Tuesday, February 2, 2010

New School Dandy Profile: Michael Salerno

Over the past year we have been introduced to many amazing people in the virtual world of blogs and social networking. With this post we continue a regular series of profiles of New School Dandies. Up next, Michael Salerno.  Michael is the first profilee to be photographed by our new collaborator, photographer Rose Callahan.

Where did you grow up?  I was born on Christmas Eve 1962 and was nearly delivered in the car since my mother refused to leave for the hospital until all the gifts were wrapped. I was raised in White Plains, NY a city of some historical significance in the American Revolutionary war. It was, for the most part a quiet and law abiding place so as a child I was able to walk or bike anywhere I liked exploring old neighborhoods and going into places I shouldn’t. It was during this time I began to develop my deep and abiding love of all things old.

Where do you live now? These days my family and I live in Mahopac, NY (pronounced May-OH-pac or Muh-HOE-pac depending on which side of the politically correct fence you stand.) It is neither a city, a town nor even a village but a Hamlet. After 15 years of rural life we have become part of the community.

What’s your occupation? I currently work as an I.T. Manager for a small family owned insurance company. It is a job into which I fell more than attained by effort. My job history is quite varied. In fact I have held more and different jobs than anyone I know: House painter, cable TV installer, computer systems buyer, private detective, patio furniture salesman to name just a few.

When did you establish your personal style? College was no doubt the time when I began to develop my style. Being a young man out on his own and wanting to impress his new friends, I found consignment shops and vintage clothing stores an ideal place for a cash strapped shopper. It was in these places I discovered vintage clothing was much more stylish and well made than most modern offerings; so I began to collect 60+ year old items. It was perhaps a reflection of my love for antiques but I found suits, waistcoats, dressing gowns, hats and ties all of significant vintage to be very well made and quite distinct from modern fashions.

Like other antiques, I love the fact not that they still exist but that they ever existed at all. To me they represent a time when quality and craftsmanship still meant something.

Was there a pivotal moment? There was indeed a pivotal moment and her name was Angela. I wanted more than anything to impress this young lady so to make myself stand out I became the only fellow in class to wear a dress shirt and tie every day. It became my social signature. Sadly, Angela eventually promised herself to another and I was forced to drown my sorrows with long binges of retail therapy. I amassed such a collection of clothing that it eventually became the subject of a feature story for a local newspaper. We calculated that if I were to mix and match my over 100 ties with my 25 pairs of shoes and my 15 suits and 45 dress shirts plus jackets plus waistcoats etc, that I could wear a different ensemble every single day for over 47,000 years. (That calculation has yet to be confirmed.)

How has it changed? During the 1980s fashion was much more about ‘keeping up’ and wearing what was in vogue but I found after a while there was little satisfaction in looking like everyone else. As time marches forward my focus seems to be moving backward. In the last two years I find myself more interested in longcoats, ascots, detachable wing collar shirts and even high button shoes.

How would you describe your style? Some might call it Walking Antique Store. I make it a point to wear or carry a piece of vintage or antique clothing or accessory every time I dress. It runs the gamut from something as simple as the silk braces no one sees to my 110 year old double breasted waistcoat. These touches harken back to the days when men put some effort into getting dressed each day. Not effort because it was hard but because you wanted to show that you took some pride in your appearance and demonstrate your self-respect. There was a time, before the days of Walmart, before Departments stores, when clothing was looked at as an investment; and you treated your possessions with respect. The ‘look’ I aim for is, if someone sees a black and white photo of me they should have trouble telling in what year it was taken. I’d be happy to have them guess anywhere from 1900 to 1950. My sister, who works in the same office as me, will introduce me to guests by saying: “This is my brother who lives in another century.”

What are your sources of inspiration? For fashion: 19th century period films and vintage advertisements for Brooks Brothers, Arrow Shirt Collars and Kuppenheimer. For life in general: My grandmother who was collector of ephemera and something of an eccentric.

Who is your style icon? Oh goodness must there be only one? For a night on the town I’d attempt to emulate Cary Grant. For an evening of deep thought and quiet introspection by the fire, Sherlock Holmes. For a photo shoot in Central Park, Sir Henry M. Stanley! If I were to pick only one I’d go with Fred Astaire.

What are your preferred dandy reading materials? I love 19th Century fiction. I also have a soft spot for Wilkie Collins, Alexander Dumas, Daniel Defoe and very much enjoy the golden age of science fiction by the likes of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne.

Do you have a favorite website?  www.flickr.com. Flickr is a photo sharing social networking site. I joined a little over 3 years ago and it changed my life. It reawakened my long-standing interest in photography and gave me a new way to look at the world. Life is a photo op!

What is your favorite personal item (non-clothing/accessories)? It is a strange one. In centuries past when men would gather for a pint and a smoke, it was common practice for them to keep their pipes at the pub. They’d provide their own tobacco of course but the publican would provide matches. Back then matches did not come in flimsy cardboard packs or even in tidy little boxes with strikers on the outside. Matches came packed hundreds at a time in paper wrapped bundles and you struck your match on the nearest rough surface. As it happens an ancestor of mine was a publican and for his patrons he set out matches in what was called a ‘match stone’; a cigar box sized object made of stone with a depression carved in the top to hold matches and indented sides on which one strikes the match. The ancestor and all traces of his pub are long gone but that match stone is mine.

What is your favorite clothing article or accessory? For the clothing I’d pick my 1940 red silk smoking jacket. (Every dandy needs a smoking jacket even if, like me, you don’t smoke.) As to the accessory I’d have to say my 1895 Waltham gold pocket watch.

Where is your favorite or dream vacation spot? “Favorite” and “Dream” are two different things. For favorite (so far) I’d have to say Ireland. My wife and I honeymooned there and it was wonderful. It’s a beautiful country rich in scenery and genuinely warm people. As to my dream spot, I say London. For me there could be no finer destination than an ancient city filled with riches of architecture, history and culture. England is the land of my ancestors having come from Kent to the new world in 1635. When I go I will be, to the best of my knowledge, the first of my family to return in almost 400 years.

Tell us the best kept secret in your city. Holy Smoke BBQ and Rt 6N in Mahopac, NY. As much as I play the part of the refined gentleman of grace and polish, I cannot resist the draw of good ol’ down home wood smoke BBQ. The excellent food, fun staff and 18 types of beer on the line make a delightfully fattening, artery clogging evening for all.

What would you be doing ten years from now? Ha! The easiest question yet. I shall be working furiously to pay for college for my triplet boys.

What is your current obsession? Steampunk! I’ll spare you my ravings on the subject but I confess freely I am a die-hard Steampunk. It takes the scientific wonders of the steam age, 19th century fashions and science fiction and sets them all on their ears. If you are unfamiliar with the genre, Google it, you’ll be amazed.

Currently inspired by? Absinthe. I’ve only recently discovered this wondrous liquid but I’m already devoted. Despite being a sturdy alcoholic beverage it seems to have the unique ability to focus one’s attention on a single task. Be warned however, a glass of Absinthe is like a woman’s breasts; one is not enough and three is too many.

Currently annoyed with? Drivers. (*fumes*) As a parent I have developed a cautious driving style. I drive the posted limits, I come to a full stop before turning right on red and I know (and obey) the rules of ‘right of way’. All of this, apparently, makes me some kind of alien minority who is treated with disdain and disrespect. Can it be that everyone else is so poor at planning their time that they are always in a hurry? Is driving some kind of transformative experience that turns otherwise fine people into rude hand gesturing animals and I somehow am immune to this? Or I am the only one on the road who has read their driver’s manual?

Perhaps my fashion choices are a reflection of my life philosophy. If I were to give advice in that arena I’d say “Take a lesson from the past and slow down. Learn to savor the quality of life. Treat your friends and your possessions not as ‘things’ but as extensions of yourself. Life is far too short to waste on stress, intolerance and anger. Live your life on you own terms by being true to yourself and let others do the same.

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DY said...

Mr. Michael Salerno has a fine sense of style. I used to work for a small insurance company myself and would have enjoyed working with and getting to know this gentleman.

Ray Frensham said...

Excellent photos and interview, everyone involved, Bravo!

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