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The 'Daddy' of the Metrosexual, the Retrosexual, & spawner of the Spornosexual

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100 Years of Men’s Swimwear – Worn By Today’s Abs & ‘Yum Gutters’

(Note that the closest to Speedos – the form-and-function zenith of men’s swimwear – we get from this American website is the stripey 1975 number. It’s all downhill and kneewards after that.)

Living Doll: Marc Jacobs Talks to Mark Simpson

Marc Jacobs talks to Mark Simpson about his Brazilian (ex) porn star boyfriend, foreskins, gay fashion misogyny, turning 50 and being turned into a stuffed toy.

(Originally appeared in the Winter 2012 edition of Man About Town Magazine)

Marc Jacobs is many things. So many things that it would make a lesser Mary giddy.

He’s a fashion label. Three, in fact: The Marc Jacobs Collection, Marc by Marc Jacobs, and Little Marc. He’s a range of fragrances. He’s a retail store, with 239 outlets in 60 different countries. He’s the creative director of Louis Vuitton in Paris. He’s a three times winner of the Womenswear Designer of the Year Award and a four times winner of Accessory Designer of the Year.

He’s also a relaxed, 49-year-old American from New York City whose pretty much life-long openness about his sexuality – along with his sustained success – has made him a poster-boy for gay pride, ranked 14th in American gay magazine Out’s 2012 ’Power List’.

Furthermore, Marc Jacobs is, perhaps most importantly in our superficial age, a bona fide global celebrity. Snaps of him socialising with friends and boyfriends appear in newspapers, mags and on gossip sites around the world: even the pages of even the UK’s notoriously gay unfriendly Daily Mail. Instantly recognisable, Marc Jacobs the man and the brand is a familiar part of our visual culture.

In keeping with that culture Marc Jacobs is also, nowadays, a body. A few years back, with the help of ruthless diets and religiously regular gym routines – and, no doubt, some of the hunkiest personal fitness trainers in town – he transformed himself from a chubby, nerdy, pallid chap grazing on junk food into almost fat-free, pumped, tanned, tattooed beefcake.

And now – dwarfing all his other achievements – he’s also a stuffed toy.

Mark Simpson: Word is you’ve been turned into a ‘Muscle Man Marc’ doll.

Marc Jacobs: I have. By the makers of South Park.

It’s every gay man’s dream. How did that come about?

Well, I have quite a few tattoos and two of them are of toys that belong to the Cartman character in South Park. And I guess I’ve been photographed so many times with those tattoos that it came to the attention of Matt [Stone] and Trey [Parker] who created the series, so as a sort of homage they made me into a doll, a toy in Cartman’s room. And of course I found that to be the greatest honour I’ve ever received! I have such great respect for them and I think the show is so clever, so well-observed.

As is your doll. It’s a very fetching toy.

Thank you!

But do you ever worry that people might be sticking pins in those dolls? People can be very jealous. I know I am.

[Laughs] Y’know, I sometimes read comments by people online to things and think, well, I don’t know these people and they don’t know me and so everybody has a right to their opinion and if it makes them feel better about me by putting me down, then fine.

Did you find, when you transformed yourself a few years back, that there was hissing as well as applause?

Yeah, like with everything y’know, some people said we like the old, sort of geeky Marc. But I got tons of letters from people saying that I encouraged them to go on diets and encouraged them to go to the gym. I started it for health reasons—I have ulcerative colitis and my nutritionist encouraged me to change my diet. I started going to the gym and started to feel better and look better—and anything that makes me feel better I want more of! Lots of people wrote to me to say that my story gave them hope that they could change as well. That it was never too late to change one’s diet or one’s lifestyle or pick up a habit that’s nourishing and positive.

What’s your current body fat percentage? Trending up or down? It was an eye-popping four per cent last time I read about it.

It’s probably about eight per cent at the moment. I missed a few weeks at the gym because of preparing the [Louis Vuitton] show for Paris Fashion Week. When I go back to New York it will go down again, probably to about five per cent very soon.

That’s a great relief!

Yeah—I’m sure people all over the world will be thrilled to know that!

There should probably be a website where we can check up on your BF percentage in real time.

Oh God, I hope there’s never any such thing!

Oh, it will come, it will come. I hear there’s one bad habit you’ve not been able to ditch: smoking.

Yeah, that’s true, unfortunately.

If smoking made you fat do you think you’d stop tomorrow?

I don’t know… I don’t know. I mean, I tried to quit smoking before. I’ve had periods of success—the longest was seven months. I really do enjoy smoking and as bad as I know it is for me I just can’t seem to stay quit.

Everyone should have at least one vice.

Well, I guess…

Though you seem to have a weakness for tattoos also. Any recent ones?

I had the ‘Muscle Man Marc’ doll tattooed on my right forearm a few months ago. That was the last one.

What’s the current tally?

I think we’re up to 34.

Some people like to agonise over their choice of tattoos.

That’s not something I agonise over. I mean, I can agonise over whether we use black and white or red and white or both in a collection, but I certainly don’t agonise over my tattoo choices. They’re very spontaneous.

Is the doll anatomically correct?

Well, it’s in pants.

And the pants don’t come off?

No. So I guess the answer’s no.

Ah, but since the pants don’t come off we’ll never know for sure. Do you remember Billy the gay doll?

Yeah, I do.

Did you ever have one?

No, I didn’t.

He was very anatomically correct. Or incorrect.

Yes, I remember!

What would you say was your favourite part of the male body?

Lips. I love a full pair of lips.

They’re an oft-overlooked male attribute.

I don’t overlook them!

Are you a passionate snogger, Mr Jacobs?

Yeah, that’s what gets the rest of me going!

Still dating Harry Louis, the humpy Brazilian porn star you were snapped with on the beach in Rio recently?

Oh yeah! He’s my boyfriend.

Harry looks to have been blessed in the lip departmentand everywhere else.

Oh yeah! In all the right places—and it all works very well! He’s also a really lovely person. He’s nothing to complain about on any level, inside and out. He’s a total sweetheart. He’s a very sexy, hunky man.

I believe you. I can hear you getting turned on talking about him. Did you see him ‘in action’ before you met?

No. I met him through a friend of mine. I’d actually never seen him before.

And how did you feel about your boyfriend working as a porn star?

Oh, I thought he was very good at it! [Laughs] He’s given it up now though. It’s very disappointing for some of his fans, but I’m very happy about it. He told me that he wanted to give it up and have a monogamous relationship. So he’s been busy exploring what he wants to do with his life and has been working at a club called The Roof Gardens in London. He loves to cook and has been thinking about opening up a small café or restaurant. He’s also very good at cooking, by the way.

He has lips like those and is great in the kitchen as well?

Yeah!

Where did I put those pins?? Oh here they are: you once said “I always find beauty in things that are odd and imperfectthey are much more interesting.” Mr Louis doesn’t look terribly imperfect from where I’m panting.

That quote was in regard to fashion—me talking about things that inspire me to make clothes. And Harry, or Eddie as I call him, has his imperfections. I wouldn’t say they were physical—he has this quirky character, and what people see on the screen isn’t who he really is. It’s a persona.

People have trouble understanding that porn isn’t real life. I certainly do.

I’d say I hit the jackpot with Eddie. But I’ve also had skinny boyfriends. Shorter boyfriends. Darker skinned boyfriends. Lighter skinned boyfriends and boyfriends of all shapes and sizes—I don’t really have a type. Eddie is pretty much physically perfect and sexy but he has his own quirky personality and is super sweet and not at all what people perceive him to be on screen.

As an American dating a Brazilian, what’s best? Cut or uncut?

Um, I don’t really have a preference…

Speaking as an uncut Brit, Americans tend to either run for the hills shrieking or are maybe a bit too interested in that flap of skin.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, I love it! But I just don’t have a particular preference.

Okay. So you’ve got yourself a porn star body…

… I wouldn’t say that!

Well, I would. And you’ve got yourself an ex-porn star boyfriend. So… when is the Marc Jacobs sex tape coming out?

Well if there is one, it’ll just be for me—it will not be for public consumption!

How old fashioned! Am I right in thinking that your mother’s soft porn magazines turned you on to the male form?

Yeah, it was Playgirl and Viva. I found them in her room. I saw the naked men in them and thought ‘Wow! That looks good!’

What was the look back then?

Hairy chests, moustaches, that kind of thing.

And big hair?

Well, blow-dried.

The camp counsellor you’ve mentioned in the past you had your first crush on. Did he look like a Viva model?

Probably. A younger version.

So he was the first time you kind of transferred what you were feeling for the Viva models to an actual guy?

Yeah!

And nothing came of that?

No. I was quite young. I was nine.

Oh! Yes, that is quite young. How old were you when you did do something about it?

Thirteen, I think.

That’s still quite young. You must have had an adventurous spirit from an early age.

Oh, I did!

How did it go?

It was pretty awkward. It was with a friend who was staying over. But it was a first experience, I guess.

Would you say that things have changed a lot for gay people since you were a kid?

I think so. We can get married now.

Why are there so many gay men at the top of the fashion business?

I don’t know. There are plenty of straight men in fashion as well. There are also plenty of straight women in fashion. I wouldn’t really single gay men out. The people I admire most in fashion are straight women. Coco Chanel, Vivienne Westwood, Miuccia Prada, Elsa Schiaparelli. I consider them to be the most important designers in the history of fashion—the most inventive and creative, and they’re all women. So there you go.

What about the ‘misogynist’ brush that some people like to tar all gay designers with?

I don’t think we get accused of that so much with what we do. First of all there’s no real vulgarity and there isn’t that kind of misogynous approach. We don’t bind women or objectify them sexually. I don’t think the style of the clothes we make would put me in that category. More appropriate perhaps in other cases…

You’re not going to name any names?

No.

Damn! What’s your secret to surviving the queer curse of Paris fashion houses? Galliano and McQueen have come and gone at Dior and Givenchy, but you remain in command at Louis Vuitton, where you’ve been since 1997.

I think I’m just very passionate about making clothes and I guess if there is a secret it’s having a very good team of people who also share that passion and natural curiosity for taking on something new each season, which keeps it sort of fresh and surprising and challenging for us. As long as the will is there and you work with a group of creative and able people then you can continue to produce season after season.

Is being a fashion designer a lonely business? It can look that way sometimes, to us civilians.

No, I don’t feel that it is, not for me. Every day I spend a lot of time with people I admire and respect and actually really like—and hopefully like me as well. Both for Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton. So I’m not alone. I also have a great group of friends whom I’m inspired by, although I don’t get to see nearly as much of them as I’d like to. So I wouldn’t say my life is very lonely.

What do you think of the presidential candidates’ presentation? Any style tips for them?

I’m just going to say that I’m going to vote for Barack Obama. I think he did a great job as President and I’d love to see him serve again. That’s all I’ll say.

C’mon! I’m trying to get you to be shallow here!

I know people make a big deal about what they look like, but to me it really doesn’t matter. The qualities I look for in a President or a First Lady are an ability to run the country and be intelligent and honest. I really don’t give a toss about what they wear!

I however did give a toss or two over what you and Eddie were wearing to the beach in those Rio snapsSpeedos. The much-maligned anatomically-correct Ozzie beachwear looked spiffing on both of you.

I only get the chance to go to the beach once, maybe twice, a year and I love to catch the sun, so wearing knee-length board-shorts seems counterproductive. I like to lie on the beach and tan wearing as little as possible. I like to be as close to naked as I can be.

And God bless you for that. Do you have any plans for your half-century this April?

Currently I’m planning to go to Rio and spend a nice time with Eddie. I’m not having a big party or anything like that. I don’t like celebrating birthdays. I know everyone says 50 is a big deal but it’s just another year as far as I’m concerned, and I don’t want to make a fuss of it.

Either way, in or out of Speedos, we can be sure you won’t be looking 50 in April.

God, I hope not!

This interview was given at the end of last year. Here’s what Marc looked at hitting 50 and the beach last week with Harry in Rio.

 Special thanks to Philip Utz

“You’ve got bigger boobs than me – that’s sooo depressing!”

David Beckham’s Total Package – And his Fascinating Foot

On The Jonathan Ross Show last night David Beckham was the star guest. He looked great of course. But I kept finding myself staring at Mr Beckham’s foot.

Naturally, it was shod tastefully and expensively – in keeping with his John Hamm hairdo and 60s-style black whistle and flute. But that wasn’t what drew my eye. No, it was the way it was trembling.

The icon of the age had feet of jelly.

Or at least, a foot of jelly. David (I think we can use first names here; in fact, I’m sure he would insist on it) was sitting cross-legged on the sofa, facing Ross’ chins. His face was smiling radiantly, teeth and eyes flashing and laughing. His body language speaking of the casual grace and ease of beauty, celebrity, money. He was doing in other words all the things you’re supposed to do on a chat show sofa.

But his raised foot was shaking. Violently. And in doing so it succeeded in  saying much more than the other end. It made me think of the proverbial serenity of swans underscored by that furious paddling you know is going on beneath the water-line.

There are plenty of good reasons to be terrified on a chat show, even one not presented by Jonathan Ross and his unaccountable vanity. But Becks has more reasons than most. He has a lot to lose. If by chance, and much against his better judgement, not to mention media training, he were to actually say something or have, god forbid, an opinion it would cost him millions in corporate fees.

At one point he was talking about, I think (but can’t be sure because even when you try to listen to David it’s very hard to focus), the benefits of his football academies for getting kids away from their Playstations and outdoors. But then caught himself: ‘Not that there’s anything wrong with Playstation, of course,’ he added very hastily. And not that there’s anything wrong with another Sony endorsement deal, either.

Or maybe his foot was trembling because he knew that later Jonathan Ross would pull his pants down and shove his own Aussiebum   packaged groin into David’s famous face. (No, this actually happened and was even more disturbing than it sounds.)

In the ad break there was more David. David out of his expensive suit  and in his pants, spinning around, selling David, and selling his H&M ‘bodywear’.

In keeping with the trademark passivity of metrosexuality in general and uber-metro Becks in particular, the ad features much batting of long eyelashes, and arms held defenceless above the head, as the camera licks its lens up and down and around his legs and torso. Teasingly never quite reaching the package we’ve already seen a zillion times on the side of buses and in shop windows – but instead delivering us his cotton-clad bum, his logo and his million dwollar smile.

I’m here for you. Want me. Take me. Wear me. Stretch me. Soil me. But above all: buy me.

All, curiously, to the strains of The Animals: ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’. Is it meant to be ironic? What after all is to be misunderstood? Don’t the images tell us everything? Even what we don’t want to know. About the total commodification of masculinity.

Perhaps Beck’s foot could have told us, but alas it didn’t appear in the ad and was unavailable for comment.

 

Carelessly disposed shopping bags pose a real menace to defenceless celebrities.

 

Tip: DAKrolak & Mark Rangel

 

Aussiebum’s new ‘PocketJockit’ – Or Should That Be ‘PussyPacket’?

Wonder if the ‘hyper-masculine’ men’s fashion bloggers bigged-up by the NYT wear these under their ‘heritage’ flannels?

Hope so. For their sakes.

Tip: Stuart Warwick

Gayest Fashion Feature Evah?

The NY Times wants to convince you that men’s fashion blogging is the new bull-fighting.

In an inadvertently hilarious piece titled ‘Straight Talk – A New Breed of Fashion Bloggers‘, it sets out to prove that Tweeting and Tumbling about tie pins all day is really, like, butch.

NOT every fashion blogger is a 15-year-old girl with an unhealthy obsession with Rei Kawakubo. Some are older. And some are men.

Well, that’s a relief. Even thought I don’t know who Rei Kawakubo is.

And not just any guy with an eye for fashion.

You mean, not just another fag? Phew!

There are hyper-masculine dudes who “look at men’s fashion the way other guys look at cars, gadgets or even sports,” said Tyler Thoreson, the editorial director of Park & Bond, a men’s retail site.

“There’s the same attention to detail.”

Don’t stop. I’m getting hard.

In other words, these are macho fashion bloggers, writing for a post-metrosexual world. “It’s translating this sort of very-guy approach to something that’s so traditionally been quasi-effeminate,” Mr. Thoreson added.

Very-guy? Or just very-gay? In the worst possible sense of the word.

The whole piece, especially the ‘hyper masculine dude’ and ‘macho blogger’ with a khaki fetish profiled first, whose ‘Dislikes’ include “Pants that are too tight and too short, men who are getting too pretty, and guys wearing fedoras” is of course incredibly faggy. Much faggier than anything flaming could ever be. He sounds like the kind of queen who comes up with the strictly-enforced ‘real man’ dress-code for leather bars.

This kind of guff isn’t ‘post-metrosexual’ at all. It’s so pre-metrosexual it’s positively pre-Stonewall.

And is it just me, or did the NYT just call straights ‘breeders’ in that headline?

This guy here (if indeed it is a guy) is the only ‘macho’ men’s fashion blogger anyone will ever need. Strangely, he wasn’t included in that piece by the NYT. He probably terrifies the poor poppets. He certainly scares the shit out of me.

Tip: Lee Kynaston

David Beckham’s ‘End Result’ – Can You Handle It?

Better order some industrial strength lip balm and practise suppressing the gag reflex.

Shameless sporno star and uber-metrosexual David Beckham is ramming his eye-popping lunchbox down our collective throats again. This time with a media ‘offensive’ for his own line of men’s undies – and strangely shapeless vests – from Swedish-owned high street fashion chain H&M.

“I always want to challenge myself and this was such a rewarding experience for me. I’m very happy with the end result and I hope H&M’s male customers will be as excited as I am.”.

It’s true, you do look very pleased to see us again, David dear. But I worry that my ‘end result’ might not look quite so excited/exciting in your pants.

But Beck’s own palpable, prominent excitement is entirely understandable. He saw the humongous wads of cash Mr Armani was covered in when he brazenly pimped Beck’s designer cotton-clad tackle to the world a few years back. Becks was paid very handsomely for his services himself of course, but seems to have decided he can make even more filthy lucre by designing his packet himself and flogging it to the global punter (H&M is the second largest retailer in the world).

Last year he explained:

“I have had the idea of doing a bodywear collection for some time now. The push to do something of my own really came as a result of my collaboration with Armani. They told me that their gross turnover in 2007 was around €16 million, and after the campaign in 2008 it went up to €31 million, in 2008. It proved to me that there is a real market for good-looking, well-made men’s bodywear.”


Whether or not his finished pants and vests are that kind of bodywear I’ll let you be the judge of. Bear in mind they are a lot more affordable than Mr Armani’s. I think proud-father-of-four Goldenballs is here going for ‘volume’. Metrosexy dadwear. Hence the emphasis he puts on comfort.

And as we’ve seen again and again in the last few years, there is definitely a real market for good-looking, well-made, famous, well-packaged men’s bodies. Advertisers, reality TV and Hollywood have practically had our eye out with them.

Regardless of his advancing years (he’s a frighteningly well-preserved, carb-free 37 this May) and consequently fading football career, Becks will always be fondly identified with that metrosexual revolution and will very likely get his money shot yet again.

He and his endowments, natural and Photo-shopped, always seems to wangle a way to attract the eye. Whatever you may think of his vests.

 

Mr ‘Thing’: Pejic and his Prophet

‘All truly beautiful things are a mixture of masculine and feminine.’ So said the late Susan Sontag. And she would know.

I’ve only just read a recent profile of the transexy Serbian model Andrej Pejic in The New Yorker called, with only a soupçon of hyperbole, ‘The Prettiest Boy in the World’.

Pejic, who sometimes models women’s fashion, sometimes men’s (though guess which gets more attention), is the chap memorably described by US FHM in a widely-reported hissy fit as a ‘thing’ that prompts them to ‘pass the sick bucket’ — despite his popularity with their own readers. And more recently as a ‘creature’ and ‘a fake’ and symbol of ‘abject misogyny’ by outraged female columnists citing him as the ‘final proof’ that they were right all along, that high fashion is run by an evil gay paedo conspiracy against women that wants to do away with ladies altogether and replace them with ‘young boys’.

Though perhaps the outraged feminists of both left and right should welcome Pejic with garlands since he means that women can finally opt out of the fatal gay embrace of high fashion altogether and leave the gays and their Ganymedes to it….

Whatever Pejic does or doesn’t symbolise about the world of high fashion it seems to me that he and the scandale surrounding him definitely, dramatically personifies something that is going on in the wider culture that feminists, along with everyone else, are often far less keen to notice.

The way that in the last couple of decades the male body has become ‘objectified’ in mainstream media as much as the female variety. The way that ‘beauty’ and ‘prettiness’ is no longer the sole preserve of women. The way that glossy magazines with men’s airbrushed tits on the cover have become the most popular kind — with men. (Which lends a special irony to the banning of a mag that featured a topless Pejic on the cover by Barnes & Noble – they knew Pejic is male, and don’t ban topless males, only females, but were worried the image ‘might confuse their customers’.)

And the way that colours, clothes, accessories, products, practises and desires previously thought ‘feminine’ have been greedily taken up by men  — and often re-labelled ‘manly’ in a way that only succeeds in unwittingly satirising the very concept of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’, ‘man’ and ‘woman’.

The way, in other words, that gender is undressing itself. Or at least, teasing us with an elbow-length glove or two and an unhooked bra-strap.

In the NYT profile ‘It’, alias Pejic says he’s largely indifferent to gender. For him, it isn’t about being a ‘woman’ or a ‘man’ it’s about being true to his own tastes, to himself. Though he seems to have few illusions about how he is being used and possibly exploited by the fashion industry:

“It’s not like, ‘Okay, today I want to look like a man, or today I want to look like a woman,’ ” he says. “I want to look like me. It just so happens that some of the things I like are feminine.”

“I know people want me to sort of defend myself, to sit here and be like, ‘I’m a boy, but I wear makeup sometimes.’ But, you know, to me, it doesn’t really matter. I don’t really have that sort of strong gender identity—I identify as what I am. The fact that people are using it for creative or marketing purposes, it’s just kind of like having a skill and using it to earn money.”

I identify as what I am.

How very dare he! No wonder people rush to call him ‘it’ and ‘thing’….

Pejic has been described, usually derisively, as a ‘gender bender’. Which is interesting because, while I’ve not seen it pointed out, there does seem to be some visual and and philosophical parallels with the ‘gender bender’ of my youth, the preternaturally pretty Brit popster Marilyn, alias Peter Robinson. Who was, for a few moments in the early 80s the most beautiful boy — or girl — in the world.

Marilyn, 1980s

A Bowie fan with an obsession with a dead blonde American actress, Marilyn became the king-queen of the Blitz Set, famously describing himself as “Tarzan and Jane rolled into one” — in addition to the 1960s Hollywood starlet (dread-locked) glamour, he sported impressive shoulders which would have made it rather difficult for him to model women’s fashion, or most men’s high fashion for that matter.

Marilyn denied wanting to change sex, or being a transvestite, he just knew what he liked — and used words that sound very similar to Pejic’s today:

“I’ve never taken much notice of gender. How you can take the same bit of cloth and cut it one way and it’s ‘for men’ and another way and it’s ‘for women’? If it looks nice I’m gonna wear it!”

A favourite target of the Brit tabloids, who seemed to get sexually aroused by the phrase ‘gender bender’, using it repeatedly, his pop career was a perfect, orgasmic explosion that was over before it began — after an infamously sultry appearance on Top of The Pops in 1984promoting his second single ‘Cry and be Free’. Giving good pouty face and flashing his muscular arms in a glittery top Madonna would have hesitated to wear, a nation gasped and the single sank without a trace.

The 1980s hastily decided it wasn’t ready for Marilyn or real gender bending, or indeed sex — Marilyn’s whole persona shouted SEX!!!! — and instead opted for the safe, Mumsy charm of his Blitz Club chum and kabuki pale imitator Boy George, who didn’t really bend gender so much as tickle its tummy a bit. And make it a nice cup of tea.

Nearly thirty years on, despite Pejic’s unpopularity with some feminists and the closet-cases who write for US FHM, 1980s Marilyn and his shameless, shining desire to be desired looks more like a glamorous prophet, preparing the way for the metrosexy 21st Century.

POSTSCRIPT 14/09/11

Justin Bieber likes to wear women’s jeans:

“I’ve worn women’s jeans before because they fit me. It’s not a trend; it’s just, whatever works, works.”…

Bieber was responding to a question about Kanye West’s decision to wear a women’s sweater. “It wasn’t (so he’d) look like a woman in a sweater; it was just a regular sweater that happened to be a woman’s.”

 

The Earring Wars are Over

Last Saturday’s The London Times Magazine ran an extract from ‘The Man in the Gray Flannel Skirt’, a memoir by Jon-Jon Goulian ‘the New York Review of Books first cross-dressing staffer’. I haven’t read it yet, but the extract inclined me to do so very soon.

Here’s Goulian on the semantics of earrings in the 1980s – a semantics which I also recall as having a very definite and decisive import when I was at school in the UK back then which you ignored at your peril, but which now seems as daft as Crystal and Alexis mud-wrestling:

In 1984, in La Jolla, California, as was true in most places in this country, a huge amount of significance was attached to which ear an earring appeared in. If it was in the left ear, that meant you had a liberal conscience, and that you wanted people to know it. It was essentially like having a bumper sticker on the back of your VW bus that said NO NUKES. It was a gesture. Nothing more. So no one took it seriously.

An earring in the right ear, on the other hand, meant that you were gay, and that you wanted people to know it. That, people took more seriously. An earring in the right ear could get a bag of Tater Tots thrown at your head, which I saw happen to a gay kid at La Jolla High School. In La Jolla, Tater Tots. Other places, bats and bullets.

Earrings in both the right ear and the left ear were unclear. They meant that you were a) gay; or b) that you were not only gay but also a budding transvestite; or c) that you were not gay but only a budding transvestite; or d) that you were not gay and not a budding transvestite but, just weird and confused and in need of some sort of counselling.

When my mother set eyes on me, the same thought ran through her mind as would have run through the mind of any middle-class woman who grew up in Park Slope, Brooklyn, in the Fifties – ‘Oh, my God! I don’t understand! Is he a or b or c or d? Or all the above? This is not a fair test! I don’t understand the question!’

His poor mother.

Nowadays, the monosexual semantics of earrings on boys has broken down. The earring war is over. It ended, like most things have in this new century, not in white doves and petals and earrings being beaten into plowshares but incoherence.

Or as someone on this thread put it, in answer to a quaint question about which side was ‘gay’:

‘Um. Are you stuck in the 80s? It doesn’t mean anything any more.’

Which is perhaps bad news if you wanted like Jon-Jon seems to have back in the day, to make a statement that ‘people took seriously’. But then, it’s not just earrings that have suffered that fate.

 

20 ‘Stella’ Years of Dolce & Gabbana For Men

by Mark Simpson, Arena Hommes Plus (Winter-Spring, 2010)

America’s hottest new Hollywood stars – who naturally enough in this post-Hollywood era, don’t actually work in Hollywood but reality TV – were recently honoured with a profile in Interview magazine. The Italian-American ‘Guidos’ from MTV mega-hit ‘Jersey Shore’, who have conquered America with their brazenness and their Gym Tan Laundry routine, were styled in Dolce & Gabbana. Suddenly, they looked as if they had come home. After all, these twenty-something earthy but flamboyant, self-assured but needy young men are, aesthetically, emotionally, the bastard offspring of Dolce & Gabbana.

The Italian designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana got together over two decades ago to make beautiful, emotional clothes for men – but ended up, almost as an afterthought, siring a generation. Such has been the potency of Dolce & Gabbana’s worldview they have more or less patented the aestheticized modern male and his yearning desire to be desired. Their dreamy but virile vision of the male has become the dominant one in our mediated world. Even if Dolce & Gabbana man sometimes likes to be underneath.

But who or what is Dolce & Gabbana man? In ‘20 Years of Dolce & Gabbana’ a bumper book of vintage glossiness cataloguing the growth of the brand, the French actress Fanny Ardant describes him as ‘arrogant, with irony,’ which sounds very Jersey Shore. Victoria Beckham describes him as: ‘not afraid to be in tune with his feminine side and the sexual side of his persona…’ adding, ‘he has a strong sense of European fashion and has an extravagant, flamboyant sense of personal style.’ I think we know who she has in mind.

Aside from Becks (some, er, seminal 2002 images of him in half-undone jeans are included here) who is the quintessential Dolce & Gabbana man? ‘Cesare Borgia’, says Ardant, perhaps being slightly ironic herself. ‘My son Rocco,’ asserts Madonna, who probably isn’t. For my part I’d be tempted to name Cristiano Ronaldo, whose carefree personal style seems totally Dolce, even when he’s advertising Armani.

Actress Scarlett Johansson hits the bullseye when she identifies him as: ‘Marlon Brando in Streetcar Named Desire’. Yes! That white vest! That brooding brow! That pouting face on a Sicilian stevedore’s body! Truly “STEL-LA!”, young Brando was in many ways the first Hollywood male pin-up, arrogantly and flirtatiously inviting our gaze in a way that hadn’t really been seen before in America, even if it was nothing unusual on the streets of Syracuse, Sicily.

Brando doesn’t appear in the many film stills scattered through this book as examples of the inspiring lights of the brand, instead we have the pin-ups of Italian neo realist cinema such as Massimo Giretti and Renato Salvatore and of course, the sublimely refined Marcello Mastroanni. But Marlon and his vest – and even in his middle-aged Godfather role – are evoked by many of the fashion shoot images here.

As Tim Blanks puts it in his introduction: ‘There’s some irony in the fact that it was actually Hollywood which distilled Italy’s international image to handful of core ingredients that were really Sicilian in essence – the machismo, the mama, the Mafia, of course, and, all the time, bright sunlight, dark shadows, and overwrought emotion.’ Dolce & Gabbana were in effect an Italian take on Hollywood’s take on Italy. But all the more poignant for that.

Dolce & Gabbana are less of a fashion brand, more a studio system that produces pin-up-ness in the form of clothes. Or, as they like to put it themselves, ‘dream doctors’. The famously iconic pictures included here of a smouldering young Matt Dillon, and Keanu Reeves in his vealish prime, bring out and something Sicilian in them that Hollywood itself has long since forgotten how to do.

The Obama Model

2009-01-26-lanvin

Mark Simpson on fashion’s new love-affair with black males (Arena Hommes Plus, Spring 2009)

Shortly after Obama’s election last year, Israeli-American designer Elie Tahari made a prediction: ‘I think the fashion industry will have a ball with him.’ So far, this is one fashion prediction that has been on the money. Since Obama’s glitzy inauguration this January, the men’s fashion world, too often associated with a ‘Whites Only’ catwalk, hasn’t stopped dancing with the first non-white in the White House.

At the menswear shows in Milan this January a waving, smiling young Barack Obama look-a-likey led the final walk-out for Lanvin, complete with Inaugural Address overcoat, leather gloves and USA tie-pin. Givenchy meanwhile included several male models of colour for their show, and their new poster campaign features a Obama-esqe young man in an open, white silky shirt with sleeves rolled up for business, full lips parted as if caught mid-speech.

givenchy-men-2-1Oscar Garnica, agent at Request Models in New York says that he and his contacts in the business have seen a more consistent use of black models recently. ‘Since the Black issue of Vogue, and the Obamas took the White House, that inspiration is running through a lot of the collections,’ he says. ‘Having more images of people of colour around has probably made designers more comfortable about adding colour to their aesthetic.’ But he is cautious about the long term impact: ‘Now that we are seeing four-five models of color on the runway, will the designers continue booking these numbers? Well, that remains to be seen.’

Whatever else Obama’s Presidency might signify, the fashion world seems to have decreed that, for this season at least, the black male is power, hope, leadership – in a word: style.

Ironically, part of the reason that Obama’s booking by the American electorate has helped non-white models get bookings with the fashion industry is because as Tahari has pointed out, ‘he looks like a male model… he’s built so well.’ Obama has the height, the looks, the teeth – the ‘suntanned’ skin as Italian Premier Berlusconi infamously put it – and the instinctive understanding of where the camera is and what angle best suits him. He is patently photogenic – and his photogeneticity has helped to make this young, inexperienced man Presidential. To some degree, he got the job because he gave good face. Even his acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention last Summer was delivered at the end of a catwalk.

So no wonder the fashion world wants to appropriate some of that. Michelle might be First Lady, and Obama might have exclaimed to the world ‘How beautiful is my wife?’ on inauguration night, but pretty as she is, she probably made the cover of Vogue because of her husband’s looks.

As a result of his religiously regular gym sessions on the Stairmaster, Obama is not the same shape as most US male politicians – or in fact, most US males. He really is ‘un-American’ – he can wear fashionable clothes. Even though he usually chooses to wear those Teflon-coated Hart, Schaffner, Marx & Hillman suits from Chicago, his have a narrow cut that advertises the fact that he has a body, buns and even angles. Gone are the flapping flannels of traditional US male politicians. (Even his political message was self-consciously stylish: those famous campaign slogans ‘HOPE’ and ‘CHANGE!’ were printed in Gotham font – originally developed for the men’s style magazine GQ.)

Most remarkably of all, he gets away with it. In a white US male politician such self-care and stylishness would probably be ridiculed. John Edwards you may remember got into terrible trouble for combing his hair and being pretty.

The fickle fashion world will of course tire of its clinch with Obama. But perhaps something will endure: perhaps the men’s fashion business will be less inclined than in the past to think of blackness as something ‘street’ and thus ‘sportswear’.

As Oscar Garnica at Request Models puts it: ‘Despite images of suave black men like Sidney Poitier, Sammy Davis Jr, Harry Belafonte, Denzel Washington, there has always been a narrow definition of what black is allowed to be. My best hope is that Obama’s rise to the highest office in the land will shine a spotlight on the fact that there is more to the black male image than just the stereotypes.’

Copyright Mark Simpson 2009

From Finland With Lust: How Tom Re-Designed the Male Body. For Pleasure.

The teenage Tom of Finland’s gay fantasies from the 1940s of muscular men have come to define a mainstream view of masculinity, argues Mark Simpson

(The London Times, Nov 2008 and collected in Metrosexy)

The first time I saw a Tom of Finland drawing was in a well-thumbed, seventh-hand issue of Fiesta, a top-shelf favourite of schoolboys in the 1970s. The image, buried at the back, was in a small ad for more “specialised” publications, probably missed by most of my schoolchums who had thumbed the issue before me. But it jumped out at me like an outsized erection.

It depicted a pair of muscular butch young men with big chins and broad grins grabbing each other’s bubble butts and straining packets while winking at the reader. I immediately rushed out to the post office to buy as many postal orders as my pocket money would allow.

Although I was sorely disappointed with the ‘Biker Boy’ lame leather fetish magazine – with no Tom of Finland drawings – that eventually turned up, I have spent much of my adult life and a fortune on gym membership fairly ‘fruitlessly’ trying to recreate that Tom of Finland image that I glimpsed as a teen.

I needn’t have bothered, however, because as it turned out the whole world was going to become a Tom of Finland drawing. His sensualised, cartoonish über-male body and its endless potential for pleasure and pleasuring has become commonplace. Think of the rugby player Austin Healey pulsating on BBC One’s Strictly Come Dancing in tight pants and a sleeveless top. Or all those footballers keen to strip off and show us their assets on the sides of buses.

The notes for artist retrospectives usually make extravagant claims, and those for a major retrospective of Tom of Finland in Liverpool, part of that city’s annual Homotopia queer culture festival, make some very extravagant ones indeed: “Tom had an effect on global culture unmatched by that of virtually any other artist,” we are told. But for once, there’s something to this hyperbole, despite the artistic merit of his work being very debatable.

Tom was born Touko Laaksonen in Kaarina, Finland, in 1920 and his work is literally the masturbatory fantasies of a lonely young homosexual Finnish boy – he began drawing in his locked bedroom in the 1940s, pencil in one hand, penis in the other. His fetishised, overobserved, long-distance gay appropriation of masculinity has in a mediated, long-distance world become… masculinity.

It’s often said that Tom’s greatest achievement was in drawing gay men who were masculine, happy and proud at a time when they were supposed to be effeminate, neurotic and shameful. This is certainly the reason why so many gay men are Tom devotees, wittingly or not. Today’s gay porn is merely filthy footnotes to Tom, endlessly replaying the narrative of “regular guys” with very irregular-sized penises and pectorals having spontaneous, shameless sex at the drop of a monkey wrench.  (And it’s entirely apt that one of the sponsors of this retrospective is Gaydar, the gay ‘dating’ site where gay men post Tom-ish pictures of themselves looking for other Tom-ish men to have Tom-ish sex with.)

However, the out-and-proud gay biker look – identity even – that Tom perfected after seeing Marlon Brando in The Wild One (Brando was a Tom drawing in 3D) and which became so popular in the pre-Aids 1970s and early 1980s, reaching its peak with the climactic success of the Liverpool band Frankie Goes to Hollywood, has become a dated cliché. See, for example, the tangoing, mustachioed leather men in the Blue Oyster basement bar in Police Academy – and few if any young gay men today aspire to it.

But when you look at Tom’s drawings in this retrospective, which features 25 of his works in the basement (predictably) of the Contemporary Urban Centre in Liverpool, it becomes apparent that his achievement goes much further than just making gay men feel good about themselves or love the snugness of leather harnesses. Tom, who worked as an illustrator in the Finnish advertising business until the early 1970s, when he became a full-time gay propagandist, sold the male body as a pleased, pleasuring and pleasured thing several decades before Calvin Klein thought of it. In the middle of the 20th century, Tom was effectively sketching the blueprint of 21st-century man. And boy, was he blue.

Before Tom almost no one drew men like he did, making them such unabashed sex objects and sex subjects, giving them such exaggerated male secondary – and primary! – sexual characteristics: big chins, strong jaws, full lips. Masculinity, and virility end up looking so… nurturing. Buxom. Busty. Tom’s men have round firm breasts, saucer-like aureolas and nipples you can adjust your thermostat with. One (from 1962) struts down the street, biceps bulging, chest literally bursting out of his shirt, and dressing very much to the left: no wonder he’s being followed.

His saucy curvaceousness a testament to the way in which aestheticised hyper-masculinity is oddly androgyne. And while Tom’s men may have had their tits out for the lads, the kind of Tom-ish male body he helped to invent is nowadays getting them out for lads and lasses, gay or straight, online or in real time.

Likewise Tom’s drawings also reveal the male derrière as a sexual organ: not just in some of the more hardcore examples, but the way that Tom-ish buttocks are so spherical, so sensual, so inviting. One of the most striking and prescient sketches, from 1981, is also one of the tamest: a row of bedenimed male bubble butts sticking out at a bar – awaiting perhaps the attentions of the hugely powerful Abercrombie & Fitch photographer Bruce Weber (a big Tom fan), or perhaps the vaselined, wide-angled lens of a Levi’s commercial.

Tom’s big break came in the 1950s from Physique Pictorial, an underground, semi-legal gay American fanzine disguised as a straight men’s bodybuilding magazine, which frequently put Tom’s men on the cover. Half a century later, and 17 years after his death in 1991, the world is inverted: flesh-and-blood men who look like Tom’s drawings appear on the cover of bestselling corporate mags such as Men’s Health. Flick one open, and you’ll find it full of advice on how straight men can turn themselves into something Tom-ish.

POSTSCRIPT Feb 2011

Compare the 1960s Tom of Finland sketch of the pneumatic young man swaggering/sashaying down the street at the top of this essay, with the one below of 21st Century Jersey Shore star Mikey ‘The Situation’ Sorrentino (Mikey’s face isn’t quite the Tom-ish ideal, but boy, his tits and abs are):


Black is the New Black: The Singularity Credit Card

by Mark Simpson (Arena Hommes Plus, Spring 2008)

Do you wish your wealth was so massive, your purchasing power so dense that no light could escape from your credit card? Do you wish that, instead of just impressively wealthy, you were that singular commodity, a celebrity? That your wealth bought you the riches of creation and other’s admiration without having to be, actually, tiresomely spent? That airlines, hotels and spas simply recognised your implicit worth and the priority of your desires and promptly upgraded you, while bunging you glittering free designer gifts?

That you never ever heard the word ‘no’?

Yes, I thought so. Well, all your impossible princess wishes can come true with the American Express Centurion Card, the famously ‘black’ credit card of celebs that is also a celeb among credit cards. Forget Platinum and Gold Cards, debased by the cheap credit years: the Black Card is the card of moneyed money – and its sturdy titanium design means it will survive the pressures of the Credit Crunch. Even if you don’t.

For an annual fee of £650 ($2,500 US + one time joining fee of $5,000) you will receive numerous ‘privileges’ which you and I know should be yours by rights. Including: a ‘dedicated concierge’ and travel agent, personal shoppers at stores like Gucci and Escada (you’ll need them to carry all those bags), first class flight upgrades, and free luxury travel insurance which, oh joy, includes a 28 wastrel days of winter sports – always annoyingly excluded from proley credit card travel insurance.

And that’s in addition to a welcome aboard gift of a Canon PowerShot SD850 digital camera, or a $2000 Juidth Ripka gift card, complete with a grovelling note from the CEO of Amex telling you how lucky he is to serve you and would you like your shoes tongue-cleaned or just buffed with my silk tie, Sir?

Best of all, you’ll be the possessor of a card that most people have only seen fetishised on TV in shows such as ‘Entourage’ or ‘Newlyweds, Nick and Jessica’ or heard praised in RnB songs, such as Nelly Furtado’s ‘Promiscuous Girl’: ‘I smoke purple, my car white/credit card black, girl I’m alright‘. Black cards are the new black, and they’re anything but square. Nouveau is the new cool. Again. Likewise, Obama is clearly the black card of American Democratic politics – able to outspend Gold Hillary several times over.

There is but one small, teensy-weeny grey cloud on the horizon of your blackspiration. In the UK the Centurion Card is by invitation only. If your fame or wealth (probably at least half a million in liquid assets) hasn’t put you on Amex’s radar, you can’t have one. If it has, you probably already do.

If not, be patient, Madam, please. That list, like the ones they used to use for Platinum and Gold, is lengthening, along with the competition. Since Amex Black Card’s introduction in 1999 several other prestige credit cards with similar benefits, similar privileges, similar appearances – and similar names – have materialised, including Nat West’s ‘Black Card’ launched in 2002, and ‘Carbon’ from Halifax. Even Barclaycard’s ‘Infinite’ seems to suggest ‘black’ space/singularity. Generally, they tend to have less world-shattering financial requirements than Amex’s Deathstar Card.

The most serious rival to Amex is probably MasterCard’s Signia, which includes an engraving of the owner’s signature on the front – like the signature of Manager of the Bank of England on our banknotes, though more impressive. Perhaps this is why in the UK Coutts & Co., the bankers for that Elizabeth woman whose image appears on our notes, are the Signia agents with their ‘World Card’ (note the Global dominion).

Which brings us to the blue heart of the black matter: being treated as international royalty — in an age in which money has done away with rank. All the black cards make much of their 24hr ‘concierge’, ‘secretary’ and ‘personal assistant’ services. Amex claims it has arranged for ‘a brass band to play outside a London flat on Valentine’s Day’, for European Cup football tickets to be picked up outside the stadium in Spain by their forgetful English owner, and, ‘arranged access to the Oscar’s after-party’. In other words, get one of these cards and you will be indulged by a retinue of flunkeys.

The black card and its dark alchemy gives your wants and whims the power to create and destroy worlds. As one cultural commentator recently put it:

‘If I long for a particular dish or want to take a taxi because I am not strong enough to go by foot, Black Card fetches me the dish and the taxi: that is, it converts my wishes from something in the realm of imagination, translates them from their meditated, imagined or desired existence into their sensuous, actual existence – from imagination to life, from imagined being into real being. In effecting this mediation, the Black Card is the truly creative power.’

Actually, that was Karl Marx writing 144 years ago about money. Black cards embody all the creative/managerial power of money, squared. And with none of the physical vulgarity of cash. Even better, you’re saved the perspiring vulgarity of desire itself. Possessing a black card means that your whims will be attended to before you’ve even had time to whim. Your spending power and trend-forming coolness means that corporate culture will work out what it is you want and deliver it to you before you even knew you wanted it.

The black card is the Party Card of Celeb Consumerism. It proves your membership of the Global Elite who now rule the world.

Or at least act like they do.

D&G’s Hot Date With Metrosexuality

D&G are cunning bastards. No wonder they are now a World Power.

No other fashion brand better understands the nature of 21st Century desire, where it lives, what it looks like, what it looks good in –and where it’s taking us in the back of a taxi on Saturday night.

This ad for D&G jewelery, currently airing in heavy rotation on TV and in cinemas across Europe (and causing a barrage of complaints in some), is devilishly clever, on so many different levels – and devilishly disturbing. Like a kinky lover, it toys with your expectations and then, right at the end, when you think you know what it’s about, you slowly realise that yes, it’s kind of about that, but actually it’s much more about something else.  Something even more salient and unsettling.   Something in fact beyond sexuality.

And strangely hotter.

And if you prefer to focus on the dark-haired lad(s) pouty, sulky lips :

In the midst of this blinging self-love-fest, I can’t help but quote (no gag reflex) from my own devilisly clever, diabolically prophetic, 2002 essay ‘Meet the metrosexual’:

“The typical metrosexual is a young man with money to spend, living in or within easy reach of a metropolis – because that’s where all the best shops, clubs, gyms and hairdressers are. He might be officially gay, straight or bisexual, but this is utterly immaterial because he has clearly taken himself as his own love object and pleasure as his sexual preference. Particular professions, such as modelling, waiting tables, media, pop music and, nowadays, sport, seem to attract them but, truth be told, like male vanity products and herpes, they’re pretty much everywhere.”‘

I think I should give myself a high-fashion snog.

Oh, I already have.

Retrosexual Underwear

jbs.jpgDutch men’s underwear company JBS are really kinky.

At first glimpse it seems they’re marketing themselves as the anti-metrosexual underwear brand: it features no gorgeous male models with abs and bulging packets filling out their products and provoking the lust/envy/anxiety of the male consumer. Instead there are pictures of hot porno babes in various states of undress, holding the underwear up to their faces.

So nothing faggy about JBS then.

But then look at the pictures again and you begin to realise that something really pervey is going on here.

For starters, the women are sniffing the underwear. Do many women – any women – actually do that? Especially with underwear worn by retrosexuals (usually for several days)? Isn’t that in fact something that men like to do women’s underwear – and men’s underwear? Isn’t there some kind of pervey projection going on here?

Maybe JBS is cunningly associating their underwear with the lingerie worn by their babes. JBS is selling itself as the brand for cross-dressers who haven’t come out to themselves yet.

Personally, my favourite JBS underwear is their daggy downmarket range. Here’s their alluring description of it:

For some people underwear is not exactly the most important thing in the world. They want a decent product – and at an attractive price; two requirements you can only completely satisfy by introducing them to JBS Trade.

I’ll take three. Do they do out-calls?

Tip: Dave

BearForce1 – can you resist them?

BearForce1, Holland’s answer to Take That – which in turn was the UK’s answer to the Village People – have landed.

And make the Village People look, like, totally straight. Not to mention well-dressed.

Suddenly millions of straight men realise with horror where their studied furry ‘retrosexual’ ‘real guy’ look came from….

Gran Canaria.

England’s new sporno kit sensation

strettle.jpg

The new England rugby strip, launched for this year’s World Cup, somehow manages to be even tighter than the last, launched just four years ago to massed gasps. Are our lads going to be able to breath in? Are we going to be able to breathe out?

What’s more, it has an added sash/arrow plunging from armpit down to large, firm thigh, as demonstrated by the very lovely young David Strettle, pictured left (snapped dancing on a spotlit podium at Heaven nightclub). Is it just me, or does it seem to shout: ‘If You Wanna Score – Flip Me Over!’?

Apparently the new strip’s ‘asymmetric’ design will confuse opposing players. I could make the obvious joke that they won’t know whether to tackle them or kiss them. But then, why can’t you do both? (I certainly find this a very effective tactic with rugby players myself.) The way things are going it can only be a matter of time before this approach becomes compulsory.

So instead I’ll point out that if there’s any truth to the science of eye-tracking, which suggests that most men like to look at other men’s packets rather lingeringly, our opponents’ main confusion with that ‘dressing to the left’ pendulous arrow will be working out where to actually locate our boys’ tackle.

[See how the meaning of ‘rugby shirt’ has changed over the years from ‘baggy beer towel’ to ‘gay disco cocktail top’.]

The frattish American Wet Dream conquering the World

By Mark Simpson

(Arena Homme Plus, Spring 2007)

The American Dream has turned into a nightmare. Count the shudders and the sweats in reel time: Bush. Iraq. Guantanamo Bay. Global Warming. Iran. Tom Cruise. Pop a Nytol or three with a glass of warm milk and put on ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and regress to a happier, more Technicolor dreamtime.

Once the lean, shining beacon of freedom and aspiration, as innocent and happy-go-lucky as Dorothy’s freckles, now lumbering, flak-jacketed, trigger-happy, and yet terrifyingly impotent, America is deeply unpopular. After the twister of the War on Terror the Statue of Liberty has been replaced by an effigy of the Wicked Witch of the West.

America’s triumph in the Cold War and the rapid globalisation-Americanisation that followed has, with irresistible hubris, undone the American Imperium. Everyone is American now so no one needs America any more – so Yankee Go Home. Russian President Putin’s widely-reported recent speech attacking the US’s arrogance encapsulated this sentiment: ‘the United States ,’ he said, ‘has overstepped its borders in every way.’

All this is as obvious and objectionable as America ‘s obesity problem. Except for one small detail: It isn’t true.

Or at least, it’s only half the story. For all its troubles, the American Dream is anything but dead. Much of the world may say it hates America now, but really its heart still belongs to Uncle Sam – it will still pay top dollar to dress up in the lineaments/linenments of the American Dream – as the global triumph of classy Yankee dream-merchants Ralph Lauren shows, this Spring opening up not one but two major new stores in Moscow itself (and perhaps providing the real reason for Putin’s outburst).

Meanwhile, as part of the Yankee rag-trade pincer-movement on the global psyche, Abercrombie & Fitch, purveyors of the frattish American Wet Dream is building its own overseas Empire, opening its first international flagship store in Europe – on Saville Row, London, home of the bespoke tailor, the place where the British Establishment has gone for hundreds of years to have its inside leg measured. To rub our noses in it, A&F have erected huge billboards of towering god-like Yankee models flaunting their abs and pecs at dumpy London pedestrians shuffling past at crotch level.

At a couple of fashionable strokes, American cultural imperialism has knocked down the Berlin Wall again and humiliated the British Empire Suez-style. Not bad for something as dead as a Norwegian Blue. Hollywood may be in terminal decline, and this year’s Oscar Ceremony a glorified AA meeting, but American men’s fashion brands are still exporting the American way of life, liberty and snappiness.

Perhaps that’s because Ralph Lauren is effectively High Hollywood’s merchandising wing. Born Ralph Lifshitz in 1939 in the Bronx this Jewish boy modelled his clothes on the black and WASP grainy High Summer Hollywood of his childhood: Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, Gary Cooper. And as is often the case in the world of images, his faux moneyed Yankee style supplanted the ‘real’ thing. Transformed from privilege into a polo shirt or a cable-knit jumper it was more democratic, more ‘American’. More saleable.

Memorably described by one fashion critic as ‘a white elephant covered in cricket bats’, Ralph Lauren wore the 1980s tied over its shoulders like a cashmere tennis sweater. RL’s cool, leisured classiness symbolised aspiration in the most sweatily ambitious and nakedly American decade. Ralph Lauren rapidly became the world’s first and most successful lifestyle fashion brand, a total, wraparound vision that everyone wanted to share. The Polo logo became the more tasteful, more international version of a Stars and Stripes lapel pin (in 1999 RL formalised its status by donating $13M to preserve the Star Spangled Banner). Today RL have sales of nearly $4B, making it a behemoth covered in cricket bats. RL’s flagship store in Moscow ‘s Tretyakovsky Passage, one of world’s most expensive shopping areas, will paint 8000 square feet of Mother Russia a Yankee shade of red white and blue. No wonder Putin is pissed off.

Mind, the Russians don’t seem to be as upset as the Brits, whose outraged protests forced A&F to reduce slightly the size of the body parts terrorising Saville Row. But this all seems to be part of the naughty A&F gameplan. ‘We’re shaking up the neighbourhood,’ a chirpy spokesperson explained to the press. ‘It’s going to be an extension of the irreverence of the brand into London. It’s going to be fun and we’re thrilled.’ What’s more, the store will be ‘just like our one’s in the US ‘ and the staff will be British ‘but look A&F.’

In fact, A&F are re-enacting in England itself a battle against dusty ‘Englishness’ that they have already won Stateside. Ironically, A&F was once almost the brand that RL sold itself as. Founded in 1892 as an excursion outfitter their clients included Katherine Hepburn and Ernest Hemingway. Elephant-bagging American Empire builder Teddy Roosevelt was one of their regulars.

After the 60s A&F went into decline – it was seen as ‘too square’ and ‘too English’ – and in 1988 were bought by The Limited Inc. who sexed it up, moved its target age down, and wrapped it n a mythical, all-American, 1950s, tanned, athletic boyishness as toothily innocent as it was knowingly tarty; in other words: ‘Weberist’ (Bruce Weber is A&F’s signature photographer). If RL is timeless High Summer Hollywood, A&F is endless Summer on Campus – plus MTV and webcams. RL is the America the world wants to go on safari with: A&F is the America that the world wants to party with.

With sales over $2B a year the A&F lifestyle has sustained unrivalled year-on-year levels of growth. A&F is catching up with RL. As if acknowledging this, RL recently opened a slightly A&F flavoured ‘Rugby’ chain of stores in the US . What’s more, the move into Europe is part of the transformation of A&F into an international luxury brand – once again threatening to tread on RL’s loafers.

For now though there’s plenty of room for both brands on the yellowbrick road of the Global High Street. Whatever they may think of America ‘s actions, dowdy Anti-Americanism isn’t, in the final reel, something that the world’s huddled masses actually want to wear. London will no doubt be a great, chest shaving, success for new Yankee imperialists A&F.

But one that will be dwarfed, I’m sure, by the shrieking, fainting, hair-pulling success of any store they open in that supposed capital of America-hating – Paris.

This essay is collected in ‘Metrosexy: a 21st  century self-love story’

‘Smooth Operator’ by Richard Jarman

In the Seventies advertising was doing its best to swallow Western manhood whole, but it just wasn’t up to the job.  It couldn’t quite suppress its gag reflex.  Or ours.  Men’s advertising was almost universally a joke and an hilariously camp one at that that.

It wasn’t until some way into the Eighties, the decade in which advertising became sexier than sex, and with the arrival of slick, slutty allies in the form of men’s fashion magazines — the poppers of men’s marketing — that it really began to get the hang of deep-throating masculinity without even blinking, turning it into the shiny, hard-cash, quiveringly serious commodity it is today.  The rampant Nineties and Noughties metrosexual was fluffed by the Eighties.

Richard Jarman’s just-published ‘Smooth Operator’ (New Holland), a light-hearted, hilariously illustrated and captioned bijou book-ette anatomises that almost-innocent period from the Seventies and into the early Eighties when suited admen were doing their manful best, but were really only barely managing to get the bell-end in before dissolving into splutters and traumatic public-school flashbacks.

The kind of man they were selling and slicking back then was of course as ‘smooth’ as their own man-swallowing action was dodgy and toothy.  He was, in other words, utterly absurd, but rather likeable for that:

‘Smooth Operator celebrates that distinctly ’70s and ’80s breed of man – the Hai Karate-wearing, lounge-suit-sporting, big-hair-boasting hunk.  Modern man can only aspire to the God-like status of these Smooth Operators, photographed here in their natural habitat of cool bars, poolside loungers and, er, knitwear catalogues’

Or, as he puts it elsewhere, the Smooth Operator is ‘the metrosexual’s grandad’.  Jarman himself is closely related to the subject: ‘I would like to thank my father and his man-clogs and fuzzy perm for the inspiration for this book,’ he writes.  The ‘Smooth Operator’, like Jarman’s dad, was a ‘ladies’ man’ — or at least, he would have been if ladies were actually putting out in the 1970s without first being promised, as a minimum, a finger-buffet reception, two weeks in a high-rise in Magaluf and a lifetime’s bickering in a semi-detached in Macclesfield.

Unlike the metrosexual, the Smooth Operator hadn’t discovered Wilde’s maxim that loving oneself could be the start of a lifelong romance — one uninterrupted by in-laws or kids or in fact anyone else, save your stylist.  The Smooth Operator though wasn’t really capable of loving himself.  I mean, could you love matching coloured vests and Y-fronts?  The Smooth Operator, like much of ‘men’s’ advertising itself back then, was much more interested in selling himself to women.  Or at least appealing to their sympathy.  The Smooth Operator was as likeable as the metrosexual is attractive — or as unattractive as the metrosexual is unlikeable.

Which reminds me: I should warn that some people, especially those of a sensitive or aesthetic disposition, will find some of the images collected in Jarman’s book very disturbing indeed.  Weeks of retail therapy and a year’s subscription to Arena Hommes Plus may be required after viewing them.

Here’s a selection of some of the less shocking ‘Smooth Operator’ images and Jarman captions (and Simpson comments):

Smooth Y gang.jpg

 ‘The problem with Y-fronts, and their matching vests and T-shirts, was that they led many a smooth operator to leave the house half-dressed to stand about in gangs on sand dunes looking cool.

(If you look closely you’ll notice that all three models are wearing the same cleft chin.  Big chins were very important in Seventies advertising – big packets less so….)

Smooth Audrey.JPG

   

 ‘These two busboys from Studio 54 in New York are visiting their friend Audrey, who’s convalescing at a Miaimi Gender Reassignment Clinic.’

(Lovingly pushing her down in her chair, preventing her from showing off her surgical dressing.)

Smooth Wyn.jpg

 ‘Peter Wyngarde, undoubtably the smoothest of smooth operators, was voted the sexiest man alive and was a household name because of his alter ego, playboy Jason King in the TV show Department S.  In 1975, he was convicted of gross indecency with a truck driver in the toilets of Gloucester Bus Station, and the nation was cruelly robbed of a true superstar.’ 

(Especially cruel when you consider that, unlike Seventies men’s advertising, Mr Wyngarde had probably got the hang of swallowing South Western manhood whole.)

 

Smooth Y front 2.jpg

http://www.richardjarman.com/

James Bond Comes Out

The new blond Bond has a lot in common with the brunette original – precisely for the reasons he’s been bashed, says Mark Simpson

(Out, November, 2006)

BOND IS BLOND! He’s smooth! He works out! He doesn’t have any eyebrows! He kissed a guy!

Ever since English actor Daniel Craig was cast last year as the U.K.’s most famous spy—and the face of the world’s most successful, longest-running blockbuster brand—the British popular press and Bond fanboys have been up in arms, shrieking about his unsuitability for the role.

They complain about all sorts of supposed failings, including that he required coaching to handle a gun and play poker, and that he snogged another male on film (as Francis Bacon’s lover in Love Is the Devil and also in Infamous). Apparently, you see, he’s “not manly enough” to play cinema’s most famous action hero. Essentially, they’ve got their off-white tighty whities in a twist because Bond has gone metrosexual.

However, there is something that needs to be pointed out here, like the pleasing bulge of a Walther PKK semiautomatic in a Savile Row trouser pocket: The early Bond movies were thrillingly perverse, shockingly sexy, and not a little queer. This will traumatize millions, but the original James Bond, by the dingy, stringy-vested, “no sex please it’s bath night” standards of early 1960s Britain was something of a metrosexual, albeit a latent one (he’s a secret agent, after all).

Watching again the very first Bond film, Dr. No—released 44 years ago and played a zillion times on TV and cable but nevertheless still something of a revelation—I’m struck by a number of things about the original Mr. Bond, supposedly the gold standard of authentic masculinity and virility in an increasingly sissified world:

  1. His fake tan
  2. His inviting, full, glossy, pink lips, more luscious than Ursula Andress’s (or even Tom’s in the Missy Impossible franchise)Sean Connery's lips, pistol and other oral gratifcation
  3. His worked-out body (Connery represented Scotland in the Mr. Universe contest in 1953.)Sean Connery Mr Universe contestant 1953
  4. His fine tailoring, careful grooming, and manicured hands
  5. His fetish for gadgets and gizmos
  6. His taste for fussy cocktails (shaken, not stirred)
  7. His wigs (Connery went bald in his early 20s and wore a toupee in every Bond movie.)
  8. His overacting in the famous big-hairy-spider-in-bed scene….

james-bond-spider

Add to this damning list of charges his fondness for exotic locations, the company of high-fashion models, and all those gorgeous, exquisite interiors – not to mention his incurable bachelorhood – and Bond is practically a blackmail target (any and all male homosexuality remained illegal in England until 1967).

Perhaps this is why the evil-genius villains always had to be so camp and fussy, with their cats, cigarette holders, leather gloves, comically butch factotums, and makeover plans for the world. And perhaps also why Bond has to be so nasty to the ladies – though his sadism merely makes him all the more perverse and kinky. Even his ferociously, frequently fatal (for the ladies) hetero promiscuity is deviant by the buttoned-up standards of the era: as the trailers put it at the time, “He’s licensed to kill-when he likes, whom he likes, where he likes.”

Most working-class U.K. males in 1962 were licensed to marry young, impregnate their wives three or four times, and then take up pigeon-fancying. Wartime-rationing of food and luxury items didn’t end until 1954, two years before Elvis’s first hit and less than a decade before Dr. No was made – although sex-rationing continued for decades afterwards.

Connery, born and braised in slum district of Edinburgh, presents a Bond who, by contrast, is a vain single young man jetting around the world and literally taking his pleasures where he pleases, living a glossy magazine lifestyle, albeit as an undercover agent. This lifestyle was not to come out of the secret-service closet until over 30 years later with the emergence of the metrosexual – a man whose mission was also to save the West, but by shopping instead of shooting.

But perhaps the most proto-metrosexual aspect of the first James Bond is that he is also a sex object almost as ravishing as any of the ladies he ravishes, almost as fetishized as any of the objects of desire he toys with: a playboy we would like to play with. Raymond Chandler might have famously described the Bond of Ian Fleming’s novels as “what every man would like to be and what every woman would like to have between her sheets,” but the original screen Bond, for all his masterfulness, was a voyeuristic pleasure that men might want between their sheets and women might want to be.

on-her-majesys-secret-service

With the possible and very brief exception of George “legs” Lazenby who made only one Bond movie in 1969 and has spent much of his subsequent career playing a lothario in a different franchise (the soft-porn Emmanuelle series), none of the other Bonds that came after have the charge, the sexiness, the perversity, the prophecy of Connery’s ’60s Bond. Ironically, it has been left to anyone other than Bond to realize the latent metrosexuality of the original, or even just maintain its charge. Bond has gone backwards toward the wall while the world’s males have leaned over forwards. Pretty boys Matt Damon and Tom Cruise in their respective Bourne Identity and Mission Impossible Bond knockoff incarnations are closer to the original spirit of Bond than, well, Bond.

For starters, neither Roger Moore nor Timothy Dalton nor Pierce Brosnan even have bodies. They’re clotheshorses embalmed in hair spray – 1950s knitwear catalog models. In fact, this is exactly what Roger Moore was before his TV career took off. By the time of his last outing in Die Another Day, Brosnan looked like a 1950s knitwear model trapped inside a computer game. And as for the sex scenes… well, they look like abuse. Of Brosnan. After Connery’s bit of polished ’60s rough, James Bond seemed to be frightened of his own sexuality, of giving away too much.

pierce_brosnan_bond_2.jpg

Yes, post-’80s, feminism may have finally been acknowledged: Brosnan’s boss is female. And the Bond girls may have become less, well, girly (e.g., Halle Berry in Die Another Day as the high-kicking sidekick), but this just makes Bond’s own masculinity all the more unconvincing. Worse, it makes it extremely unappealing.

Paradoxically, we now live in a world where England’s sweaty soccer team can be captained by the most metrosexual male alive, but England’s imaginary spy of the silver screen, who helped make Beckham’s generation what it is, has to be more retro than metro.

Until now. The makers of the Bond films seem to have finally woken up to the problem. They have not renewed hairy brunet Brosnan’s contract and have instead cast smooth, blond Craig in the role for the next three films-the first Bond actor who was born after Fleming’s death. Underlining this overdue remodeling, the makers have announced that Casino Royale is a “reboot” of the brand that will wipe out the previous cinematic timeline.

Bond is being reborn. Perhaps as what he promised us he could be 44 years ago.

Copyright © 1994 - 2017 Mark Simpson All Rights Reserved.