Narrator: Richie Tenenbaum had been a champion tennis player since the third grade. He turned pro at seventeen and won the U.S. Nationals three years in a row. He kept a studio in the corner of the ballroom but had failed to develop as a painter.
by Frederick Egan Castleberry
"I like to let my racket do the talking."
When it comes to sneakers, I like to let them do the talking too. And by them I mean my Adidas Rod Lavers. There’s this inherent offbeat disposition to Rod Lavers—they’re cool…because they’re not. Lavers are unapologetically an athletic tennis shoe—shunning simple clean lines for functionality and performance (albeit 1970s performance). The fairway green sole and heel patch, white perforated mesh upper, and suede toe guard signal more social outsider than fashion insider. They borderline on “dad sneaker” (given their chunky profile and economical $65 price tag). To wear them is to do so deliberately. To wear them is to whisper, “When I’ve got you down, I’ll rub you out”—yet in an air of politeness.
It was Wes Anderson’s 1998 film Rushmore in which I slowly fell in like with the sneaker. Max Fischer, an eccentrically ambitious 15-year-old on scholarship at Rushmore Academy, spends the entire film in an unkempt pair with burgundy shoe laces. Worn with a navy Rushmore blazer and dumpy khakis, his “uniform” signified a young man navigating the grey area between boyhood and manhood. Fischer’s Lavers provided deeper insight into why he might vengefully cut (and know how to cut before even possessing a driver license) the brakes on Mr. Blume’s Rolls Royce. There was a mannered cutthroat spirit to them that deeply resonated with me.
Rodney George Laver is widely considered to be the best tennis player of all time. The Australian turned pro in 1962, following the first of his Grand Slam titles. Laver racked up so many titles during his career that listing them all would take longer than a John McEnroe dispute. But you could forget about all but one of Laver’s feats and he’d still be the greatest of all time simply because he’s the only player to win the singles’ calendar Grand Slam…twice.
Despite their namesake’s dominance on the tennis court in the 1960s, Lavers enjoy little name recognition comparitavely. Their subtle orthopedic demeanor seems to keep them under the pop culture radar while still maintaining a fervent cult following. Introduced in 1970, the Adidas Rod Laver arrived on the back of the Rocket from Rockhampton’s second Grand Slam. Laver, I should note, did play a hand in its development, wearing prototypes during his triumphant run through 1969. The result is a true cult classic that speaks softly and carries a big
In his closet: Cashmere cable knit sweaters, Levi's denim, Fair Isle sweaters, varsity jacket, collegiate sweatshirts, penny loafers, down feather puffer vest, black aviator sunglasses.
Iconic look: The first look from his "Thriller" music video—red varsity jacket, plaid button down shirt, Levi's, and Gucci loafers.
Key accessories: Parrot.
Thing you can't imitate: His genius.
What we love: kiltie tassel loafer, tortoise rim glasses, tousled hair.
The sun is glaring down on a Cap d’Antibes beach from a vast blue perch. It’s the summer of 1923. Gerald Murphy—artist, F. Scott Fitzgerald muse, and heir to the American leather accessories maker Mark Cross—takes refuge from the blistering heat in a shirt he discovers in a Marseilles market. It’s striped. The navy-on-cream Breton stripe looks so handsome on Murphy that his friend Picasso follows suit.
The jaunty appeal of the striped sailor top Murphy first discovers not only escapes the Murphy’s meticulously curated coterie of characters but achieves a devout following of royals, artists, and rebels. The likes of The Duke of Windsor, Jean Seaberg, Andy Warhol, and Joan Baez all go on to iconize what is essentially the French naval uniform. It isn’t until the 1970s that the Breton stripe shirt settles down as the androgynous staple we know now lovingly adopted by American preppies.
One of those American preppies is Nikki Kule. A Parsons-trained fashion designer with a stint at Brooks Brothers manning the boys and girls collections and a member of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, Nikki is obsessed with stripes. One might even say possessed. She currently designs her namesake line Kule out of New York. The collection for women and men boldly embodies this “Preppy Luxe” aesthetic Nikki has embraced so warmly throughout her life.
This fixation has Nikki deep in the pursuit of the perfect striped shirt. More specifically, the Breton striped shirt. With a handful of silhouettes to fancy any whim, we’ve been living in them this entire summer (we affectionately refer to it as being "Kule for the Summer"). While the royal blue-on-cream is a modern interpretation of the striped shirt Pablo Picasso made famous, Nikki’s exploration of color results in a prism of color-ways likely to be crowned new classics by summer's end. Fortunately, a 3,915 mile trek to a Marseilles market isn’t necessary to get your hands on one, just a quick trip to a striped corner of the world wide web called kule.com.