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Men's Fall Fashion Issue

Hitting the Right Notes

Two Very Different L.A. Music Talents--Country Singer Dwight Yoakam and Hollywood Bowl Conductor John Mauceri--Make Fall's Looks Work for Them

September 08, 2002|HEATHER JOHN

A man dressed in a cowboy hat, alligator boots and a Dolce & Gabbana suit slinging a Gibson Honky Tonk Deuce guitar leaves little doubt that you can take the boy out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the boy. ''I've always said I was born in Kentucky and raised in Ohio, but grew up in California,'' says Dwight Yoakam with a twang that 25 years of California living has done little to erase. Drawn to L.A. in 1977 by a country-rock scene that included Clarence White, the Byrds, Gram Parsons, the Flying Burrito Brothers and the Eagles, Yoakam embarked on a career that has seen 16 albums, two Grammys and 21 nominations. In November he'll release a 10-CD box set called ''Reprise, Please Baby: Dwight Yoakam, The Warner Years.''

He's currently on tour sporting duds he describes as ''pushing the outer edge of the Western style envelope,'' which he designs in collaboration with North Hollywood tailor Jaime Castaneda. ''I sketch in my own inept fashion where I want embroidery and what I want the elements to be, and Jaime crafts that with me.'' Similarly, in designing his boots, the artist has worked exclusively for the past decade with Rios of Mercedes, Texas, which aficionados regard as the benchmark in Western footwear.

His personal style reaches beyond the country music set. The Gap has featured Yoakam in two major campaigns--last Christmas' ''Give a Little Bit'' charity drive and their line-dancing commercial featuring Yoakam's remake of the band Queen's song ''Crazy Little Thing.'' ''When they approached me, they were a little sheepish about the song they wanted us to sing,'' he says. ''I thought it was great. That was Freddie Mercury's tribute to rockabilly, and so it comes full circle because [the song] is back in the hands of a hillbilly singer.''

Yoakam's creativity doesn't stop in the music and fashion arenas. Since 1992, he's appeared in 11 movies, including Billy Bob Thornton's Oscar-winning ''Sling Blade'' and last spring's blockbuster ''Panic Room.'' It was during filming of the latter project that costar Forest Whitaker discovered Yoakam's latest creative outlet: biscuits. His eponymous line of frozen ''Bakersfield Biscuits'' hit national supermarkets earlier this summer. ''It started off as a response to Buck Owens' ribbing to do something special for the opening of his Bakersfield restaurant, Crystal Palace,'' he says. (Yoakam is perhaps best known for his 1988 duet with Owens, ''Streets of Bakersfield.'') The biscuits were an instant hit with patrons, and Yoakam began working with scientists to re-create the frozen version for national distribution. ''We were testing them in my dressing room on the set of 'Panic Room,' and Forest would smell them baking and come in to try them,'' he says. ''Now the biscuits have a life of their own.'' Which means Yoakam can return to his first passion. ''I'll always look to music first as an outlet for expressing myself.''

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John Mauceri is one of those guys who'll give you the shirt off his back--literally. ''If people like what I'm wearing, I tend to give it to them after about a year,'' he says. ''And there are actually people all over wearing my clothes. I love to do that!'' But the 56-year-old principal conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra doesn't stop with cashmere sweaters. Or the latest Pema Chodron work (''I never thought I was going to read a book by an American Buddhist nun, but 'When Things Fall Apart' is so life-affirming I've bought 30 copies and find myself giving them to people''). Giving back is somewhat of a theme with Mauceri, and most often he's done it through music.

Mauceri--who worked with Leonard Bernstein for 18 years, has conducted everyone from Placido Domingo to Madonna and has won Grammy, Tony, Emmy, Olivier and Edison awards, to name a few--works imaginatively to create concerts that celebrate Los Angeles and its context in the world. He's in his 12th season with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, which was created for him by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Assn. in 1991. ''I wanted to make this new orchestra representative of the cultural achievements of the city, which is impossible for one organization to truly represent, but it was always my goal.'' Creative programs such as ''Rodgers & Hammerstein at the Movies,'' which was performed against a big screen featuring scenes from movies such as ''South Pacific,'' ''The King & I'' and ''The Sound of Music,'' are, he says, ''specifically for the point of view of Los Angeles because all of the orchestrations were written here.'' Earlier this year, he staged a one-night performance of Puccini's opera ''La Boheme.'' ''I'm sure it came as a surprise to a lot of people that 'La Boheme' had its American premiere in Los Angeles in 1897,'' he says. ''That night I said to the audience, 'This is your opera, too. It was here first.' ''

''That's why I do music--for that kind of community sense of being linked with people,'' he continues. ''With [music], I feel like I'm part of a tradition of human expression that goes as far back as anyone can imagine and, at the same time, it works on a horizontal level with people who are living all over the world right now. I conduct music of many different styles and many different levels of complexity because I look for that common denominator--and in that common denominator I find the human experience and the human soul.''

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Heather John is a senior Style editor at the magazine.

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