At dinner one night David Hockney told friends he's getting ready to spice up his wardrobe. This--from the artist who wears a gold lame suit to one opening and paint-splattered bedroom slippers to another--is intriguing news.
"I'm going to try and find some better way to go black tie," he says. "It's time for a little more extravagance."
Extravagance at Hockney's inventive hands is awesome to imagine. But even if he's on the brink of his most original look ever, he's not the only man fiddling with unusual fashion styles right now. Artists and artsy types around town all seem to be into it.
At the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, costume curator Edward Maeder says he's wearing a tiger-stripe ceramic bow tie to social events.
Magazine publisher Tom Sewell of Main, a style magazine based near the Venice boardwalk, acts as if red suspenders and checkerboard-trim sweaters are for just anybody to wear .
Photographer Matthew Rolston, best known for his personality portraits (he took Farrah Fawcett's picture for the cover of this month's Vanity Fair), says he buys women's blouses for himself and wears them with suits. He recently chose one by Donna Karan, in taupe satin.
And actor Sampson DeBrier, who always looks as if he's stepped from an Erte fashion illustration, is wearing as many antique silk mufflers and tapestry coats as ever.
Hockney sheds light on his new fashion inspiration: "I'm taking a tip from Richard Wagner." He has been reading the composer's diaries while designing sets and costumes for Wagner's opera "Tristan und Isolde," which the Los Angeles Music Center Opera Company will stage in December.
There's one formal outfit Wagner wrote about in his diary that Hockney can't forget. "Velvet trousers, velvet jacket and, naturally, his silk underwear," Hockney recounts. "Wagner couldn't compose without his silk underwear on."
Romantic grandeur wherever he may find it is Hockney's latest fashion muse. For this season's Beaux Arts ball in San Francisco, he rented a Mozart costume, all velvet and brocade and powdered wigs. To concoct his own new look, he'll take cues from Mozart's style too, Hockney says. It's just his way of jostling free from typical men's fashion. "It's too uptight," he says. "It's dreary. Somebody bold has to change it."
Costume curator Maeder does his part too, and he takes it as seriously as Wagner did. "I've kept a diary of everything I wore, down to my underwear," Maeder says of his college days in the early 1970s. "It'll be fascinating for somebody to get their hands on those notes a hundred years from now."
His 300 or so vintage ties, his water-repellent suits from Riverside thrift shops (he fell into a swimming pool wearing one and it came out fine, he says) and his notorious ceramic necktie have helped earn Maeder a certain reputation.
"People think I dress oddly, and sometimes I do," he admits. "But it's calculated. I believe in dress as communication." He has his board room style--a somewhat straight-laced look made of Italian sportswear, albeit by designers unknown in America. He saves his flamboyant '40s suits for other occasions.
If paying fastidious attention to fashion smacks of dandyish behavior, Maeder says, it's a welcome reaction to recent men's fashion looks. "There couldn't be a dandy six years ago," he says. "Everybody dressed like an unmade bed." In fashion history, he recalls, dandyism meant formal, calculated dressing. This time around it's less put-together, more tongue in cheek at its best.
Sewell prefers to call his style eccentric. He has a photo archive, gathered in the bus-station-style photo booth he keeps in the converted grocery store he uses for an office. The archive documents his own fashion incarnations--as a biplane aviator, a cowboy and motorcycle thug, among others. He explains himself by way of a question: "Why take life so seriously--why not be imaginative and have a sense of humor?"
All the snappiest dressers say they do it for a few good laughs. "I like to give myself a little bit of fun," Rolston offers. He's recently moved out of his Liberace phase, where he would show up at formal occasions with a blaze of rhinestone brooches pinned across a black linen shirt in Boy Scout-banner style. He got into that look just before he photographed Michael Jackson.
Now he's mixing Dennis the Menace hairdos with Charlie Chaplin-scale dressing. He wears "chicken feather" hair, as he calls it, and oversize, chalk-stripe pants by Yohji Yamamoto. (Yamamoto says Chaplin is his fashion idol.) For more silliness, Rolston sometimes wears a necktie that's pin dots on one side, great big dots on the other.