Imogen's Webb

Our Man in the 1930s

I first caught sight of Brandyn Shaw when I was moving into student halls on my first day at university.  Seeing him dressed up to the nines in a three-piece suit made me think that either he or I had got the wrong end of the stick about what level of formality was expected of freshers.

Brandyn in the gardens at his flat

It turned out that Brandyn had not just been persuaded to “dress smart” (his immaculate appearance was equalled the next day, and the next, and the next…)  and I soon got to know that Brandyn’s unusual style was more than a sartorial matter, it was a way of life.  Shaw is a true 1930s gentleman, and I have been desperate to interview and photograph him ever since I started this blog.  He kindly obliged, and here’s what I discovered when I visited him at home in the famous Dolphin Square.

When questioned, the first thing Brandyn explains is why exactly he loves the 1930s: “It is a complete style” he tells me.  He indicates how, through the retrospectively-named “Art Deco" movement, this decade’s style penetrated every aspect of the design world - from fashion through to architecture and furniture - "You can even get Art Deco plugs and doorhandles!"

1930s from head to toe (even the magazine!)

He has a rather romanticised view of the era, telling me that in his opinion everything was done with style.  ”Even having 20 Martini cocktails is OK if you’re in a white tie and tails.”  I can’t criticise these feelings - everything about Brandyn, from his dapper outfit to his wonderful time-capsule of a flat makes me long for a life back in the good old days, when surely things were more lovely.

I wish I had a sound recording to accompany this!

I wonder when Brandyn’s interest began.  As it turns out, his parents also have a love for bygone eras, and he was brought up watching silent films and Laurel & Hardy.  Shaw says that it was only when he was 14 that he was finally “allowed” to wear 1930s clothes, and he has been building his collection ever since.  An interesting (but logically, not surprising) fact is that Brandyn does not often buy clothes - 1930s originals in a good condition are hard to come by.  His most recent purchase, the deep brown suit he is wearing today, was acquired over a year ago.

I ask how his interest plays out in his daily life.  He makes an unexpected remark: “I don’t think lifestyle has really changed that much”.  But then he pauses and adds “Well, not for those with money”.  And perhaps this is true.  When possible, Brandyn loves to indulge in life’s luxuries in the same form they have taken for centuries: fine dining and theatre trips; visits to musical performances and quality traditional retail outlets.  However, he explicitly says that he does not recommend the Savoy.  He describes bad service, but I am sure that one of the main disappointments must have been the hotel’s recent revamp, which he says has “ruined” the previously Art Deco interior.

"Whoooo, arrrrreeeee, yooooooooooooooouuuuuuuu?"

I ask Brandyn if he has any friends who lead a similar lifestyle.  He has a friend who is interested in vintage styles, but an eclectic mix of things, the inconsistency of which Brandyn is not keen on.  Does it bother him that nobody else he knows lives like him?  Yes, somewhat.  He tells me he dislikes it when people say he’s just trying to be different.  ”I wish everyone would dress like this but you can’t make them!”

Shaw’s main issue with people who buy random items of vintage clothing is that often they don’t look after them properly.  ”If it gets spoilt you can’t just buy another!” he reminds me.  He dislikes the modern throw-away culture, and says that he always tries to keep his things in top condition.  The shoes he is wearing have lasted 6 years and counting.  Respect for your belongings is a lesson we could all learn from Brandyn, even those of us who don’t own irreplaceable items.  After all, being careful with your possessions will save money, and the environment.

It is true, Brandyn’s clothing maintenance is meticulous.  His dinner shirt is starched until it is “like cardboard”… not very comfortable to wear but he loves the look.  He recommends Darcy Clothing (previosuly The Vintage Shirt Company), a company which supplies period costume for films.  From them, Brandyn proudly tells me he bought the same collar that Poirot wears.

Shaw shows me his most prized item of clothing: his tails.

His favourite item of clothing is his tails.  He just wishes there was more opportunity to wear such outfits.  He enjoys going to his “club” for this reason - suits are a requirement and at least a quarter of members wear dinner jackets.

At risk of turning all The Sartorialist on you, I have to say how much I admire Brandyn’s attention to detail.

At the moment, Brandyn is in the semi finals of a singing competition, and will be performing When You’re Good to Mama from Chicago in the next round.  He went to see the West End performance but felt there was a lack of “glitzy outfits”, so I wish I was going to be there to see his!  He also plays piano to accompany silent films which he puts on for the other residents at Dolphin Square.  Naturally, he is quite a hit with the elderly ladies!

Brandyn describes himself as “obsessive”.  He lives this way because he likes it, he feels comfortable, and he thinks it is the image of perfection.  And, well, why not?