So precisely fine-tuned to dressing as the consummate gentleman from decades long gone, it is an ironic twist on generations that Michael’s dad was a hippie and prefers rock and roll, while his son has dedicated his life to the performance and lifestyle of ’20s, ’30s, and ’40s jazz and swing eras. Michael only wears jeans to work on his car and would never go out in them. He is indignant about what the present day mania for casual attire has done to formality, respect for romance, and pride and to the celebration of life. For him, the idea of going out in the evening in jeans or athletic clothes is depressing. When I was shooting him, we got into the conversation of the dummying down of style. And it made me think of standing at Thomas Jefferson’s home, the monumental, Monticello, and thinking how important it was for the third President to create this kind of noble aesthetic for the world and then looking at the sad juxtaposition of everyone there taking it all in wearing the ubiquitous Crocs and track suits. It seemed like a total unconscious disconnect.
Michael grew up in Georgia, where the woods, streams, and rivers he played in are now strip malls. His nostalgia for the past permeates not only his music and clothes, but his way of life. It was a first for me to meet someone who finds his refuge from urban New York by canoeing the Gowanus canal from his home in Brooklyn to Staten Island (where he has found a bird sanctuary) and walking the old railroad tracks where he has discovered many hidden treasures including forests. His most casual attire while doing this is typically WWI boots, WWII jodhpurs, a pre-WWII British army vest, a Russian military striped shirt, an original Woolrich jacket, and ’30s German motorcycle gloves. And of course, he’s ecstatic about the 1945 Hagstrom map which enables him to uncover forgotten areas (the new ones don’t have the old train routes). When listening to Michael’s excitement over the bend of a railroad track (and its historical context) or the tailoring and quality of a ’40s suit inspires him to be and feel his highest self, it makes one wonder what the generation of comfort first (at all costs to design and craftsmanship) will inspire for future decades – a “banana republic”?
Check out Michael Arenella & His Dreamland Orchestra here.