- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 15, 2006

They say your worst mistakes are your first mistakes, but that’s simply not the case for Max. My son, 20 months old, bears no responsibility for the preposterous (albeit elegantly framed) photographic portrait of him that hangs on the second floor of Turnbull & Asser’s Beverly Hills shop. He certainly does not deserve the blame for the cream-and-blue polka-dot ascot accoutering his ensemble. Turnbull made that item for Max — with just the slightest nudge from his grandmother.

So, how did Max end up on the wall of the shirt maker to the Prince of Wales, right between Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and David Niven?

A few months before Max arrived, his grandmother decided that her grandson needed to bear some resemblance, beyond whatever physical details might be dealt by the almighty, to his father. She knew — there’s no shame in this — that I like ascots. I wear them, sometimes even in public.

I can explain.

I’m a transplant from the East Coast, born in Washington. I liked the way people dressed in the District. I liked the overstarched, blousy look of the Brooks Brothers oxford button-down shirt. I admired the elan with which the Beltway bureaucrat inserted a shiny penny in his loafers. I aspired to wear a chain around my neck with a deck of laminated identity cards proclaiming my importance to the smooth operation of the vast machinery that is our government.

Then I came to Los Angeles. Two years, I figured — wait out the Clintons and return when things cooled off. Two years stretched to 15, and I am still waiting out the Clintons.

You see, something happens to a person who lives between Holmby Hills and West Hollywood for an extended period of time. The transfiguration is barely perceptible, but real nonetheless. One day last spring, as I was I tooling down Sunset, it hit me: I’m a Porsche-driving, cell-phone-jabbering, ascot-wearing, dandified Los Angeleno — and I’m not going back to the District anytime soon.

Having established that it is OK to wear an ascot, at least within the geographical confines of Beverly Hills, it was a small leap for my mother-in-law, Judy, to approach Robert Salter, Turnbull’s manager, with the request for a baby ascot. Judy was born in L.A. She’s no tyro when it comes to shopping. She knew exactly where to go.

In his many years with Turnbull, the alum-mouthed Brit with the ramrod straight posture of a steadfast tin soldier probably has fielded a number of offbeat requests. I wasn’t there when Judy presented hers, but I can almost picture him gathering himself, pondering her question and responding thusly: Madame: Turnbull & Asser has been in the trade since 1885. We have dressed the Princes of Wales for nearly that long. We’ve made ties for Harry and Edward since they were small boys. Yet not once, in our 120-year history, has anyone — anyone — requested an ascot for a six-month-old child. (Dramatic pause.) Of course, we are happy to oblige.

Making an ascot for a 6-month-old is not as easy as it seems. For starters, how do you calculate the circumference of the neck of a baby who has yet to be born? And what is the width of the scarf needed to permit the gorge to ride up sufficiently to create the illusion of the high stock that characterized its forebear, the cravat?

Consultations followed urgent trans-Atlantic calls to the mother ship on Jermyn Street. A mock-up was made and then sent home to a customer in London with a 6-month-old child for fitting. Following adjustments, the scarf reached these shores with Turnbull’s compliments — and a request for a photograph of Max turned out in his ascot nonpareil.

The dashing accessory arrived just in time for the baby shower, where it was presented along with the other necessities of bringing a child into the world in Beverly Hills — the baby-wipe warmer and the cashmere track suit.

Max likes his ascot. The mimetic propensities of the toddler are remarkable. Sometimes he takes it out of the drawer and drapes it around his neck, watching me as I put on my tie for work.

Though ascots have long conjured mental images of aging eminences suavely veiling weathered jowls, they are rapidly shedding those popular associations. Whether spurred by Max’s sartorial precedent or not, ascots suddenly are chic, youthful. Indeed, they are phat.

The average age of those purchasing ascots in Beverly Hills is 28, Mr. Salter estimates. A disproportionate share of them belong to, as he puts it, “the rapper community.” The venerable haberdasher’s ascot customers include Andre 3000 and Diddy, not to mention the ever-debonair Snoop Dogg.

The end of the legendary 19th-century dandy Beau Brummell came when he was observed at the Hotel d’Angleterre in Caen, dribbling soup on his cravat. Max tends to dribble soup on his ascot, too, but that’s only because he’s getting used to using a spoon. As a dandy-in-training, he’s off to a great start.

David Schwarz lives in Los Angeles between Holmby Hills and West Hollywood.

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