The 'Daddy' of the Metrosexual, the Retrosexual, & spawner of the Spornosexual

Category: fashion (page 3 of 5)

The Obama Model

2009-01-26-lanvin

Mark Simpson on fashion’s new love-affair with black males (Arena Hommes Plus, Spring 2009)

Shortly after Obama’s election last year, Israeli-American designer Elie Tahari made a prediction: ‘I think the fashion industry will have a ball with him.’ So far, this is one fashion prediction that has been on the money. Since Obama’s glitzy inauguration this January, the men’s fashion world, too often associated with a ‘Whites Only’ catwalk, hasn’t stopped dancing with the first non-white in the White House.

At the menswear shows in Milan this January a waving, smiling young Barack Obama look-a-likey led the final walk-out for Lanvin, complete with Inaugural Address overcoat, leather gloves and USA tie-pin. Givenchy meanwhile included several male models of colour for their show, and their new poster campaign features a Obama-esqe young man in an open, white silky shirt with sleeves rolled up for business, full lips parted as if caught mid-speech.

givenchy-men-2-1Oscar Garnica, agent at Request Models in New York says that he and his contacts in the business have seen a more consistent use of black models recently. ‘Since the Black issue of Vogue, and the Obamas took the White House, that inspiration is running through a lot of the collections,’ he says. ‘Having more images of people of colour around has probably made designers more comfortable about adding colour to their aesthetic.’ But he is cautious about the long term impact: ‘Now that we are seeing four-five models of color on the runway, will the designers continue booking these numbers? Well, that remains to be seen.’

Whatever else Obama’s Presidency might signify, the fashion world seems to have decreed that, for this season at least, the black male is power, hope, leadership – in a word: style.

Ironically, part of the reason that Obama’s booking by the American electorate has helped non-white models get bookings with the fashion industry is because as Tahari has pointed out, ‘he looks like a male model… he’s built so well.’ Obama has the height, the looks, the teeth – the ‘suntanned’ skin as Italian Premier Berlusconi infamously put it – and the instinctive understanding of where the camera is and what angle best suits him. He is patently photogenic – and his photogeneticity has helped to make this young, inexperienced man Presidential. To some degree, he got the job because he gave good face. Even his acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention last Summer was delivered at the end of a catwalk.

So no wonder the fashion world wants to appropriate some of that. Michelle might be First Lady, and Obama might have exclaimed to the world ‘How beautiful is my wife?’ on inauguration night, but pretty as she is, she probably made the cover of Vogue because of her husband’s looks.

As a result of his religiously regular gym sessions on the Stairmaster, Obama is not the same shape as most US male politicians – or in fact, most US males. He really is ‘un-American’ – he can wear fashionable clothes. Even though he usually chooses to wear those Teflon-coated Hart, Schaffner, Marx & Hillman suits from Chicago, his have a narrow cut that advertises the fact that he has a body, buns and even angles. Gone are the flapping flannels of traditional US male politicians. (Even his political message was self-consciously stylish: those famous campaign slogans ‘HOPE’ and ‘CHANGE!’ were printed in Gotham font – originally developed for the men’s style magazine GQ.)

Most remarkably of all, he gets away with it. In a white US male politician such self-care and stylishness would probably be ridiculed. John Edwards you may remember got into terrible trouble for combing his hair and being pretty.

The fickle fashion world will of course tire of its clinch with Obama. But perhaps something will endure: perhaps the men’s fashion business will be less inclined than in the past to think of blackness as something ‘street’ and thus ‘sportswear’.

As Oscar Garnica at Request Models puts it: ‘Despite images of suave black men like Sidney Poitier, Sammy Davis Jr, Harry Belafonte, Denzel Washington, there has always been a narrow definition of what black is allowed to be. My best hope is that Obama’s rise to the highest office in the land will shine a spotlight on the fact that there is more to the black male image than just the stereotypes.’

Copyright Mark Simpson 2009

From Finland With Lust – How Tom Re-Designed the Male Body For Pleasure

The teenage Tom of Finland’s gay fantasies from the 1940s of muscular men have come to define a mainstream view of masculinity, argues Mark Simpson

UPDATE March 2020: On the centenary of his birth, a major new exhibition of Tom’s art opens in London, from 6 March to 28 June.

(Originally appeared in The London Times, Nov 2008 and collected in Metrosexy)

The first time I saw a Tom of Finland drawing was in a well-thumbed, seventh-hand issue of Fiesta, a top-shelf favourite of schoolboys in the 1970s. The image, buried at the back, was in a small ad for more “specialised” publications, probably missed by most of my schoolchums who had thumbed the issue before me. But it jumped out at me like an outsized erection.

It depicted a pair of muscular butch young men with big chins and broad grins grabbing each other’s bubble butts and straining packets while winking at the reader. I immediately rushed out to the post office to buy as many postal orders as my pocket money would allow.

Although I was sorely disappointed with the ‘Biker Boy’ lame leather fetish magazine – with no Tom of Finland drawings – that eventually turned up, I have spent much of my adult life and a fortune on gym membership fairly ‘fruitlessly’ trying to recreate that Tom of Finland image that I glimpsed as a teen.

I needn’t have bothered, however – because as it turned out the whole world was going to become a Tom of Finland drawing. His sensualised, cartoonish über-male body and its endless potential for pleasure and pleasuring has become commonplace. Think of the rugby player Austin Healey pulsating on BBC One’s Strictly Come Dancing in tight pants and a sleeveless top. Or all those footballers keen to strip off and show us their assets on the sides of buses.

The notes for artist retrospectives usually make extravagant claims, and those for a major retrospective of Tom of Finland in Liverpool, part of that city’s annual Homotopia queer culture festival, make some very extravagant ones indeed: “Tom had an effect on global culture unmatched by that of virtually any other artist,” we are told. But for once, there’s something to this hyperbole, despite the artistic merit of his work being very debatable.

Tom was born Touko Laaksonen in Kaarina, Finland, in 1920 and his work is literally the masturbatory fantasies of a lonely young homosexual Finnish boy – he began drawing in his locked bedroom in the 1940s, pencil in one hand, penis in the other. His fetishised, overobserved, long-distance gay appropriation of masculinity has, in a mediated, long-distance world, become… masculinity.

It’s often said that Tom’s greatest achievement was in drawing gay men who were masculine, happy and proud at a time when they were supposed to be effeminate, neurotic and shameful. This is certainly the reason why so many gay men are Tom devotees, wittingly or not. Today’s gay porn is merely filthy footnotes to Tom, endlessly replaying the narrative of “regular guys” with very irregular-sized penises and pectorals having spontaneous, shameless sex at the drop of a monkey wrench.  (And it’s entirely apt that one of the sponsors of this retrospective is Gaydar, the gay ‘dating’ site where gay men post Tom-ish pictures of themselves looking for other Tom-ish men to have Tom-ish sex with.)

However, the out-and-proud gay biker look – identity even – that Tom perfected after seeing Marlon Brando in The Wild One (Brando was a Tom drawing in 3D) and which became so popular in the pre-Aids 1970s and early 1980s, reaching its peak with the climactic success of the Liverpool band Frankie Goes to Hollywood, has become a dated cliché. See, for example, the tangoing, mustachioed leather men in the Blue Oyster basement bar in Police Academy – and few if any young gay men today aspire to it.

But when you look at Tom’s drawings in this retrospective, which features 25 of his works in the basement (predictably) of the Contemporary Urban Centre in Liverpool, it becomes apparent that his achievement goes much further than just making gay men feel good about themselves or love the snugness of leather harnesses. Tom, who worked as an illustrator in the Finnish advertising business until the early 1970s, when he became a full-time gay propagandist, sold the male body as a pleased, pleasuring and pleasured thing several decades before Calvin Klein thought of it. In the middle of the 20th century, Tom was effectively sketching the blueprint of 21st-century man. And boy, was he blue.

Before Tom almost no one drew men like he did, making them such unabashed sex objects and sex subjects, giving them such exaggerated male secondary – and primary! – sexual characteristics: big chins, strong jaws, full lips. Masculinity, and virility end up looking so… nurturing. Buxom. Busty. Tom’s men have round firm breasts, saucer-like aureolas and nipples you can adjust your thermostat with. One (from 1962) struts down the street, biceps bulging, chest literally bursting out of his shirt, and dressing very much to the left: no wonder he’s being followed.

His saucy curvaceousness a testament to the way in which aestheticised hyper-masculinity is oddly androgyne. And while Tom’s men may have had their tits out for the lads, the kind of Tom-ish male body he helped to invent is nowadays getting them out for lads and lasses, gay or straight, online or in real time.

Likewise Tom’s drawings also reveal the male derrière as a sexual organ: not just in some of the more hardcore examples, but the way that Tom-ish buttocks are so spherical, so sensual, so inviting. One of the most striking and prescient sketches, from 1981, is also one of the tamest: a row of bedenimed male bubble butts sticking out at a bar – awaiting perhaps the attentions of the hugely powerful Abercrombie & Fitch photographer Bruce Weber (a big Tom fan), or perhaps the vaselined, wide-angled lens of a Levi’s commercial.

Tom’s big break came in the 1950s from Physique Pictorial, an underground, semi-legal gay American fanzine disguised as a straight men’s bodybuilding magazine, which frequently put Tom’s men on the cover. Half a century later, and 17 years after his death in 1991, the world is inverted: flesh-and-blood men who look like Tom’s drawings appear on the cover of bestselling corporate mags such as Men’s Health. Flick one open, and you’ll find it full of advice on how straight men can turn themselves into something Tom-ish.

POSTSCRIPT Feb 2011

Compare the 1960s Tom of Finland sketch of the pneumatic young man swaggering/sashaying down the street at the top of this essay, with the one below of 21st Century Jersey Shore star Mikey ‘The Situation’ Sorrentino.

Black is the New Black: The Singularity Credit Card

by Mark Simpson (Arena Hommes Plus, Spring 2008)

Do you wish your wealth was so massive, your purchasing power so dense that no light could escape from your credit card? Do you wish that, instead of just impressively wealthy, you were that singular commodity, a celebrity? That your wealth bought you the riches of creation and other’s admiration without having to be, actually, tiresomely spent? That airlines, hotels and spas simply recognised your implicit worth and the priority of your desires and promptly upgraded you, while bunging you glittering free designer gifts?

That you never ever heard the word ‘no’?

Yes, I thought so. Well, all your impossible princess wishes can come true with the American Express Centurion Card, the famously ‘black’ credit card of celebs that is also a celeb among credit cards. Forget Platinum and Gold Cards, debased by the cheap credit years: the Black Card is the card of moneyed money – and its sturdy titanium design means it will survive the pressures of the Credit Crunch. Even if you don’t.

For an annual fee of £650 ($2,500 US + one time joining fee of $5,000) you will receive numerous ‘privileges’ which you and I know should be yours by rights. Including: a ‘dedicated concierge’ and travel agent, personal shoppers at stores like Gucci and Escada (you’ll need them to carry all those bags), first class flight upgrades, and free luxury travel insurance which, oh joy, includes a 28 wastrel days of winter sports – always annoyingly excluded from proley credit card travel insurance.

And that’s in addition to a welcome aboard gift of a Canon PowerShot SD850 digital camera, or a $2000 Juidth Ripka gift card, complete with a grovelling note from the CEO of Amex telling you how lucky he is to serve you and would you like your shoes tongue-cleaned or just buffed with my silk tie, Sir?

Best of all, you’ll be the possessor of a card that most people have only seen fetishised on TV in shows such as ‘Entourage’ or ‘Newlyweds, Nick and Jessica’ or heard praised in RnB songs, such as Nelly Furtado’s ‘Promiscuous Girl’: ‘I smoke purple, my car white/credit card black, girl I’m alright‘. Black cards are the new black, and they’re anything but square. Nouveau is the new cool. Again. Likewise, Obama is clearly the black card of American Democratic politics – able to outspend Gold Hillary several times over.

There is but one small, teensy-weeny grey cloud on the horizon of your blackspiration. In the UK the Centurion Card is by invitation only. If your fame or wealth (probably at least half a million in liquid assets) hasn’t put you on Amex’s radar, you can’t have one. If it has, you probably already do.

If not, be patient, Madam, please. That list, like the ones they used to use for Platinum and Gold, is lengthening, along with the competition. Since Amex Black Card’s introduction in 1999 several other prestige credit cards with similar benefits, similar privileges, similar appearances – and similar names – have materialised, including Nat West’s ‘Black Card’ launched in 2002, and ‘Carbon’ from Halifax. Even Barclaycard’s ‘Infinite’ seems to suggest ‘black’ space/singularity. Generally, they tend to have less world-shattering financial requirements than Amex’s Deathstar Card.

The most serious rival to Amex is probably MasterCard’s Signia, which includes an engraving of the owner’s signature on the front – like the signature of Manager of the Bank of England on our banknotes, though more impressive. Perhaps this is why in the UK Coutts & Co., the bankers for that Elizabeth woman whose image appears on our notes, are the Signia agents with their ‘World Card’ (note the Global dominion).

Which brings us to the blue heart of the black matter: being treated as international royalty — in an age in which money has done away with rank. All the black cards make much of their 24hr ‘concierge’, ‘secretary’ and ‘personal assistant’ services. Amex claims it has arranged for ‘a brass band to play outside a London flat on Valentine’s Day’, for European Cup football tickets to be picked up outside the stadium in Spain by their forgetful English owner, and, ‘arranged access to the Oscar’s after-party’. In other words, get one of these cards and you will be indulged by a retinue of flunkeys.

The black card and its dark alchemy gives your wants and whims the power to create and destroy worlds. As one cultural commentator recently put it:

‘If I long for a particular dish or want to take a taxi because I am not strong enough to go by foot, Black Card fetches me the dish and the taxi: that is, it converts my wishes from something in the realm of imagination, translates them from their meditated, imagined or desired existence into their sensuous, actual existence – from imagination to life, from imagined being into real being. In effecting this mediation, the Black Card is the truly creative power.’

Actually, that was Karl Marx writing 144 years ago about money. Black cards embody all the creative/managerial power of money, squared. And with none of the physical vulgarity of cash. Even better, you’re saved the perspiring vulgarity of desire itself. Possessing a black card means that your whims will be attended to before you’ve even had time to whim. Your spending power and trend-forming coolness means that corporate culture will work out what it is you want and deliver it to you before you even knew you wanted it.

The black card is the Party Card of Celeb Consumerism. It proves your membership of the Global Elite who now rule the world.

Or at least act like they do.

D&G’s Hot Date With Metrosexuality

D&G are cunning bastards. No wonder they are now a World Power.

No other fashion brand better understands the nature of 21st Century desire, where it lives, what it looks like, what it looks good in –and where it’s taking us in the back of a taxi on Saturday night.

This ad for D&G jewelery, currently airing in heavy rotation on TV and in cinemas across Europe (and causing a barrage of complaints in some), is devilishly clever, on so many different levels – and devilishly disturbing. Like a kinky lover, it toys with your expectations and then, right at the end, when you think you know what it’s about, you slowly realise that yes, it’s kind of about that, but actually it’s much more about something else.  Something even more salient and unsettling.   Something in fact beyond sexuality.

And strangely hotter.

And if you prefer to focus on the dark-haired lad(s) pouty, sulky lips :

In the midst of this blinging self-love-fest, I can’t help but quote (no gag reflex) from my own devilisly clever, diabolically prophetic, 2002 essay ‘Meet the metrosexual’:

“The typical metrosexual is a young man with money to spend, living in or within easy reach of a metropolis – because that’s where all the best shops, clubs, gyms and hairdressers are. He might be officially gay, straight or bisexual, but this is utterly immaterial because he has clearly taken himself as his own love object and pleasure as his sexual preference. Particular professions, such as modelling, waiting tables, media, pop music and, nowadays, sport, seem to attract them but, truth be told, like male vanity products and herpes, they’re pretty much everywhere.”‘

I think I should give myself a high-fashion snog.

Oh, I already have.

Retrosexual Underwear

jbs.jpgDutch men’s underwear company JBS are really kinky.

At first glimpse it seems they’re marketing themselves as the anti-metrosexual underwear brand: it features no gorgeous male models with abs and bulging packets filling out their products and provoking the lust/envy/anxiety of the male consumer. Instead there are pictures of hot porno babes in various states of undress, holding the underwear up to their faces.

So nothing faggy about JBS then.

But then look at the pictures again and you begin to realise that something really pervey is going on here.

For starters, the women are sniffing the underwear. Do many women – any women – actually do that? Especially with underwear worn by retrosexuals (usually for several days)? Isn’t that in fact something that men like to do women’s underwear – and men’s underwear? Isn’t there some kind of pervey projection going on here?

Maybe JBS is cunningly associating their underwear with the lingerie worn by their babes. JBS is selling itself as the brand for cross-dressers who haven’t come out to themselves yet.

Personally, my favourite JBS underwear is their daggy downmarket range. Here’s their alluring description of it:

For some people underwear is not exactly the most important thing in the world. They want a decent product – and at an attractive price; two requirements you can only completely satisfy by introducing them to JBS Trade.

I’ll take three. Do they do out-calls?

Tip: Dave