True men’s fashion icons emerged and soon became household names – Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Alexander Julian — all went on to become institutions that inspire, influence, and in the case of Ralph, still strongly lead to this day. It’s a time in menswear that I’m unapologetically nostalgic over, having largely missed it– but I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a few legends of that golden age, and never miss an opportunity to mine them for all the nuggets I can get.

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American fashion icon Ralph Lauren working in his office --1971.

American fashion icon Ralph Lauren working in his office, 1971.

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Back in the early 70s, Jeffrey Banks (now a legendary fashion designer in his own right) was hand-plucked from Britches of Georgetown by Ralph Lauren personally, and came to work for him as a part-time design assistant.  Part-time because Jeffrey was still in high school. Jeffrey shared a story with me of when he had to get a shipment of hot-selling shirts over to Bloomies quick– Ralph’s orders. Time was tight, and Jeffrey was getting the runaround from receiving department at the store– so he decides to cast store policy aside and brazenly walked through the front doors of Bloomingdale’s 59th Street, both arms bursting with shirts for the Polo shop, much to the chagrin (read: screams) of the operations staff at the store. Here are your shirts, have a great weekend.  Love it.

Sometimes rules are for schmucks and you simply have to take matters into your own hands. Ralph certainly didn’t get where his is today by politely following the rules, he led. See, when you work for Ralph, you quickly realize that you’re a part of something much bigger than yourself, and there’s this incredible power of the brand behind you moving mountains out of your way. It’s a pretty awesome thing really.

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Ralph Lauren checking out the Polo boutique at Bloomingdale's  --1971.

Ralph Lauren checking out the Polo boutique at Bloomingdale’s, 1971.

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SURF, 60’s PSYCHEDELIA & BORN AGAIN | THE TRINITY OF ARTIST RICK GRIFFIN

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Artists Rick Griffin and Anton Kelly at the poster art exhibit at the Psychedelic Poster shop in Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco, 1967.  -- Image by Ted Streshinsky

Artists Rick Griffin and Anton Kelley at the poster art exhibit at the Psychedelic Poster shop in Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco, 1967. -- Image by Ted Streshinsky

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Rick Griffin– surfer, cartoonist, psychedelic poster artist, legend.  Born near Palos Verdes in 1944, Griffin took-up surfing at age 14.  During the 50s while he was in high school, Mad magazine heavily influenced his comic stylings– but he soon found his own voice, creating his own surf style that would become iconic.  Through his undeniable talent and connections, Griffin was soon working for surf legend, Greg Noll, among others.  After leaving high school he joined Surfer Magazine as a staff artist– creating the legendary California surf scene character Murphy, and working his way up to Art Director by the time he was of 20. But by 1964, Griffin decided it was time to move on and see what the world outside of So Cal’s tight-knit surfer scene had for him.

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THE TSY FRIDAY FADE | STEVE MCQUEEN’S DUNE BUGGY DAYS

 

Steve McQueen enjoying a cigar behind the wheel of the "TCA" dune buggy.

Steve McQueen– rockin’ the Aran sweater & enjoying a smoky treat, behind the wheel of his dune buggy from “The Thomas Crown Affair.”

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Steve McQueen & Faye Dunaway with the dune buggy from The Thomas Crown Affair.

Steve McQueen & Faye Dunaway with the dune buggy from “The Thomas Crown Affair.”

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Steve McQueen's highly customized, Corvair powered, Meyers Manx dune buggy.

Steve McQueen’s highly-customized, Corvair-powered, Meyers Manx dune buggy from “The Thomas Crown Affair.”

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Steve McQueen on the “Thomas Crown” Dune Buggy–

“Crown lives at the beach, and he has a sand Dune Buggy.  I helped them design it, so I’m kind of proud of that.  What it is, it’s set on a Volkswagen chassis, with great old wide weenies – big wide tires on it with mag wheels. Corvair engine stuffed in the back, and a semi reclining position, somewhat like my formula 1 car.  It’s very light, you know, I think we are around about 230 horses, and the vehicle weighs about 1000 pounds.”

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All the Dune Buggy stunt scenes from The Thomas Crown Affair were performed by Steve McQueen himself– with actress Faye Dunaway bravely sitting by McQueen’s side like a true sport.  Man, how I love the howl of that souped-up Corvair engine in the clip below–

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THE FOREFATHERS OF TATTOOING | “CAP” COLEMAN & PAUL ROGERS

The Legendary August "Cap" Coleman's Tattoo parlor in Norfolk, Virginia --1936.

The Legendary August “Cap” Coleman’s Tattoo parlor in Norfolk, Virginia –1936. Photo by William T. Radcliffe © The Mariners’ Museum/Corbis

Before Ed Hardy and even Sailor Jerry, there were a couple of guys who are widely considered the forefathers of American Tattooing– August “Cap” Coleman, and the youngling he heavily influenced and mentored, Franklin Paul Rogers.  When you trace the history of tattooing, a good chunk of the great flash icons can be traced directly back to these American masters.  They blazed a counterculture trail back when the only guys (and gals) that sported body ink were either in the service, criminals, or circus and sideshow freaks.  Tattoos were not taken lightly. Nowadays, ink has lost some of it’s original rebellious sting– but for the bearer, it often represents a deeply personal story and is worn like a badge of honor.

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"August "Cap" Coleman personally manned his legendary tattoo parlor six days a week.

August “Cap” Coleman personally manned his legendary tattoo parlor six days a week, circa 1936. Photo by William T. Radcliffe © The Mariners’ Museum/Corbis

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THE ’66 DODGE CHARGER | MY FIRST TRUE LOVE/WHEELS

 

The 1966 Dodge Charger, a muscle car legend.

1966 Dodge Charger– 426 Street Hemi engine option available that produced well over 425 bhp.

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I bought my ’66 Dodge Charger off a guy up the road for $750 when I was 18. She’d sat there a good long time, but this was Arizona– dry as a bone, so no body rot. Came home hitched to a tow truck– and I know my mom wasn’t too excited about the new lawn ornament. The old 383 V-8 needed a rebuild, and body was a little dinged– but she was unmolested and all original. So what if it didn’t run yet– she was mine. If only I had held on to her– but I ran outta time, money and energy. More than that– I had a girlfriend with plans to move us down to Tucson to attend the U of A. Never should’ve let her go– the Charger that is. It still pains me, but what’s done is done… Guys, listen to your gut and hold on to a good thing. Like your dream car.

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The 1966 Dodge Charger

The 1966 Dodge Charger– the fastback that’s full-sized and fully loaded.

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The 1966 Dodge Charger was introduced on New Years Day– a late but lethal answer to the Mustang and Baracuda fastback frenzy.  Based on the Coronet, the Charger came packed with serious muscle that few street cars could compete with.  The ’66 Charger debuted one of the most legendary and talked-about engines ever– the 426 Street Hemi.  The Hemi engine had been available in prior years, but the 426 Street option was designed for exactly that– performance on the street.  Rated at 425 bhp, some say it actually produced closer to 500 bhp.  That dog will hunt, son.

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Iconic Auto Design | The Porsche 911

 

The Porsche 911 (Targa shown here) is one of the most iconic and recognizable sports car designs for pure form and function-- hands down.  Though the world has in large part past it by in terms of innovation, it is and will always be a classic.

The Porsche 911 (Targa shown here) is one of the most iconic and recognizable sports car designs for pure form and function-- hands down. Though the world has in large part past it by in terms of innovation, it is and will always be a classic. The term "Targa" came from the Targa Florio road race in Sicily, where Porsche scored many victories in the 1950s and 1960s. Basically a convertible with a stainless steel-clad roll bar and removable roof panel, the Targa was definitely an automotive icon of the time. --Image by © Car Culture/Corbis

 

By the late 1950s, it was painfully obvious to Porsche that it’s workhorse 356 sports car (released in 1948) was getting it’s doors blown off by the competition in terms of performance and price.  An innovative and inspired redesign was badly needed, and in Fall of 1963 after years of development and refining, the 911 was launched.  For brand purists, it remains the only true Porsche– the only model that truly harkens back to the heritage of the original 356.  And what a heritage it is.  The birth of the 911 was largely a family affair– a daring initiative mostly instigated by Ferry Porsche, son of founder Ferdinand, with his own son Butzi Porsche alongside as the body stylist.  Porsche could hope, but surely never could have known with certainty that the new 911 would carry the Porsche torch well into the future, and ultimately become a design and engineering legend.  

The longevity of Porsche’s 911 is no accident.  Porsche-style has labored very thoughtfully over the years to constantly freshen and innovate the 911.  They’ve done an incredible job keeping it up to date, all the while staying true to the design and spirit of the original 911– not an easy feat anyway you slice it, and a very commendable one at that.  Those of us in the design industry can certainly acknowledge the mastery involved in keeping a classic icon relevant while remaining faithful to it’s essence.  The art of timelessness evolving with the times.

 

The 911 was Porsche's design successor to their 356-- a classic beauty in it's own right.

The 911 was Porsche's design successor to their 356-- a classic beauty in it's own right.

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