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December 18th, 2002 Steffen Silvis | Books
 

Revolt into Style

The magazine Bloody Beautiful and its creator demand a return to smartness.

     
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"Throw your coat on the lion," Doran Wittelsbach instructed me upon entering his home, and so I draped my sodden raincoat across the back of the rather mild-mannered taxidermied lion guarding the foyer. "He's obviously a relic from a
natural-history museum," said Mr. Wittelsbach of his pet, "as he's not roaring for some Hemingway."

I have journeyed to Vancouver, Wash., to track down Mr. Wittelsbach, who is the editor and publisher of Bloody Beautiful, a magazine devoted to urbanity and the debonair life. As we live in an age of gaucheries beyond calculation, Bloody Beautiful's focus falls, with some exceptions, between the years 1880 and 1940, and Mr. Wittelsbach lives what he celebrates.

In an immaculate wool suit complete with waistcoat and spats, Mr. Wittelsbach sits smoking in his favorite chair with an ornate ashtray close to hand. He sports tortoiseshell-rimmed glasses and an Assyrian goatee in which the hair is curled at the tip. He is of indeterminate age and has the flawless pallor of a fellow heliophobe. Indeed, natural light has been banished from his home's interior, and one must glimpse his astonishing collection of Victoriana and gothic revival bric-a-brac through the dim glow from a cast of lamps and the fug of innumerable Benson & Hedges.

By way of a manifesto, Bloody Beautiful is content to list individuals who were "unabashedly themselves, bravely beautiful with no deathbed conversions to mediocrity, religious or secular": Erich Von Stroheim, Cecil Beaton, Charles Addams, Edith Sitwell, Alexander Woollcott, George Sanders, Tallulah Bankhead, etc. There are also a scattering of modern icons: Klaus Nomi, Klaus Kinski and Anton La Vey, the high priest of the Church of Satan.

"I had the pleasure of knowing Mr. La Vey," Mr. Wittelsbach admitted between exhalations. "The confused lump him in with the likes of Ozzy Osbourne. But he was much more like H.L. Mencken or Mark Twain...idealists who raged against bad culture." The two leading figures in Mr. Wittelsbach's pantheon are King Ludwig II of Bavaria (the gloriously profligate patron of Wagner) and John Barrymore. In fact, "Wittelsbach" was Ludwig's family name, and so was adopted by the young editor. As for Barrymore, portions of his wardrobe hang in Mr. Wittelsbach's armoire.

One living person with whom Mr. Wittelsbach is close is the New York artist David McDermott, a radical, raw food dandy who daily spends his life in the early 1900s with his partner, Peter McGough.

In the new issue of Bloody Beautiful (its second), there is a marvelously quotable interview with Mr. McDermott: "I've been living in the past since I was 13 years old, when I made the decision to go backwards instead of forwards." Mr. McDermott's theory on how the automobile murdered fashion is also thought-provoking: People now wear underwear and surround themselves with steel--the only thing they take personal pride in. "The one redeeming aspect of pornography is that one can look at women without the distraction of bad clothing," Mr. Wittelsbach remarked to me while putting a 78 of Irving Berlin's "At the Devil's Ball" on the Victrola. "Men no longer have style either, except for older black men. Have you noticed that modern Hollywood villains are always the best-dressed characters in films? We should establish a defense league for the well-turned-out."

Like Mr. McDermott, Mr. Wittelsbach, through Bloody Beautiful, is offering a guide to younger people on how to glamorously rebel against the dog-pack vulgarity of the present. His magazine provides entertaining biographical sketches on our dead betters as well as information on haberdashery. A great fan of old music, Mr. Wittelsbach outfits each copy of Bloody Beautiful with freshly-pressed records of forgotten songs. All perfectly stylish.

Still, Mr. Wittelsbach remains a minority voice in an age when prole rags have become the national costume. Even the queers of my generation have surrendered to the Circean lure of slovenly leisure. Once the arbiters of taste, lesbians have become parodies of yard help, while the mass-cloned gay man has forsaken uniqueness for the suburban fantasies of Abercrombie & Fitch. Even drag queens cross-dress for less.

If Bloody Beautiful has a philosophy it's this: A lack of personal style creates the conditions for herdthink, leading toward the destruction of individuality. As this tacky nation marches clumsily to war in its mob-cult apparel (denim, corporate sweatshirts and baseball caps are America's burka), personal freedom's salvation may just lie in a dandified revolt against the dull norm. Oscar Wilde said, "As long as war is regarded as wicked, it will always have fascination. When it is looked upon as vulgar, it will cease to be popular."

A world of dandies, as advocated by Mr. Wittelsbach, would be bloody beautiful right now.


Bloody Beautiful
is available in area record- and bookstores or can be ordered from BUA Productions, 1701 Broadway #347, Vancouver, WA 98663, for $10.



Doran Wittelsbach shops at Avalon and goes to films at the Bagdad Theater, the last of the great Portland movie palaces. "If one has to be a hippie one should try to be a McMenamin brother," says Mr. Wittelsbach. "Their devotion to refurbishing old buildings is inspiring."



Mr. Wittelsbach is a banker--"let's just say at a major institution"--and is "between wives."
 
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