Michael “Atters” Attree:
Are you experimental with your facial hair?
I am now. I have attempted to in the past, but now I’ve gone for a cardigan, cherry-bun style.
Do you use any facial hair accoutrements?
I dye it. I use mascara.
Mascara? Really? Damn. I thought that trick was a secret of my own. I didn’t think anyone else did that. Do you admire anyone with facial hair?
I like D.H. Lawrence’s beard, with a roll neck. I like Royal Navy beards. I tried a Robert De Niro Deer Hunter style for a short time, but only when I was having a few days off.
Do you find the ladies like Adam’s whiskers?
Some girls do; some girls hate it and they complain about a rash.
Anything you put on, if you’re clean, is going to hang well, and I think that’s the main thing that leads into sartorial correctness. I go down to Jermyn Street and I get a shave
Did you make the 1980s or did the 1980s make you?
I think in retrospect I was given the New Romantic label; recently the V&A did a pop culture exhibition and labelled me as a New Romantic. I think it’s the worst tag I could have. In the history books I’m blocked into this whole thing. Some of the guys I knew, like Spandau Ballet, were alright, but I never set foot in the Blitz club. Richard James Burgess, a guy who played the drums, actually coined the phrase New Romantic.
What do you think of the latest 1980s revival?
It’s not really a revival; I think it’s more kids liking a period of history and getting their version of it, like we do. When punk came around, people forget that Malcolm and Vivienne were in their shop SEX and Let It Rock before that. They had a jukebox and were doing Teddy Boy clothes, T-shirts with Jerry Lee Lewis on, so even then it was retrospective – they were looking back at rock ‘n’ roll even then. Rock and roll came out of America, but America came from England.
What do you think of the current 1940s revival?
One of my favourite groups when I was growing up was the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band and Vivian Stanshall; I know the words of many of his works by heart. I came from an art school background. That was really my thing; Eleven Moustachioed Daughters and Sir Henry at Rawlinson End. I know it all off by heart and I bloody love it. My definition of style is that certain styles and fashions are so good you can’t get rid of them, no matter how hard you try. There’ll always be an undercurrent of that style. I think it’s getting bigger now and people are ready for a bit of individuality.
What would you say were your Chappish qualities?
I like to dress up on occasions, but the main thing is to shave in the morning. The toilette, as women would say. Getting a good shave and not cutting your throat and being clean and ready to go. Anything you put on, if you’re clean, is going to hang well, and I think that’s the main thing that leads into sartorial correctness. I go down to Jermyn Street and I get a shave – it’s quite a process. I do a wet shave every day. I went down and had a wet shave at Trumpers and they nearly cut my throat!
How would you personally describe or interpret Chappism yourself?
When he first walks into a room, you wouldn’t notice him at first, but eventually you’ll notice something, like a pair of shoes. One article would be out of place. No matter how limited the budget, they’ve always got the best. If he wears Levis, it’ll be 501s. Also, its ‘look but don’t touch’. A courageous stance, where you walk into a room and you’re wearing make-up and everyone else is in Fred Perrys. There are 60 of them and one of you and you have to stand your ground. Invariably they all just shut up, especially as you’re the one with the girl, not them.
Is there any Dandyism in popular music these days?
Unfortunately not; I think it’s got lazy. It’s turning into a sort of horrible Fred Perry funeral, with guys wearing casuals. Posing like hooligans, with football terrace chic, which makes me sick to my stomach. I think punk was the last great effort where things were really turned upside down. A T-shirt with a swastika and a Jesus upside down, or the Cambridge rapist on it, or two 14-year-old boys smoking cigarettes. This is Malcolm and Vivienne Westwood. And to wear them you had to be a part of something, you were actually saying f**k off or leave me alone, or that I don’t give a s**t. The last effort was Sigue Sigue Sputnik. Everyone hated them, but they tried something – they were like the New York Dolls. They had a go, and they had a bit of glory there. And maybe Suede, when they were wearing flares. Blur were doing well, then they started being sort of, you know, jolly lads. It led into the Gallaghers. Paul Weller I don’t mind. He’s a sort of a mod dandy. He’s a bit safe.
How should a true Dandy conduct himself?
A dandy should be a gentleman, opening doors, being courteous. The aesthetic of it is to be an arrogant, wealthy wastrel who squanders his inheritance, but if you read about Beau Brummell, for example, he wasn’t rich. He had to use his wit and style. He invented the suit. He had the Prince Regent kissing his arse, and eventually he crossed a line and said “Who’s your fat friend?”
Quentin Crisp I met a few times, he was a dandy but was the nicest man you’ll ever meet. He’d be out with 700 mad kids running around him; he’d be sitting there smoking a cigarette and having a drink and nobody would touch him.
QC’s room was a bit dusty, I believe. Was the man himself clean?
He used to say “after a year, the dust doesn’t get any worse”. Francis Bacon – his studio was like a nest. I think there’s something interesting about the cleanliness of the artist; they like to get really messed up and then get all cleaned up again and go out gambling.
Did or do you ever drink at their (and my) favourite Soho waterhole, The French House on Dean Street?
No, I never drank alcohol until about six years ago. No drink, no smoking, no drugs. I don’t like drugs at all. [He takes a sip of his tequila-based beverage and florally takes a puff of his Turkish cigarette.]
The first guy that I ever approached to help me with advice, who became a distant mentor, was Terence Stamp. I went in there in my pirate outfit and he had his moustache and all these girls were looking, and he came in wearing a three-piece suit and all the girls just went crazy.
As a child, what was the first grand sartorial statement you ever made?
I wasn’t really a Dandy then; I was more like the rockers. I bought a green plastic highway patrol jacket with fur collar in Church Street market, when I was about 10. And that was quite a big thing. No one had one. It was plastic, so that was the trouble.
When it comes to women, would you consider yourself a cad, bounder or gentleman?
[Without any hesitation] Gentleman. Honestly, hand on heart, there’s nothing as beautiful as a woman. They can give you more pleasure than anything and so I see no reason to treat them with anything other than respect. I’ve never hit a woman in my life. When I was little, my granddad held his fist up – he’d been a sailor in the First World War – and said, if I ever see you hit a woman I’ll give you that. [Adam holds his persuasive be-ringed knuckleduster-like fist up to my face] And if you ever see a man hit a woman, give him that.
And how should an English gentleman conduct himself?
The thing about the whole Chap ideal is that there are a lot of kids who aren’t from the background that that comes from. The Duke of Windsor, he was the man. He was this guy who just had natural style even though he was a small guy. I met Fred Astaire once and he was just… [Shakes his head admiringly]. If you look at pictures of Fred Astaire, instead of a belt, he’d have a tie wrapped round his waist when he was rehearsing. These guys, they weren’t particularly handsome, but they were well suited and booted. You learn a lot from just looking at them. The first guy that I ever approached to help me with advice, who became a distant mentor, was Terence Stamp. I went to Fortnum and Mason and met him, because I was interested in taking up a bit of acting.
I was at Number One in the charts at the time, in 1980, and I went in there in my pirate outfit and he had his moustache and all these girls were looking, and he came in wearing a three-piece suit and all the girls just went crazy. He sat there with a lapsang souchong and he’s just got it. He gave me a very good education; he was quite brutal. I think a lot of the military influence came from looking at Billy Budd and Far from the Madding Crowd. He really did learn to use the sabre; he’d done a lot of drugs, so there was quite a weird element to what he said. He was also a great writer, as was Dirk Bogarde, who is another of my heroes. When you find out that at home he was drinking a pint of Guinness in his dressing gown, but when he stepped out that door, it was like the song, It’s Your Duty to be Beautiful and if you’re an entertainer that’s part of the job, and a lot of them think it isn’t. And yet they’ll still go to the Groucho, knowing there’s a load of paps outside and you’ll get that [masks his face with his hands] And that’s laziness. It’s the worst enemy. I can’t bear that. No one can style me and no-one can dress me, so when I do a photo session I get all the stylists phoning me up: “Hello, what do you want?” “I’m a stylist.” “Who for? Not me.”
Any other men of sartorial style you admire?
Brian Setzer from the Stray Cats – I think he’s a dandy, with his hair piled high, pompadour-y. People like Little Richard, and early Elvis. No-one taught him to dress like that. Who else? I think the 60s did turn out some really dangerous fashionistas. Brian Jones, the early Stones – they looked fantastic. Dirk Bogarde underlined. Terence Stamp doubly underlined. Marcello Mastroianni.
What’s your opinion on Mark Ronson’s style?
I met Mark Ronson, I spent an afternoon with him, and he’s a very intelligent, gracious young man and I think is very talented and will have a very long career. He’s a gentleman. He’s got the right idea. I can’t judge anyone until I meet them, with the exception of the Gallaghers. I don’t have to meet Liam Gallagher; I mean, you can just smell him. But I think Mark Ronson’s a bit of a chap. He’s picked up on this John F Kennedy era style; he’s got this sort of Staypress thing. He does it well.
Pete Doherty thinks he’s Rimbaud – which is a shame, because he’s a talented young man but soon he’s going to be dead. He’ll lose his teeth and then his looks; he’ll lose his girlfriend and then lose his life. He’s going to die and it’s a terrible thing.