Up until twenty years ago, when the word menswear came up the most common visual brought to mind were very well-groomed guys in suits, safari jackets and houndstooth slacks. Slacks, slacks, slacks, a real menswear word. Repeat after me: Haggar, Jantzen, Bally.
The pantheon of male fashion was Playboy, Esquire and GQ Magazines, manly graveyards of stiff, stodgy non-style. Every fabric was of a barfy earth tone, and on the opposite end of the spectrum when Miami Vice was the rage, colors were so alarmingly explosive, it was impossible to wear something with a modicum of modesty.
And then something funny happened: designers began taking notice of what rock musicians were wearing and incorporated this influence in their designs. Clothes looked more rock & roll in design and colors became freer, not Technicolor goofy as in the past, but tasteful.
With the advent of designers as diverse as Commes Des Garcons, Paul Smith and a few others, menswear became as challenging and as exciting as women’s fashions. Choices in menswear became more diverse, and consequently there is now a larger market with men making these choices, rather than enlisting their girlfriends to make them.
While female models were getting younger and thinner than ever, the whole Paul Newman/Sean Connery looking model was slowly getting weeded out in favor of a new male counterpart. Models like Andrej Pejic, Paul Boche and Cole Mohr were now getting major editorials and runway work, garnering huge followings in the process.
New exciting menswear magazines began popping up like Another Man, V Man, Essential Homme, Numero Homme, Fantastic Man and too many more to mention. These exciting new models could be seen in all of the aforementioned magazines.
As I stated in a previous blog title, “Once Rock Stars Looked Like Models, Now Models Look Like Rock Stars”, and the posted pictures bear this revelation out. Most of the models shown here (Erik Andersson, Dylan Fosket, Val Bird, Jaco Van den Hoven and Karl Byrne) could easily be in a rock band and garner a huge following.
What’s the significance of this? Well, once upon a time rock music was all about the packaging of a band, with cool hair and clothes being an important component. With that in mind, menswear designers have been employing the same strategy to sell fashion to young men, launching bombshells of hard rocking visuals as potent as the first New York Dolls album cover or a Supergrass CD.
The end result is that men of all ages and persuasions can enjoy fashion like they never have before, looking cool without having their girlfriends to run the show for them. This is truly Men’s Liberation at its finest, and everybody wins.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the late, great Craig Lee, my former comrade in punk rock noise. One of my earliest memories was when he and Alice Bag approached me about joining The Bags on saxophone. I was flattered, but I didn’t really think there was a place for me in their band; it seemed pretty complete to me. I went to see them perform at The Whiskey A Go-Go just to see if I could mentally place myself in their songs.
Craig played good punk guitar and he did this odd Harpo Marx routine as he played, making these cross eyed wild Harpo Marx expressions. It wasn’t that weird if you think about it, because around that time Ron Mael was doing a Charlie Chaplin thing in Sparks and Rick Nielsen was exhuming Huntz Hall in Cheap Trick, so Craig was probably getting into the whole slapstick rock look.
At any rate The Bags were tearing it up, but I just couldn’t hear my squalling saxophone fighting itself through their sonic skronk. As a side note, my horn playing is very loud in general and many singers have a major chore singing over my sax playing, so it would have been a constant battle, anyway. Unfortunately they took my rejection personally, which wasn’t the intention, but I ended up playing with old Craig a few years later.
In 1980 I played in a band he put together called The Boneheads which also sported a gaggle of scenesters including Robert Lopez of The Zeros (aka El Vez) and Elissa Bello of The Go-Gos. It wasn’t a band that took itself too seriously, which I really enjoyed. We sounded like a cross between The Contortions and The B-52’s, very Alphabet City + downtown New York. Craig wrote most of the material, sang a lot and I thought he did a great job.
I ran off a little while later to play with someone else, but I saw Craig again nine years later at a show. It would be the last time I would ever see him, and he was unnaturally friendly - he had a tendency to be abrasive with me in the past. I didn’t know that he had medical problems, so I had no idea he was so close to leaving us.
He said the funniest thing to me. “Andy, you know, you really ought to be a writer. That’s your true calling. That’s what you really should be doing. I bet you’d be so good at it”.
Looking back, not only do I now agree with him, but there’s a touch of clairvoyance in that remark that only the dying can see. I’ve never forgotten that advice and I have even more difficulty forgetting Craig after giving me that message. That’s a send-off message I will take to the grave with me.