I recently came across these words by Joseph Kennedy: “It’s not what you are, but what people think you are that is important.” My thoughts turned to the concept of self-invention; something akin to Fitzgerald’s iconic “great” Jay Gatsby and the idea of becoming one’s own masterpiece. Of course, we’ll set aside the fact that Fitzgerald’s Gatsby and possibly the Camelot Kennedys (though it is unconfirmed) owed their ascension to the proceeds of rum-running, and concentrate on the fantasy they created for the public!
In an article by our friend the brilliant Robert O’Byrne entitled “The Art of Self-Invention” O’Byrne compares the “Bogus Baron”( Michael Lees) and the “hostess with the mostest” (Elsa Maxwell) with yours truly.
Here’s an excerpt:
Like the faint aroma from an old scent bottle, one can now only pick up a suggestion of what made both Brian de Breffny and Elsa Maxwell note worthy. They belong to another age and when it passed so did their kind. But circumstances have changed of late thanks to technology. To some extent the art of self-creation is harder then was previously the case. Internet anonymity allows users to change age, gender and race- but only for so long as they retain anonymity. In the age of Facebook, Brian Lees could not transform himself into the Baron de Breffny without being unmasked by a so-called friend. Someone on twitter would spitefully remember Elsa Maxwell as a schoolgirl. If you want to devise an alternative persona today, you face the risk of being publicly exposed.
Yet the same internet also allows greater opportunities than were to hand hitherto for treating oneself as a work of art. James Andrew is a New York interior designer. Always something of a dandy, in July 2008 he started a blog called whatisjameswearing.com. As the title implies this is devoted to displaying the author in a constantly changing array of clothes. Since its debut, whatisjameswearing.com has acquired a steadfast following around the world that dandies of previous centuries would envy. What makes the blog distinctive from so many others is precisely the way in which James Andrew uses it as a creative device through which to present a meticulously crafted image of himself. “I like this idea of approaching life almost as a cinematographer,” he told the New York Social Diary in January 2011 before describing his attitude to clothing as a form of celebration: “like when you go to the opera you have these magnificent performers giving you their heart and soul and you’re in this extraordinary place and I think to dress up is to pay everyone respect, to honour the experience of being there.”
Andrew’s display of himself on the internet requires a certain recklessness, not least because he is left with nowhere to hide. He makes no secret of his origins and upbringing; any attempt to do so would quickly become uncovered. But even this degree of honesty offers scant protection from the antagonism of those who argue that no alteration of the character we present to the world is permissible. Ultimately the debate comes down to this: should we treat our identity as a work in progress or something inviolable?
The majority of users employ the internet in a functional fashion, simply as a means of accessing and disseminating information or opinion. But a hand full of people like Andrew have recognized its potential as a tool for self-creation and exploited the opportunities offered.
Self-creation is not the same as self-invention:the second of these involves a measure of dishonesty no longer feasible. But the example of James Andrew proves that today more than ever it is possible for each of us to become our own finest creations, to find an audience for what we have created and unlike Brian de Breffny or Elsa Maxwell, to achieve a degree of immortality.
So very touched by O’Byrne’s exquisite words—I hope you’ll forgive me for sharing pretty much the entirety of them with you!
Celebrating “The Art of Self-Invention” I am sporting a Tom Ford camel silk/cashmere jacket and brown and lavender silk polka dot pocket square, Gucci purple cashmere turtleneck sweater and wool check pants in brown,camel and purple, Tom Ford “Cyrille” sunglasses and saddle leather loafers, vintage Rolex and my fragrance is Tom Ford Oud.