Geek God

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 September, 2007, 12:00am

With his peculiarly proportioned suits and bookish spectacles, the geek is this season's Adonis.

LIKE JULY'S INEVITABLE FALLOUT between Kate Moss and Pete Doherty - the queen of the catwalk and the prince of rock music - fashion's enduring union of style and rebellion couldn't last forever. When that door closed, another one opened. This season, fashion has found new love in the geek.

The autumn/winter menswear collections saw countless awkwardly proportioned suits, narrow cuts, cropped trousers that exposed the ankles, sleeves that were a little bit too short, high socks and too-short shorts.

It sounds suspiciously like a Steve Urkel wardrobe retrospective, but the thread that separates 'stylish' from 'disastrous' is spun from pure attitude and ingenious tailoring. The deliberateness of this new geek look requires the full-frontal confidence of an offbeat, fashion-forward hipster.

That's the spirit of American menswear pioneer Thom Browne. He soared to popularity with his daringly cropped trousers and jackets that reinvigorated the tired, old mood of 'business-casual' suits. His trademark short cuts and dork-league socks inject an unapologetically gawky, Pee-wee Herman-esque energy into couture, and introduce a welcome dose of humour.

Then there are the boxy coats, the kind your mother bought two sizes too big so that you wouldn't outgrow it by next Tuesday. Such coats were seen at Louis Vuitton, Yohji Yamamoto, Burberry Prorsum and Paul Smith, but these boys aren't emulating Mum's strategy; the overestimated measurements are an end in themselves, and the result is an eye-catching tension between boyishness and masculinity. The proportions create an illusory, charming innocence; and yet the sturdy, clean cuts in heavyweight fabrics maintain an aura of machismo.

Designers have also taken note of another nerdy style cue: bookishness. To make it chic, they took the standard prim-and-tidy academic uniform of blazers and ties, then reworked it for the runway in a mature palette of deep, earthy hues. Boring tweed was swapped for hip plaid, and ties were pencil-thin.

There is a risk in going overboard with the get-up, though. The key to making sure that 'geek' still rhymes with 'chic' is to balance it with a sartorial counterweight. In the same way the shy bookworms in high school needed self-confidence, these outcasts of traditional menswear need a boost of elan. At Viktor & Rolf and Tommy Hilfiger, that flair came from stamping vibrant colours onto shirts, shoes and accessories, so that the formality of the suit isn't interpreted too seriously.

Finally, every proper stylephile should accessorise this look accordingly. Large spectacles are appropriate, and they've coincidentally emerged onto the fashion scene after XL sunglasses had their turn in the spotlight and narrow, rectangular 'emo' frames are beginning to fade.

Hong Kong hipsters have been spotted with relevant eyewear that combines the revived, classic Ray-Ban Wayfarer with large prescription lenses. The ingenuity of this style is that it lends the quirky look of a bug-eyed intellectual, balanced with the cool eccentricity of Bob Dylan.

For the more experimental, there's another classic revival inching its way off the shelves of offbeat optician Cutler & Gross. Nothing evokes a scholarly affinity for science and the magnifying glass more than C&G's perfectly circular P3 frames, which lend an air of owlish, highbrow sagacity to any ensemble.

P3s are still rare on the street, but not invisible on the style radar; international artist, socialite and restaurateur Michael Chow has a pair. Other fashion authorities concede on the P3's style power; Selima Salaun of Selima Optique, the swanky New York City eyewear boutique, presciently advised New York Times readers in May of the P3's status as 'the next big thing'.

The unorthodoxy of 'geek chic' may at first seem like a joke, but perhaps that is exactly what fashion needs now - a sense of fun injected into the serious art of dressing. Somewhere, Pee-wee and Urkel aren't sure whether to lament or rejoice - the cool kids have stolen their clothes again, but this time they're wearing them.