Last night Richard Press debuted his one-man show at the FIT museum to a sold-out audience. The former J. Press president, who used to moonlight as a theater actor, had the crowd from the first line and never let them go during the 45-minute tour of the “Ivy Style” exhibit.
With a lively, reverberating voice that filled the exhibit hall, Press guided the audience through the display areas, pointing out the more noteworthy items and launching into spontaneous anecdotes like a seasoned raconteur.
He began with the Brooks Brothers Number One Sack Suit from the early 20th century, and shared the story of how his grandfather took him to Brooks to get a grey flannel suit for his bar mitzvah, and how all the Brooks sales staff politely bowed to the illustrious Mr. Press.
The first laugh came when Richard reported that several fashion designers have already said they plan to copy the Princeton beer suit.
Speaking of Tigers, Richard went on to talk about F. Scott Fitzgerald and that while “Stover At Yale” was the first pop culture piece of Ivy literature, it was Fitzgerald who put Princeton on the map and first acknowledged the aristocratic style that blossomed at this campus that was “an island unto itself.”
He next shared a story I hadn’t heard and which we’ll have to investigate further. Apparently Yale administrators didn’t much care for the more plebeian (but presumably smart) undergrads who entered under the GI Bill, and created a jacket-and-tie dress code in 1952 as a result. We’ll have to find that dress code and see if it details exactly what kind of jackets and ties were acceptable.
Every time I mention something historic to Richard, he always tells me some story about a personal connection to it. He seems to be separated by only one degree to every person and event of the late 20th century. So I guess it should come as no surprise that he shared the story of the playmate at Dartmouth, who was escorted by none other than one of Richard’s pals. The Life Magazine chronicling the event was one of Ivy-Style.com’s most popular early posts.
Next, evidently food fights a la “Animal House” actually happened.
Unlike the Ivy Style press conference and opening night party, the tour was comprised almost entirely of non-menswear folks. So one could only chuckle at when the first question to Mr. Press at the conclusion of the tour was, “What is a rep tie? And where and with what would you wear those velvet slippers?”
A following question was a tad sharper: Why did Richard, who grew up in New Haven, end up at Dartmouth instead of Yale? Richard replied that he wanted to go his own way and get out of Dodge, so to speak.
But the final question was the best of all: “Is this style still worn on Ivy League campuses now?”
The audience — young and old, male and female, dapper and disheveled — roared with laughter. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD
Photo detail of a portrait by Rose Callahan.