Dress-down Friday: Boni de Castellane

If Robert de Montesquiou had a rival as a Belle Époque symbol of masculine elegance, it was spendthrift aristocrat Boni de Castellane.

In his 1926 book The Paris that’s not in the Guide Books, writer Basil Woon leaves us a vivid and strangely moving portrait of the aging Boni and his aging bulldog in an age that is no more their own. The roar of the 20s had no time for a four-hour toilette or the quest for a waistcoat to match one’s moustache:

Emerging from the Champs-Elysees to the avenue of that name, we perceive the meticulously garbed figure of Marquis Boni de Castellane, taking his morning constitutional with Bou-Boule, his aged bulldog, at his heels.

Boni’s morning walk up the Champs-Elysees from the Rond Point near where he lives, to the Etoile and back, is just as much entitled to be called a “sight” of Paris as is the Chamber of Deputies or the Quai d’Orsay.

At eight o’clock every morning Boni is called by his valet for his scented bath. By twelve o’clock he is fully dressed and ready for his constitutional.

He has on light striped trousers of impeccable cut and crease; a dark morning coat braided down the seams and around the collar; a light fawn-colored overcoat; pointed shoes of black patent leather with unusually high heels, and spats of such brilliant whiteness that they dazzle the eyes.

Around his neck is the famous Boni collar, as famous in its own field as Henri Letellier’s collar is at night, or as Berry Wall’s is at the races. It is a tall one-ply collar with large points that seem to bury themselves in the folds of the Marquis’s chin. Around the collar is a bow-tie of polka-dot design.

Above this is Boni’s gracefully curling mustache of the exact hue of his waistcoat, and on the noble head is a gray derby poised at just the correct angle.

“Bou-Boule!” exclaims the Marquis, as he gathers up the platinum-trimmed leash of red leather.

The odd, wrinkled, old-mannish little bull-dog with the wise eyes looks up expectantly at his beautiful master.

“Bou-Boule!” continues the Marquis, “marchons!”

Here is le beau Boni in his Belle Epoque apogee:

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Update: the day after posting this I saw a French bulldog in the rain, tied up outside a hardware store. It looked so forlorn and I thought of old Bou-Boule and leaned over to pat it in what I imagined to be sympathy…and it bit me. I’m not sure what the moral of this is but right now I’m OVER bulldogs.

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6 comments

  1. Linda Hollander

    It did not take me four hours to dress for my wedding.

    What a delicious man, they didn’t make’em like Boni even when he was at his height. I adore him!

    I have a book of his memoirs, where in he talks about how happy his peasants were working the land before the Revolution, written about 90 years later. Definitely in the Versailles Armband Brigade on 14 July.

  2. I hope you’ve learned a valuable lesson, young man.

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