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Alpha males: how the likes of James Bond are raising the bar for fashion

Throughout the years, muses, including actors and singers, have raised the bar for fashion, writes Kavita Daswani

 

Hudson Kroenig might still be in nursery school, but the child appears to have been assigned the most coveted of style roles: the muse.

The four-year-old son of celebrated model Brad Kroenig, and godson of fashion impresario Karl Lagerfeld, has recently trod the catwalks in a Chanel bowed blouse, kilt and velvet jacket, been photographed in Vogue Germany, and is roundly presumed to be Lagerfeld's latest source of inspiration. How can a pint-sized preschooler compete with the legacies left by historic muses, such as Marie-Therese Walter (Picasso) and Maud Gonne (Yeats)?

Kroenig's ascent into the glare of the international media has people wondering about the status of male muses overall. There have been numerous female muses over the ages, inspiring the works of Dante and Dali. Modern eras have seen the co-opting of the muse from the areas of literature and art to the far more mercurial field of fashion - be that Audrey Hepburn for Givenchy, or Lauren Hutton for Ralph Lauren. Male muses, on the other hand, have been slower to emerge on the zeitgeist. However, as experts point out, they have never been far from the limelight - and these days, occupy more and more space in it.

"There are many [male muses] that influence fashion brands on a recurrent basis," says Isham Sardouk, chief creative officer at trend forecasting firm Stylesight. Persol, the sunglasses brand, will forever be associated with the rugged masculinity of Steve McQueen, and James Dean did the same for Ray Ban. Giorgio Armani and Michael Kors contributed to the 2006 book by Richard Torregrossa, Cary Grant: A Celebration of Style, and the enduring aesthetic of David Bowie is at the heart of the current exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. "In today's world of male icons, I see them emerging not only from the entertainment industry, but from many other fields with multidisciplinary jobs and styles," Sardouk says.

Noted fashion historian, author and curator Bronwyn Cosgrave points to the James Bond character - and his many incarnations from Roger Moore to Daniel Craig - as being one of the most sophisticated of male muses in history, so much so that there is an entire exhibition dedicated to him.

"Designing 007 - Fifty Years of Style", curated by Cosgrave, will be touring globally until 2015, including a stop in Shanghai. "The impact of James Bond's dress mode - in say a tuxedo or a tailor-made suit - has been so huge that is impossible to calculate," Cosgrave says. "Men all over the world aspire to be as suavely dressed as Bond."

The actors may have changed, but their impact on the culture of style has endured over the decades. "Pierce Brosnan wearing Brioni as Bond put this Roman 'house of high fashion for men' - as it is known - on the map," Cosgrave says. Similarly, Craig rocking Tom Ford was an immeasurable aid to the former Gucci designer as he established his eponymous brand. And Cosgrave discovered that the suit that Sean Connery wore as Bond in the '60s, known as the "Conduit Cut", is still routinely asked for at bespoke tailor shops in London.

"The charisma Sean Connery exuded dressed in the Conduit Cut suit made it the men's equivalent of the Chanel suit," Cosgrave says. "It has been as equally sought after."

In some regards, the role of a male muse is little different from their female counterparts in that their innate style - be that the suave cool of Richard Gere as much as the waifish elegance of Hepburn - serve to inspire designers. Indeed, who else other than Gere could so define both an era (the '80s) and so flawlessly carry off Armani's signature elegance? As Sardouk points out, Jude Law is something of the new Cary Grant for Christian Dior, and Ryan Reynolds - young, hot, sexy - is the face of all things Hugo Boss. Actors known for their highly distinctive traits - Gary Oldman, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe - are perfect for the edgy cool that is Prada.

 

"A muse is a symbol, a likeness, a blank slate or a canvas for a brand or designer to mould into their ultimate dream," says Grant Harris, owner and chief style consultant at Image Granted, a Washington DC-based image consulting company working specifically with men. Harris agrees that female muses have a higher profile - but that, while fashion might be seen as a female-dominated world, style is not. "Most of the male muses that come to mind rarely graced covers of magazines or floated down runways," he says. "Instead they flaunted their floral and fauna on stage, on screen, on record." Harris' point about muses coming from all sectors - the world of rap music, sports, Broadway, television - is echoed by Mariana Leung, founder and editor of the fashion and style site, MsFabulous.com Her picks of men who have influenced the course of contemporary fashion: Kanye West, and the fictional character of Chuck Bass from Gossip Girl, played by British actor Ed Westwick, with his fanciful, dandified wardrobe. Also representing where fashion is at from the worlds of television - the creative 20-something-year-olds from the hit cable show Girls - and, from publishing, Hamish Bowles and Andre Leon Talley, the always artfully dressed personalities from the Vogue universe. Throughout, Leung says, male muses tend not to "commit themselves to specific designers".

That said, some male celebrities have come to be associated with certain brands, and the images they aspire to convey: two decades ago, a young male model named Mark Wahlberg put on some tight white briefs on behalf of Calvin Klein and, lo and behold, a sensation was born.

David Beckham did the same for Emporio Armani - granted, again in his undies. And, at present, the suave Argentinian polo player Nacho Figueras is the man most associated with Ralph Lauren, after Lauren himself.

However, others are celebrated simply for the way they look, inspiring a culture, or a generation.

Jeweller Waris Ahluwalia, whose line under the House of Waris line sells at top stores worldwide, is considered among the best-dressed of his generation, and was also featured in the "The Way I Dress" web-video series for luxury etailer MR PORTER.

Sardouk's other picks for intriguing male muses of the moment are Lepo Eikann, scion of the Fiat family, descendant of Italian royalty, and Trinidad-born, Brooklyn-based rapper Theophilus London.

"I see male icons for every age group across the world," Sardouk says. "Style is really about expressing your unique style, while letting your personality speak instead of the outfit."

 

MOVE OVER, LADIES

Some of the most significant male muses in history, and now:

James Bond: Whether in the form of Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan or, latterly, Daniel Craig - the smooth, unfettered style of the international man of intrigue has inspired designers over the ages.

Cary Grant: Tall, classically handsome, debonair: the late actor came to be synonymous with the aesthetic of Christian Dior. In more recent years, Jude Law has stepped into those shoes.

Andre Leon Talley: The towering personality who recently stepped down at Vogue wears flowing capes, lavish robes and all manner of headgear - and that's just on a weekday afternoon.

Richard Gere: He burst onto the scene in his star-making turn in American Gigolo - putting himself and Giorgio Armani on the map.

Kanye West: The singer's sharp, urban style is among the most imitated of the moment: whether he's in dark shades and a sleek suit, or in rapper-friendly gold chains and a side-turned baseball cap, West is always impeccably turned out.

 

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