Monday, 4 April 2011

Magic, Men and Makeup

by Mrs. Justine Brown

Mrs Brown gives instruction
Or magic-men and makeup. Geddit? Class! Wake up! Pop quiz alert. Are men even stylish at all? Yes, that was the question. Men. Makeup. Fashion. Do the three add up to equal Style?

The correct answer is yes. If you answered no, please read the following essay very carefully. The rest off you can have the afternoon off. No, just kiddin.' Get back in your seats. I mean that, darn it!

Sometimes we ladies are so glamorous and fabulous and all-round great that we don't notice the menfolk. We notice them noticing us, we notice them noticing us noticing them noticing us, but we don't... remark upon the fact that they themselves are quite stylish, indeed knowledgeable about style. (Yes, I know it doesn't apply to all of them, but neither does it... oh 'whatever'.)

So for your delectation and edification, I have brought a few examples along with me today. I wish they were real, but our budget doesn't extend that far. I have to rely mainly on experience, observation, lots of reading... and the Internet. I'm thinking of three examples of males: an individual (like A.A. Gill, who writes so cunningly for the Sunday Times Style Section when they have their yearly Men's Issue),  the mysterious Sapeurs of Africa , and men who use kohl. The rest will have to wait their turn.

Let us begin with the familiar: kohl. We know something of kohl, that powerful black substance from whence sprang mascara, eyeliner and shadow. This substance is spooky sexy: dab some on at night and go out. Then pass out with your kohl on and wake up looking fabulous in a louche sort of way. Some people, like Anita Pallenberg, haven't removed their eye makeup for decades, and I wear they still look fascinating. Keith Richards too. Not young and fresh, but then Keith has always looked, even as a child, very wise. (By the way, when Keith and Anita parted ways, it is my theory that Keith left their home with his guitars and a pot of kohl, which he then presented to his future wife, the wholesome freckled model Patti Hansen. It's a bit like Rod Stewart and his ever-present bottle of bleach. All his wives are blondes, even the current one, though she started out in the public eye with Rod as a brunette. That lasted about one week.) (Oh, and ROCK STARS, are you listening? 'Hope I Die Before I Get Old' is not a helpful anthem. 'Hot for Teacher', on the other hand, now there's a tune worth rallying round.) (Silence...)

Fetching in kohl
Men who use kohl-- well, maybe not all of you are in familiar territory here. It depends on your menfolk, mostly, and it just so happens that a lot of mine favoured that eroto-haunted look. Speaking of territory, up and down the crags and deserts of Afghanistan you will find men in kohl-- in fact, throughout the Middle East nearly everyone wears the stuff, even babies, and they have done so for thousands of years. Dark and shady kohl is an ancient potion believed to ward off the evil eye. It also deflects the desert sun. Finally, it's alluring. Some of the most striking photos to come out of the latest Afghan wars... it seems that the nascent Afghan police force  includes a lot of fey and flirtacious young men with roses in their Ak-47s and bedroom eyes enhanced by kohl.

Let's move on to a more exclusive group, the Sapeurs, or Society for People of Elegance and Ambiance. Here's a club I am desperate to join, and they won't have me (it's men only). Now, the Sapeurs are mainly from Africa. They worship style. Literally. They are incredibly sharp dressers, and they have made a cult-- again, literally-- out of fashion. To confirm this, just look at these handy illustrations. (Struggles with overhead projector.) Plus, they don't consider it an insult to be viewed this way. Quite the opposite is true, though I can't speak for their loved ones on this matter. All I know is that the Sapeurs are gorgeous dressers who put the rest of us in the shade and make us look pretty dowdy.

A member of Les Sapeurs

These extraordinarily spiffy guys mostly hail from the Congo, formerly a colony of Belgium, and there is a strong Belgian influence in their style. They are said to regard Brussels as their fashion Mecca, and dream of making pilgrimage there. And many do make that trip of a lifetime, going straight from airport to tailor. As many of you know,  Brussels has been giving Paris some stiff competition in the fashion stakes over the last twenty or so years, and many Belgian designers have made inroads into the French capital with a view to fashion world domination. The name Olivier Theyskens comes to mind: the pale, fragile, black-haired and attired Goth type became style director at Nina Ricci and is now poised to dominate Fashiontown, U.S.A.

Mr. Olivier Theyskens
The Sapeurs may pay homage to Brussels style, but they have no time for its stark palette of black, white and greige. They like their beautifully tailored suits in the boldest colours and combinations conjureable. Hot pink with acid yellow, turquoise with orange; that sort of thing. Watch-chains, crisp handkerchiefs, gloves and shoes magicked through polish to perfection.

Which brings me to my last exhibit, Mr. A.A. Gill, London writer and general dandy-about-town. Lucky Mr. Gill recently wrote an article about tweed, wool, and Savile Row tailoring. The Sunday Times had the budget to let him design his own tweed (which you can do on an I-Pad), order a huge bolt of it, and have the tailor run a three-piece suit up specially for him. You can't get much more bespoke than that. Mr. Gill added a hat and now can't be separated from his suit; I think he sleeps in it. (This picture doesn't feature the tweed, but gives you a feel for his style.)

Now, to return to my original question. Are men concerned with style? I think we have answered that arithmetic. The answer is three. Perfect. Class dismissed! (Sounds of stampede toward the door.)

A. A. Gill checks his look

1 comment:

  1. ZOMG - may I suggest you watch the documentary called Marwencol - - you'll understand why if you watch the movie to the very end. Trust me on that.