MEN! Burn your ties! Unbutton your collar, and let your chest hair hang loose! Decolletage is the way forward for the new New Man, according to the king of showbiz glitz, Gianni Versace.
The designer publishes his latest book, Men Without Ties, on 14 June. The book (which could be renamed Men Without Clothes) is a glossy celebration of men as sex objects. The opening essay, by Richard Martin, curator of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, identifies a new man: not the kind who wears aprons and rears babies, but one who has escaped such drudgery and found sexual freedom.
Versace's new man, we are told, is a cross between Woody Allen and Arnold Schwarzenegger. All you have to do is throw those ties on the bonfire and unleash your sexuality.
"In the beginning the necktie expressed, first, cleanliness of an under- layer; second, the perimeter of the neck and collar; and third, the expressive interpretation of a knotting, tethering practice," Martin writes. "Now the necktie has become a convention of withered utility.
"Collar and tie had long suppressed the male chest as an erogenous zone in the Western world, but Versace realises that any degree of exposure of the chest defines the male body, especially in the male secondary sexual characteristics of chest hair.
"Versace's deep V-shaped openness at centre front often allows the chest to be seen and expressed . . . exposure of the chest in circumstances of dress, whether modest or radical, is a significant gesture of change for men in the 1980s and 1990s."
At the charity party to publicise the book, and to raise money for the Elton John Aids Foundation, it will be judged bad form to wear a tie. Elton and Gianni will co-host the event, which they promise will be the celebrity party of 1995 in London. Elle "The Body" Macpherson, the supermodel, will be there, with the usual gaggle of pop stars and Versace glitterati.
And yet the traditional British tie establishment is somehow unimpressed. Gianni, Elton and friends might find that London is not quite ready for the new and tieless Versace man. If they decide on dinner at Le Gavroche after the party, they will be refused entry - unless, of course, they take up the offer of a Gavroche tie.
The British Guild of Tie Makers, which represents the entire multi-million- pound industry, is also unruffled. Guild spokesman Tony Edwards says that the tie is not just another garment. "Even when man was a naked warrior, he wore something around his neck to protect the jugular. The man who wears his collar open is saying, 'I'm off-duty; my jugular is unprotected'."
Ties are an integral part of man's evolution, says Mr Edwards, who predicts that ties will still be part of men's wardrobes for at least the next 500 years. And as more women take to wearing jackets and shirts, he suggests that they will be wearing ties, too. Not until you do away with the jacket will you lose the tie - "Versace can say what he likes, but he can't speed up evolution."
Nor is there is any loosening of Windsor knots in the home of the classic shirt, Jermyn Street. "The death of the tie?" exploded Kenneth Williams, managing director of Turnbull & Asser, the company that sells ties to Prince Charles. "What about trousers? You might as well leave them off as well.
"I would think the sort of circles Versace moves in would not require a tie. Professional people will always wear ties. Versace is wrong. In the real world, men wear ties and always will."
Ties earn pounds 5m a year for Turnbull & Asser, which is concentrating on opening up huge new tie markets in the Far East. According to Mr Williams, 10 years ago the Chinese did not wear ties - they wore mandarin collars. In Shanghai today, every man who is or wants to be influential wears a tie.
And the Garrick Club does not foresee any time in the future when its rules on tie-wearing will be relaxed. "The gentlemen's dress code at the Garrick is that they wear a tie at all times," was the reassuringly stuffy response.
In the United States, however, ties are becoming a thing of the past. John Major may seldom be seen without one, but President Clinton is so at ease that he is regularly photographed with jugular exposed.
Colin Woodhead, publicist for Brioni, the Italian company that dresses Pierce Brosnan in his role as James Bond (who remains impeccably dressed from his Sulka tie down throughout the film), is equally relaxed about tie-wearing and often takes his off between meetings. "I think the general drift away from ties is inevitable," he says.
More companies are following the American lead and introducing dressing- down days, when employees can relax their dress codes one day a week, and the first thing that most men do on such days is leave off their ties.
In the affluent Swinging Sixties, fat kipper ties were worn with 6in shirt collars; during the career-crazed Eighties, ties were bold and abstract.
In the Nineties, the trend seems to be towards large patterns and lots of cute animal motifs. Little wonder that Versace is banishing his ties to the back of his wardrobe.
But does this all mean that the lucrative tie production at Versace's own fashion house is about to grind to a halt? It seems not.
Harrods is expecting its new season's ties in August. Among them will be 30 to 40 designs by Gianni Versace, selling at pounds 55 each - the same price, coincidentally, as his book.
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