Fashion: Not Just For Girls

Unless you’re living under a rock, you’ve probably seen Brad Pitt as the new face of Chanel No. 5. If not, here it is:

The negative response the campaign has had from a lot of fashion bloggers and industry pundits doesn’t really surprise me. Responses tend to fall into one of two camps – ‘lol he looks like a tramp’ and ‘OMG, I LUFF BRAD’. In my opinion, both of these responses completely miss the point of the advert. I keep swinging between two responses of my own, and until all the constituent parts of the commercial are released I doubt I’ll be able to.

Theory number one – It’s worth stating that the second part of the new Chanel No. 5 movie (embedded above) still contains a ‘Chanel girl’ – positing Brad Pitt as the ‘star’ of the first advert then having him appear less in the second, his presence occasionally reduced to a mere voiceover, is indicative of the fact that the Chanel girl overshadows everything, even Brad Pitt. If I’m on the right track, the next part of the commercial will presumably feature even less of Pitt, perhaps leaving only his voice.

Theory number two (and the one I prefer) – To those who claim that Brad Pitt isn’t ‘a fit’ with Chanel, it should be pointed out that a big part of Chanel’s history is stripping away extravagant and overwrought aesthetics. Pitt’s masculine ‘au naturale’ look is a perfect contrast to Nicole Kidman’s OTT ‘I’m a daaancer’ advert. In this way, Pitt’s individualism and self confidence embody a masculine reworking of the Chanel girl. Pitt must have been aware that the advert would kick up controversy and parodies (…inevitable), but he did it anyway. Though the $7 million cheque in his pocket probably helped.

I’ve previously written about my experiences as a straight man in fashion (that post is probably still my favourite thing I’ve written on this blog), but recently I’ve noticed that things are changing. Pitt being chosen as the face of Chanel No. 5. David Beckham appearing on the cover of Elle Magazine. Articles appearing in this season’s Shortlist MODE supplement about men flirting with extravagant fashion.  All of these are indicative of the fact that the voice of straight men in fashion is getting louder.

I’ve long has issues with the word ‘metrosexual’ – it’s insulting to men, both straight and gay. It designates fashion and grooming as being inherently feminine, thus associating homosexuality with being somehow girly or sissy. It also implies that men with an interest in fashion are a bit ‘wrong’ and can’t really be straight, so they need to be labelled something else. This is incredibly damaging to young straight men who are interested in fashion in that it can lead them to question their sexuality and identity. Weirdly, the show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy actually went a long way towards dispelling myths about homosexuality – the contrast between Carson and Jai’s tendency towards effeminacy and Thom, Ted and Kyan’s fairly masculine natures served as a reminder that homosexuality and femininity aren’t mutually exclusive. Excusing the odd joke about checking the straight guys out in the shower, the Queer Eye guys were never really that ‘gay’ – they’re just well groomed, stylishly dressed men who happen to sleep with men.

Something that appears in most fashion magazines that really frustrates me is the ever present ‘ask the bloke’ section. The name and aim may vary from mag to mag, but there is inevitably a column in which men offer up their opinion on trends only to be picked apart by industry experts. The whole experience is not only incongruous – Page 4: Laugh at what these ridiculous men said about mullet skirts!! Page 6: How to keep a man interested by dressing slutty!! – but also incredibly distasteful. There have been a couple of occasions where people have made remarks to me like ‘interesting opinion, for a guy’. I’m not one to get on a soapbox, but if wolf whistling at women and comments about how women don’t understand the offside rule aren’t ok, then neither are articles about hot guys we wish had fashion blogs (ok, ok, not quite a fair comparison, plus the article is much less shallow that the title suggests) or the assumption that a man’s opinion on fashion is less valuable than a woman’s.

But lately, the tide has been turning. I’ve done a couple of freelance styling projects (no mega-brands, just some chilled out advice) recently and was told that I was picked not only because of my honesty and frankness, but also because I have a solid opinion on most trends. This is something a lot of fashion bloggers seem to lack – they sit on the fence until a consensus has been reached about whether or not something is ‘in’ (usually relying on Company Magazine to declare it so) before they play their hand. As anyone who reads this blog knows, I’ll always happily put my cards on the table. ‘Do you think that’s because I’m a guy?’ I asked a friend I was helping to pick out an outfit. ‘No,’ she replied. ‘I think it’s because you have good instincts, and I trust them.’ Then I made a joke about us not being on an after-school special and we went back to chugging white wine spritzers.

Fashion is becoming more ‘unisex’ in other ways too – I was recently at the My Celebrity Fashion relaunch in Hoxton, and got quite a shock when I left. ‘Let me grab you one of the men’s gift bags!’ chirped a smiley PR lady. A MEN’S GIFT BAG. Granted, the only difference is that it had a tie in as well as the other stuff, but still! Since then I’ve been to a couple of events where they’ve had gift bags for the men in attendance as well as the women, but kudos to MCF for being the first one that I encountered.

Of course, revolution isn’t just about attitudes; even clothes themselves are changing to blur the lines of gender in fashion. Take, for example, Karl Lagerfeld’s recent capsule collection for Selfridges, differentiated only by fit. Other than that, both the guys’ and girls’ versions are identical -

Maybe that’s the revelation here. I frequently joke that I’m the only straight male fashion blogger in the world, but the world is changing. Teenage boys all over the world are opening copies of Vogue (which might just as easily be their own as their girlfriend’s, boyfriend’s or mother’s), think ‘that’s a beautiful dress’ and not feel the need to question their identity or their sexuality. What a time that will be.

12 comments

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  2. Caity @ Moi Contre La Vie

    Such a GREAT post! You have a very unique perspective since you’re a part of the industry and I can’t imagine how interesting it is to watch things evolve. I’ve been with my boyfriend since we were 18 and over the last ten years it’s amazing to see how his interest in fashion and approaches to shopping and dressing himself have changed. I love getting the male perspective so please keep up the good work!

  3. Sabina

    I see your point about how industry experts like to pick apart the male point of view. And that is unfortunate. Personally I love those ask the bloke-type columns.

    That said, I don’t think “metrosexual” is a derogatory word. My husband has always liked to dress up, since he was in high school (and inspired by Duran Duran). But back then he would just get called a homo for it. A few years ago when a friend of his who always wears shorts and a t-shirts commented to my huz that he looked “so metrosexual,” I actually think he was flattered. I think it’s because it was an acknowledgement that caring about fashion can also be a masculine trait.

  4. sarah

    Hi we really love your blog and the combination of savvy reviews on fashion and culture. ‘d like to invite you to the ethical fashion night out of the year, including an open wine bar, presenters from Sky and the BBC and Estethica’s favourite fashion designer auction. Check out live music from digital farm animals and our fashion meets art installation at our beautiful marylebone venue. Buy your tickets here http://www.houseofbeth.com/collections/frontpage/products/fashioned-for-freedom-ticket

  5. Mathilda

    Hej,

    This is my first time visiting your blog, and I can see your frustration about these matters. But I’m not sure you are that alone in being a straight guy in fashion – I actually know two bloggers that were amongst the first in Sweden ever to blog about fashion and beauty for men from their point of view (very straight), the blog rapidly became number one and they sold it just a few years after for a ridicously large sum of money..

    Soo what I mean to say is that I believe that for the brave there are plenty of opportunities, just ignore the culture you don’t approve of and claim your place! No one will ever doubt or question the one who follows his heart and does things his way!

    • stu

      Wow, interesting stuff! If anyone wants to buy NSLL for a ridiculously large sum of money…I’ll think about it, haha. Actually, that raises a big question about whether or not I’d be willing to give up creative control! Not an issue I have to think about for a while, I think. Thanks for your comments, Mathilda, much appreciated :)

  6. theperfectnose

    There’s a couple of different things I wanted to respond to:
    -re the Chanel commercial: I’ve only watched it in a design/ advertising perspective (I don’t have a TV and I don’t read fashion mags but I do read/ watch design oriented blogs and shows) and the expert view there was: it’s not well done. I.e. replace BP with anyone else and the audience wouldn’t give a sh*t. Which I agree with, although, not being a Brad fan means the ad in its current iteration does nothing for me.
    -re men’swear in fashion I feel that menswear (especially high-end RTW/MTM) is the ultimate pinacle of elegance (for womenswear to aspire to). What I mean by this is the tailoring, structure and geometry of menswear really appeals to my design aesthetic. I wish I were taller so I could get away with haute menswear silhouettes like Le Smoking.. So the ad above with the same garments for both sexes seems to me a natural evolution of womenswear towards some sort of equivalence plateau. There is a caveat though, menswear styles are very hard to pull off for women’s evening wear. This is something I believe the late Alexander McQueen excelled at with both subtle homages to and outright rips on menswear in many of his collections.

    • stu

      So I’ve thought about it, and you’re right in that if you took Brad Pitt out of the ad and replaced him with someone else I probably wouldn’t care either. But if you took him out of Fight Club, there’s a chance I’d feel the same about that – I guess I can only really judge based on the fact that he IS in it.

      That’s really interesting, and I’ve never had anyone put it like that – I was a bit of a shapeless kid (hell, I’m still a fairly shapeless adult), but I can definitely appreciate when something has a great cut on someone with a bit more muscle than me!

      Really nicely put comment, very thought provoking stuff!

      • theperfectnose

        Thank you. Re shape: A professional tailor can make person look flawless in a garment irrespective of shape (I’m not talking extremes like the hunchback of Notre Dame here but) things like weight, height, lack of bilateral symmetry etc have corresponding corrections in the garment-building world. This is why the hidden side (the inside or the part between the garment and it’s lining) intrigues me. It reveals the programming that goes into fit and wearability.
        On an older laptop (which has drowned since) I was subscribed to a (male) blogger that was interned at one of the leading bespoke Savillie Row tailors (in his third year??). His thing was taking apart designer and haute couture tailored garments and explaining the construction techniques used. Readers used to send him gorgeous things to take apart. Someone sent a Hermes jacket once. Good times.
        PS I only watched Fight Club to watch Edward Norton getting beat. Such was my abject dislike for the man. He has completely redeemed himself in Moonrise Kingdom though.

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