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Is it really possible to redo a slob and make it stick?

Months after their 'Queer Eye' makeovers, two of the Bravo show's Cinderfellas are still keeping with it.

October 15, 2003|Denise Flaim | Newsday

NEW YORK — "Bad taste kills," flamboyant fashionista Carson Kressley scrawled on a door during a recent episode of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy." Which raises the question: Can it be cured?

Since its July debut on the Bravo cable channel, "Queer Eye" has plied makeovers on 11 style-challenged straight men in the New York metro area. Pulling up in their signature black Suburban, the show's Fab 5 -- fashion maven Kressley, grooming guru Kyan Douglas, interior designer Thom Filicia, epicure Ted Allen and culture vulture Jai Rodriguez -- assess their subject's degree of hetero cluelessness, then transform him and his home. By the end of the hour-long episode, they have likely submitted him to a waxing and facial, lectured him on the perils of pleats and the virtues of pima cotton, replaced his college-vintage futon with something Eames-ish, and barraged viewers with a conga line of product endorsements from Benjamin Moore to Amaretto Disaronno.

But what happens to the "Queer Eye" Cinderfellas once their style gurus have left the building? Do they just lapse back into a fog of untrimmed nose hair, ossified Chinese takeout and Old Spice? Is it really possible to turn a slob into a style savant -- and make it stick?

If anyone makes a case against "Queer Eye" recidivism, it's Adam Zalta, 39-year-old father of three and star of Episode No. 102, "A Great Mess in Great Neck."

"It's a Toys R Us crack den!" Filicia exclaimed when he first glimpsed the family's toy-strewn living room. In the kitchen and foyer, the tile floors were exfoliating. And the storage spaces were so crammed that the term "walk-in closet" was pretty much a misnomer. "It's the House of Horrors," Zalta's mother offered helpfully.

As for her son, an extremely likable computer-business owner, he needed a little sprucing up of his own. Zalta got his hair cut about every solstice and shaved in the car with an electric razor once a week. And let's not even get into the ear hair or the unibrow.

Then the Fab 5 descended on the tousled home, stuffing all the toys into the basement, redoing the red-carpeted living room and artfully repainting the built-in bookshelves to showcase the family's photos and objets d'art. The kitchen floor was patched with tiles borrowed from under the refrigerator, and tone-on-tone corkboard tiles covered the "Where the Wild Things Are" wallpaper in the kitchen.

Six months after the last echoes of clinking Cosmopolitans and "Cheers, Queers" left this leafy Great Neck neighborhood, Zalta is still stylin'.

"I go pink, I go green, I even go stripes now," beams Zalta, at the moment decked out in a pink Polo oxford shirt. He's gotten his hair cut a whopping four times since the show taped in late March, although admittedly, he hasn't returned to the Fab 5-approved salon each time: "I still go to my guy a couple of times in between, because I think a $50 haircut is too steep." Ditto for waxing his ears and eyebrows: He enlists his wife, Karen, 35, for the touch-up work, with the plan to return to the salon for a professional job three times a year.

"They opened my eyes," he says affectionately of his style mentors. "They didn't hold back. The show showed me how sloppy I was -- and you don't realize how bad you are until you see yourself on TV."

Reluctant to let the momentum fade, Zalta recently hired a personal trainer and embarked on a nutrition and workout regimen, dropping almost 10 pounds so far.

To keep the Fab 5's handiwork intact, "no one's allowed in the living room -- only adults," says Zalta, flopping down on his favorite piece of furniture, the "chofa" -- a cross between a chair and sofa. He motions to a nearby lamp with a skewed shade. "That's the way it's supposed to be," he offers authoritatively. "On the angle."

And social pressure ensures at least a minimal adherence to Fab 5 standards: People that Zalta's never met ask mutual friends to drive them over to see the living room.

Another "Queer Eye" alum, Vincent Taylor of the Bronx (Episode No. 106), who gets stopped on the street a minimum of three times a day, says public scrutiny keeps him on his toes too.

"I used to go to [the grocery store] at 2 in the morning and throw on anything," says Taylor, who is a casting director and studio manager. "Now I have to shave and iron my shirt." Pre-"Queer Eye," Taylor's big problem was having more stuff than his apartment could accommodate. So the Fab 5 spirited off all the excess to a storage center.

"A lot of it we didn't need," Taylor admits, adding that he and his wife threw out 45 bags of rejects from storage once their free three-month rental expired. Some of the things he couldn't part with -- like the sound equipment parked on a hand truck in the corner of the master bedroom -- have reinfiltrated. ("He likes clutter," confides his wife, Vivia, conspiratorially.)

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