Was that Harry Styles in a pussy-bow blouse?
When the One Direction star stepped out for the first time as solo artist on Saturday Night Live last weekend, one of his promo shots pictured him in a paisley blouse that at first glance was more first lady Melania Trump than hunky heartthrob.
Pussy bow blouses, piles of necklaces and Willy Wonka-esque coats encrusted with fantasy motifs are just a few of the more daring styles now being worn regularly by Hollywood's leading men.
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"The male species has taken back its peacock status when it comes to fashion" says Ken Downing, senior vp and fashion director at Neiman Marcus.
Not since the 1960s have the borders of men's style been so porous, thanks to stars such as Pharrell Williams in his ever-present Chanel necklaces, Jared Leto in Gucci's Technicolor coats and freewheeling Instagram stars Luka Sabbat and Jaden Smith, who might sport a fur jacket and jumpsuit one day and a hoodie and miniskirt combo the next to indulge their legions of followers looking for style cues.
The new male fashion fearlessness has gotten a boost from designer catwalks, starting when Gucci star designer Alessandro Michele debuted his takeover of the legendary fashion house with his men's collection for fall 2015. Overnight, gender non-conformity was the new lodestar, with a flowingly tressed male model opening that runway show in a red silk pussy-bow blouse with bracelet-length sleeves, fluid trousers and fur slides.
New York designer Rio Uribe of Gypsy Sport nabbed the prestigious Council of Fashion Designers Award for his runway mash-up of reworked athletic togs and sweetly printed floral separates - for guys. And recent campaigns by major luxury houses have had Pharrell fronting for a women's handbag for the first time (Chanel), Smith wearing a skirt (Louis Vuitton) and Tom Hiddleston draped like an odalisque in a maroon suit over a couch at the late artist's Tony Duquette's Dawnridge estate (Gucci).
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"It's a recurring variant on the original Peacock Revolution of the 1960s when young men broke out of the gray flannel suit look of the '50s and started wearing more color and materials like velvet and lace," says fashion historian Valerie Steele, museum director at New York's Fashion Institute of Technology. "Periodically designers have picked up on that, but we're seeing a lot more of it now by a wider range of designers than in the last few decades."
For one thing, there's opportunity in the men's luxury market, while women's clothing sales have stalled. Global menswear sales are projected to reach nearly $33 billion in 2020, up 14 percent from current rates, according to Euromonitor International.
In the Chanel ads breaking this month, Williams is clad in the house's signature collarless boucle jacket and strands of pearl and chain necklaces. He mixes the couture with a streetwise beanie and T-shirt in the campaign's portrait shot, opposite the rapper-luxe version of the Gabrielle bag in gleaming black crocodile.
The new Gabrielle handbag's shape was partly inspired by a gentleman's binocular case, but Williams' role as a muse for current designer Karl Lagerfeld also fits in with the hot topic of gender fluidity in fashion.
Wiliams told WWD that he first became aware of Chanel more than 10 years ago when he was just "a nerdy little black kid on a skateboard." Over time, he "just started to see, OK, as a man I can wear some of this. So I would wear sunglasses here, or a jacket there." Now he's sporting full ensembles, like the tuxedo look he wore to the Oscars and the elongated jacket he chose for Chanel's pre-fall Metier D'Arts show in Paris.
Courtesy of Gucci
For the uninitiated, the term "peacocking" refers to an attention-getting manner of dress that historically was the prerogative of men, who dressed in the same kind of finery as the ladies, in posh silks and rich velvets, often embroidered or fur trimmed. With the French Revolution, things were toned for a bit but extravagant and fastidious men's style continued to the early 20th century, when staid uniform dressing became the norm with military attire through two wars and later the staid gray flannel suit strictures of the post-war years.
A peacocking attitude is evident in the menswear color of the moment, pink, notably seen recently on actor Dev Patel in a bold orchid Armani blazer at SXSW. And for the Grammys, host James Corden donned a custom pale-rose Tom Ford dinner jacket via his stylist Michael Fisher.
"Real men wear pink, especially now," says Fisher. "It was a classic 'Old Hollywood' look, but the color made it modern." Online luxury retailer Mr. Porter also cites pink as a trend, in 125-odd selections from velvet Gucci slippers with a glittery embroidered snake to a tie-dyed cashmere/silk T-shirt from cult L.A. label The Elder Statesman.
"With brands like Saint Laurent under Hedi Slimane - and everything that Alessandro Michele has been doing at Gucci - there's this broader conversation about men and touching their romantic poetic spirit and not being afraid to embrace an idea that isn't classically seen as masculine," Downing notes.
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At Neiman Marcus, he finds many customers stray outside the men's department to the women's racks to find pieces to make their own. And as more brands are mounting coed runway shows - most notably Gucci, Vêtements and Calvin Klein - "designers have had to up the ante a bit for men because otherwise they would just look like a walker or something next to the women's clothes on the runway," Steele says.
"I wouldn't underestimate the effect of Alessandro Michele at Gucci who has brought back color, pattern and a 'more-is-more' aesthetic for men and women," she adds. The designer has become somewhat of an icon himself with his long locks and renaissance-meets-streetwear personal style.
"No one really knows who the clothes were created for," Downing says. "If you wear them with great style and they fit you within the realm of how they want you to fit you, you make them yours. It's not about whether it was designed to be for a man or for a woman."
Yet, paradoxically, it's also the most traditionally masculine of men who are charting the new boundaries of style.
"I really attribute the recent acceptance of peacocking to basketball players," says Hollywood fashion stylist Jeanne Yang, whose clients include Jamie Dornan, Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr. "Dwayne Wade, Russell Westbrook, Tyson Chandler and many others in the NBA have followed the lead of flamboyant dressers in the 1970s like Walt 'Clyde' Frazier and Dr. J."
So here's Chicago Bulls star Jimmy Butler sporting the latest spring fashion off-court, a floral-patched jean jacket from Saint Laurent. There's Russell Westbrook wrapping up winter in a full-length furry topper over cropped pants and kelly green sneakers. With multiple social media platforms and online "best-dressed" lists to show off the player's winning off-court moves, "men everywhere are seeing they need to step up their fashion game," Yang adds.
Downing agrees, saying, "Our guys will come in with images of athletes on their cell phone, looking for a specific item." Seeing sports stars dress in a cool way "gives customers permission to express themselves fashionably." He notes that even his more traditional clientele is looking for more of a flourish, especially gravitating to designer Tom Ford's suiting "with a great sense of color and a lot of swagger in the cut."
"I think we've all had enough of the conventional. Leto and Pharrell are busting the old taboos, and that can only be a good thing," says Barneys New York creative ambassador Simon Doonan."It speaks to the new, younger, gender-fluid generation. I say mazel tov!"