F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (one of The Great American Novels) is once again a major motion picture. This time, it’s Leonardo DiCaprio in the role of a man who grew rich by any means necessary – only to burn it all in a vain attempt to win dubious love.
It’s a story that examines the perils of excess during the Roaring 20s, our timeless tendency toward the worship of empty hedonism in place of genuine relationships and the inability for the material to fill the holes left behind by emotional wounds.
In the spirit of that literary examination of the human soul, why not spend a pile of cash on some world-class food, handmade clothes and personalized scents in one of the few spots on Earth where you can still catch a glimpse of Gatsby’s time, St. James’s Park in Central London and Jermyn Street, to be precise.
Most remnants of the 1920s were swept aside in the USA a long time ago, but the British hold on to their history and culture of decades past. When some of your local shops have been in business for 300 years, keeping some style from less than a century ago is literally a walk in St. James’s Park.
The Age of Gatsby in the U.S. followed close on the heels of the Edwardian Period in the UK, and many of the top shelf style references from Fitzgerald’s world are still accessible on Jermyn Street for a price – in some cases, a considerable price, “Old Sport.”
23 Skidoo from Head to Toe
Jermyn Street offers everything a man would need to live it up F. Scott style, whether he’s looking for quality or period-appropriate style to match that Nouveau Riche look of almost a century ago.
We’ll start at your top and work our way to the ground. Bates Hats has been offering the finest in handmade chapeaus since 1898. The small, atmospheric shop is filled with hats, handmade and and sewn from the finest wools and other fabrics. The shelves include the very brand and cut of wide-brimmed Fedora ordered up by Steven Spielberg and company for Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark and probably the most expensive American style baseball cap you’re likely to find (wool, of course) at £85. The staff is friendly and helpful – with a voluminous knowledge of hat styles, materials and history.
The Fitzgerald connection couldn’t be more clear than inside its walls as Bates sells a cap literally called a Gatsby – a wide, five paneled, single button cap (£75). Inspired by smaller caps worn by Irish laborers, Gatsby donned the larger, more showy version to demonstrate he’d grown beyond his simple roots.
Once you have your cap secured, it’s a short walk to Turnbull & Asser, elite tailors to the stars. This shop kept Gatsby himself well dressed as its artists handmade fashions for the Robert Redford cinematic version of the novel. You can find photos of the movie costumes inside the store, and Turnbull & Asser’s tailors can make you replicas of Gatsby’s gear if you have a couple thousand Pounds Sterling and several weeks free to wait. The measurements and hand sewing take every garment from mockups, through alterations, to final personalized (and very expensive) product.
Now, you’re going to need shoes, and there’s nowhere that treats shodding men as more of an art form than Foster & Son. Established in 1840, the store sells handmade footwear and fine leather items from its warm, welcoming storefront. But, it’s specialty is personalized, tailored shoes that cost north of £3,000 in most cases.
After taking precise measurements of your foot, four dedicated craftspeople working upstairs from the main store work the decades-old process of carving precise wooden models of the feet, working leather to fit those models, shaping, sewing, etc.
There is very little difference from the current hand-forging process at Foster & Son from what would’ve been employed in Gatsby’s time.
Finally, to add the final ambiance to your prim and proper 1920s style ensemble, you need a scent to fit the period. Floris – holders of a Royal Warrant and purveyors of fine perfumes to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II – offers classic colognes and after shaves with recipes that have remained unchanged since Edwardian times. The helpful staff at Floris recommended the clean, simple and crisp scent of Limes as the perfect Gatsby-style aroma.
Stepping Out Gatsby-Style
Now that you have your Gatsby outfit complete from the damp pavement to the foggy London sky, you need to be seen. In Fitzgerald’s novel, his main character threw lavish parties and enjoyed the finest food and drink solely to attract Daisy from across the lake. But, you can enjoy a little indulgence yourself for the sake of your own enjoyment.
Start with a little shopping at the London HQ for Fortnum & Mason – an elaborate, multi-story fine dining department store famous for its tea, but also filled with gourmet meats, cheeses, fruits, vegetable and other essentials.
For a perfectly prepared lunch or dinner, walk a short way to Franco’s – an Italian-themed eatery with a full menu that also includes steak, seafood and the occasional traditional British faire. I dug into a sirloin myself and figured this is how a man like Gatsby would’ve eaten morning, noon and night. How he didn’t weight 400 lb. by the time Daisy did show up is beyond me.
To top off your Fitzgerald experience, you need to engage in what of the author’s favorite past times (and a vice Gatsby himself never indulged in while others around him lost their heads). The Lobby Bar at the nearby Cavendish Hotel serves an intoxicating mix of spirits and liquors selected from British distilleries. Yes, you can knock back a martini or any number of traditional libations – but the bartenders are eager to introduce you to lesser known beverages from across the UK.
So, well-fed, tipsy and dressed to the nines, you’ve experienced Gatsby’s refined existence without leaving that single street of Jermyn. You and I might not have the bank to maintain Gatsby’s life, but Fitzgerald made sure Gatsby’s life didn’t last long enough to enjoy his bank, either.
These stops along Jermyn in St. James's Park remain open year round, changing their storefront displays to fit the season and its merchandise. If you can't swing the expense some of this Gatsby-worthy swag might require, the staff of each shop allows browsing and will answer any questions you might have.