Third-generation J. Press scion and Ivy-Style featured contributor Richard Press can now add “published author” to his list of credentials, thanks to the recent publication of Threading the Needle. The slim, hardcover volume (featuring a foreword by G. Bruce Boyer) collects many of the columns Press had previously penned for Ivy-Style and J. Press’s website, enhanced by full-color photography and contributions from a number of relevant writers, industry figures and even Press’s own family. Over email, I peppered Press about what readers might expect from his new addition to the Ivy Style library: his answers are as follows. – ERIC TWARDZIK
* * *
IS: I understand that the book is a collection of columns that had previously been published at Ivy-Style.com and at J. Press’s website; what more can you tell me about the new content that has been added?
RP: I wrote maybe 70 columns for Ivy-Style.com, now over 120 for J. Press. I expanded, changed or expunged much of my Ivy-Style content for J. Press presentation. Much of the new content has been motivated by engaging with current J. Press merchandise content. Also changing times. I believe it urgent to recognize lifestyle changes that have occurred over the past decade even beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. J. Press has figured out how to adapt 20th century Ivy Style particulars for new times retaining quality of craft, good taste and sensible pricing. International continues to foster the ideals of our former family business.
IS: Lisa Birnbach, Michael Williams, David Coggins; the book features short contributions from many figures Ivy-Style.com readers may be familiar with. How were these contributors selected?
RP: Contributors were selected by Robert Squillaro and Michael Williams (and perhaps others I’m not aware of) with modest input from yours truly. Squillaro, to my everlasting gratitude, suggested my daughter’s contribution.
IS: From the ribbon-belt inspired belly bands to big, full-color photos and differently colored pages, the book is quite a beautiful production. Did you have any input in its design?
RP: I had absolutely no input in design. Probably a good thing on a subject of which I have no knowledge or talent for.
IS: I came to the book for sartorial enlightenment, but greatly appreciated its literary merits, too. I’d like to know how you developed your prose style, and if you’d been a writer prior to penning the columns.
RP: My prose style began as theatre critic and eventually Editor-In-Chief of the Loomis Chaffee prep school’s Loomis Log. Don’t laugh. Much adolescent writing carefully guided by several talented teachers. Years assisting Irving Press and John Norey writing the J. Press Brochure and copy for ad campaigns honed writer’s spring training. Years writing for Christian Chensvold at Ivy-Style.com, adhering to his often-acid criticisms served a unique graduate school of journalism. Robert Squillaro took over editorial responsibility on Threading the Needle that engendered many rewrites that became a private joke between us.
IS: From Ernest Hemingway to Frank Sinatra, the book details your encounters with some of the 20th century’s greatest celebrities and cultural figures. Are there any names from that time you hadn’t met but most wished you could have?
RP: Several 20th-century celebs I wish I might have clothed: JFK; competitor Chipp traveled to the White House for his try-ons; sophisticated cabaret singer Bobby Short, whom I briefly met and religiously attended performances at the Carlyle but left me out of his wardrobe; Rex Harrison, whose My Fair Lady outfits were tailored by New Haven competitor Rosenthal and Maretz.
IS: Music is an occasional topic in the book. If the book had a soundtrack, what would it be?
RP: If the book had a soundtrack it would contain Rodgers and Hart background sung by Bobby Short. “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” and “I Could Write A Book”, both from their brilliant Pal Joey score would work well.
IS: Your reminiscences include the names of dozens of tailors and men’s shops that are long gone. What is it about J. Press that has given the business such longevity?
RP: J. Press, under ownership of Onward Kashiyama, maintained historic taste levels originally nurtured by the family business and unlike many of our original competitors resisted the death knell of over expansion and degradation of quality.
IS: It’s been a strange year for dressing. How did you approach getting dressed during lockdown? And are you looking forward to dressing in another way as the world hums back to life?
RP: I am a poor example of tasteful dressing during lockdown having willingly donned sweats. Coming out of the dugout will attempt to mimic the very with-it gentleman pictured in the current spring & summer brochure. Only an act of God or personal budget will limit my public presentation.
IS: Do you think we might see a second volume in the future? Or another book from yourself on a different topic?
RP: J. Press has hinted interest in Book II. Brimming with ideas, most of which will remain private, thanks to J. Press editorial supervision, a rational censor. Different topic? My other favorites, still prime since the college subjects I took 60 years ago, enhanced by real life since: American and European History, Comparative Literature, New York Yankees, and 20th Century Musical Theatre will remain in my bedroom closet.