Late Night With Dr. Claire-Marie Brisson

Harvard Professor Claire-Marie Brisson, who is also very good at dressing, and life.

Editor’s Note:  I count Claire-Marie Brisson amongst my friends.  What was once considered a diluted platform of contact, Messengering on FB, has evolved.  Certainly the times have called for it, and we have all gotten better at it.  We have gotten to know each other some, and her views are not only interesting and worth sharing, but also worth taking a hard look at if you want to enjoy life more.  Here’s part one of our conversation (reprinted with her permission, of course):

JB:  You are never not put together. You appear in beer bars in fantastic outfits. So. Is there anything in the world to you, that it doesn’t matter what it looks like? I am not including people.

C-MB: I think that aesthetic intentionality is beautiful. That being said, I like things that intrigue me, that challenge me to think beyond my own preferences. I admire when the built environment has purpose. In essence, I see myself as bringing my own aesthetic into the world and appreciate the mark on the world left by architects, artists, and designers. I don’t always have to feel “at home” in these environments to appreciate them or to be challenged by them positively. I hope that makes sense?


JB: Totally. Your turn.    And for the record, I think your answer was, “everything matters, and the on purpose stuff is better.” 🙂


C-MB: I think that aesthetics are the cornerstone of the Ivy mark on the world. But what would you also include? I know that it extends far beyond what is seen and worn.


JB:  Dignity. That is first and foremost and the driver. No matter where you go, dignity follows Ivy.  Social reform Ivy, the fashion made a statement grounded in dignity.  Musically the fashion made an invitation grounded in dignity.  Collegiate? The fashion perfected self expression while maintaining dignity. It is all dignity. That is why I go crazy when designers innovate without the dignity principle. It is the DNA of Ivy.


C-MB: ❤️


JB:  You are an Ivy League professor, an Ivy Style author, and an Ivy social media influencer. What is attractive to you about an Ivy guy?


JB:  Excellence, the pursuit of excellence, I agree.


JB:  I think of the Ivy Style community as simultaneously traditional and aspirational. I don’t think you can dress like this without a bow towards the past, and I don’t think you can do so very far outside of a traditional lifestyle. Which gets misconstrued. By traditional lifestyle I don’t mean formulaic or commandment-compliant. I mean one that reflects the Ivy values, dignity, respect for thought, the pursuit of excellence. work ethic. By the same token, it is also aspirational, as these values are never fully obtained. I think the self-expression of the pursuit of these values reinforces that pursuit. And it looks good. Matters not where you find it. Posted an article last week about an Ivy barber who is doggedly pursuing excellence in his craft and his shop, in Austin TX.


JB:  We know how Ivy women comport themselves in the workplace, in the academic environment. How does an Ivy woman comport herself in friendship, relationships, family?


JB:  That’s nearly biblical. Well done.  I agree, the whole blurring of distinction so that all those you love just become family.  Never saw it like that before, but man it makes sense.


JB:  Ah, my online presence. I struggle with that every day.    Hold on, I need wine for this.


C-MB:  Should I change the question? LOL


JB:  No way! This is a good one 🙂
JB:  Ok, so there are so many connecting lines to draw. First, there is the human element. I have led a varied life, and having done so, I realize how much of what we value is bullshit and that when we drop that, what we have is just people looking at each other and wanting to be invited into each other’s tents. Inclusion in Ivy is a hard thing. Part of what I love about Ivy is the snarkiness, Ivy does not abide lazy humor, but with that comes some very historically entrenched people and some people who just got admitted to college and are looking for what to wear. Connecting them, the spectrum of age, gender, profession, means, all of that, it is remarkably challenging. In order to connect them, you have to be able to relate to all of them. So I focus on just being me and being vulnerable, and because I have been poor and rich, because I have held both fountain pen and carpenter knife, I just be authentic.


JB:   Having been sick really helps too, because mental health, while I don’t preach on it too much I hope, is something EVERYONE can relate to.   So you have to be funny, weak, strong, serious, innovative, historic, the more diverse I am the more diverse the welcome mat is.


C-MB:  ❤️    That should definitely be added in, mental health is a very important and often invisible challenge those in the Ivy community – and in GENERAL – face.


JB:   Then there is the commercial. The site is a business, so you have to be strategic. You have to build readership while your values alienate some readers. You have to appeal to a corporate sensibility, which often conflicts with my sense of humor.    Then there is the entertainment aspect of it. You have to be interesting. Relevant. Funny and sad . None of which you can fake in a smart group like this.  I hope, I work really hard at the vision that if I do all that right, that a hey day Ivy person may realize the opportunity they had and the obligation it creates, and that a person new to Ivy may realize that there is someone older who also thinks the stigma around mental health management is bullshit, and that you can still do whatever and dress well.     If you build that community, it is fun, smart, and attractive to advertisers. It is the best of all worlds. If you can do it.


C-MB:  😆  Well, I think that a lot of people see me as a “whole individual,” and oftentimes people are intimidated by me solely because of my professional title and degrees. I think that the title and status that I wield in society hides the authentic parts of my personality and it can sometimes be challenging to balance both parts of my life – the academic and the human. And side note, I’m Franco-American!


C-MB:   (Just like Jack Kerouac in that way; he didn’t speak English until he was around six years old or so!)


JB:   Franco-American. So, that is interesting. Do you feel that your career choices have both landed you at the top of your field and stymied your soul?


C-MB:  I wouldn’t say stymied my soul. My soul is very happy. I just have multiple interests and many of them exist within the academy while others do not. That’s healthy.


C-MB:  I also think that the way society sees an Ivy League faculty member often stifles the other things we do. I aspire to go through sommelier training, maybe open a restaurant someday, publish creatively, and so many other things. Society sucks, I have too much self confidence and joy to say that I suck, per se.


JB:   I am going through a sommelier training of a sort as we speak. 🙂   So are you referring to an Ivy stigma?


JB:  You are going to be President of Harvard someday, because that last paragraph is brilliant.


C-MB:  My ultimate goal is to be a university president. Thank you.




JB:  Ever read Stephen King’s On Writing?


C-MB:  I haven’t.


JB:  So King says that the thing you must do if you want to be a good writer is…Wanna guess?


C-MB: to be yourself?


JB: The thing you must do the most of if you want to be a great writer is you must read.


C-MB:  I follow my buddy Kerouac’s mentality on writing and on life: “Live, travel, adventure, bless, and don’t be sorry.”


JB:    It sounds like you are saying the thing you have to do the most of if you want to be a great educator is LIVE.


C-MB: I follow Michel de Montaigne on this one. I recommend all of the Ivy Style readers pick up a copy of Sarah Bakewell’s “How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer.” It’s a great work for anyone.  Michel de Montaigne is the guy who came up with the idea of the essay. “Essayer” in French means to make an attempt, take a stab at something. I think that’s what I’m doing every day, as is any other Ivy person. We’re trying. If we succeed, all the better.


C-MB:  Here’s another question for you: How do you translate Ivy style – so analog in nature! – to a digital format? It’s difficult to express textures, depth, smells, and all of the wonderful aspects of fashion by way of computer screens, iPads, and phone screens. What works?


JB:   You can’t. The best you can do is sell the lifestyle. I think if you can sell the lifestyle in 2D the best you can hope for is to try it for themselves in 3D.  I will never forget this. I had been posting pictures of myself in a double-breasted navy blazer and a ball cap for about two months, and man I was getting flak for it. Comediennes have a saying for it. It was me dying out there. Then this one guy posted and said “I am trying Burton’s look here” – he was in Japan. Then a few other guys. And finally, this guy in a double breasted blazer and ballcap posted from Japan, in Japanese.   Then a bunch did.  The only word I could read was “Burton.” I think that is all you can do. Shine a little light so that people try for themselves.


C-MB:  Great reply!


JB:   Ok. Last one for tonight?


JB:  I have to train at 6 🙂


C-MB:  😮   The only time I wake up that early is to go to the airport while pissed off.  I am not a morning person.  😆


C-MB:   Yes, I haha’d myself.


JB:  Deserted island Ivy bag. You have a duffel and are going to be stranded on an island herd for a year. What do you take?  ONE duffle.




C-MB:  A solar battery charger to keep in contact with everyone and two extra cords per device – phone, tablet, and computer. I use the power of technology to get books and all of that other stuff on the digital platforms so that I have enough free space for two Shinola journals, a year’s supply of Kaweco ink cartridges (I’d say about 24 small packs), my brass Kaweco Sport, several Oxfords, two pairs of Hampshire ankle pants, a skirt, a bathing suit, and Spanish-made sandals. I take it that my eyewear and other things I’m wearing are good to go as well, so I’d have extras aside from that.  Otherwise, I think that I would be quite content relaxing, writing, and spending valuable contemplative time in my own head.


JB:   You are bringing a skirt to a deserted island?


JB:    Good point. I mean, so I have heard. Try getting my daughter to bite off on that.


JB:   I am going to defer to my friend the Professor.


C-MB:   😆 You can answer the same question when you have time; that was a fun one!


JB:   Ok. Hmm. That is tough for me because my guitar is neither particularly Ivy or will fit in a duffel. Ok, Jinhao pens and Midori. Solar and cables, since we are all cheating up in there. HEADPHONES. Grado. Because. White ocbd and khakis. iPad but not iPhone because I hate the iPhone.   When I say I hate it, I hate talking on it.


JB:   Love Bill Evans. Love John Butler more though.



15 Comments on "Late Night With Dr. Claire-Marie Brisson"

  1. “Academics need to realize that there is so much of life to enjoy and experience outside of our offices, conferences, and classrooms. We need to do things that challenge what we know. We need to keep our eyes and hearts open. Most importantly, we can never let our academic pursuits extinguish the flame of passion that caused us all to pursue whatever field of inquiry we have pursued. Academics are in their positions in order to open others to new ideas and allow those ideas to be challenged, experimented with, and ultimately to keep our society’s minds at work to ever improve what we’ve been doing for centuries and to inspire students to think differently.”

    Hallelujah! So well said. Thank you.

    Kind Regards,


  2. Loved this interview, and Dr. Brisson’s answers. I eagerly await part 2!

    (And John: The Gold Coast?! We live in that area and I can tell you it is truly a fantasy novel.)

    She’s great, right? – JB

  3. RIchard E. Press | February 3, 2022 at 8:56 am |

    Bravo! My wife of many years graduated Smith. Does that count as Ivy?

    It does here! – JB

  4. JB’s it’s-mostly-about-dignity argument is, I think, spot on. Well, mostly. There’s something about Ivy (well, there’s a turn of phrase) that immediately dignifies anyone who attempts the look. Here, then, is a reasonably reasonable assumption: if a person is wearing an old, frayed oxford, shetland crewneck, tweed jacket, corduroys, and penny loafers, he/she is studious, well read, and probably creative. Say what you will about Wes Anderson, Woody Allen, John Updike, Fran Liebowitz, — you’ll never guess they’re dumb, boring, or lacking in ideas. The Ivy vibe, difficult to articulate, forever looks-sounds-and-smells like the Williams College faculty lounge circa 1966. It just–well, it just does. With a few important exceptions, I mean.

    Yes to this:

    “I think that aesthetic intentionality is beautiful. That being said, I like things that intrigue me, that challenge me to think beyond my own preferences. I admire when the built environment has purpose. In essence, I see myself as bringing my own aesthetic into the world and appreciate the mark on the world left by architects, artists, and designers.”

    “Beauty is harsh” — Donna Tartt. Gosh, is it ever.
    Relentlessly so.

    Thanks. Agree. The other thing I have come to appreciate about the style is that it is productive rebellion. Not making a statement for the sake of a statement, but making a statement to reflect something real. – JB

  5. I always wondered whether there was a relationship between the English word, essay, and the French verb, essayer. That reframes a whole lot of things for me. What an interesting conversation between two quite interesting people. Thanks for sharing it.
    In my Ivy duffel on the desert island, I’d have to bring my Panama hat — sun protection would definitely be important in that kind of situation, and I’d have no reason to feel self-conscious as the “Panama hat guy” as I still regrettably do in my city. I guess the key there is to wear the hell out of it this summer.

    Thank you! We have bigger plans for Part 2, I think. Well, I am going to pitch them to C-MB and see. – JB

  6. The wool cap in the photo reminds me of Jackie Kennedy.

  7. When I lived in Cambridge, one of my roommates was an Oxford-educated math professor at Harvard. He was always impeccably dressed and well-mannered.

    He told me that he and his colleagues were always complaining about how Harvard students were smug and pretentious in their sweatpants and backwards-facing ball caps.

    That was 20 years ago, and from what I observe in Harvard Square, the situation has only grown worse.

  8. Boston Bean | February 3, 2022 at 1:05 pm |

    Shouldn’t we distinguish between Ivy style and the
    Ivy League? I find the values which underlie Ivy
    style to be increasingly absent from those propagated by Ivy League universities, just as Ivy style clothing is conspicuously absent from the
    wardrobes of Ivy League students.

    I fixed it for you 🙂 – My take on this, and I have an article coming out soon on it so I would love to hear what you think in advance, is that Ivy Style and the Ivy League are about to meet again. Remember, I was right about the tie. 🙂 I hear you on the values part, and thanks for saying it. You have made me reconsider a large part if the article. Damn. I was this close. – JB

  9. Boston Bean | February 3, 2022 at 1:07 pm |

    “andet” : a typo for “absent”.

  10. She has a cute Peggy Olsen thing going on. Oscar Peterson’s Green Dolphin Street from Very Tall album is one of my favorites.



  11. W. ADAM MANDELBAUM | February 3, 2022 at 6:21 pm |

    Kerouac didn’t speak English until six years old? Interesting. Too bad he never learned to write it well, while driving in his shiny car in the night. IMHO one of the most overrated authors ever. After this comes the deluge of refutation…

    I am by no means a Kerouac apologist but I will say this. Not everyone who experiments with the language are bad writers. Some are innovators. – JB

  12. Boston Bean | February 3, 2022 at 9:21 pm |

    I’m nowhere near articulate as you, so I hesitate to share my ideas about the Ivy style/Ivy League interface, overlap, and clash, but I’ll certainly be interested in reading your ideas on the subject.

  13. @Boston Bean;
    Shouldn’t that be “nowhere near as articulate as”?

  14. Barry Carter | May 1, 2022 at 8:52 am |

    Interesting interview this.
    The meeting of Ivy Style and the (current) Ivy League could be fascinating particularly when viewed from an ‘aspiration vs actuality’ perspective.
    When the faux traditionalists meet the modern iteration of what they somewhat ardently attempt to emulate the subjects of dignity and authenticity come to mind. Does forbearance have a place there?
    I would also note that C-M Brisson is gastronomically inclined as well as having expressed an interest in becoming a sommelier. Not a complete surprise in someone who is Franco-American and has a wide range of interests. The lady is a student of life and a citizen of the world.
    I am looking forward to the next installment of what will hopefully be an ongoing conversation.
    Who knows? There may be a book in the offing?
    Dignity, Respect & Authenticity.

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