Hot Or Not? George Frazier, Charlie Davidson & The Duende Game

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.

* * *

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

• • •

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.

41 Comments on "Hot Or Not? George Frazier, Charlie Davidson & The Duende Game"

  1. I disagree with quite a few of your examples. Golf? The Rake? Please.

  2. D.B. McWeeberton | April 11, 2012 at 8:26 am |

    Is it fair to compare 20’s Duke to 70’s Count? (though I admit, Ellington is better)

  3. Michael Mattis | April 11, 2012 at 8:57 am |

    I have duende. Others? Not so much.

  4. Old Bostonian | April 11, 2012 at 10:04 am |

    “Charm” has duende; “duende” does not.

    French has duende; Spanish does not.

  5. Does duende have sprezzatura, or vice versa?

  6. Duende…it’s got a sort of woody quality about it.

  7. Traveling first class has duende, flying not so much,

  8. Some on your list need to be reversed. But you’d need to have duende to know which.

  9. Using the term “hot” for “duende” is definitely not duende.

  10. @Bostonian

    At least you didn’t take me to task on Wordsworth or Trollope.

  11. Old Bostonian | April 12, 2012 at 10:30 am |

    Christian,

    Far be it from me to speak up for Wordsworth or Trollope.
    Both lack a certain je-ne-sais-quoi.

  12. “Jackson Pollock had it, Mark Rothko didn’t.” That is an amateur call. You, my friend, do not have duende. First and last time I will be reading this blog.

  13. I don’t think the Ellington/Basie comparison is a fair one because the photos were taken in different decades. The Ellington photo is clearly from the late 20s or early 30s, while the Basie portrait obviously smacks of bad 70s polyester. But even the Duke wore some questionable outfits in the 70s,as evidenced here:
    http://www.vinyl4u.eu/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/2460155597_19a5c8f460.jpg

  14. I completely agree the Ellington/Basie photo comparison was totally unfair and I was laughing fiendishly as I did it.

    Of course, I love “Jumpin’ At The Woodside” as much as the next guy, but as a composer and orchestrator Ellington could do in three minutes what most composers can’t do in their entire careers. And he didn’t even need a top hat for it.

  15. Adam,

    As far as I’m concerned, neither Pollack nor Rothko produced art. Their real talent was in plugging into the zeitgeist and capitalizing upon it. Neither one of them can hold a candle to actual artists like Botticelli, Da Vinci, Dali, El Greco, Michelangelo, Monet, Rembrandt, Rockwell, Titian, van Gogh, and the like.

  16. DubistdochamEnde | April 13, 2012 at 5:35 am |

    Let’s play!

    The Ivy League Look blog is hot. Ivy-StyleDotCom is not.

  17. Boston Bean | April 13, 2012 at 7:37 am |

    Tab collars allow one to achieve the same effect as a collar pin without being ostentatious.

  18. @DubistdochamEnde (HBH?)

    My father sent me this email today. It’s interesting not only for his use of the word “snarky,” which I didn’t know was in his vocabulary, and also for his use of all caps and triple exclamation points, which is extremely rare:

    “After reading a snarky comment about the duende game, I decided to check out the Ivy League Look site that was praised.
    BOOORRRING!!!”

  19. Michael Mattis | April 21, 2012 at 8:24 am |

    It is “BOORRRING!!!,” Just a bunch of old ad art without any context — and hardly any text.

  20. Oh God. As a Spanish speaker, I can tell you the word “duende” is NOT duende if you know what it means. What other foolish word for “cool” are you latch onto next? French “merde?” Italian “faccia di culo?” I’d love to see a bunch of ignorant English speakers arguing about whether a four-in-hand or full Windsor has a desirable “merde” quality to it.

  21. And by the way, passing judgment on Downton Abbey while calling it “Downtown” Abbey? Do you also listen to the jazz music of Elephants Gerald?

  22. Evidently only you have the right to pass judgment.

  23. These exercises are always fun. Although I’ve never heard the term “duende”, but I’m the product of a public education. Trying to objectify one’s style preferences is tricky, but most on the list are agreeable to me, with a few exceptions. I like tab collars and collar pins, but only real pins. Duffle and peacoats, both military seamens’ outerwear, why not own both. Brideshead and Downton can’t be compared, one is about redemption the other about class and social change. Beefroll loafers suck, they prematurely wear out pant cuffs and can hangup on bar stools.

  24. Brooks Loyal | April 29, 2012 at 11:26 pm |

    I would offer that The Ivy League Look blog is for those with an advanced interest in Ivy League clothing. Without that interest I can see how it might appear rather dry. Personally I enjoy it very much. I also very much enjoy the more Ivy (as opposed to Preppy) orientated articles here.

  25. Christian – at least I spell things right if I criticize them. I’m certainly not the only one allowed to pass judgment, but if someone is going to waste time typing out an article about how to spot some weird brand of intangible class, musing on “culture” and my “rhetorical combination of personal predillections [sic],” one should probably make sure he doesn’t look like a dumbass misspelling words looked up in a thesaurus. This article is that of a poseur engaging in his finest buffoonery and kitsch yet.

  26. Re: Evans/Brubeck. True, except for Brubeck’s Christmas album.

  27. @Anthony

    “poseur”?

    Seriously?
    You go off on a ridiculous bitchfest about typos, and then you’re actually going to use the word “poseur”? I guess the 80s was the last time you checked in with the cultural zeitgeist.

    I’m surprised you didn’t follow that up with a non-ironic “gag me with a spoon”.

  28. Christian | May 1, 2012 at 5:24 am |

    @Anthony

    Evidently spelling is not the real issue here.

  29. HankRockwell | May 31, 2012 at 8:10 am |

    Frazier would be appalled that someone appropriating his style would use a phrase such as “not so much.”

  30. Christian | May 31, 2012 at 8:21 am |

    As I recall, “not so much” was Charlie Davidson’s phrase in recounting his duende games with Frazier.

  31. William Timmins | July 25, 2020 at 6:59 pm |

    I have always understood “duende” to refer to that intangible “thing”, that aura that separated certain individuals from others, that made them stand out above mere mortals. Sinatra, Hemingway, Ali, Miles Davis, DiMaggio, Brando, Picasso and Luis Miguel González Lucas are a few that immediately come to mind. I’ve never heard the term used to reference inanimate objects and I wouldn’t considered stated preferences the same as “duende”.

    One could debate whether Ellington had “duende” versus Basie, but comparing a photo of young Duke from the 1930’s to a photo of an elder Bill Basie in the 1970’s to make your case denotes a false equivalence. Actually, I would propose Louis Armstrong was the musician from that time period who truly possessed “duende”.

    Thanks for the post. It initiated a lot of discussion.

  32. Comparing those who’ve got “It,” as they used to say in Hollywood, to mere mortals I don’t think is quite the same thing as the duende game. Duende is more a question of primer inter pares. You take two charismatic, or at least equally talented figures, and make the case for one having that certain je ne sais quoi.

    Apologies for the Latin and French in addition to the Spanish term duende. Too many foreign phrases should be verboten.

  33. I stand with the Bean. Tabs provide a discrete snap. Pins scream “Look At Me! Look At Me.”

  34. Adam P. | April 12, 2012 at 4:04 pm |

    “‘Jackson Pollock had it, Mark Rothko didn’t.’ That is an amateur call. You, my friend, do not have duende. First and last time I will be reading this blog.”

    Just leaving has duende; announcing it first does not.

  35. Carmelo Pugliatti | July 26, 2020 at 1:38 pm |

    duende” is NOT duende if you know what it means. What other foolish word for “cool” are you latch onto next? French “merde?” Italian “faccia di culo?”

    Well “faccia di culo”,mean a sort of likeable scoundrel.
    So “”Faccia di culo” is duende,”merde”,not.

  36. two button darted jackets not duende, whatever the hell it means.

  37. Berkley

    Referencing an episode of Friends is definitely duende.

    Happened to see part of an episode of Friends last night for the first time in years. Am I alone in thinking Brad Pitt is a moron?

    Cheers

    Will

  38. Berkeley Breathes, while I’d agree to a degree that this seems more an outlet for preference under a fancy name than anything else, I’d also be more generous and note Christian is relating a game of Frazier’s and Davidson’s, while also, in fact, mentioning the formula of such conclusions as the “rhetorical combination of personal predllections [sic] backed by what at least superficially appears to be objectivity.” I’m glad he’s sharing their little story with us, at least. I think it’s the examples that are hitting everyone’s nerves. It’s that way for me, at least: never’ve gotten beefrolls, for example (though I can certainly tolerate them—I don’t mind Venetians half as much, though, if I do find them a bit odd out in the wild, given their visual similarity to slippers), and the jab at Brubeck stung especially. That’s my own partiality, though.

    I’m sure Frazier and Davidson shared many a fine evening having fun with this. And it’s fun to see what people think has the extra inch over something else, as well as an exercise in humility to have your understanding of the better between two things dashed by the Correct Opinion of someone else.

    As for me, I’ll remain content with saying something is “better” or “cooler” than another, or else using some other adjective which more precisely labels the superior quality.

    Hope you all are well.

  39. One thing to add—if the Wikipedia article is to be trusted, I quite like the original concept: “El duende is the spirit of evocation. It comes from inside as a physical/emotional response to art. It is what gives you chills, makes you smile or cry as a bodily reaction to an artistic performance that is particularly expressive. Folk music in general, especially flamenco, tends to embody an authenticity that comes from a people whose culture is enriched by diaspora and hardship; vox populi, the human condition of joys and sorrows.”

    While I might just use “beauty,” and again use a scaffolding of description and qualification that the average person would actually understand, I suppose the concept remains. Don’t think it applies as much to collar pins vs. tab collars, though. Sorry, Mr. Frazier, God rest your soul, if you had that in mind.

  40. Charlottesville | July 27, 2020 at 4:08 pm |

    Thoughtful comments, IvyBird. And, for what it’s worth (very little), I am a big fan of tab collars, “Color 8” shell cordovan tassel loafers, and a few other items on the also-ran list, but as you and Christian both noted, a lot of this comes down to personal taste.

  41. Rothko’s paintings have it, Pollock’s paintings do not but Pollock the man had it in a way Rothko the man did not.

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