An expectant crowd settled down in a darkened museum gallery in Paris last week to watch the latest stage in a battle worth millions of euros. The two protagonists couldn't be more different. One, a skinny, shy, white-faced French urchin with the looks of a recently recruited trainee monk; the other, a confident middle-aged bronzed American wearing a shirt unbuttoned just enough to reveal a buffed and toned physique. To the sounds of deafening electronic music and lit by racks of industrial-strength searchlights, a succession of impossibly gangly white boys strode past devoid of any expression whatsoever, hair lankly flapping over their eyes. Imagine an 18-year-old Gareth Keenan in a electro-punk band and you have the picture.
This procession of spindly waifs was modelling the latest collection designed by the genius responsible for turning around the fortunes of Dior menswear, Hedi Slimane. For the past four years Slimane has never deviated from his pure and simple message, turning on its head every idea you previously had about what men should wear. Slimane's clothes are slender, shrunken, designed to drape and cling to bodies which do nothing more strenuous than lift a guitar or hold a cigarette. He has boldly redefined sexuality, and by doing so stuck two fingers up to everything Tom Ford, currently the most powerful fashion designer in the world, stands for.
Slimane asks the following question: what is so desirable about spending hours every day in a gym trying to aspire to some unattainable silhouette that means you have to monitor every mouthful you eat and every glass you drink? Why does looking like an athlete mean you are a pin-up? Tom Ford's clothes for both men and women define this old version of sexuality. They can't be worn by people who are not physically perfect. It is a concept that has huge success commercially and has filtered down to every chain store and every high street the world over. Men and women have spent millions at Gucci and Yves St Laurent over the past few years buying clothes designed by Ford which make the woman look like hookers and the men like their pimps. Ford himself is his best advertisement, diverting attention from his receding hairline with a permatan that surely comes from a lamp or a bottle, a gleaming set of the whitest teeth, built-up shoes to emphasise his long legs, and a rock-hard set of pecs.
His jacket has wide lapels and is nipped in at the waist, his trousers emphasising muscular thighs. Slimane's clothes are desirable in their own way, but he has tapped into a stylistic androgyny that seems much more in tune with the way young people actually are at the beginning of the 21st century. Funnily enough, they are not enthusiastic about wearing clothes that scream "I want to pull", but send out more subtle and coded messages. They are not overtly ostentatious or showy.
When Slimane took over at Dior, its menswear division was really only known for ties and shirts that sold at duty-free shops all around the world. He has totally reinvigorated their business, got iconic figures from David Bowie to Mick Jagger and Madonna to Sarah Jessica Parker into his skinny suits, and is planning the next stage of his career. The Gareth Keenan pudding-basin haircut so loathed by his alter ego the actor Mackenzie Crook is now regarded as high fashion outside the prefabricated walls of The Office. More important, as Ford takes leave of the Gucci group next month to start another career as a film director, many people feel that Slimane could be his successor.
All I know is that this self-effacing, intellectual, ex-art history student offers a more contemporary version of what to wear than anyone else. And his subtle, monochromatic clothes will be as influential in their own way as Ford's were. Surely it is time that men were released from the tyranny of wearing clothes designed to reinforce old-fashioned notions of power and strength. It may have been appropriate in the greed-is-good macho era of the Eighties, but times have changed. Our concept of what makes men attractive has moved on. It's OK to be a wimp. Three cheers for Hedi!
We all lose out
The fall-out from Greg Dyke's unfortunate departure from the BBC continues. The events of the past few days have demonstrated clearly that although many people might carp about the BBC and its programmes and the digital channels we can't receive, they are prepared to stick up for the institution and find the sight of politicians calling for higher standards of journalism thoroughly nauseating. Indeed, many people realise that the BBC is a brand revered the world over, although not, it seems, by those in Downing Street. The loss of Dyke will damage the BBC and this valuable brand, and all the prestige it brings Britain, because he was an excellent leader, inspirational and direct. He is a hard act to follow, and none of the contenders is half as charismatic as he was. But the ultimate losers will be politicians themselves.
Last Friday I talked to John Selwyn Gummer, who told me that not one of his son's contemporaries at Cambridge had any interest in entering politics. A YouGov poll reveals that the public trusts BBC journalists to tell the truth far more than they do politicians. I predict that Blair and Campbell's desire to comprehensively humiliate the corporation will mean a lower turn-out than ever at the next general election and even fewer young people deciding to vote, let alone join a political party.
The fall-out from foot and mouth and now Iraq emphasises the need for robust and challenging journalism when politicians are so adept at revising the facts to suit their own agendas. In the end, we alllose, because democracy will wither as the calibre of people prepared to devote their lives to the public good declines.
At dinner the other night Mick Jagger was dwarfed by his companion, a charming American stylist improbably named L'wren. At least six inches taller than "Jumpin' Jack Flash", she had a long mane of hair and an easy charm that reminded me of someone I'd met before. Jerry Hall.
When I pointed out to Mr Jagger that in my diaries for 1963 I'd noted every time I'd seen him play in a basement club off the Charing Cross Road, he turned to L'wren and said, helpfully: "We were just starting out, and Janet is one of my old friends." Unusually, for me, I shut up. I didn't point out that by my reckoning, Mr Jagger is several years older and slightly wrinklier than me. He does have the body of a 17-year-old, however, even if the flesh is hanging off it rather loosely. And he was wearing a Hedi Slimane suit.Reuse content