Forget the skinny as men's labels beef up the runways

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 February, 2011, 12:00am

I blame Marcus Schenkenberg for many of my body issues. He of the muscles that seem to have been cast from Michelangelo's David. Practically naked in the Versace ads of the late 80s and the early 90s, he made me want to hit the gym to bulk up. I was in my teenage years going through a growth spurt that left me all skin and bone, with no hope.

I also blame his contemporaries, Mark Wahlberg and Mark Vanderloo, and referred to all three as the 'Mark Trifecta' - god-like earthlings that made me insecure with my reflection. Because of them, I could not participate in the world of fashion. The clothes were not cut for my frame.

It took years before I started gaining muscle mass and just as I was getting close to having a semblance of the Trifecta's bodies, the skinny man exploded onto the scene and became the new male ideal. Suddenly, magazines were filled with men - no, boys - with bodies akin to that of my 13- and 14-year-old self.

Hedi Slimane, at the time Dior Homme's designer, replaced the broad shoulders, heaving chest and bulging biceps with a body shape that could best be described as a cigarette; flat with no definition whatsoever. Slimane's clothes were so skinny that women like Nicole Kidman and Cate Blanchett started wearing his men's designs.

The rest of the fashion world downsized, too, and the shows in Milan and Paris became a parade of pubescent, androgynous-looking boys. Waifs with flat chests and undefined arms displaced men of marble-like proportions from the runways. And I started dieting - something I never thought I would engage in. I wanted to fit into the new samples. I didn't want to be out of fashion.

This spring, fashion is changing its concept of male perfection once again, finding a balance between classical notions of masculinity and modernist androgyny. The new man is cut and lean, with a well-defined torso, modest four-pack abs and arms that don't look as though they are about to burst out of a Tom Ford shirtsleeve. While the man of the 80s was all about hulk and bulk and beefcake, the man of 2011 is packing the muscles, albeit in a less exaggerated way.

The clothes, too, are changing shapes. Designers are moving away from skinny, reed-thin silhouettes to more forgiving and less constricting shapes to allow more men into their exclusive and intimidating worlds. By relaxing the shapes and adapting a new measuring stick for the male form, fashion is allowing more men to have fun and experiment with fashion.

The loose and relaxed clothes of Bottega Veneta point to the new man. Suits (HK$31,480) with crushed jackets that don't pinch the waist when buttoned and the slouchy trousers with fuller legs (3) are examples of the paradigm shift.

Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana briefly flirted with the skinny silhouette, but in the past couple of seasons they've abandoned that to dress a man instead of a boy. For spring, they have created white polo shirts that accentuate a man's pectoral muscles (4) and they've also gone on to bare their new archetype of male beauty by putting a model in nothing but black and white striped swimming trunks. A sartorial punch in the gut for the boys of seasons past.

At Etro, only a man with a well-defined body will get away with wearing one of the many soft, semi-sheer silk shirts that were ubiquitous throughout the collection. And at Ralph Lauren Purple Label, there is no mistaking the models for anything but masculine, even if they are wearing Ralph Lauren Purple blazers (HK$44,500) with shorts (HK$3,150) that end just above the knee (2).

Ermanno Scervino banished the skinny lad by featuring rugged looking men in clothes that exposed part of their bodies, such as a tan suit jacket with wide lapels worn with nothing under or an unbuttoned striped cardigan that showed off a model's sculpted chest (1).

I'm in favour of the loosening tape measure and the promotion of the look of a 'real man'. Isn't it so much healthier to work on getting definition rather than starving yourself stick thin? With this new ideal, which sits in snuggly and moderately between two extremes, there is hope. Women's fashion should perhaps follow this lead.

Shopping list:

Bottega Veneta The Landmark, Central, tel: 2973 0882

Dolce & Gabbana Alexandra House, Central, tel: 2877 5558

Ermanno Scervino at The Swank. The Landmark, Central, tel: 2810 0769

Etro IFC Mall, Central, tel: 2234 7338

Ralph Lauren The Landmark, Central, tel: 2869 0388