French singer, songwriter, poet, composer, artist, actor and director Serge Gainsbourg was kind of like the Kanye West of his time—you know, a creative genius. A jack of many trades. A genre-hopping musician, both in the spotlight and behind the scenes. His lyrics utilized styles of wordplay that would make most rappers (and even self-described word-nerd copy editors—we checked) scratch their heads. (Mondegreen? Spoonerism? Check Gainsbourg’s Wikipedia page for definitions.)
Gainsbourg also managed to sweep some of the best-known bombshells of the 1960s and ’70s off their feet. Check out his 1968 ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ duet with then-ladyfriend Brigitte Bardot above, for example. The song is based on a poem entitled The Trail’s End, written by Bonnie Parker herself just weeks before her Depression-era crime spree with Clyde Barrow came to a grisly end. Gainsbourg’s apparent fascination with American culture is interesting—especially as we find ourselves paying homage to all things French, with our limited-time French Fling Pop-In Shop. (And, as Monsieur West is zealously requesting croissants and collab’ing with minimalist French label A.P.C.)
Below, find some favorite photos of Gainsbourg and guests—all via the essential repository for all things vintage and jaw-dropping: The Impossible Cool.
Perhaps he was not classically handsome. And legend has it that he passed out drunk after taking Jane Birkin to some questionable venues on their first date. But what Gainsbourg lacked in other areas, he made up for in his keen ability to wear a suit like he was born in it. Check out those fitted shoulders, wide lapels, and devil-may-care shirt collar.
Brigitte Bardot, Gainsbourg’s partner in crime in the song above, cleaned up pretty nice, too.
…But who wore it best? Invented in England, perfected by the French—Gainsbourg makes a trench coat look almost as good as Bardot. Note his expert use of accessories: gloves, smoke, icy stare.
Not a bad run: After breaking up with Bardot, Gainsbourg rebounded with English singer/actress Jane Birkin—but’s that’s a whole other story. Here, he rocks the “jacket-as-cape” look about 40 years before the current crop of street-style stars attempted it.
You can talk Star Wars and Scarface for days—but are you fluent in French New Wave? For a primer on the genre that will score you more conversation points with girls (or guys) who wear glasses, check out our previous post on the topic—and to rep your favorite Jean-Luc Godard film wherever you go, pick up the Vivre Sa Viesnapback seen above.
It’s one of three custom New Era hats brought in exclusively for our French Fling Pop-In Shop. The title of the 1962 film translates directly as To Live Her Life, but it was released to American audiences as My Life to Live—an aptly self-assured headwear sentiment whether you’re lightening the vibe at a cheese tasting or out-classing your friends in a game of pick-up basketball.
We’ll gloss over the seedy details of the film’s plot line (no spoilers!), but do check out the classic jukebox scene in the clip above—and keep watching until the end, for a pick-up line that would never work in a million years. Unless, maybe, you’re French. Or wearing a great hat. But still, we don’t recommend it.
To purchase a top-of-the-line edition of Vivre Sa Vie on DVD or Blu-Ray—and for more in-depth film reviews, essays, and photo galleries than you can shake a baguette at—visit The Criterion Collection.
You wouldn’t believe how much useful information we gathered last week. (For a brief glimpse at the whirlwind tour of menswear design studios we conducted in New York and LA, check our Men’s Shop Instagram feed.)
We learned how pouring concrete pertains to achieving the perfect lapel roll. We found out why real men aren’t afraid of emoticons. And we nabbed some tips on which 1960s films to Netflix posthaste. (Three guesses which perennial favorite men’s brand is named after a 1964 Jean-Luc Godard film…)
Watch for much more on the topics above, and more, in the weeks ahead. But for now, a brief crash course on French New Wave—an informal cinematic movement of the 1950s and ’60s, whose progenitors embodied the “social and political upheavals of the era,” and in which “radical experiments with editing, visual style and narrative” imply a “general break with the conservative paradigm.” (Thanks, Wikipedia.) Here are a couple trailers from Godard films, which, like the films themselves, play more as a series of sensations than a traditional narrative arc:
…A circa-1963 interview with the elusive director himself:
…And testimonials from the good people at Criterion Collection (who are “dedicated to gathering the greatest films from around the world and publishing them in editions that offer the highest technical quality and award-winning, original supplements”):
Check out some of these films if you haven’t already—if nothing else, for tips on what kind of girl to date (if you want to end up dead).
Further Reading: For more classic films—plus top-10 lists from A-list directors and actors, and a massive compendium of film essays ranging from esoteric (Naked Lunch: Drifting In and Out of a Kafkaesque Reality) to just plain awesome (Martin Scorsese on Wes Anderson’s Bottle Rocket)—visit the official Criterion Collection website.
[Images via Criterion.com. Individuals pictured do not endorse Nordstrom.]
The universe is a weird place. Just yesterday, we found ourselves debating the merits of Kubrick vs. Schwarzenegger here at Nordstrom HQ. That very night, listlessly cruising our Tumblr dashboard, we serendipitously stumbled upon two pieces of evidence that just might sway the debate.
The first is a collection of photos depicting director Stanley Kubrick on the set of his abstract, enigmatic 1968 sci-fi epic 2001: A Space Odyssey. The film itself is dense, difficult (if not impossible) to decipher, and moves at a snail’s pace. It’s also breathtakingly beautiful to look at, and unflinchingly original to the point that it could be considered on par with the works of Beethoven or Picasso. (Read an eloquent essay on LIFE.com, from whence these photos originate, in which the Editor of that site convincingly draws those very comparisons.)
Whether or not 2001 is your cup of tea (Tang?), we think you’ll agree it’s inspiring to see a man so intent on realizing a vision, no matter how grandiose or perplexing, that only he could.
(The intricate sets, the eye-catching costumes, the intense atmosphere…Even amidst all that, we’re drawn to Kubrick’s elegantly disheveled, overturned tie. It’s exactly how a well-dressed man, utterly immersed in a hands-on job, should look.)
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The second piece of evidence in our abstract cinema vs. action movie dialogue is the video montage below, illustrating a favorite camera trick that Kubrick returned to again and again—in Space Odyssey, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket and more. You’d think, given the sheer number of examples, that this could become redundant; but it’s the otherworldly visuals and impassioned performances that Kubrick places within that lens, that make his camerawork come to life. Touché, sir—consider yourself back at the top of our Netflix queue.
[Photos by Dmitri Kessel via Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images and LIFE.com. Video by Vimeo user, and apparent extreme film buff, Kogonada. We found these via two of our favorite sources of inspiration: Nickel Cobalt and The Only Magic Left is Art. Individuals pictured do not endorse Nordstrom.]
The Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) is the largest and most highly-attended event of its kind (and, in our opinion, the coolest—screening everything from alluring art flicks to twisted sci-fi). During the 39th-annual fest, now through June 9, we’ll be sharing favorite films hand-picked for us by the SIFF team.
HER AIM IS TRUE Director: Karen Whitehead
From SIFF.net: Starting in the 1960s, revered rock music photographer Jini Dellaccio created startling and artistic portraits for bands like The Sonics and The Wailers, rejecting the boring five-member line-up and producing iconic album covers. She’s now 96, living in Seattle, and as cool as ever. World Premiere. (More info)
From Beth Barrett, SIFF’s Director of Programming: “Her Aim is True is an extraordinary story of a groundbreaking local artist, Jini Dellaccio. From her early years as a saxophonist with the ‘girl groups’ of the Depression era to the stunning photographic portraits of 1960s musicians breaking the mold, Jini brings passion and sophistication to her iconic art. Karen Whitehead’s film connects us to a true Seattle treasure.”
Following in a tradition that’s shone the spotlight on rock legends like Iggy Pop, Alice Cooper, Perry Farrell and Slash, the latest John Varvatos campaign features perhaps the most hallowed guitar god of all time, Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, alongside blues-rock rising star Gary Clark Jr.
Designer John Varvatos had the following to say about the campaign, which was inspired by classic black-and-white portraiture and shot by Danny Clinch at London’s Rivoli Ballroom: “Jimmy Page has been a music and fashion icon of mine since 1970. He has been a major influence, and I am honored to call Jimmy a friend. Gary Clark Jr. is the real deal—an amazing guitar player, singer, songwriter and friend. Having ‘The Master and The Young Guitar-Slinger’ together in our campaign is a dream come true.”
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As cool as the campaign imagery is, we’re just as interested in the music that inspired it. Below are John Varvatos’s personal favorite Led Zeppelin tunes—handpicked by the designer himself, exclusively for Men’s Shop Daily. [Song selections are his, commentary is ours.]
1. ‘Tangerine’ – Given Zeppelin’s reputation for practically inventing the brute force of what’s now known as heavy metal, it’s interesting to see Varvatos’s first pick highlight a sentimental ballad from the band’s folksy third record, 1970’s Led Zeppelin III. We’ve included a live version from the infamous 1975 Earls Court shows as well—largely because it’s a trip to hear frontman Robert Plant’s between-song musings uttered in his proper English lilt. (It’s easy to forget how soft-spoken he is, considering moments like the Viking howls that open the same album.)
2. ‘Kashmir’ – This epic from 1975’s Physical Graffiti puts the band’s signature sense of sheer force on full display—even with a tempo that’s methodically plodding, and the lion’s share of decibels emanating only from Page’s guitar and John Bonham’s measured drum pattern (bassist John Paul Jones mans keyboards on this one). Again, we pulled from the classic ’75 Earls Court performances, to hear Plant’s backstory…And also included an excerpt of Page jamming with Jack White and The Edge, from the 2009 documentary It Might Get Loud.
3. ‘Dazed and Confused’ – One of Led Zep’s most recognizable acid-blues masterpieces, characterized by the dream-like solo section in which Page routinely wailed on his guitar with a violin bow, is in fact a cover of a 1967 song written by Jake Holmes. We’ve always thought Zeppelin’s studio version, which appeared on their eponymous 1969 debut, sounded a bit stilted. The live versions above (left, from disc one of the live compilation BBC Sessions; right, a purportedly ‘lost version’ we just discovered on the internet) are loose, loud, brimming with the band’s patented improvised interactions between members, and feel like they might explode in a frenzy and/or fizzle out in disarray at any moment. In other words, Led Zeppelin at its best.
4. ‘Whole Lotta Love’ – The pulsating, overdriven rhythm that opens 1969’s Led Zeppelin II erased any notion of a sophomore slump—and inspired decades of visceral guitar riffs to come. Page described the snarling amp tone as ‘rude,’ and if you’re able to decipher Plant’s feral yelps, his lyrics are none too polite either. The studio version (left, above) is solid gold (literally)—but we included the live version (right) because seeing Bonham’s blur of drumsticks during the psychedelic interlude makes it even more transfixing. Extra credit: Check out this 13-minute BBC version of ‘Whole Lotta Love’ that gets rudely interrupted by a raucous montage of Zeppelin’s blues influences, from John Lee Hooker to Elvis Presley.
5. ‘When the Levee Breaks’ – The band had legions of fans since their first record—but with stratospheric successes like ‘Black Dog’ and ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ 1971’s Led Zeppelin IV went 23x platinum in America alone. One of the record’s most satisfying sonic moments requires sticking around for the final track (based on a 1929 song by Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy, about the Great Mississippi Flood). The transition from muddy, minor-key verses to Page’s glimmering guitar chords at 2:30 never gets old—nor do Bonham’s steadily thundering drums, which even the Beastie Boys (at their rowdiest in 1986) had to respect.
6. ‘Over the Hills and Far Away’ – Any amateur guitar picker worth his weight in sheet music has tried his hand at the tricky opening notes of this one—but it’s the turns the song takes from there that are more indicative of the Led Zeppelin ethos. While the band always dabbled in a variety of styles (folk, funk, eastern, medieval, orchestral, even reggae), here, multiple influences unfold seamlessly within a single song. The 1979 live version to the right displays an unapologetically brutal guitar tone from Page—an interesting choice given the song’s tender start and finish.
7. ‘Heartbreaker’ – Another tour de force from Zeppelin’s sophomore album (which remains perhaps the most crystalline embodiment of the blues-rock building blocks that informed their entire career). Again, the studio recording (left) is classic, but small details kick the live BBC version (right) into overdrive: Bonham’s furious fills, Jones’s gnarly bass sound, the brief ode to Bach during Page’s famous unaccompanied solo, and Plant’s upper-octave shriek that punctuates the final note.
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John Varvatos was also kind enough to recommend his 3 favorite tunes by Gary Clark Jr., who appears alongside Jimmy Page in the campaign imagery above. The New York Times has called Clark Jr. the next Jimi Hendrix (the third track below happens to incorporate a Hendrix cover)—take a listen for yourself:
In the spirit of our long-running ‘One Holiday at a Time’ policy—in which our stores wait patiently until the day after Thanksgiving to unveil each year’s Christmas decorations—we decided to dig up some vintage Nordstrom gift catalogs to marvel at over your morning-after breakfast of leftover ham and a double-wide slice of pumpkin pie.
The illustration above opened the 1961 gift catalog from Best’s Apparel, the company Nordstrom merged with in its first foray into above-ankle fashion. (Remember, we started out as a shoe store.) Here’s a men’s spread from the same 1961 mailer—”…definitive pages that thunder with masculinity…”:
In honor of the Seattle Music Project, a photo exhibit on display in our flagship Seattle store, we’ll be highlighting iconic Northwest musicians from the past five decades. Today: amped-up garage rock and melodic pop from the ’60s.
THE SONICS photo by Jini Dellaccio “Jini Dellaccio was a commercial photographer who photographed many of the classic bands from the ‘Louie Louie’ era. Her most memorable portraits were of the proto-punk band The Sonics, whose songs ‘The Witch’ and ‘Psycho’ would influence bands from the Sex Pistols to Nirvana. Dellaccio often shot her subjects in their street clothes in natural settings. This iconic photograph of the Sonics on a Gig Harbor beach, just below Dellaccio’s home, also captured a foggy winter day. Their clothes—peacoats, sweaters, and Beatle boots—were their own, a significant shift from earlier pop bands, who wore uniforms or matching stage outfits.”
MERRILEE RUSH AND THE TURNABOUTS photo by Jini Dellaccio “Merrilee Rush and the Turnabouts scored one of the first top-ten hits by a Northwest act with the 1968 million-seller ‘Angel of the Morning.’ Jini Dellaccio photographed them in her yard, as she did many bands, by a reflective pool. The distinctive stage outfits worn by the Turnabouts were common for pop groups at the time, and taken out of the music context, they could just as easily have been the outfits of circus performers.”
THE WAILERS photo by Jini Dellaccio “Jini Dellaccio sought to capture bands in their element—backstage, onstage, or in rehearsal. This photograph of the Tacoma band The Wailers was taken from behind a tiny stage inside the Hudson’s Bay department store in Victoria, British Columbia. The two women were ‘fans,’ as the band recalls, though they may have been store employees on duty during the group’s appearance.”
The Seattle Music Project is an exhibit of photos and ephemera commemorating five decades of Northwest music. Curated by renowned local photographer Lance Mercer, the exhibit resides in the Men’s Shop of our Downtown Seattle store, now through the end of October.
“Steve McQueen—ironically displaying his signature, perfect balance of allegiance and rebellion.” —The Selvedge Yard
“I live for myself and I answer to nobody.” —Steve McQueen
On America’s birthday, we couldn’t think of a more fitting tribute than to recommend one of the most patriotic, and yet most subversive, web museums in the world: The Selvedge Yard.
Some might call it a blog, but we say ‘web museum’ because the breadth of topics and depth of research is nothing short of encyclopedic. And with subjects ranging from Hitchcock to Harley Davidsons, Playboy Bunnies to Bob Dylan, and famous mustaches to muscle cars, there’s something for everyone. (Unless your idea of the perfect lunch-hour blog break includes LOL-inducing cats.)
While The Selvedge Yard does include a few choice overseas exports, like the Rolling Stones and vintage Schwarzenegger, the running themes remain intact: rebellion, recklessness, and good old-fashioned machismo.
Alfred Hitchcock on the secretive set of his classic thriller Psycho, 1960.
Albert “Shrimp” Burns, a top racer of the 1910s and early 1920s, was the youngest champion of his era, winning his first titles at age 15.
The Playboy Club, circa 1960. (Note Keith Richards in the background, top right.)
Bob Dylan, London, circa 1966. Photo by Barry Feinstein.
Frank Zappa’s mustache, New York City, 1967. Photo by Jerry Schatzberg.
Carroll Shelby’s iconic Ford Mustang GT350 pony car, circa 1965.
All photos, quotes and captions courtesy of The Selvedge Yard.