Category: Georgetown Magazine, Spring 2024

Title:Book honors beloved founder of an unlikely literary salon

Author: Gabrielle Barone
Date Published: April 8, 2024
a black and white image of a man in a sweater between two doorways
Double Hoya Constantine Valhouli (C’95, G’00) favors oral history as a form of authentic storytelling. His latest books focus on Boston history. Photo: Courtesy of Constantine Valhouli

When Constantine Valhouli’s (C’95, G’00) father brought him to Boston’s Andover Shop for a school blazer, the owner Charlie Davidson made the experience more tolerable for the young reader by showing him which blazer could hold books.

“I felt seen,” Valhouli writes in Miles, Chet, Ralph, & Charlie: An oral history of The Andover Shop.

Now Valhouli is making sure others see Davidson, who died in 2019, and learn the remarkable story of the tiny store, which Davidson turned into a gathering point for some of the towering figures of literature and jazz.

a book with the words "Miles, Chet, Ralph, and Charlie - How Charlie Davidson turned a tiny store in Harvard Square into an unlikely literary salon, dressed jazz legends and presidents, helped bring Ivy Style to the mainstream, and occasionally sold some clothing."
Miles, Chet, Ralph, & Charlie: An oral history of The Andover Shop. Photo: Courtesy of Constantine Valhouli

A Boston-born, book-loving man who adored jazz, Davidson ran a men’s fine clothier and tailor shop that served generations of Boston Brahmin as well as United States presidents, musicians Miles Davis and Chet Baker, and Invisible Man author Ralph Ellison. In the days before civil rights, Davidson intentionally dressed a number of Black public figures in patrician Bostonian style.

“Charlie used clothing to signal that people like Miles and Ralph truly belonged in the social and intellectual whirl of Boston,” says Valhouli.

Valhouli’s book employs dialogue-based oral history using multiple viewpoints—or, as Valhouli puts it, “just tell me some good stories and we’ll record it and see what happens.” The book features extensive interviews with three living legends of men’s style: G. Bruce Boyer, former Esquire and Town & Country editor; Richard Press, former CEO of J. Press; and Alan Flusser, who redefined the financier style when he styled the Wall Street film.

Capturing Davidson’s complex—by turns “generous and ornery”—personality proved difficult, Valhouli said. “It was like catching oblique glimpses of someone only through mirrors. You could never look directly at them.”

A double Hoya, Valhouli enjoyed his undergraduate experience so much he came back for a Communications, Culture & Technology (CCT) master’s degree.

Miles, Chet, Ralph, & Charlie’s research and interview process overlapped sources with Eliot House, Valhouli’s upcoming book about the Harvard dormitory and its legendary housemaster that nurtured a truly stunning number of famous figures. Valhouli co-wrote that book with The Paris Review editor Nelson W. Aldrich Jr., author of one of Valhouli’s favorite books, an oral history of the life of George Plimpton.

“Nelson suggested telling Charlie Davidson’s story as an oral history,” he says.

Valhouli enjoys the way oral histories offer differing viewpoints while allowing the story to feel present.

“The beauty of oral history is that you can put these contradictory points of view side by side and still honor the individual recollections,” Valhouli says. “Ultimately, this is a form of narrative that privileges the individual storytellers rather than the authorial voice.”

More Stories

person playing piano

Evolving from scholastic and sacred roots, music at Georgetown today showcases a vibrant range of forms and genres Professor, composer, and pianist Carlos Simon (above) performs “Requiem for the Enslaved”…

a man and a woman with binoculars look for birds in bright autumn foliage

Photo: Lisa Helfert How nurse-bioethicist Christine Grady (N’74, G’93) and her husband, new faculty member Anthony Fauci, live their commitment to public service, health, and each other In May 2023,…

students playing instruments

Students settle in for the journey from campus to the Calcagnini Contemplative Center, which opened in 2013. Photos courtesy of Georgetown University/Georgetown ESCAPE Calcagnini Contemplative Center celebrates 10 years Late…