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Beau Brummell: The Ultimate Man of Style

Beau Brummell: The Ultimate Man of Style

by Ian Kelly
     
 

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"If people turn to look at you in the street, you are not well dressed, but either too stiff, too tight, or too fashionable."

-- Beau Brummell

Long before tabloids and television, Beau Brummell was the first person famous for being famous, the male socialite of his time, the first metrosexual -- 200 years before the word was conceived. His name has

Overview

"If people turn to look at you in the street, you are not well dressed, but either too stiff, too tight, or too fashionable."

-- Beau Brummell

Long before tabloids and television, Beau Brummell was the first person famous for being famous, the male socialite of his time, the first metrosexual -- 200 years before the word was conceived. His name has become synonymous with wit, profligacy, fine tailoring, and fashion. A style pundit, Brummell was singly responsible for changing forever the way men dress -- inventing, in effect, the suit.

Brummell cut a dramatic swath through British society, from his early years as a favorite of the Prince of Wales and an arbiter of taste in the Age of Elegance, to his precipitous fall into poverty, incarceration, and madness. Brummell created the blueprint for celebrity crash and burn, falling dramatically out of favor and spending his last years in a hellish asylum. For nearly two decades, Brummell ruled over the tastes and pursuits of the well heeled and influential, and for almost as long, lived in penury and exile.

With vivid prose, critically acclaimed biographer Ian Kelly unlocks the glittering, turbulent world of late-eighteenth/early-nineteenth-century London -- the first truly modern metropolis: venal, fashion-and-celebrity obsessed, self-centered and self-doubting -- through the life of one of its greatest heroes and most tragic victims. Brummell personified London's West End, where a new style of masculinity and modern men's fashion were first defined.

Brummell was the leading Casanova and elusive bachelor of his time, appealing to both men and women of his society. The man Lord Byron once claimed was more important than Napoleon, Brummell was the ultimate cosmopolitan man. "Toyboy" to Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, and leader of playboys including the eventual king of England, Brummell inspired Pushkin to write Eugene Onegin, and Byron to write Don Juan, and he influenced others from Oscar Wilde to Coco Chanel.

Through love letters, historical records, and poems, Kelly reveals the man inside the suit, unlocking the scandalous behavior of London's high society while illuminating Brummell's enigmatic life in the colorful, tumultuous West End. A rare rendering of an era filled with excess, scandal, promiscuity, opulence, and luxury, Beau Brummell is the first comprehensive view of an elegant and ultimately tragic figure whose influence continues to this day.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A superlative book . . . thoughtful, absorbing and hugely diverting. Besides an astute biography, we get a panorama of the times . . . Lushly illustrated, carefully researched, and intelligently argued, this biography will entertain and enlighten." — George Walden, Daily Mail (London)

"Splendid . . . What makes this book much more than just a relaxed, racy biography is the way its author brings to life not just the man but also the time in which he lived." — Colin McDowell, Sunday Times

"Sharp and sophisticated . . . worthy of Balzac." — Damian Thompson, Mail on Sunday

"Magisterial, utterly gripping." — Philip Hoare, The Independent

"Almost unbearably moving." — The Herald

"The best book ever written about London." — BBC Radio 5

Publishers Weekly
Two centuries after his heyday as Regency London's premier peacock and arbiter of manners, George Bryan Brummell has a name that's still linked with those of Lord Byron and the Prince of Wales (later George IV). A frequent player in modern Regency romances, Brummell (1778-1840) is credited with originating modern menswear: the trouser suit with showy neckwear, in his case, a cravat. His rise to celebrity was rapid: while he was in his teens, his parents died, leaving him with a considerable inheritance, and he fell in with the Prince Regent's fashionable set, quickly becoming a leader-one amusing chapter details how the dandies of the day would gather at his house simply to watch him dress. Brummell's charm was legendary, but it failed him, disastrously, when, piqued by the prince, Beau quipped to someone else, "Who's your fat friend?" His fall was precipitous: dropped by the Prince of Wales, overwhelmed by debt and suffering from syphilis, he fled to France, never to return. Kelly (Cooking for Kings), who will star in the off-Broadway play The Beau this spring, has a vivacious way of letting specific details (menus, clothes) define the high life of an era, and his book is entirely appropriate to our celebrity-obsessed age. Photos. (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
The first full-length biography of George Bryan "Beau" Brummell (1778-1840) in a generation is readable, entertaining, intricately detailed, and well researched. Although sartorial fashion may be inseparable from Brummell's legacy as a Regency dandy, the reader may find Kelly's close focus on clothes somewhat tedious. However, he does a fine job of delineating Brummell's rise to celebrity and indeed discussing the emergence of the term celebrity and its significance for later generations. While the identification of "the Beau" as the "first metrosexual" might be rather contrived, the author successfully identifies not only Brummell's influence on contemporary fads but also his enduring legacy on fashion, manners, and culture. The polite drama of Beau Brummell's life was populated by a fascinating cast of characters representing some of the most intriguing, wacky, unusual, and esoteric of Regency glitterati, and his career is both absorbing and ultimately tragic. Readers interested in Brummell, Regency history or fiction, or the development of fashion and manners will be richly rewarded, and the book is recommended for collections in these areas. (Illustrations not seen.)-Matt Todd, Northern Virginia Community Coll., Alexandria Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The insubstantial life of a turn-of-the-18th-century party boy and clotheshorse. George Brummell (1778-1840) reigned briefly in London society before being hounded out of the country in 1816, plagued by debts and failing health. British biographer Kelly (Cooking for Kings, not reviewed) aims to celebrate Brummell's lasting contribution to men's fashion as the prototypical dandy (according to such contemporary observers as Byron and later admirers like Oscar Wilde). A commoner whose father made a fortune as Lord North's private secretary, young Brummell grew up on Downing Street and was sent to Eton, where he mingled among the upper crust and made his mark with witty put-downs, a handsome figure and an understated elegance of dress. Indeed, by the time he came of age in 1799, Brummell was a favorite of the Prince of Wales. Blessed with a considerable inheritance, he could step out in style from his residence at 4 Chesterfield Street in Mayfair. He rode in Hyde Park, dined and gambled at White's and Brook's and attended the theater in the company of famous demimondaines Harriette Wilson and Julia Johnstone. "Beau," as he became known, was mostly remarkable for his choice of tailoring. Tall and well-sculpted, he favored a deceptively simple, manly look, distinguished by exquisite attention to detail. Kelly quotes Max Beerbohm, who called Brummell "the Father of Modern Costume" and praised his style as "free from folly or affection, yet susceptible to exquisite ordering." But in later years, his credit wore thin, his barbs no longer struck the Prince Regent's funny bone and Brummell contracted syphilis, leading to unhappy retirement in Normandy, madness and death in an asylum. Fawning andtrivial. How much is there to say about someone whose main claim to fame is that he wore the first modern, urban suit?

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781416584582
Publisher:
Atria Books
Publication date:
10/26/2007
Pages:
416
Sales rank:
889,291
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

Beau Brummell

The Ultimate Man of Style
By Ian Kelly

Free Press

Copyright © 2006 Ian Kelly
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0743270894

Prologue

Nothing was lacking. Lustres, candelabra, candles, masses of flowers; and he himself, in the blaze of all the lights, stood in the centre, expectant.

Count d'Aurevilly at Brummell's last soiree

When the Allies took Caen after the D-day Normandy landings in June 1944 they entered a city of rubble. The ancient capital of Lower Normandy and the stronghold of the Twelfth and Twenty-first German Panzer Divisions had suffered a month of bombardment by British and Canadian heavy artillery and 2,500 tons of RAF bombs. The eighteenth-century heart of the Ile St. Jean -- the area leading up to the German HQ in the chateau -- was destroyed. Canadian tanks plowed straight from the pontoon bridge over the River Orne and right through the ruins of the old town. "Andy's Alley" -- as the tank road to the chateau became known -- flattened whatever had been left standing in its path: houses, shops, cafes and hotels.

Caen had been the jewel of the Normandy coast, a city built on a river island, with two royal abbeys and a wealth of bourgeois townhouses in honey-colored stone. Its many Englishvisitors said the city reminded them of Oxford. Andy's Alley cut through Caen's destroyed center, across the place Dauphine, and the rue des Carmes. The tanks plowed on past the ruins of the Salon Litteraire and straight through the dining room of the bombed-out Hotel d'Angleterre on the rue St. Jean. An American soldier later took a photograph of the hotel, blown open to the winds, which was sold as a postcard souvenir to the GIs. Here, a hundred years before, George Brummell -- once the most fashionable foreigner in France -- had held soirees for passing English aristocrats. As the tanks rolled by under three stories of flayed hotel rooms, the wallpaper of Brummell's room flapped in the breeze.

The year 1839. Room 29 was at the top of the Hotel d'Angleterre, overlooking the slate roof tiles of Caen. Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, en route to Paris with her daughter, was the first guest to admire the view, and within minutes room 29 was pressed with Monsieur Brummell's other friends: the poet Byron, the old playwright Sheridan, the Duke of Wellington and Prince Frederick, Duke of York with Princess Frederica of Prussia.

Fichet, the hotel owner's son, was used to the metropolitan glamour that still clung to the hotel's most famous resident: it fell to Fichet to attend Monsieur Brummell when he was holding one of his soirees. Brummell had taught him how to announce royalty and how much obeisance was expected by the victor of Waterloo, and Monsieur Brummell had taught Fichet about clothes. It was Fichet, also, who acted as valet to the hotel's celebrated dandy and wit, helping him into his evening coat and handing him the whitest of cravats with the reverence of a sacristan.

Yet these soirees would end suddenly and in the same way. One moment, Brummell would hold out his arm to escort the Duchess of Devonshire across the room; the next, his eyes were opened to the reality around him. The room was empty. There was nothing in front of him but the candles, the flowers and the young Frenchman with pity in his eyes. Fichet eventually became inured, he said, to the dark pantomime of announcing Brummell's ghosts: the long-dead duchesses and courtesans, the Regency celebrities who had been Monsieur's friends. But he dreaded the moment when Brummell woke from his masquerade and saw the reality around him: the ruination of his fame and fortune and of his mind. "Babylon in all its desolation," as one friend of Brummell's said, "was a sight less awful." The Frenchman would then blow out the candles, shut the windows and leave Beau Brummell -- the most sociable man in London -- to the complete privacy, and the utter silence, of his ruined mind.

The Canadian soldiers were met with silence as they entered Caen in 1944. The German garrison had fled by cover of night and most of the French population, who had left weeks before when news had reached them of the landings on the Normandy beaches, were sheltering on the outskirts of the city in an eighteenth-century asylum. The nuns, the orphans, the blind, deaf and confused who lived in the Hopital du Bon Sauveur joined the city refugees in digging up the asylum's flower beds as mass graves for Caen's dead. Stray bombs fell as they worked, destroying some of the garden pavilions where insane gentlefolk had been incarcerated a century before. But the asylum, and its detailed archives of the mentally ill, miraculously survived.

Copyright © 2006 by Ian Kelly



Continues...


Excerpted from Beau Brummell by Ian Kelly Copyright © 2006 by Ian Kelly. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Ian Kelly is an actor and writer. He lives in London with his wife, Claire, and son, Oscar. His first book, Cooking for Kings: A Life of Antonin Carême, the First Celebrity Chef, was published in 2003.

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