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It is often hard for me to reconcile the New York City of 2013 with the grainy brown-and-white images of my childhood—when the city seemed to be a clogged network of narrow streets and ancient restaurants with broken fizzing neon lights, often missing a letter. I am speaking primarily of the Garment District, where I would go to visit my father.
When I was young, he worked on the seventeenth floor of an asphalt office tower for a large apparel corporation. His office was shipshape, with a coffee mug on his desk that said “Coffee Hound” and that almost certainly led to my late-life addiction. In the office, there were racks of dresses with Peter Pan collars and rather dainty flower prints. My father had excellent taste, and he sometimes attempted to create dresses my mother might wear. They were knockoffs but good ones.
This story first appeared in the October 1, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Down below, he would take me to lunch at frantic delis, for a tuna sandwich and a soda in a paper cup. The restaurants were full of industry men, and the streets were in wild, Hong Kong-like disarray, with push- carts stopping the traffic and giant wobbly trucks cramming the lanes like huffing hippopotami.
That world is now gone, and Seventh Avenue is not the mad menagerie it once was—but the business is just as hard. It is more global and less fueled by hot pastrami. But M—the magazine you are looking at—is a testament to the bloody and exquisite business it is. The suit or the shirt or the tie you see in its pages is the function of a brutal and sensitive attack as complicated as the movie business or the automotive business. Most of the focus on fashion is usually given to design, but our focus at M is to report on the men’s fashion industry with an understanding of what movie people call “the total equation.” You will find that mélange of movies and fashion throughout this issue.
Tony Goldwyn—the agonized, stallion-like President of the United States who has a weekly network sexual pas de deux with Kerry Washington on ABC’s Scandal—is a scion of one of those who understood both equations. His grandfather Schmuel Gelbfisz came to America from Poland and was successful in the glove business, where he became Samuel Goldfish, and then he moved to Hollywood, where he remade himself as Samuel Goldwyn, perhaps the greatest independent producer of Hollywood’s great epoch, reaching his apogee in 1946 with the classic The Best Years of Our Lives. He charted and steered his own course—battling other moguls and insisting on what he called the Goldwyn Touch.
His grandson Tony has shown a similar toughness and is now that rarity in Hollywood—a grown-up sex symbol who can act. Like his grandfather, he is a self-made man who has navigated his own path rather than clutch the bars of the Hollywood bumper cars. George Gurley interviews him.
Haider Ackermann is a great designer, as tensile and rugged as Goldwyn. He has created clothing for men when he knew what he wanted—and stopped when he was certain. “I’m not a person who responds to ‘You have to do it, you have to do it,’ ” he tells Matthew Schneier. “Pfffft.” Ackermann entered menswear with great panache, then stopped when he wanted to— and then came back with an intense Paris showing for a select audience who found sixteen models “tattooed up to the neck and down to the knuckle” wearing “silk jacquard waistcoats and iridescent bomber jackets.” Demanding, tough, uncompromising.
Which is how you might describe our cover boy, Ben Stiller. On one level Stiller is the multibillion-dollar-grossing star of the Fockers series and the director of the ultimate fashion razor blade, Zoolander. But he is something deeper in the culture—our most Buster Keaton-like comedian, who has absorbed the pain of the male world in There’s Something About Mary, Flirting With Disaster, and Greenberg. Now he has taken a tremendous risk that seems to be paying off really beautifully by directing The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (the previous version of which was produced by Samuel Goldwyn) as a taut comedy of his own design. Jim Windolf spoke to him in California, where surges of Fockers fans approached the internalized star. His new movie is a jostling American meditation on choosing to live in the twenty-first century but with an earlier ethic inside. Like Ackermann, Stiller makes what he wants. He says that when he was editing The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, he did something many directors would not, but which Ackermann would certainly understand: He cut an hour of beloved dialogue that was just unnecessary.
The merger of stardom and fashion explodes in the emergence of Clark Bockelman as that rarity—a male supermodel. Spawned onto the Calvin Klein runway, he is being described by fashion marketers as the Tab Hunter of the new century. Matthew Lynch describes the assemblage of a star. Another uncompromising assemblage is one of the oldest and most distinguished in the wardrobe of the Western world—the Turnbull & Asser white shirt, the shirt of Prince Charles and Prince William, as well built and emblematic of the British Empire, Tom Teodorczuk reports, as the Cunard Line. And our fashion director, Alex Badia, leads a rather merry medicine-ball-throw of a conversation on the state of men’s style with Public School designers Maxwell Osborne and Dao-Yi Chow, fashion arbiter Nick Wooster, blogger Michael Williams, and the eternally elegant restaurateur Ken Aretsky, who has seen if not all, then at least everything above the tablecloth.
Men’s fashion is a glorious and gutty industry, the glamour of which is often most apparent when least noticed. Much of its greatness happens beneath the surface, and upstairs on the seventeenth floor, where sketches are created, orders placed, sales calls made, and risks taken. The racks are still pushed by men and women of taste and resolve. The gray-and-white world of Seventh Avenue has been displaced and expanded. It is now the world that is Seventh Avenue.