The Marketing Man Who Made Jazz And Ivy Cool


Commenting on our article “Is Ivy Cool?” reader “Camford” asked, “Are cigarettes and jazz cool?” I cannot say whether they are cool. Well, I could, but I won’t, as my physician, insurance agent and childhood music teacher might be reading this article. But I believe they are both addictive and potentially lethal.

When I was young and impressionable, I saw a jazz documentary on my local PBS station and have never been the same since. Years later I learned it was Bert Stern’s smoked-infused 1958 bacchanalia “Jazz On A Summer’s Day.” It should have come with a warning label. To this day I struggle with the compulsion to drink Rheingold beer and dance on rooftops, an endeavor I know is as foolhardy as a Lucky Strike habit.

Bert Stern died on June 26 of 2013 at the age of 83. In addition to “Jazz On A Summer’s Day,” Stern is also known for “The Last Sitting,” a collection of haunting photographs of Marilyn Monroe shot six weeks before her death. One of the shots is a self-portrait of himself with Monroe, and it’s a droll coincidence that Stern died in the same annum that the Oxford Dictionary chose “selfie” as its word of the year. Always the pioneer, Stern may have had the best selfie 51 years before the recognition of the Internet phenomenon.

bert marilyn

Bert Stern was born in Brooklyn on October 3, 1929, the son of a child portrait photographer. He later described his family finances as “medium poor.” A high school dropout, he served as a cameraman during the Korean War. His first industry job was in the mailroom of Look magazine, where he made two important friends: Stanley Kubric, who would later ask him to do the still photography for his 1962 film “Lolita,” and art director Hershel Bramson, who would get Stern his first commercial assignment for Smirnoff Vodka.

The title of Stern’s movie biography, “Bert Stern: Original Madman,” gives you the sense of the milieu in which he operated. For the Smirnoff commercial he travelled to Egypt and photographed a martini glass that captured the reflected image of the Great Pyramid, an image considered groundbreaking at the time. Robert Sobieszek, the curator of the International Museum of Photography and Film at the George Eastman House, called it “the most influential break with traditional advertising photography,” while Chris Wiegand of the Guardian said upon Stern’s death that never in his career did he better the Smirnoff campaign.

If we accept that assessment, we can better appreciate the time when Stern turned his iconoclastic talents toward promoting a traditional and campus-accepted brand of shoes.


A.E. Nettleton Company of Syracuse, NY, was formed in 1879 by Albert E. Nettleton. Its shoes were worn by students, soldiers and statesmen, and records show that Black Jack Pershing, Charles Lindbergh and the Wright Brothers were customers. At least three presidents wore Nettletons, including Teddy Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge and Harry Truman. On the campus front, Nettletons were sold at the Brown University outfitter Hillhouse.


Nettleton was also an early adopter of the loafer style, trademarking the term “loafer” in 1937. Over its first seven decades in business, Nettleton used line drawings, simple photographs and beautiful paintings to present its brand image. But by the 1950s it was ready to get hip. Bert Stern, the man who was asked to make Spam romantic, got the gig. The result was the Mr. Nett campaign that combined traditional photography with abstract images.

Stern once wrote, “I took audacious pictures that got people to want things.” If on New Year’s Eve you find me drinking a dry martini while listening to Dinah Washington and craving Nettleton shoes, you know who to blame.  — CHRISTOPHER SHARP

10 Comments on "The Marketing Man Who Made Jazz And Ivy Cool"

  1. Maybe the image of the Nettleton wasn’t scanned by you guys, but clicking the ‘moire’ filter on the scanner really helps.

  2. Ironchefsakai | December 28, 2013 at 11:51 pm |

    I can’t recall the name of the illustrator on those ads–who did the faces. That wasn’t Stern, was it? I recall a particular midcentury artist who did many similar “portraits.”

  3. @Ironchefsakai

    Saul Steinberg, perhaps?

    Actually, I don’t think so. More like an Esquire cartoonist.

  4. @Ironchefsakai

    The character’s name was Mr. Net, and he was created by Bert Stern.

  5. Ironchefsakai | December 29, 2013 at 11:46 am |

    Interesting. I could’ve sworn I’d seen these by some other artist on display at The Whitney.

  6. A.E.W. Mason | December 31, 2013 at 2:44 am |

    If anyone’s interested, Nettleton, which was “dormant” for decades, re-launched an up-market shoe line last year. I took a look at the website. Looks promising, but who knows. Their basic line is $795. I owned a pair of Nettleton shoes back in the early 70’s. They were awful.

  7. I have several Nettletons. All are extremely well made – they rival Alden in quality. All cordovan and all still in rotation. Some going on 20+ years.

    The new Nettleton seems stupid. If Alden can do it for much less why not them? They are not C&J or Greens and never will be…

  8. I grew up near Syracuse and after getting my MBA at Cornell bought several pairs over the years until they closed their factory. They were excellent shoes. Glad to see that they’re back.

  9. Wanted to thank Camford for getting me thinking about this topic which lead to this article.

  10. Evan Everhart | May 7, 2019 at 5:57 pm |

    I’ve got a pair of British tan Scotch grain long wings by them, I never wear them as I really don’t like long wing wingtips, also they are in near never worn condition and the leather is so stiff with the feel of newness that they honestly hurt my feet upon wearing.

    The shoes do seem to be very well made as far as the craftsmanship goes, but they are snug for their marked size, which is funny, as my feet are a bit on the narrow side of a D width. I suppose it could be the last.

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