Men's style magazine Arena has made a fetish of fashion stories with bearded or moustached models. Forget goatees - we're talking German woodcutter/Santa Claus growths. In pursuit of the hirsute, one fashion editor asked members of the gay hair-loving and beard-wearing fraternity, the Bears Club, to pose for a recent story. This month's issue includes handlebar 'taches reminiscent of the Mexican bandit in The Roadrunner.
For its August issue, GQ asked a journalist to grow a 'tache and record others' reactions to it. Teenzine Bliss is covering the trend in a July issue. "We're featuring Paul Nicholls, Ewan McGregor, Jay Kay, Gary Barlow, Johnny Depp and the Backstreet Boys with their new facial hair," says celebrity editor Paul Hart. "It makes them older-looking, which girls find hornier. In a recent readers' poll of the world's 50 sexiest men, David Beckham came third. I'm sure his new beard boosts that rating."
High-profile fashion photographer Terry Richardson affects a Seventies Open University lecturer 'tache. Ozwald Boateng and Kenzo both hired model Satya Oblet, who sports a distinctive bleached beard, to pose for their ad campaigns.
Adrian Clark, Attitude's fashion director, surprised himself recently by sprouting a beard for the first time ever. "Men's fashion has become camper in the past two seasons. With a beard I feel I can wear a `poofy' shirt, like Gucci's shocking pink one, and still look masculine," he explains. "My beard gives me more scope and individuality."
A hunger for individuality, in reaction to late-Nineties homogeneous "good taste", is one reason for the trend. Last year, mavericks Vivienne Westwood and Jean-Paul Gaultier helped spark it by sending out models sporting bushy 'taches straight out of Asterix The Movie.
"We're moving away from the pseudo-sophistication of minimalism," suggests fashion designer Joe Casely-Hayford. "There's a yearning for all things natural. Facial hair hints at an earthier existence. There's a realisation that the streamlined, hairless Nineties male torso is only believable to very few."
Mark Evans, a booker at Models 1, detects a sea change, too. "A year ago, magazines like ZM would have asked guys to shave their chests for summer shoots. But now they've got hairy-chested guys doing stuff with their shirts off."
Then there's the everything-goes-in-cycles theory. "Quite simply, moustaches and beards haven't been fashionable for 20 years," says Nick Sullivan associate fashion editor at Arena. "The boy in the most recent Gucci ad campaign has a smidge of chest hair," notes Clark.
Reactions to the return of the rugged are mixed. Tracey Cahoon, an artistic director at Toni & Guy, fancies men with facial hair: "Men with beards are sexy. They're not overly concerned about their image." But Sullivan makes light of the trend. "It's ironic. It's unlikely to catch on. Beards are too high-maintenance and moustaches are a no-no - just look at Nigel Mansell's."