FLORIDA, August 27, 2012 — The world of men’s fashion is one open to limitless possibilities.
Nonetheless, apparel trends tend to be less than stable. Considering leisure suits and sagging pants, perhaps this is not such a bad thing.
How can men carve out styles all their own? Can your personal style withstand the test of time? Alan Flusser would say so. The architect of Gordon Gekko’s wardrobe from the cult classic Wall Street, as well as the author of the bestseller Dressing the Man, he is a master at the art of permanent fashion.
Joseph F. Cotto: Women generally seem to care more about their apparel choices than men do. Is this actually the case, judging from your experience?
Alan Flusser: I would say as a general rule, yes, because there’s a lot more emphasis put on how women look. From the day they’re born, the kind of clothes that they wear and makeup and all the rest of the things such as weight are the stuff of concern. I would make a caveat to that: Men who are really interested in how to dress and, as an example in our case, making custom made clothes, I would say that their level of interest and attention to the subject is equal if not above the average woman’s.
Cotto: So it depends upon the man.
Flusser: Yes. If you were just to make a generalization, you would have to say that, first of all, the women’s fashion business is much larger, and it always has been. Women look upon clothes as a form of attraction, whereas men look upon wearing clothes, to a certain degree, as a means to fit in or as something that’s appropriate for an occasion. So, as a generalization, I’d have to say that women spend more time and have more interest than men until you get to the upper clients.
Cotto: Over the last several years, America has become considerably more informal. Why do you suppose this has happened?
Flusser: I would first of all say that I don’t think, in the last few years, America has become much more informal. I would say in the last ten years, there’s definitely a trend towards being less formal. I don’t see it falling off a cliff in the last two years.
Perhaps more people are aware of it, but certainly ten years ago, people were decrying the absence of suits. You had Silicon Valley emerging and that was one of the forces that encouraged young people once they got out of college. If you go around the Google campus, you’ll see the kids pretty much wearing what they wore in college. So I think, in part, the tech revolution has encouraged people. They spend more time behind a computer and don’t have to get dressed up in order to do their work, so that’s one part of it.
The second part of it is that there has been a casualization of dress since the ‘60s. With every decade, I would say, people have been dressing more casually. I don’t think it’s any worse, if you want to label it in a pejorative way, than it has been. As a matter of fact, I would say that at least in New York City, which is not obviously an indication of all things being equal, there are a lot more young people experimenting with form fitting suits — certainly jackets — than there were four or five years ago.
So, I don’t see, in the last two years, a seismic change in the level of casualization. If anything, I would say that fashion is emphasizing not clothes like I made in Wall Street, but people looking more cleaned up. Fitted suits and fitted dress shirts opened at the neck, as a look, are more popular than quite ever before. Maybe I’m an optimist, but I’m more encouraged about that than I was five or six years ago.
Cotto: So, there’s more of a trend for formalization, then.
Flusser: I wouldn’t call it formalization, because I think that’s an exaggeration. I think there’s more of a trend for looking tailored, because in the last four or five years, men’s clothes have become very fitted. There’s nothing that gives you a more fitted or slendering glide than a men’s jacket. Five or six years ago, the fashion trend wasn’t so decidedly body conscious as it is today.
Cotto: In the past, you have written about “permanent fashionability.” What is this? Why is it so important?
Flusser: Ralph Lauren has built the largest fashion business in the history of the world. The theme, or one of the mantras, of Ralph Lauren is that you should buy clothes that transcend fashion — that you don’t want to become a prisoner to fashion. You should look for something of style as opposed to fashion. So, there’s a fairly ironic twist on the fashion business being built on anti-fashion.
Permanent fashion is being able to wear clothes that are appropriate or look good on you, transcending the moment. In Dressing the Man, you’ll see a bevy of pictures of people from the ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘70s, ‘80s, whatever. They all look pretty fashionable, even by today’s standards. Because the shape of the clothes was made individually for them, their style is able to transcend the decade, or the moment.
People who are the most stylish are people who wear clothes that, for the most part, have nothing to do with fashion and much more to do with what they look good in. So, I always go back to the fundamentals — what patterns and what shape of clothes look best on you. Once you know about these things, you can begin to build a wardrobe that has permanent fashion.
Having designed clothes for several major films, does Alan Flusser believe that the entertainment industry plays a large role in setting fashion trends, or do filmmakers respond to popular demands?
Men’s apparel writer Andy Gilchrist has said that when one goes out, it is best to dress as if he or she is headed to a job interview. As a designer, does Flusser agree with this ethic?
In the second and final part of our interview, he will answer these questions and tell us about what inspired him to become a clothing designer.
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