I can't front. The first time I saw Derek "Farnsworth Bentley" Watkins, I was just like everybody else; I thought to myself, "Who in the world is this nut?"
Who is this cat who walks with open umbrellas in the sun, taste-tests ice to make sure it is the right temperature, and strips down to his boxers in the remix video for "Special Delivery" just to ensure that P. Diddy keeps a smile on his face?
Slowly but surely, though, just like everybody else, I was won over by "Bentleezey."
Seeing his interaction with Diddy's wild bunch of aspiring superstars on "Making the Band 2" was priceless. I'll never forget him coming into that apartment and hissing with his proper Southern twang, "It smells like hot garbage!" A star was born. Farnsi drove home his celebrity potential with me again one night after a Kanye West party in New York. Now, granted, I had run across Bent on a number of occasions before that, like last year's MTV Video Music Awards and The Source Awards, this year's Grammys and a myriad of industry functions throughout the last several months, and we built a cool rapport. But nothing could have prepared me for that night after Kanye's show. Farnsworth was in his full glory, stuntin' in the middle of the street.
"I do not wear socks, I wear men's hosiery like Fred Astaire," he informed me and my MTV crew. He rapped for us, brushed the dirt off his shoulder and more importantly, he warned us that the gentleman's movement was upon us (see "Run-In With A Bentley Uncovers Some Kanye West Remix Plans").
Sho nuff, a few weeks later, we have found ourselves in the eye of the gentleman's-movement storm. I can't even go to the neighborhood movie theater without seeing a guy dressed in a button-up shirt. So when the opportunity came a few weeks ago for me to experience what it's like to have the world's leading authority on high-class fashion act as my stylist for a day, I couldn't pass it up. Not to mention that the temperature here at 1515 Broadway was 40 degrees and MTV was sending me to Cali where the weather was T-shirt- and shorts-friendly at around 75 degrees.
The first stop on our exploration was the Carroll & Co. haberdashery, where Bentley picked up the sweaters we see his gang, the Love Below, wearing in Outkast's video for "Roses."
After an hour of waiting, it was finally time for the meeting of the minds. Me, dressed in my baby blue Carmelo Anthony Denver Nuggets jersey with the matching Timberland boots, and Bentley, with his crimson sports jacket, bow tie and suspenders, which he calls "braces."
The first lesson I learned was that no matter what the occasion, it's all about making an entrance. Bent pulled up in the back parking lot of the clothing store in a white and blue Mini Cooper blasting Usher's "Yeah!" The sunroof was open, and sticking out of it was one of his signature parasols, which Mr. Bentley held with an outstretched arm as he drove.
Once we finally hooked up, we got off to a slow start. We had to feel each other out.
"So they sent me out here all the way from New York to see if you'd give me a few tips and show me what it's like to go into it full throttle, dressing up like a gentlemen. Right now, I think I'm cool. I got the Timbs, I got the matching jersey," I said.
"Yeah, you got your baby blue, you are definitely doing your 'young-boy hot,' " Bentley noted.
"It's young boy?"
"Yeah, you young-boy hot. We gonna get you grown sexy today."
"Grown and sexy, OK."
"It's called the 'grown sexy.' Grown sexy is the cologne, the manicure, the pedicure, the attire, the attitude, and you gotta have some Luther Vandross somewhere near by."
"Which Luther?" I inquired. " 'House Is Not a Home' Luther or 'Take You Out' Luther?"
With the essence of what it means to be grown sexy embedded in our thoughts, we pressed on into the store, where Bent taught me about the necessity of having a pocket square (handkerchief) handy at all times. We picked out ties, pocket squares, men's hosiery, a baby-blue shirt and a nice little sweater that I felt made me look like Carlton from "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," but I'm a trooper so I rolled with it.
And you know what? As over-the-top as Bentley is, I appreciated the fact that for the most part, he kept in mind he was not dressing himself and didn't have me looking crazy. While we picked out clothes, we had a chance to really talk, and I learned that his classy taste was inspired by his father and grandfather and that he loathes getting mistaken for another famous butler.
"I hate when people call me Mr. Belvedere," he vented. "First of all, Mr. Belvedere is dead ... aaaand, he's white!"
On our way to the next store, Faconable, we ran across a dude that could have easily been mistaken for Mr. Belvedere, the official ambassador of Beverly Hills. He wore a bright red coat and, while shielding Mr. Bentley from the sun with one of Farnsworth's open umbrellas, told us stories of how he greeted everyone from Harrison Ford to P. Diddy in the past. He can tell you "Welcome to Beverly Hills" in 148 languages, and by the time we were done, it was 149 — Bentley had the man saying, "Hey shawteee," like they do in the Georgia S.W.A.T.S. (Southwest Atlanta).
With all that shopping (Bentley showed me the fine art of picking out silk knots — which act as colorful, less expensive cuff links — and chose a real dope pair of handmade shoes for the kid), we had to take a break to chat. I wanted to learn a little bit more about Mr. Bentley.
"That picture of you holding the umbrella for P. Diddy as he walked on the beach is famous. I saw it everywhere. We even have one hanging up at MTV. How difficult was it for you when everybody was making fun of you, calling you Puff's 'manservant'?"
"A lot of that ridicule was difficult for me," Bentley says. "Especially for my grandmother and my mom, seeing their son, who is a BS in biology college graduate, referred to in that manner. It's one of those things where a pioneer always looks crazy until he hits dry land. And this is something I came up with in my mind and I knew [the persona] I was creating from the very beginning. Someone basically took an act of kindness and turned it into, or attempted to turn it into, something negative. If I was white they would have never said that. It was rough, but I stuck to my guns."
"So you knew it was going to pop off for you?"
"When I created this, I saw the television show ahead of time. I was just doing good art. And people are just now starting to catch onto what this is. This is a brand.
You see an umbrella, you are probably going to think about me a little bit. You see a bow tie, you probably going to think about Mr. Bentley a little bit. I was very strategic on what I've done. I think it was Run or DMC that said when I landed in the middle of that ballroom dance floor in the 'The Way You Move' video, I cemented myself in hip-hop history as a part of the culture forever. I'm excited; I've always wanted to find a way to showcase my talents."
"You've referred to this era as the golden age of disrespect. What are guys doing that's so disrespectful?"
"First of all, not opening a door for the lady. Not standing up from the table when she comes back from the restroom before she sits down. I mean this stuff is like ridiculous."
"So I guess you're not a big fan of pouring a whole bottle of Cristal over the lady's head in the back of the club?"
"No, absolutely not. They don't even have a pocket square when they do it! At least have a pocket square to help her clean it up. It's about really uplifting the ladies and uplifting us as gentlemen. And you know when you're in a suit and you're in a tie you really walk with your back a little straighter. You get a different level of respect walking in the street, walking into a restaurant, walking into an establishment. You know, at some point you are going to have to put on a suit."
With that said, it was time to find the final pieces so I could have a full-on ensemble. The last stop on our journey was the Rochester Big and Tall store, a virtual palace for any pudgy prince or hefty thief of hearts. Obviously I don't want to give away my final selection before "The Gentleman's Movement" premieres on Thursday during "Direct Effect," which begins at 7 p.m. ET.
I can tell you my jacket selection came down to a real hot suede joint and a camel-hair jump-off. Please believe, though, dressed up or not, I'm still giving Denzel a run for his money. But yeah, just like I can't front on Bent's star appeal, I can't front on his stylist skills. By the end of the day, he had me looking like a young Billy Dee Williams. Ciao bella!
For a full-length feature on The Gentleman's Movement, check out "From 'Hood To Haberdashery: The Gentleman's Movement."