Inspired by a long-gone tulip, the Semper Augustus, Arno Kantelberg explores the concept of perfect imperfection in a short essay. At one time the most desired flower in the world, the ‘broken tulip’ exemplifies finding beauty in the unexpected and rethinking how we define flaws.
Sometimes I receive unsolicited advice: “Arno, the thin part of your tie is showing.” I always have compassion for such a person, perhaps even some admiration too because there are few gentlemen who dare to engage aesthetically. So, when it does happen, I don’t shut down the conversation. But my answer is always the same: “It’s as it should be”.
My tie rarely goes below the navel. Indeed, that’s not how it should be. The wide end of the tie should end at the waistband. And according to the rules of etiquette, the thin part should remain hidden behind the wide part. It shouldn’t swing from side to side like the wrecking ball in the Miley Cyrus video clip, as it does for me.
The tulip known as Semper Augustus was once the most popular flower on Earth, arguably the most sought-after object in the world. In the thirties of the seventeenth century, 5400 florins were paid for a single bulb. You could buy a decent canal house for that amount at the time.
The irony is that the most wanted of all tulips was actually a failed flower. Infected with the mosaic virus. That infection gave the Semper Augustus its special appearance. The white-veined red of the beautiful tulip was the result of a limitation. What would the Semper Augustus have looked like if there had been no infection? Had the leaves been solid red? No white creeping in? If it had become a perfect flower, one that met the criteria of how it should have been?
Perfection is a form that has no flaws. The ideal, the state in which everything is right. It’s what we all strive for. But who defines what is perfect? The Semper Augustus is a striking example of perfect imperfection. I know that sounds like a contradiction. How can something that is imperfect be perfect at all? But the perfect imperfection is the floor you didn’t know existed; the half-floor in Being John Malkovich. A secret space where you reach higher spheres. You just need to know how to get to there.
We tend to judge imperfection. When the stitching on a buttonhole is irregular or the buttons on a double-breasted jacket are not closed. But who is to say imperfect isn’t beautiful in its own way? That irregular stitching is a sign of handmade craftsmanship, the touch and effort of a human being. The unbuttoned jacket creates a completely different silhouette, one that you might personally prefer.
Choosing your clothing is like choosing your words. It’s not about what you wear (or say), but how you wear (or say) it. The moral of this story: embrace imperfection. You may be surprised by the beauty you find.
Together with Arno, we’ve created a limited-edition foulard inspired by the Semper Augustus. A lightweight silk with a distinctive printed pattern. The design draws from several artworks of the tulip from the 16th and 17th century that can be found in the archive of Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum.
We also welcome a special edition of the Semper Augustus fragrance created by Amsterdam-based perfumery Mona Di Orio to our stores. The fragrance, also inspired by the mythical flower, is a masterful recreation of the long-lost tulip: floral, waxy, with hints of saffron and the musk of ambrette seed.
The limited-edition foulard and Mona Di Orio Semper Augustus perfume are available at the AM House Amsterdam now.