The new England rugby strip, launched for this year’s World Cup, somehow manages to be even tighter than the last, launched just four years ago to massed gasps. Are our lads going to be able to breath in? Are we going to be able to breathe out?
What’s more, it has an added sash/arrow plunging from armpit down to large, firm thigh, as demonstrated by the very lovely young David Strettle, pictured left (snapped dancing on a spotlit podium at Heaven nightclub). Is it just me, or does it seem to shout: ‘If You Wanna Score – Flip Me Over!’?
Apparently the new strip’s ‘asymmetric’ design will confuse opposing players. I could make the obvious joke that they won’t know whether to tackle them or kiss them. But then, why can’t you do both? (I certainly find this a very effective tactic with rugby players myself.) The way things are going it can only be a matter of time before this approach becomes compulsory.
So instead I’ll point out that if there’s any truth to the science of eye-tracking, which suggests that most men like to look at other men’s packets rather lingeringly, our opponents’ main confusion with that ‘dressing to the left’ pendulous arrow will be working out where to actually locate our boys’ tackle.
[See how the meaning of ‘rugby shirt’ has changed over the years from ‘baggy beer towel’ to ‘gay disco cocktail top’.]
The American Dream has turned into a nightmare. Count the shudders and the sweats in reel time: Bush. Iraq. Guantanamo Bay. Global Warming. Iran. Tom Cruise. Pop a Nytol or three with a glass of warm milk and put on ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and regress to a happier, more Technicolor dreamtime.
Once the lean, shining beacon of freedom and aspiration, as innocent and happy-go-lucky as Dorothy’s freckles, now lumbering, flak-jacketed, trigger-happy, and yet terrifyingly impotent, America is deeply unpopular. After the twister of the War on Terror the Statue of Liberty has been replaced by an effigy of the Wicked Witch of the West.
America’s triumph in the Cold War and the rapid globalisation-Americanisation that followed has, with irresistible hubris, undone the American Imperium. Everyone is American now so no one needs America any more – so Yankee Go Home. Russian President Putin’s widely-reported recent speech attacking the US’s arrogance encapsulated this sentiment: ‘the United States ,’ he said, ‘has overstepped its borders in every way.’
All this is as obvious and objectionable as America ‘s obesity problem. Except for one small detail: It isn’t true.
Or at least, it’s only half the story. For all its troubles, the American Dream is anything but dead. Much of the world may say it hates America now, but really its heart still belongs to Uncle Sam – it will still pay top dollar to dress up in the lineaments/linenments of the American Dream – as the global triumph of classy Yankee dream-merchants Ralph Lauren shows, this Spring opening up not one but two major new stores in Moscow itself (and perhaps providing the real reason for Putin’s outburst).
Meanwhile, as part of the Yankee rag-trade pincer-movement on the global psyche, Abercrombie & Fitch, purveyors of the frattish American Wet Dream is building its own overseas Empire, opening its first international flagship store in Europe – on Saville Row, London, home of the bespoke tailor, the place where the British Establishment has gone for hundreds of years to have its inside leg measured. To rub our noses in it, A&F have erected huge billboards of towering god-like Yankee models flaunting their abs and pecs at dumpy London pedestrians shuffling past at crotch level.
At a couple of fashionable strokes, American cultural imperialism has knocked down the Berlin Wall again and humiliated the British Empire Suez-style. Not bad for something as dead as a Norwegian Blue. Hollywood may be in terminal decline, and this year’s Oscar Ceremony a glorified AA meeting, but American men’s fashion brands are still exporting the American way of life, liberty and snappiness.
Perhaps that’s because Ralph Lauren is effectively High Hollywood’s merchandising wing. Born Ralph Lifshitz in 1939 in the Bronx this Jewish boy modelled his clothes on the black and WASP grainy High Summer Hollywood of his childhood: Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, Gary Cooper. And as is often the case in the world of images, his faux moneyed Yankee style supplanted the ‘real’ thing. Transformed from privilege into a polo shirt or a cable-knit jumper it was more democratic, more ‘American’. More saleable.
Memorably described by one fashion critic as ‘a white elephant covered in cricket bats’, Ralph Lauren wore the 1980s tied over its shoulders like a cashmere tennis sweater. RL’s cool, leisured classiness symbolised aspiration in the most sweatily ambitious and nakedly American decade. Ralph Lauren rapidly became the world’s first and most successful lifestyle fashion brand, a total, wraparound vision that everyone wanted to share. The Polo logo became the more tasteful, more international version of a Stars and Stripes lapel pin (in 1999 RL formalised its status by donating $13M to preserve the Star Spangled Banner). Today RL have sales of nearly $4B, making it a behemoth covered in cricket bats. RL’s flagship store in Moscow ‘s Tretyakovsky Passage, one of world’s most expensive shopping areas, will paint 8000 square feet of Mother Russia a Yankee shade of red white and blue. No wonder Putin is pissed off.
Mind, the Russians don’t seem to be as upset as the Brits, whose outraged protests forced A&F to reduce slightly the size of the body parts terrorising Saville Row. But this all seems to be part of the naughty A&F gameplan. ‘We’re shaking up the neighbourhood,’ a chirpy spokesperson explained to the press. ‘It’s going to be an extension of the irreverence of the brand into London. It’s going to be fun and we’re thrilled.’ What’s more, the store will be ‘just like our one’s in the US ‘ and the staff will be British ‘but look A&F.’
In fact, A&F are re-enacting in England itself a battle against dusty ‘Englishness’ that they have already won Stateside. Ironically, A&F was once almost the brand that RL sold itself as. Founded in 1892 as an excursion outfitter their clients included Katherine Hepburn and Ernest Hemingway. Elephant-bagging American Empire builder Teddy Roosevelt was one of their regulars.
After the 60s A&F went into decline – it was seen as ‘too square’ and ‘too English’ – and in 1988 were bought by The Limited Inc. who sexed it up, moved its target age down, and wrapped it n a mythical, all-American, 1950s, tanned, athletic boyishness as toothily innocent as it was knowingly tarty; in other words: ‘Weberist’ (Bruce Weber is A&F’s signature photographer). If RL is timeless High Summer Hollywood, A&F is endless Summer on Campus – plus MTV and webcams. RL is the America the world wants to go on safari with: A&F is the America that the world wants to party with.
With sales over $2B a year the A&F lifestyle has sustained unrivalled year-on-year levels of growth. A&F is catching up with RL. As if acknowledging this, RL recently opened a slightly A&F flavoured ‘Rugby’ chain of stores in the US . What’s more, the move into Europe is part of the transformation of A&F into an international luxury brand – once again threatening to tread on RL’s loafers.
For now though there’s plenty of room for both brands on the yellowbrick road of the Global High Street. Whatever they may think of America ‘s actions, dowdy Anti-Americanism isn’t, in the final reel, something that the world’s huddled masses actually want to wear. London will no doubt be a great, chest shaving, success for new Yankee imperialists A&F.
But one that will be dwarfed, I’m sure, by the shrieking, fainting, hair-pulling success of any store they open in that supposed capital of America-hating – Paris.
In the Seventies advertising was doing its best to swallow Western manhood whole, but it just wasn’t up to the job. It couldn’t quite suppress its gag reflex. Or ours. Men’s advertising was almost universally a joke and an hilariously camp one at that that.
It wasn’t until some way into the Eighties, the decade in which advertising became sexier than sex, and with the arrival of slick, slutty allies in the form of men’s fashion magazines — the poppers of men’s marketing — that it really began to get the hang of deep-throating masculinity without even blinking, turning it into the shiny, hard-cash, quiveringly serious commodity it is today. The rampant Nineties and Noughties metrosexual was fluffed by the Eighties.
Richard Jarman’s just-published ‘Smooth Operator’ (New Holland), a light-hearted, hilariously illustrated and captioned bijou book-ette anatomises that almost-innocent period from the Seventies and into the early Eighties when suited admen were doing their manful best, but were really only barely managing to get the bell-end in before dissolving into splutters and traumatic public-school flashbacks.
The kind of man they were selling and slicking back then was of course as ‘smooth’ as their own man-swallowing action was dodgy and toothy. He was, in other words, utterly absurd, but rather likeable for that:
‘Smooth Operator celebrates that distinctly ’70s and ’80s breed of man – the Hai Karate-wearing, lounge-suit-sporting, big-hair-boasting hunk. Modern man can only aspire to the God-like status of these Smooth Operators, photographed here in their natural habitat of cool bars, poolside loungers and, er, knitwear catalogues’
Or, as he puts it elsewhere, the Smooth Operator is ‘the metrosexual’s grandad’. Jarman himself is closely related to the subject: ‘I would like to thank my father and his man-clogs and fuzzy perm for the inspiration for this book,’ he writes. The ‘Smooth Operator’, like Jarman’s dad, was a ‘ladies’ man’ — or at least, he would have been if ladies were actually putting out in the 1970s without first being promised, as a minimum, a finger-buffet reception, two weeks in a high-rise in Magaluf and a lifetime’s bickering in a semi-detached in Macclesfield.
Unlike the metrosexual, the Smooth Operator hadn’t discovered Wilde’s maxim that loving oneself could be the start of a lifelong romance — one uninterrupted by in-laws or kids or in fact anyone else, save your stylist. The Smooth Operator though wasn’t really capable of loving himself. I mean, could you love matching coloured vests and Y-fronts? The Smooth Operator, like much of ‘men’s’ advertising itself back then, was much more interested in selling himself to women. Or at least appealing to their sympathy. The Smooth Operator was as likeable as the metrosexual is attractive — or as unattractive as the metrosexual is unlikeable.
Which reminds me: I should warn that some people, especially those of a sensitive or aesthetic disposition, will find some of the images collected in Jarman’s book very disturbing indeed. Weeks of retail therapy and a year’s subscription to Arena Hommes Plus may be required after viewing them.
Here’s a selection of some of the less shocking ‘Smooth Operator’ images and Jarman captions (and Simpson comments):
‘The problem with Y-fronts, and their matching vests and T-shirts, was that they led many a smooth operator to leave the house half-dressed to stand about in gangs on sand dunes looking cool.‘
(If you look closely you’ll notice that all three models are wearing the same cleft chin. Big chins were very important in Seventies advertising – big packets less so….)
‘These two busboys from Studio 54 in New York are visiting their friend Audrey, who’s convalescing at a Miaimi Gender Reassignment Clinic.’
(Lovingly pushing her down in her chair, preventing her from showing off her surgical dressing.)
‘Peter Wyngarde, undoubtably the smoothest of smooth operators, was voted the sexiest man alive and was a household name because of his alter ego, playboy Jason King in the TV show Department S. In 1975, he was convicted of gross indecency with a truck driver in the toilets of Gloucester Bus Station, and the nation was cruelly robbed of a true superstar.’
(Especially cruel when you consider that, unlike Seventies men’s advertising, Mr Wyngarde had probably got the hang of swallowing South Western manhood whole.)
The new blond Bond has a lot in common with the brunette original – precisely for the reasons he’s been bashed, says Mark Simpson
(Out, November, 2006)
BOND IS BLOND! He’s smooth! He works out! He doesn’t have any eyebrows! He kissed a guy!
Ever since English actor Daniel Craig was cast last year as the U.K.’s most famous spy—and the face of the world’s most successful, longest-running blockbuster brand—the British popular press and Bond fanboys have been up in arms, shrieking about his unsuitability for the role.
They complain about all sorts of supposed failings, including that he required coaching to handle a gun and play poker, and that he snogged another male on film (as Francis Bacon’s lover in Love Is the Devil and also in Infamous). Apparently, you see, he’s “not manly enough” to play cinema’s most famous action hero. Essentially, they’ve got their off-white tighty whities in a twist because Bond has gone metrosexual.
However, there is something that needs to be pointed out here, like the pleasing bulge of a Walther PKK semiautomatic in a Savile Row trouser pocket: The early Bond movies were thrillingly perverse, shockingly sexy, and not a little queer. This will traumatize millions, but the original James Bond, by the dingy, stringy-vested, “no sex please it’s bath night” standards of early 1960s Britain was something of a metrosexual, albeit a latent one (he’s a secret agent, after all).
Watching again the very first Bond film, Dr. No—released 44 years ago and played a zillion times on TV and cable but nevertheless still something of a revelation—I’m struck by a number of things about the original Mr. Bond, supposedly the gold standard of authentic masculinity and virility in an increasingly sissified world:
His fake tan
His inviting, full, glossy, pink lips, more luscious than Ursula Andress’s (or even Tom’s in the Missy Impossible franchise)
His worked-out body (Connery represented Scotland in the Mr. Universe contest in 1953.)
His fine tailoring, careful grooming, and manicured hands
His fetish for gadgets and gizmos
His taste for fussy cocktails (shaken, not stirred)
His wigs (Connery went bald in his early 20s and wore a toupee in every Bond movie.)
His overacting in the famous big-hairy-spider-in-bed scene….
James Bond, 007, licenced to kill spiders - Dr. No (1962), Sean Connery, spider scene
Add to this damning list of charges his fondness for exotic locations, the company of high-fashion models, and all those gorgeous, exquisite interiors -- not to mention his incurable bachelorhood -- and Bond is practically a blackmail target (any and all male homosexuality remained illegal in England until 1967).
Perhaps this is why the evil-genius villains always had to be so camp and fussy, with their cats, cigarette holders, leather gloves, comically butch factotums, and makeover plans for the world. And perhaps also why Bond has to be so nasty to the ladies -- though his sadism merely makes him all the more perverse and kinky. Even his ferociously, frequently fatal (for the ladies) hetero promiscuity is deviant by the buttoned-up standards of the era: as the trailers put it at the time, “He’s licensed to kill-when he likes, whom he likes, where he likes.”
Most working-class U.K. males in 1962 were licensed to marry young, impregnate their wives three or four times, and then take up pigeon-fancying. Wartime-rationing of food and luxury items didn’t end until 1954, two years before Elvis’s first hit and less than a decade before Dr. No was made -- although sex-rationing continued for decades afterwards.
Connery, born and braised in slum district of Edinburgh, presents a Bond who, by contrast, is a vain single young man jetting around the world and literally taking his pleasures where he pleases, living a glossy magazine lifestyle, albeit as an undercover agent. This lifestyle was not to come out of the secret-service closet until over 30 years later with the emergence of the metrosexual -- a man whose mission was also to save the West, but by shopping instead of shooting.
But perhaps the most proto-metrosexual aspect of the first James Bond is that he is also a sex object almost as ravishing as any of the ladies he ravishes, almost as fetishized as any of the objects of desire he toys with: a playboy we would like to play with. Raymond Chandler might have famously described the Bond of Ian Fleming’s novels as “what every man would like to be and what every woman would like to have between her sheets,” but the original screen Bond, for all his masterfulness, was a voyeuristic pleasure that men might want between their sheets and women might want to be.
With the possible and very brief exception of George “legs” Lazenby who made only one Bond movie in 1969 and has spent much of his subsequent career playing a lothario in a different franchise (the soft-porn Emmanuelle series), none of the other Bonds that came after have the charge, the sexiness, the perversity, the prophecy of Connery’s ’60s Bond. Ironically, it has been left to anyone other than Bond to realize the latent metrosexuality of the original, or even just maintain its charge. Bond has gone backwards toward the wall while the world’s males have leaned over forwards. Pretty boys Matt Damon and Tom Cruise in their respective Bourne Identity and Mission Impossible Bond knockoff incarnations are closer to the original spirit of Bond than, well, Bond.
For starters, neither Roger Moore nor Timothy Dalton nor Pierce Brosnan even have bodies. They’re clotheshorses embalmed in hair spray -- 1950s knitwear catalog models. In fact, this is exactly what Roger Moore was before his TV career took off. By the time of his last outing in Die Another Day, Brosnan looked like a 1950s knitwear model trapped inside a computer game. And as for the sex scenes… well, they look like abuse. Of Brosnan. After Connery’s bit of polished ’60s rough, James Bond seemed to be frightened of his own sexuality, of giving away too much.
Yes, post-’80s, feminism may have finally been acknowledged: Brosnan’s boss is female. And the Bond girls may have become less, well, girly (e.g., Halle Berry in Die Another Day as the high-kicking sidekick), but this just makes Bond’s own masculinity all the more unconvincing. Worse, it makes it extremely unappealing.
Paradoxically, we now live in a world where England’s sweaty soccer team can be captained by the most metrosexual male alive, but England’s imaginary spy of the silver screen, who helped make Beckham’s generation what it is, has to be more retro than metro.
Until now. The makers of the Bond films seem to have finally woken up to the problem. They have not renewed hairy brunet Brosnan’s contract and have instead cast smooth, blond Craig in the role for the next three films-the first Bond actor who was born after Fleming’s death. Underlining this overdue remodeling, the makers have announced that Casino Royale is a “reboot” of the brand that will wipe out the previous cinematic timeline.
Bond is being reborn. Perhaps as what he promised us he could be 44 years ago.