My Divorce From Ivy: By Andre Larnyoh

  1. It all started with Ivy.As a young man growing up in South London, it was a world apart from anything I had around me which was mostly black puffer jackets and skinny jeans.My Dad was into clothes, but only from the ideal of being “A Gentleman”,a means for social manoeuvring. Ivy, in my mind at the time, stood in stark contrast to that.The Mid-century aesthetic, the seemingly relaxed attitude to clothing and how alien it seemed to me as it was a thoroughly American thing piqued my interest. Couple this with the fact that I was also big intoMad Men, and you had a bona fide wannabe Ivy Leaguer on your hands.That was then though. We’ve since parted ways.My divorce fromIvy has, for the most part, been amicable. It was inevitable really; we’d been drifting apart for quite a few years now and I think that I’ve finally reached a place where it can be said that
  2. I’ve successfully move don. We still acknowledge each other from time to time, but for the most part it’s over between us.What was the reason for the split? Well to put it simply, the realisation came later that it wasn’t right for me.In hindsight, there were problems from the beginning, but the schism really started when I went to New York briefly for university.Quickly people started referring to me as preppy when I arrived; a word which for some reason bugged me even though I wasn’t entirely sure what it meant. Preppy was that moment when Ivy had a rebirth in the80’s. It became bolder, brasher, brighter, perfect for that period of excess. It’s when RalphLauren really hit its stride and became the dominant force it is today.It’s when lemon yellow sweaters were tied around the neck just to seem ironic.The word got tome not just because what was behind it didn’t seem as classic or clean as Ivy did, but because my mind flashed to one certain individual: Carlton Banks. A 90’s sitcom character that made me wince and want to burn my cheaply bought outlet Polo goods every time. The thing is, I hated Carlton.Still do. I hated the way he dressed, I hated the way he spoke, and I hated what here presented in the show. This is what I was getting associated with? I knew I was never going to be thought of as a Will–who was fly just turning his blazer inside out-but come on. Still, I went along with my pursuit of wanting to be like those relaxed yet well-dressed college boys from the 50’s. Then on a random day, when I was walking across the street with a friend two guys passed by. One of them made eye contact and looked me up and down. Me, in my white oxford and flat front khakis wondered what was coming up. May be a mocking laugh or he’ll ask me to do the Tom Jones dance. Instead, he just said, “So you wanna be white right?” laughed and moved on. I was so stunned I almost dropped my fro-yo. A minor identity crisis followed. No matter how many pictures of Sidney Poitier there were or the that shot of Miles Davis in that damn green shirt, Ivy was seen as a predominantly white endeavour. While later years proved that to not necessarily be the case, as I’ve since learned, at the time it was the beginning of the end for me who was learning how to navigate as a young black male.Moments of black involvement with Ivy or with classic American style of that era in a large part mostly passed by me as I was unaware of its history.I knew about movements from theHarlem Renaissance, but I’d been taught to think that was the height of Dandyism, somethingI wasn’t about.Imagine my surprise when I came across Life photographer Bill Ray’s images of the Dapper Rebels, an LA street gang in 1966.
  3. The word “subversion” is thrown around a lot, but these images were a definition of what that can mean and meant the world to me.Tough, young and proud black men wearing oxford shirts untucked with jeans and aHarrington jacket, yellow shawl collar cardigans with a necklace hanging over the shirt showing.They didn’t look preppy, or like squares. They just looked cool. Oxfords and shawl collar cardigans cool? Madness, but there it was.The comparison between black jazz musicians and Ivy is one that is, very much milked repeatedly. I love Francis Woolf’s behind the scenes photographs at Blue Note, but people forget the culture of oppression that led African American musicians and artists of the era to engage with the style in the first place. All before, in my opinion, disregarding their superior attempts at not only style once Black Power came into play at the end of the 60’s and early 70’s, but also their evolution as artists and musicians.Learning what I did, the beige khakis, polo shirts and Sperry’s went into the trash.I went to look else where and haven’t looked back.Ivy was suffocating on the rest of my interests as far as clothes were concerned. It started to look boring and square.Sometimes it even struck me as sexless. Despite what everyone says about it being “unfussy” “casual” and “easy”, there were surprisingly a lot of rules and faux pas’ I was coming across. The aversion to wearing black was one that I questioned many a time, as was the rejection of contemporary clothing or anything past a certain period.What Iwill say forIvy, arguably the most American of styles after denim, is that on a personal level, it laid down a foundation for me to enter a world of classic menswear–whatever that means.It gave me scope to explore tailoring in ways I never expected.I thought you could only wear a suitor sport jacket for special occasions or work. Now I wear them just because. After that though, I found myself stuck. I’d hit a wall and couldn’t shake the feeling that there was more to explore.My eyes wanted to look beyond those classics of that culture such asTake Ivy and FrancisWoolf.Having attended a school full of pretentious artsy kids (I say that with love),there were two main American artistic movements that I was exposed too that had a significant effect on my move from Ivy: The Beats and the Abstract Expressionists.I was exposed to a lot of concepts and names which I had never heard before, during that time.What the hell even was a Pollock?Before I found myself lying down on the floor of The Met however–a security guard told me to do it andit madeAutumn Rhythm (Number 30)make sense-it was the unfussy, dishevelled style of the Abstract Expressionists that first caught me.The willingness to accept the mess, wear and tear that daily life can have on your clothing.Double pocket work shirts, trousers covered in paint, denim chore coats.Hell, denim everything!“Denim is the fabric of Jesus” a friend once told me. Apparently, it came from a priest in Chicago, and all I could say at the time was Amen. I’ve stood by that statement for years and I’d have it tattooed across my arm if I wasn’t scared of needles.Relied on by farmhands, ranchers, cowboys,Pollock and Krasner, denim in all its forms reminded me of a rugged approach to living, something I knew nothing about being as city boy as they come, but I’ve always been someone who isn’t precious about their clothes. Wear is life. A denim western shirt could be roughed around in ways that I was too scared todo so with a white oxford.I read somewhere once that it was “America’s other button down”.Fast forward 8 years later and I still have the first one I ever bought.
  4. After a professor suggested I readLawrence Ferlinghetti’sA Coney Island of the Mind and Amri Baraka’s Dutchman,I spent a lot of time looking more into the bohemian, European influenced culture that the Beats had cultivated. I noticed that whilst most Beat writers such as Kerouac and Baraka (formerly known as LeRoi Jones) dressed in ways similarly to the Ivy Leaguers in the late 50’s and early 60’s, there was a preference for more casual clothing–chunky knitwear, checked or plain flannel shirts, striped tees, army surplus.Most importantly, there was an appreciation for the colour black, to signify a divergence from mainstream dressing.Despite being far from being a Beat writer, I can barely write a haiku(still don’t even understand them),I admired the rumpled elegance to the way they wore their clothes, an honesty that showed how they truly lived in them with a slightly rebellious attitude.This is all before the stereotype came along of Beatniks dressed only in berets with round sunglasses and black roll necks.I’ll admit though, I have on a few occasions worn all three at the same time. I have no shame about it, because I could wax lyrical about the power of a black roll neck, an item soBeat that whenever I wear one, I still wonder if I shouldn’t just grow a goatee and call it a day. The Beats weren’t just about rolling through basements in the Village in flannels though, they famously admired the drape suits and laidback tailoring of that era’s jazz musicians before they went prep. Dizzy Gillespie to them was like a God, where do you think the beret love came from?The designs and adverts of Armani and Ralph in the 90’s took most of their inspirations from these styles worn by African American musicians and artists int he 40’s and 50’s.The slightly oversized designed looked so easy and free, in comparison to most slim 60’s inspired tailoring or more traditional structured houses in London.For some one like me who can’t sit still and finds freedom in volume, it was a goldmine. The hard part was trying to avoid looking like Richard Lewis in Anything but Love.Spike Lee’s fourth “joint”Mo’ Better Blueswas the movie I needed, a gem of a film that manages to make the connection between the 90’s fashion and that era of Jazz.Costume designerRuth E. Carter worked with the boxy tailoring styles of not onlyArmani, but also the strong simple lines ofYoji Yamamoto to draw parallels between the two eras. Wide legged trousers, double breasted jackets worn easy and with blousy shirts.Bistro vibes For me All as American as an OCBD and a madras jacket.The dots between the influence of the Beat movement, abstract expressionist painters and90’s era tailoring started to appear, and from that I had found my own take on American style that was outside Ivy. To me, American style is all about the mix.That ability to mix indifferent cultures and attitudes into one ensemble. In some ways, the argument could easily be said for Ivy, but the fact is it still also reminds me of some of the uglier sides of that nation.It’s somewhat disappointing to feel this way because I’ve met some very cool people who’s wear by Ivy and what it stands for and the culture behind it. Yasuto Kamoshita sees it as a“nimble, youthful and healthy attire”. In his hands he makes it look like he’s just wearing PJ’s all the time. Jake Wigham’s shirts have singularly led to me re-adopting Oxford’s into my wardrobe, being as well-made they are and harkening back to original designs.Jason Jules,
  5. a man who I continually look up to, always finds there belli on, is always looking for what’s different and throws into the pot.Hell, he’s got a book coming out on where Black culture andIvy intersect. My question is where this was when I needed it years ago. Would it have changed much? Who knows?Regardless, as with most things, it’s been a journey of discovery. There’s a lot of layers to what Ivy can be and, again, credit where credit is due, it gave me a starting point.Other than that, we’re through. Fuck Ivy. With love.
Sign Up
Stay Connected With The No Chaser Movement