Recently I had drinks with members of Charlie Davidson’s family, and the subject of George Frazier and the duende game came up, which made said family member shake their head, as if it had come up one too many times at the dinner table. For those who don’t know what “duende” is, proceed to become enlightened.
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When I visited Charlie Davidson of The Andover Shop last year, he invited me to lunch with his gorgeous girlfriend (Charlie is like 86, by the way), and Bud Collins and his equally lovely wife. Later Joe Lotuff stopped by, and with six of us the conversation soon turned lively.
When you’re into jazz and style and literature and hanging out with Charlie, conversation eventually turns to his dear friend George Frazier (pictured above), the syndicated newspaper columnist who also penned an Esquire column for many years, for which he produced his seminal essay “The Art of Wearing Clothes.”
And once you start talking about Frazier you end up playing the duende game. “Duende” was a recurring theme of Frazier’s columns. It’s a Spanish term that means a sort of hobgoblin, but is used colloquially — at least by Frazier — to mean a kind of irresistible magnetism. In the world of culture and style, some things can be said to have it, while other similar things, though quite good, just don’t have the same charisma.
Charlie said he and Frazier used to play the duende game all the time. His simple example was the Duke versus the Count. You can tell who had that certain something by listening to their records, or by looking at these photos:
The trick of the game, I think, lies in the rhetorical combination of personal predllections backed by what at least superficially appears to be objectivity. It’s a lot of fun, hard to stop once you get started, and I encourage you to try your hand at it in the comments section. Below are some examples drawn from my own daily life. — CC
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Beefroll penny loafers have duende, Venetian loafers not so much.
Knit ties have duende, knit dot ties not so much.
Brown tassel loafers have duende, burgundy tassel loafers not so much.
Duffel coats have duende, peacoats don’t.
Polo coats have duende, single-breasted camel topcoats do not.
Collar pins have duende, tab collars not so much
Byron had duende, Wordsworth not so much.
Barbey d’Aurevilly had duende, Anthony Trollope not so much.
Bill Evans had duende; Dave Brubeck not so much.
Golf has duende, billiards doesn’t.
Pink buttondowns have duende, yellow ones not so much.
Yellow socks have duende, pink ones not so much.
Jackson Pollock had it, Mark Rothko didn’t.
Gabriel Fauré had it, Anton Bruckner didn’t.
Herringbone has it, but nailhead don’t.
A navy and gold bar stripe tie has a certain something, a navy and yellow not as much.
The “Brideshead Revisited” miniseries has it, “Downton Abbey” not quite.
The Chrysler Building has a certain something the Empire State Building just doesn’t have.
The pipe shape called the Dublin has duende, the bulldog not so much.
Purple Label has duende, Black Label not so much.
Tartan scarves have duende, tartan ties not so much.
The Rake has duende, and unfortunately there’s nothing to compare it to.