11 Questions for the ‘Dean of Dapper’
By Nick Walden / Towns Correspondent
Rick Luttmann has accomplished much in 44 years as a Sonoma State University professor of mathematics, but when he retires in May, many students will best remember his unique, eclectic wardrobe.
The man who did his doctoral dissertation in convexity theory on Steiner Symmetrization, taught in Alaska and San Quentin, wrote a book about poultry and for 25 years has hosted SSU’s War and Peace Lecture Series also is a clotheshorse.
Luttmann, 74, dresses casually on his own time, but in the classroom he likes to dress professionally. Each spring he pulls out all the stops at the annual fashion show that benefits the Math Club.
Here’s what he had to say about his sartorial passion.
How long have you loved clothes?
In high school, I was always picking out unusual clothes. Of course I was teased by the other boys, but I thought, “Hell with them, they have no taste.”
How did the collection begin?
When I was a college student, the standard of dress was quite formal, and I wore a suit as a grad student. When I came here in the ’70s, professors dressed more casually and let students address them by their first names.
I fully participated in the hippie movement but didn’t feel it was very appropriate to dress so casually. I am one of the few who teaches in a coat and tie. As my wardrobe developed, I took delight in interesting fabrics and style.
What does it add to the classroom?
In the beginning of the semester, I dress more conservatively. As the year progresses, I go back further into the wardrobe, and students realize they are seeing a show. I suppose it creates a more casual aspect. It’s formal and yet at the same time it’s fun.
Where do you get the clothes?
Many come from the International Male Catalog. At the other extreme, I picked up a pin-striped suit from Chile at a garage sale for $10.
What is your favorite?
That’s hard to say. It’s like picking one of your children. The Mona Lisa jacket certainly turns heads.
Some things go to the back of the closet and don’t come out as often. A Balinese prayer jacket made in Bali is not something I am proud of because it is sort of plain.
Do you have a fashion consultant?
Oh no. The clothing I buy really has to speak to me. Don’t look to me for current fashion trends. I just don’t care if other people like them. I have the clothes because I like them, and the world better get used to it.
Give us some details about your wardrobe.
Imelda Marcos has nothing on me. I have lots of shoes, about 30 pairs. My tie collection — hundreds probably. And lots of Southwestern jewelry.
I’ve been resisting the urge to buy more because I already take up way more than my share of the closet, plus clothing racks in the bedroom that accommodate the overflow.
Does your husband share your interest?
He is a Central Yup’ik Eskimo who has art collections and performs traditional songs and dance. I have more interest in his culture than he does in my profession, but we complement each other nicely.
Where did the fashion show idea come from?
From students in the Math Club about 15 years ago. I was known as the guy with the eclectic wardrobe, so they decided to put on the show and raise some money. They got people to sing and tell jokes to fill time while I did outfit changes.
How would you describe your students’ fashion sense?
Nada (laughing). I often think, “No wonder I stand out.” But life is too short for drab clothes.