Style: Dedicated foragers of fashion: Do the style gurus who offer advice through the pages of men's magazines practise what they preach? Roger Tredre finds out
Saturday 14 August 1993
At this season's men's fashion shows, they certainly looked the part. No ties and no formal suits. They were casual, modern men in relaxed linen jackets and dark glasses.
I tried a label check. Howarth was dressed in a stone-coloured Nicole Farhi suit, grey Hanes T-shirt, and Timberland deck shoes with no socks. Sullivan was wearing a linen jacket by Valentino, soft cream trousers by Nicole Farhi, and deck shoes he had picked up in a market in Florence. Underneath, they assured me, they were both wearing Calvin Klein.
I remarked on their shared liking for Nicole Farhi's clothes. Howarth grinned sheepishly: 'Well, I did once work for her. I launched her menswear collection.'
He has three suits by her, in stone, black and blue, and wears them over and over. 'When we launched the menswear, we didn't want it to be quirky English - Paul Smith already does that brilliantly. Nicole is French, a European who lives in London, so we created an Anglicised version of the European look, interesting but wearable.'
Howarth has come a long way from his student days when he had his hair dyed black and wore plaid shirts, Johnson's leather jackets and baggy trousers. 'Well, I have to be careful now,' he says. 'As you get older, there's less you can get away with. If I wore some sort of grunge combination, people would laugh at me.'
Howarth is GQ man: late twenties, outwardly self-assured, inwardly (here I'm guessing) probably full of the same mixture of neuroses as his peers. 'I think our generation was exceptionally self-conscious,' he says. 'We were teenagers in that post-punk era when music and fashion dovetailed in a very exciting way.'
Men such as Howarth were weaned on the Face. Arena, the first modern British men's style magazine (and, some say, still the best), was launched in 1986 as a spin-off from the Face. GQ and Esquire arrived in 1988 and 1991 respectively, British editions of long-
established US titles with their own editorial teams and content.
GQ is the market leader, with monthly sales of 94,000. Esquire, after a shaky start, is closing the gap, with sales now topping 74,000.
Nick Sullivan came up through the trade press, learning all there is to know about warps and wefts at International Textiles. In his teens he went through a skinhead phase: shaved head, Doc Martens, jeans, Fred Perry shirts.
These days he describes himself as 'fairly conservative'. His wardrobe includes a herring-bone single- breasted Armani suit, but he also likes the classic British look. 'It's great, particularly if done with wit, the way Richard James does it in Savile Row. I like those stiff-collared shirts you find in Jermyn Street. Lots of men think Jermyn Street only makes blue shirts, but there are some wacky designs.'
Does he ever feel guilty about encouraging his readers to splash out on clothes? 'Oh, no, my job is to show them how not to waste their money, to act as a filter, and to find the best on offer.'
Both Sullivan and Howarth agree that men are changing. Sullivan says: 'It's no longer considered sissy to be interested in fashion.'
In the September issue of Esquire, Sullivan makes the point that the way clothes are put together on the catwalk for the press and buyers is rarely how the designer expects them to be worn. These days, designers recognise that most of their customers are sufficiently confident and independent to do their own thing.
Howarth is convinced that magazines such as GQ have had a genuine influence. 'Men are more educated, more informed about clothes. They know that a well-made suit in a good cloth is worth the money, because it will last for years. They've realised that a pounds 200 pair of shoes will last 10 times as long as a pounds 50 pair. They're also more willing to talk about fashion. Guys in pubs now ask you where you get your shoes from.'
I asked them both to name their favourite old garment. Howarth volunteered his R M Williams outback boots and then went misty-eyed over his 10-year-old blue cotton crew-neck sweater from Marks & Spencer. 'I've had it since university. It's nicely faded and washed-out.'
Sullivan nominated a grey flannel sports jacket that used to belong to his father. 'It's from the Fifties. I've sewn it up loads of times, patched it in places, replaced the buttons. It's the sort of jacket you can wear with huge sweaters underneath.'
And what about your beauty routines, boys? Howarth winces. 'I never wear fragrances, but I use Body Shop products.' Sullivan's preferred two fragrances are Polo by Ralph Lauren and Green Irish Tweed by Creed. 'I don't use moisturisers,' he says. 'But I probably should.'
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