Men and fashion! Two words diametrically opposed at one time.
Men’s fashion! Two words fittingly analogous, in today’s times.
There is no awkwardness when discussing men’s fashion in modern times; no underlying innuendos questioning the sexuality of the fashionable male and no hints of being a dandy.
Being a dandy has wrongly acquired a negative connotation in our society. Actually a dandy has nothing to do with having feminine characteristics or traits. A dandy is a man devoted to extreme elegance in clothes, style and manners. In short a gentleman, an aesthetic man, an elegant man.
With Pitti Uomo in full swing in Firenze, men’s most important platform for clothing and accessories in fashion, I reflect upon the evolution of men’s fashion.
Over the years our darker sex has not lagged too far behind women in fashion. They are galloping fast towards the ramp like thorough bred race horses with blinders on their eyes.
In a recent study it was found that in Asia men far outnumber women in consuming high end luxury goods. This is quite an eye-opener, as we mostly associate women with fashion; it is women who are usually seen toting high-end designer brands; in fact fashion brands in the past have mostly targeted women with women walking the ramps for major fashion houses, women in glossy ad-campaigns and women as brand ambassadors.
Times have changed and men are evolving.
Let’s take a stylish swivel back on the ramp and see how men have evolved.
Historically masculinity is identified as a concoction of brawn, sweat, sinewy muscles, deeply etched facial lines, a rich baritonic voice and dark tanned skin. All these physical characteristics are a sign of strength, courage, fortitude and power. Men are supposed to be rough, tough and gruff. Anything less is too feminine and not “man enough.”
However, since times immemorial, even if sub-consciously, men have paid attention to their physical attributes. Even the cave man used bucolic tools to groom himself. It is an innate desire in all human beings to look good, despite the gender divide.
For example take men in ancient Rome. They were the epitome of masculinity, vigor and virility. They wrestled lions with their bare fists, what could be manlier than that? Outwardly, they wore a basic garment in the form of a tunic or toga strictly for the purposes of necessity and functionality. It was used as a cover-up for the statuesque Romans for decorum and protection against elements of nature.
Despite such outward portrayal of machismo, inwardly the Roman man did pay attention to his looks. He used cosmetics! Can you believe that, even though it was frowned upon. There was a light use of perfumes and “moderate” hair removal. Note: not full hair removal but moderate hair removal because hair, even in modern times is associated with a man’s masculinity.
The Roman man evolved. Let’s fast forward to the 50’s man. The stylish male with the hat, overcoat, perfect tie, a sartorial dresser indeed. Manly and well-dressed.
But wait; do I smell a whiff of sweet lime cologne? Yes, indeed! He is wearing cologne to ward off uninvited female overtures. He is using a cosmetic.
In the mid-50s rode in the Marlboro man, with the deeply etched masculine lines on his face (most likely as a result of nicotine exposure rather than any andric potency!) Nevertheless, born was the rugged, un-harnessed masculinity.
Advent of the mid-60s. Gone were the uptight suits and ties, in came the “far-out” generation. A chilled-out generation, reflecting the same attitude in the fashion sense. No dress-codes, no rules, no restrictions and constrictions. A psychedelic lifestyle with a psychedelic attire to “blow” your mind.
This blog cannot be complete without discussing the decadent 1970s disco era. A vestibular fashion era with aerial platform shoes and flared pants. John Travolta epitomized the juxtaposition of flared pants and the three-piece suit. A sartorial “flare” for sure!
Miami Vice marked new-age 1980’s fashion. The over-sized blazer donned oh-so casually over the t-shirt, the sockless feet in loafers became a cult fashion statement, still followed by the fashion victims stuck in the 80s.
I cannot move away from the 1980s without mentioning the raw sexuality of Mickey Rourke in 9 ½ weeks. The stubble, the piercing eyes, the dangling cigar and the come-hither smile heightened male sexuality to another level.
In the 1990s the tables turned. Women were not the only ones who portrayed sexuality; men romped in their skivvies too. The six-pack was no longer associated with a beverage and a male paunch was not a sign of wealth and success. Men hit the gym, started shopping at organic stores and became “eye-candy.”
From the 2000s and onwards men have come a full circle. They have reverted back to being a dandy. They use lotions and potions; eat diet products; work on problem areas at the gym; are androgynous; shop online at Barneys; get manicures and pedicures; get waxed, stripped, threaded and shaved. He is beautiful.
In fact, the gender divide has become so blurry that it is perfectly acceptable for a pouty, porcelain skinned male model like Andrej Pejic to strut down the runway giving Kate Moss a run for her euro! The uomo has evolved.
A walk down the lingerie department of any store shows the “weight” that is placed on big breasts. There is a head-spinning variety of chest contraptions designed for the sole purposes of “enhancing,” “lifting,” “enlarging,” and “amplifying,” the female bosom. Words that conjure up images of torture at a concentration camp are used such as inserts, adhesives and tapes. There is even a bra named “dramatic/extreme lift.” I call it a neck-a-boo, the merger of the boob and neck!
Descriptive culinary words such as “cutlets” are used to achieve the décolletage effect that is apt to describe the ample bosom of culinary goddess Nigella Lawson.
Plastic surgeons are laughing their way to the bank by performing multiple enlargements, enhancements and pronouncements per day. Breast enlargements have become so ubiquitous that you see hoardings and billboards of women laboriously stooping on the expressways flaunting toll free numbers of such clinics; strip malls have breast enhancement clinics alongside of take-away Chinese dim-sum; magazines are splattered with ads for procedures at throw-away prices with very little to no downtime. To add legitimacy to such procedures articles are written as to how breast enlargements can lead to elevation of the self-esteem, self-confidence and self-worth.
YouTube has videos demonstrating a whopping Nine Steps to breast enhancement!! How could it possibly take 9 steps, I mean squeeze, push and voila va-va-voom!!
The old trick-of-the-trade of stuffing toilet paper down your bra for a cheap, non-intrusive lift continues to flourish.
Women’s vernacular consists of phrases such as “filling the dress,” “creating an hourglass silhouette” “perking it up” etc. etc.
There are many facets from which a blog on flat-chested versus “enhanced” chested women can be discussed. However, I will limit my discussion within the parameters of fashion. If enhanced breasts are appealing to you for “lifting” your spirits, “enhancing” your self-esteem or “enlarging” your ego, then Bon Grandes!!
Time for a disclaimer here. Some of you may be thinking right about now that this is a “case of sour grapes” blog for me. Maybe, I the writer of this blog has always brewed a deep-seated resentment for the well-endowed woman due to my biological misfortune of “inability to fill my dress.” Let me reassure my critics, this is not the case. I have always been big-chested and believe me I still find the grapes to be sour!!
The irony is that these “enhanced women” tend to idolize women who are themselves flat-chested!! Most women look at fashion magazines, runway shows and models as an inspiration for beauty and fashion. Flip through any magazine or watch any runway show and you will see model after model with a pancake chest, displaying the latest styles and trends. Fashion runways are strewn with flat-chested models walking sullenly down the ramp.
To add to the irony, most of the large-chested models you may see on the runway or in magazines are usually associated with eroticism and definitely not with style or fashion. Most of such “enhanced women” are either posing for some erotic product such as condoms or in politically correct terms for products related to “horizontally challenged” women. I am sure this is not the effect the fashionable woman is aiming for.
Interestingly, most fashion designers opt only for flat-chested models. The fashion industry lauds flat-chested women. They are an indispensable and integral part of fashion houses. The primary reason is that these women carry off the clothes better than big-chested women. Flat-chested women look modern; they look fashionable and uber stylish. My point is further endorsed by the fact that I have never ever seen a big-chested girl walk down the Grand Palais runway for the Chanel show, or have seen one in a cerebral Prada dress or in a convoluted pose for a Marc Jacobs spread. Now in all fairness, high-end designers do want stick-thin models and unless you defy the norms of nature, it will be an oxymoron to be stick thin and also have big breasts.
I personally have never ever understood the lure flat-chested women have for big breasts. Maybe indeed it is a case of sour grapes. In my opinion big breasts are not fashionable or stylish. They can be erotic, seductive, sexy but significantly hinder your fashion and style choices.
Most clothes do not fit well on big-busted women. They are fashion-restrictive. They hamper a full exploration of fashion as the styles are limited. You are limited to only a few types of necklines and silhouettes, unless you want to walk around looking like you are perpetually ready for an audition for the Playgirl magazine. Stylish, edgy clothing is not designed for big-chested women. Buttons pop constantly and you have to have a limitless supply of safety pins for security purposes.
In addition they even put a damper on enjoyment. Dance moves are limited to avoid looking like a clip from Girls Gone Wild. Sports and aerobics in particular require extreme contraptions.
To top it all, big breasts add weight to the overall frame and no fashionable woman wants that!
In the end, all my blogs return to the running theme of conformity. Conformity dictates being big-breasted; non-conformity states shun the rules. If you are blessed with being flat-chested enjoy it and consider yourself in the elite group of the likes of Kate Moss and Karlie Kloss.
Some may argue that even though interpretation may be individual, certain universal basics, a foundation, an order needs to be there for the inception of art. Beyond that the artist can take creative license to express his or her views.
Non-conformist that I am, I am willing to go as far as to even dispense with the above theory of foundational art. After all, if there are universal parameters, dictums and precedence then where is the originality, the expression and the true tour de force art.
My most cherished designer Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel directed the latest film, The Tale of a Fairy for the 2011-12 cruise collection. As is the signature of the master couturier the movie is dripping, oozing and drenched in luxury almost bordering on hedonism. Whether it is the colonial Parisian mansion with the silent-footed bevy of maids and butlers or the “actors” walking in the house with a cascade of Chanel pearls around their long necks wearing signature white and black Chanel pumps making their 6 feet lanky frames reach towering and withering heights. Whether it is the impromptu trip to Monte Carlo or an almost on-the-verge of an orgy on the French Riviera. It is all there.
There are beautiful girls kissing each other, a waif who looks like an angel and an element of surrealism. In fact, all the elements of a good Hollywood blockbuster are blended into the film.
So then what is so wrong, so very wrong with the film? Well, the simple answer is the lack of a story, a script and a backbone to the film. The story centers around three women, one who is hysterical through the whole movie, the other solely there to provide the international element with her well-modulated British accent and the third for the hot and steamy girl kiss. The story borders on being cheesy and entering into the realm of being ridiculous.
What redeems the movie is the physicality of the cast. Two of the lead actors are in their mid and late 40s. The girls are androgynous without the essential prerequisite Hollywood bust and lip enhancement. It is antithesis to Hollywood casting. It defies all traditional norms of established standards of beauty.
The silver-haired, 40-some year old Kristen McMenaney with her pierced nose and bouffant hair gives any 20 year-old run for her money.
Freja Beha in her underwear is reminiscent of Kate Moss in her very young and best days for the Calvin Klein ads.
In summary, even when Karl Lagerfeld does something less than his trademark perfection, a little oops, a faux pas-somehow it is interpreted as art. In this film, the physical attributes of the cast of “actors” redeems Lagerfeld’s movie from entering the Girls gone Wild genre.
Lately the runways are fuming with “smoking” models, literally “smoking” on the runways.
One can see the super-thin models walking in the buff and emanating a “puff” from their perfectly matte or super-glossed pout, depending whether you are at Yves Saint Laurent or Gucci.
I was a bit astounded and bewildered,as I thought to myself, unbeknownst to me, did the Surgeon General revise the much touted cigarette warning? My query was quickly answered in the negative by the omniscient Google.
Then why am I seeing models running rampant on the slicked runways with a cigarette dangling from their lips? From Kate Moss for Louis Vuitton Fall 2011 to Lady Gaga for Mugler show. Melbourne fashion week had models dressed as “women of luxury” with billowing swirls of smoke rising between their delicate lacquered fingers in a smoky salon environment. Cult blogger Bryanboy is seen flaunting a drag from his ciggy.
The most likely reason is that the fashion industry is in a perpetual quest of the next “it” concept; the next “unparalleled” runway show and the next “shock inspiring” campaign. What better way to grab the attention of the consumer than using a prop that is synonymous with notoriety. A prop that can be the subject of much heated debates and is counter-cultural. It truly can be called the “it” prop. (Disclaimer: I am not promoting (or not) cigarettes, but merely analyzing the wide use of cigarette as a prop on runways.)
Another reason for using cigarettes as props is because fashion is cyclical. It is like karma, it is bound to come back. Flares come back, platforms come back, and even big padded shoulders have made a come-back. So, why not cigarettes. This season there has been a surge of the 70s. Gucci, Marc Jacobs, Louis Vuitton, Tom Ford all have hustled down to the 70s and brought back ideas for their respective lines. And what could be more synonymous with the 70s than smoking.
So, in summary, without making this blog political or for that matter medical by weighing in on the pros and cons (well, mostly cons) of smoking, it is fair to say that the fashion industry is always on the abyss to find ways to “shock.” Sooner or later, we all run out of shock ideas and revert back in time to re-visit old ideas and re-package them.
What will we see next…a model rolling a marijuana joint while walking in Eiffel tower-esque Pierre Hardy heels!! Now that will be trippy, no I mean it in the most literal sense!
From the labyrinth of my memory I remembered the words of a childhood poem. “Kate, Kate don’t be late, here is your satchel and here is your slate….Kate, Kate don’t be late!!
A sweet, simple, uncomplicated, straightforward poem denoting innocence and simplicity.
Fast forward to the Louis Vuitton Fall/Winter 2011 show and watch super-model Kate Moss sashaying on the runway with a swagger. Cigarette dangling from her lips, puffing up a storm, strutting her “barely” covered derrière. She has an “I-give-a-damn” expression on her chemically peeled face resulting in a perfect stretch and shine of the skin! She is lean, she is mean. She is defiant, she is audacious. She is bold, she is provocative. She is saucy and shameless.
This Kate is always late. Why? Simple, because it is fashionable to be late. This Kate does not need a satchel or a slate. Why? Simple, because she has a Blackberry and iPhone with a top-of-the-line voice recognition app that takes perfect notes tucked deep in her super-sized Louis Vuitton monogramed satchel.
The Kate of my childhood poem and the Kate on the runway; although namesake, yet diametrically opposed. What’s in a name?