Wednesday, September 24, 2014

ROWING BLAZERS: Ralph Lauren Launch, Carlson's Book (Comment)

Alice Tepper Marlin, John Tepper Marlin and Jack
Carlson at Ralph Lauren's 55th Street store.
Ralph Lauren did another smart thing a few hours ago and opened its Fifth Avenue at 55th Street store to a launch of a new book by Jack Carlson, Rowing Blazers.

The author of the book coxed the winning boats this year at the Henley Royal Regatta, the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta, and the Head of the Charles Regatta.

He has also coxed the U.S. boat at the world championships and Oxford in the Oxford-Cambridge boat races.

Cover: Kenny McMahon. 
The principal photographer was F. E. Castleberry, a fashion photographer who frequently takes photos for Ralph Lauren.

His photography in the book captures the glamor of rowing, with photos that do justice to the blazers and ties and the young men and women who wear them. Castleberry says he worked on the book for three years with the author.

The cover of the book on display featured Kenny McMahon wearing the University of Wisconsin blazer. A friend in Canada says that the Canadian edition uses a different blazer for the cover.

Oliver Williams with Taurus Boat Club boating uniform.
Photos by JT Marlin.
Published by the Vendome Press in New York City, the book is listed at $50 and can be ordered online for about $15 less.

The Three-Piece Boat Suit

Oliver Williams gets a two-page spread wearing the three-piece uniform of the Taurus Boat Club in front of a white topless motor vehicle.

His club is attached to Oxford Brookes University, the polytechnic that has grown in size and stature since I was at Oxford in 1962-64.

Williams was at the book launch and cheerfully autographed my book in the white space created by the car.

Origin of the Blazer

Jack Carlson's Dad with friends.
Originally, oarsmen wore "boating jackets" while they were rowing. The idea was that rowers should be uniformed like seamen or midshipmen.

The word "blazer", Carlson tells us right up front, was originally applicable only to the jacket of  Lady Margaret Boat Club of St. John's College, Cambridge. This was reportedly the first boat club to be organized on the River Cam.

The Lady Margaret Boat Club color was red, a "blazing" red. Hence the name. As other college boat clubs rose to the competition and developed their own colors, the term "blazer" became a generic word for the boat club jacket.

The blazer-makers that Carlson recommends are retailers in Cambridge (both England and Massachusetts), Eton, Henley and Oxford. A friend who was buying a Trinity College, Oxford blazer didn't like the one sold by Walters in Oxford so he had one made by a tailor in London.

Regatta wear with Henley ticket in lapel.
My friend Denise Seegal, a fashion guru and executive who has headed up several major clothing brands, was there and is acknowledged by Jack Carlson for helping him with the book. Denise found him a publisher and that interest was leveraged by the author into an even better deal.

Denise got to see rowing from the inside when she was married to Peter Darrow, a fellow Trinity Oxford alum who was an avidly competitive rower (he was a strong backer of the Sag Harbor Rowing Club) sadly died of cancer last year.

The Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race Dinner in New York City is held every year – 2015 will be the 82nd dinner – and it has many oarsmen in attendance. They are permitted to wear boat club blazers instead of black tie. I suspect/predict that the number of people wearing blazers will increase in 2015, for two reasons:
  • Now that Ralph Lauren has attached his influence to the boat club blazer, those who rowed but never bought a blazer may be tempted to do so.
  • Those who already own blazers and still fit in them will be tempted to ante up the money for a ticket or two to the dinner next year.
Denise Seegal and Jack Carlson. 
Meanwhile, I hope that Jack Carlson can appear before the Boat Race Dinner or an Oxford event, or both. He has done a thorough job of research on blazers.

A portion of sales at the book event will go to making rowing accessible to more young people, a project that helps keep the sport from being exclusively for students at prep schools and boat-friendly colleges.

Too bad Carlson didn't include the Trinity College, Oxford blazer. He includes only Trinity College, Hartford and Trinity College, Toronto. He did, however, immediately recognize my Trinity College Boat Club tie, at right – to my mind, one of the best-designed boat club ties around.

Trinity College, Oxford Boat 
Club tie. Two griffins on a crown. 
Personally, I hope to see the following developments in a putative boat-club-blazer bubble:
  • Fashion designers for the mass market "club blazers" should respect existing club designs to prevent their being sold to customers with no connection to the boat clubs.
  • It would be great if a quality clothing store would sell college boat club blazers, some of which are poorly made. Some rowers have their blazers custom made because none of the ones on the racks are good enough. 
  • Support of rowing programs for teenagers ought to be incorporated in every boat club activity.
  • It's great to see experimentation in boating attire. However, personally I would not cry over the disappearance of the most egregious expressions, such as the three-piece boat-club suit exemplified by that of Oxford Brookes University. A club blazer paired with the rest of a black-tie or boat-club tie outfit looks better to me.
Other rowing posts: 2012 NYC Boat Race Dinner . 2014 NYC Boat Race Dinner

Update September 2017: This post has had 2,600 views. Thank you for reading.

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