Prince Felix Youssoupoff
Prince Felix Youssoupoff (1887-1967) will forever be remembered as the man who murdered the mad monk Rasputin even though it was a joint effort with the Grand Duke Dimitri. The Youssoupoff dynasty was the wealthiest family in pre-Revolutionary Russia with as fabulous a private collection of jewels as the ruling Romanovs.
He was a Davies & Son customer man and boy. In his 1953 memoir Lost Splendour he tells the tale of his dog ‘Punch’ biting through the seat of another customer’s trouser seat and the enraged peer chasing Prince Felix down Hanover Street.
Prince Felix died in 1967 in a world that was unrecognisable to that he knew of Imperial splendour before the Revolution. He remained a loyal Davies customer ordering suits well into his last decade.
F. SCOTT FITZGERALD
The great American novelist of the Jazz Age, F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1914) inscribed his name and address – Claridge’s Hotel – in the Davies & Son Address Book in 1921. Though he only published four novels in his lifetime, Fitzgerald was a prolific short story writer. Indeed, the novel that has posthumously been lauded as his masterpiece, The Great Gatsby, was a disappointment compared to successes This Side of Paradise, The Beautiful and the Damned and Tender is the Night. His final novel, The Last Tycoon, was published posthumously.
Born in Minnesota to Irish immigrant parents, Fitzgerald’s first detective story was published when he was thirteen. He attended Princeton where he met his muse Ginerva King who was the inspiration for the untouchable, aloof heiress Daisy Buchanan in Gatsby.
Fitzgerald remained a ‘Hollywood Hack’ (in his own words) until his death in 1940. He had been an alcoholic since Princeton and had suffered two heart attacks. Dying aged forty-four, his obituaries were written by the greats. Dorothy Parker quoted Gatsby writing ‘the poor son of a bitch’ while T. S. Eliot said of The Great Gatsby ‘it seems to me to be the first step that American fiction has taken since Henry James’.
Born in Puglia, Rudolph Valentino (1895-1926) was the first male sex symbol of Hollywood’s silent movie era. Most of his films were flops and yet his leading role in The Sheik earned him such accolades as ‘The Great Lover’, The Latin Lover’ and more colloquially plain ‘Rudy’. Valentino emigrated to New York in the Teens and picked-up work as a taxi dancer; partnering rich women for ten cents a dance. He is credited with introducing the Argentine Tango to Manhattan. The Sheik (1921), was a cultural and critical phenomenon.
He still holds the record for the shortest marriage in Hollywood history when he married a lesbian, Jean Acker, who left him after three days having barred him from her bedroom. Valentino married again in Mexico but was jailed for bigamy in LA because his marriage to Acker was still valid.
It was in the wake of the success of The Sheik that Rudolph Valentino paid his only visit to London where he patronised hatter James Lock & Co, shoemaker John Lobb Ltd and tailors Anderson & Sheppard, Huntsman and Davies & Son.
When Noël Coward was emerging as the great 20th century playwright/composer/actor/cabaret artist, he said on seeing Ivor Novello (1893-1951) perform in the West End ‘I just felt suddenly conscious of the long way I had to go before I could break into the magic atmosphere in which he moved and breathed with such nonchalance’. Born David Ivor Davies in Cardiff, Novello’s mother was a singing teacher and choral conductor who encouraged him to pursue a musical career when the family moved to London in 1913.
Novello won a scholarship to Magdalen College, Oxford, as a solo treble. He and his mother took a penthouse flat above the Strand Theatre where he remained for the rest of his life. The theatre was re-christened the Novello Theatre by Sir Cameron Mackintosh and a blue plaque rests above his doorway. Novello spent World War I as an Air Ministry clerk after being enlisted into the Royal Navy Air Service in 1916. In 1917 he met his life partner Bobbie Andrews and first met his major rival Noël Coward
Ivor Novello was still performing in the last year of his life, 1951, starring in his musical Gay’s the Word. He died from a coronary thrombosis aged fifty-eight a few hours after a performance in a revival of King’s Rhapsody. As Coward eulogised, ‘theatre – good, bad and indifferent – is the love of his life’. Of his successes, Novello would say ‘things that do not require effort of some sort are seldom worth having’. After his death, Ivor Novello’s name was kept alive by the eponymous annual Awards inaugurated in 1955.
David Lean (1908-) is arguably the most important epic British filmmaker in the 20th Century. Like Powell & Pressburger and Alfred Hitchcock, his work is instantly recognisable not least for his creative team writer Robert Bolt, cinematographer Freddie Young and Composer Maurice Jarre.
Lean was born a Quaker whose parents would not allow him to go to the cinema. His career began at Gaumont British Studios in 1927 as a tea boy, clapper boy, messenger boy then cutting room assistant. In 1935, he rose to chief editor at Gaumont British News.
A protégé of Noël Coward, Lean co-directed the World War II propaganda film In Which We Serve (1942) starring Coward and John Mills. Lean’s big break was the epic The Bridge On the River Kwai (1957). Lean tackled adaptations of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations in 1946 and Oliver Twist in 1948.
In 1962 Lean cast Peter O Toole as Laurence of Arabia which was a sweeping drama about the life of war hero T. E. Lawrence that brought together Lean’s creative collaborators and won seven Oscars including Best Film Director. Lawrence was followed by Dr Zhivago (1965) shot in Spain and starring Omar Shariff and Julie Christie as Lara.
On his deathbed, Lean said to director John Boorman, ‘haven’t we been lucky? They let us make movies’.
With Ralph Lauren and Donna Karan, Calvin Klein (b.1942) formed the most powerful triumvirate of all-American fashion designers in the 1980s. Like Karan, he was a minimalist influenced by 70s superstar Halston and like Lauren he sold the American dream of health, happiness and hyper-sexuality. Born in the Bronx to a Jewish family, Klein’s grandmother had a tailor’s shop and was said to have influenced his decision to study at the High School of Industrial Arts and graduate from FIT in 1963.
Klein worked for various middle-of-the-road women’s tailoring companies before his friend Charles Schwartz loaned Clein $10,000 to set up his own label. The myth goes that Bonwit Teller buyer X stepped out of a lift on the wrong floor and discovered Clein’s genius as a streamlined, minimalist tailor. The same story was applied to Ralph Lauren suggesting this was a fashion fairy tale rather than reality.
Calvin Klein’s mainline collections were characterised by the ‘greige’ (grey to beige) soft palette and minimal, sculpted power suit tailoring. But it was Calvin jeans and underwear that made him a multi-millionaire.
Klein is still seen on the fashion scene in New York despite his retirement. In 2003 Francisco Costa took-over as Creative Director of Calvin Klein Inc who was inspired by Klein’s tailoring aesthetic in the 1980s and 1990s. On his retirement, Calvin Klein was a globally recognised and much imitated monolith of multi-brand, multi-product high to low fashion.