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Generation Next

May 22, 1997|MIMI AVINS | TIMES FASHION EDITOR

Men's fashion is under renovation. More than a few designers have abandoned the strict rules long dictated by corporate culture and created clothes that celebrate male beauty and attractive bodies. Times Fashion Editor Mimi Avins recently invited a quartet of hot young designers, all in town from New York to meet their customers at Bloomingdale's, Beverly Center, to talk about the changing shape of menswear.

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Mimi Avins: How do men learn to dress?

John Bartlett: I don't think guys are raised to think about clothes. Men don't want to draw attention to themselves through their clothing. Slowly, that's changing, but guys are still really awkward about it.

Avins: How much guidance do they want?

Gene Meyer: I think men do want guidance now. They are more interested in fashion because they have to compete in the business world against women for the same jobs, and the age thing comes into play. They're concerned about looking younger.

Edward Pavlick: Men are also much more aware of fashion. They're seeing more designers offering different types of menswear. Men, in general, are kind of creatures of habit. They know what they like and they know what's worked for them in the past, but they know that there are other options now.

Avins: Other options?

Pavlick: Maybe it's because we live in New York, but we see more and more people wearing more sportswear to the office, and more people trying alternatives to the classic suit. You see men wearing clothes meant for active sports just around the city.

Avins: Who in the public eye influences style?

Pavlick: Musicians, more than any other group. Bush, Oasis, David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Dylan. You name it.

Richard Bengtsson: All these musicians usually have great personal style. Whether it's ugly or not, it's distinctive.

Pavlick: They put it together in their own way, and I think that's one of the best things happening with menswear. I'm noticing more experimenting. I'm not sure why.

Meyer: I think the music world has taught men to be sexy, and to wear clothes in a sexy way, which didn't exist before.

Bartlett: A lot of the rock stars are sort of ambisexual and pansexual. They're the ones who really mix the female and male.

Avins: And that's been true for a long time. How old are Jagger and Bowie?

Pavlick: You're seeing more and more bands doing that. Like Tricky.

Bengtsson: Even Kurt Cobain. He used to be onstage with a dress and wear a bra and everything.

Meyer: His personality was even a little feminine sometimes, and it was sort of charming.

Avins: Are there two kinds of clothes, one for straight men and one for gay men?

Meyer: We're always asking ourselves that.

Bartlett: In menswear, you're designing for an ideal male, and all kinds of gay undertones come into that. It's that male worship thing.

Bengtsson: In the past, if a guy had style or was well dressed, he was usually gay. That's changing. There used to be a gay camp look. Now it's become a straight camp look: really short hair, buffed muscles, tight T-shirts and work boots. Now, at least in New York, you see so many straight guys looking like that. The stigma of being gay or looking gay isn't as strong.

Meyer: You can go into a club in any big city, and you don't know if a guy is straight or gay by his dress. He's going to have a great body, a tight shirt. Initially you might think he's gay, then you find out he's with his girlfriend or his wife.

Bengtsson: And the girl wants to have a good-looking boyfriend.

Meyer: The younger generation has grown up with the idea that the male can be sexy. . . . Look at all the kids who've been raised on Calvin Klein advertising. That has been a major force in this change, because it presented the male body as an object to be admired.

Pavlick: And on television, there was that Diet Coke commercial in which the women were looking at the construction worker. That's a very good example of mainstream idolizing of men.

Avins: But it's OK for women to admire a hunky guy.

Pavlick: But there were also men who thought, "That's a nice body."

Meyer: And others who thought, "If women like that, I'd better get with the program." But I think for a younger generation, it's very normal for straight men to be more conscious of their bodies, and of other men's.

Pavlick: As a designer, I don't think about it. I don't sit down and say, "I'm going to do a gay look now." It's not about that for me. I don't think it's so unique to be gay anymore, so I don't think it matters.

Avins: At one time, if a man dressed a certain way, he might have been pegged as a homosexual, and that would be a big deal. Now, who cares?

Pavlick: I think lots of people still care, but it's less and less. And you definitely see a crossing over of styles. Gay men you see dressing down more. They're not so flamboyant. And you're seeing more straight men dressing more flamboyantly. Times change and attitudes change. . . .

Avins: The carry-over to fashion is, if it's OK for men to have great bodies, then it's OK for them to buy clothes to show that.

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