Flappers and Monks

Let’s have some fun, break the rules. Wipe our asses with dollar bills. Stop by the whorehouse after a trip to the fish market. Pick up gonorrhea from a movie star. Stay up all night drinking sake. Harass shy girls by pretending to be their lesbian lover. Had enough yet? No? Keeping up with flappers and monks requires an appetite for excess and contempt for hypocrisy few possess. That’s why there’s only one Ikkyu and one Tallulah Bankhead.

Kansai Yamamoto at the V&A; Tallulah Bankhead in a feather headdress
Handmade items to buy: (clockwise) Ring by Pamela Argentieri; Necklace by Jenniflair; Resin Bangle by Mr. Crap; Earrings by Craft Fields; Bracelet by Polina Belenki; Earrings by Catherine; Necklace by Frank Ideas

The term “basara” emerged in mid-fourteenth century Japan, when the country was split between two imperial courts at war. The ruling elite that came out on top included a group of military men who behaved and dressed in an extravagant and carefree manner, with the implication that it was often vulgar and destructive. It’s an old story: men who get money and power fast like to show off. Ikkyu was born two years after the warring period ended. He was a Zen Buddhist monk who gave the middle finger to organized Zen, frequently calling other monks lazy hypocrites. He was his own brand of basara, writing verses about his fondness for drinking and sleeping around. Not afraid to smash things, both as a child and old man, he proved that tea bowls need to be broken before their cracks become valuable. Ikkyu’s iconoclastic approach to Zen set the groundwork for the wabi style of tea, which rejected the ostentatious displays of basara for a weathered, ordinary, less-than-perfect aesthetic.

Kansai Yamamoto at the V&A; Louise Brooks in pearls
Handmade items to buy: (clockwise) Brooch Pin by Tomo & Edie; Bowl by 01 And Many; Purse by Mayko Bags; Tea Cup by Sheila; Scarf Wrap by Converte; Skirt by Miss Fancypants; Scarf by Rose Quartz; Tote by Sarah Joy

No one thinks of Tallulah Bankhead as a flapper (just as no one thinks of Ikkyu as a monk), but she excelled at all of the term’s most scandalous transgressions. Cocaine and sex fueled a prolific output of one-liners rivaled perhaps only by Oscar Wilde. Like Ikkyu, she was a flashy hedonist, a rare bird before her behavior became today’s typical Saturday night. It’s a good thing these two lived five centuries and thousands of miles apart. Any contact would have certainly caused a nuclear reaction.