Written By: Frazer Hughes
At 3:36 PM I was in my car on Veteran Avenue in Westwood when I lit my last cigarette. I was stuck in traffic because there were several hundred Iranian expatriate protesters on the corner of Wilshire and Veteran in front of the Federal Building expressing their needs and wants (for a fair election in Iran) in a healthy, non-passive-aggressive way to the drivers of the hundreds more of anonymous cars trying to avoid eye contact with the each other and the swarming, flag wielding, impossibly and perfectly tanned mob on the sidewalk. Then I thought about Bijan.
When I think of Rodeo Drive, the first thing I think of if Bijan, the Persian designer whose exclusive boutique on Rodeo is available by appointment only. Bijan has been on Rodeo for decades and his client list is basically a rolodex of royalty, heads of state, and the captains of industry that you have never heard of, but are richer than you will ever be. I thought about our last presidential election here in the United States.
Bijan had two billboards at Santa Monica Blvd. and Sepulveda where he was in a black and white pose his mouth ripped open in a gleeful laugh and big red letters underneath read, “Voting is…FASHOINABLE!” I loved that billboard. Even Bijan, the Persian mogul of Rodeo drive was caught up in the fever and excitement of the election. Now I am stuck here at Wilshire and Veteran with 23 year old Persian-Americans who don’t speak a word of Farsi, all warped up in green headbands and bracelets, and they are shouting some slogan that I am trying to drown out with my radio. I smile at them because its working. Their shouting mouths are actually singing “Satisfaction” by the Stones to me.
Now I imagine Bijan’s billboard in the middle of Tehran, above three hundred thousand angry protesters with his big smiling mouth and the now ominous message “Voting is…FASHIONABLE!” I couldn’t help but laugh. That image kept a smile on my face all of the way down Wilshire to Beverly Hills. Before I hit Rodeo I stopped to get a drink. I used to live in Beverly Hills, so I am not very intimidated by the majesty of Rodeo Drive, more amused with it than anything. I knocked out two margaritas pretty quickly at an overpriced taco place one street over on Beverly Drive. Happily buzzed, I was ready to hit the stores. I was feeling quite…FASHIONABLE!!! But, there was a problem. I had run out of smokes.
“No worries,” I thought to myself, “I’ll find some.”
Now listen, I’m no fashion expert, but I like to think that I stay in loop a bit more than your average guy. I don’t obsess over designer labels, but I like to keep up with it and look nice. To give you an idea of my competence in dressing myself I will break down what I am wearing today as I looked for a place to buy cigarettes on Rodeo Drive.
Shirt: Faded Green T-shirt from Urban Outfitters (yes, it was faded when I bought it. And yes, I do feel an appropriate amount of shame buying anything pre-faded)
Pants: Brown slacks from Hugo Boss that have gotten a great deal of use since I bought them a little over a year ago, so they look worn in, but not worn out.
Shoes: Diesel sneakers that are mostly light tan with brown trimming that goes quite well with my pants
Belt: An old Dior leather belt with a bright silver clasp and tip that I stole from the locker room of a private country club in Tennessee about three years ago when I was on Heroin. I thought I could maybe sell it for cash but ended up keeping it. (Don’t worry, kids, over 2 years clean now).
Fragrance: “Arcus” by Amouage. You don’t know about Amouage fragrances because they don’t sell them in the U.S. or in most of Europe. If you know about Amouage, let’s keep the secret.
Alright, now that I am qualified, lets continue on my journey.
First was Brooks Brothers. Apparently Brooks Brothers would have me think that matching a lime green button up shirt with a white collar and cuffs with a big brass buttoned and crested navy blazer and madras pants that look like they were made out of a grandmother’s quilt is a good idea. This is not a good idea, unless you are standing on the deck of a wood-paneled yacht off the coast of Nantucket with a flute of champagne and in the company of other like-minded closet homosexuals.
Brooks Brothers isn’t all horrors, though. If you can keep yourself from spewing two margaritas out of your stomach onto the suits with big fat azure and white pinstripes, you may be lucky enough to find yourself in a plush leather armchair in front of a rack of surprisingly attractive dress shoes. This is the one positive thing I will say about Brooks Brothers: They have great shoes. They are all leather dress shoes in various shades of black and tan, some polished, some not. There are penny loafers and oxfords of many different shapes and colors but they are all very tasteful and understated. They all would go easily with a smart suit but you could be really…FASHIONABLE! and wear them with jeans or slacks or any other kind of casual outfit and look pretty damn slick.
So if you are in the market for some good dress shoes that will probably never go out of style and last the rest of your life, go to Brooks Brothers. If you are in the market for non-foot related attire, RUN from Brooks Brothers. I was also informed by a very indignant looking suit saleswoman that they do not sell cigarettes at Brooks Brothers. Not menthols, anyways, which is what I wanted.
In my experience, margaritas and sunshine go great together, as long as you are in a hammock or on the beach. Margaritas and sunshine do not go together when you stumble out of Brooks Brothers on Rodeo Drive and the heat slaps you uncomfortably across the eyes.
I shuffled down the sidewalk feeling very…FASHIONABLE! and dizzy, with my shoulder occasionally bumping and dragging across windows of mannequins that were starting to become more sexually appealing than usual. I sort of fell into Juicy Couture by accident.
It was not on my list of stores to review today. A security guard looked at me with a mix of admiration and suspicion as I eloquently enquired as to where the gentlemen’s clothing may be found, and he told me upstairs. I dodged my way past 12 and 13-year-old girls pawing at panties and shirts and makeup meant for hookers at least 10 years older than they were, and past their worried looking mothers up the stairs to the empty men’s section. The two guys working up there gave some very concerned looks which unsettled me, but upon inspection in the mirror, I wasn’t disheveled or making any crude noises, nor was I sweating profusely.
The first thing I saw was a blue polo shirt. “Not bad!” I thought, admiring the color and the trim cut and perfect shortness (but not too short) of the sleeves which would make me look like I had guns, until I saw the back of the shirt. Hand stitched in giant white cursive writing were the words “SOCIAL DILLITANTI.” I laughed out loud which brought upon more scornful looks from the sales clerks. I wondered if I should call one of them over an express my concerns that “Dilettante” is and English word, and that by changing the “E” to an “I” and dropping a “T” in the middle made it neither French or Italian. But they didn’t look like linguists or appear to have sufficient tailoring skill to fix the shirts, so I let it go.
I sat down on the couch and tried to make some notes for the “Fashion Review” article I am supposed to be writing (which are entirely illegible). Looking around the men’s section of Juicy Couture, all I saw was flavor of the week trends that would never last. Every last piece of clothing I saw made me think about ten or twenty years from now my children asking me, “Dad, how come people wore such stupid clothes back then?”
It’s like looking back at the 70’s and seeing John Travolta with tight black bell-bottoms, platform shoes and giant white lapels. Surely there had to be one piece of clothing in this store that could stand the test of time. On the coffee table in front of my couch there were a few stacks of folded T-shirts. One of them looked like a plain black T-shirt. I picked it up and unfolded it to find that on the front of the T-shirt, written in black shiny sequins was the word “MATERIALIST.” This was allegedly designed for men. Just because there are jet-setting, 19-year-old, trust-funded boys from Saudi Arabia who would actually buy this crap, that’s no excuse for anyone encourage them. It’s down right immoral. I needed a drink.
Even if they did sell cigarettes at Juicy Couture, I wasn’t about to hand my money over to someone who would sell a man a T-shirt that said “Materialist” written in black sequins. I got out of there as fast as I could. Again, the raw and burning dry sun of Beverly Hills hit me uncomfortably and simultaneously squelched and whetted my desire for another margarita. There was a German tourist outside smoking. I was going mad, but the sense of conflict inside my soul drove me forward into Polo/Ralph Lauren to continue my quest for fashion and cigarettes.
Here is a little fact about Ralph Lauren that I like to tell people as often as possible: his real name was Ralph Lipschitz (check spelling). Changing it to “Lauren” was obviously a good move.
The entrance to Polo off of Rodeo Drive takes you off of the side walk and into a covered narrow stone path at the end of which is a massive potted plant that out of the corner of my eye I could have sworn was an enormous Venus Flytrap, but upon closer inspection turned out to be some other exotic, non-carnivorous plant. At the Venus Flytrap, men turn left and enter the men’s section, and the women turn right and disappear into the women’s section where they become intensely inattentive to their lover’s needs and comments.
The first room housed the Ralph Lauren Purple Label Couture. I am not entirely sure what the deal is with Polo’s different color coded collections. I know there is the Purple Label collection and the Black Label collection and a possibly one or two more. The color title of each collection apparently has nothing to do with the color of the clothes in collection. I wasn’t particularly taken with the Purple Label. It seemed to be half formal dress and half casual. The Purple Label had some very modern looking suits that looked somewhat…FASHIONABLE! But probably would not stand the test of time. They were slim cut to a ridiculous degree, and there was no shoulder padding whatsoever. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t like a suit with huge sharp rectangular shoulders, but I think a suit should have some degree of structure to it so long as it is not over the top.
Now, I’m not entirely sure, but I have gotten then feeling that the trend of the last few years of shoulderless suits had gone out of style. So, what I am saying is that the Purple Label suits were too “of the moment” and even if they are still in style, they don’t look that smart anyway. My philosophy is that for men, when it comes to formal dressing, we shouldn’t be the ones to explore new trends. Leave that to your dates. Of course there is nothing wrong with a little self expression in ones formal and business dress, but I think we should all err on the side of what is classically handsome, tried and true. The Purple Label’s dress shirts were also a bit to flamboyant for my taste. Lots of bright colors and patterns with big broad white collars and cuffs. As for the Purple Label casual couture, nothing struck me as essential, but I got the distinct impression that classic and essential pieces of clothing is exactly what they were striving for, but failing.
I wandered around behind a big glass case filled with pens and leather cases for pens and cigars and monocles and, shit, I don’t know what else, but there were a lot of little leather cases. I was beginning to think that Polo was a lost cause. But then I turned around and found the one saving grace in the entire store. The luggage.
All of the clothes were pretty tasteless, but god damn they had some nice traveling bags. They were mostly rough khaki colored canvass material with wide brown leather trim. They also had some black ones made of the same materials. I mean honestly, can you actually feel like a man at the airport when you pick up a Louis Vuitton suitcase up from the baggage carousel with no wife or girlfriend around to attribute it to. The Polo luggage is the kind of expensive traveling gear that says you have cash to burn but doesn’t make you look like …the kind of guy who has Louis Vuitton luggage. Really, I know I’m not alone on this one who feels this way. Men + Louis Vuitton luggage = Metrosexual. And we all know that the metrosexual thing was sooooooo 2002. Be a man. Get Polo luggage. Durrable. Manly. Expensive Looking. What more could you want from a bag full of your dirty clothes coming back from vacation?
I don’t know how long I stood staring at the luggage, but it was long enough to attract unwanted attention. Anyone know who Idris Elba is? He is the black guy with a British accent that played the part of “Mumbles” in Guy Ritchie’s newest film, “Rock’n’Rolla.”
Well, either Mumbles has an identical twin or he was doing research for a role as a Ralph Lauren salesmen. He materialized behind me and with a thick Southeast London accent, asked me if I need any help. Judging by the tone of his voice, I think what he meant to say was, “Get the **** out of my store, now.”
I turned around and he was towering over me in a brown checkered sportcoat with a dark green pocket square flowering out of the breast pocket (as opposed to neatly folded, which I prefer), a lime green dress shirt (again with the lime green… give me a break), and white slacks. He looked like he was ready to go fox hunting, but instead of killing the fox with a gun, he looked like he would rather beat it to death with a polo stick (mallet? club?). All that was missing were the bloodhounds, riding boots, and … the polo stick (mallet? club?), I guess. I told him I was fine and retreated like a hunted fox into the nearest corner, away from Mumbles.
I found myself surrounded by the Black Label collection. More trash, mostly suits and dress shirts and the like. I don’t why Ralph Lauren has such a hard time getting a suit right. It seems like that would be the easiest thing for a designer to get right. Mumbles reappeared on the other side of the room, unfolding and re-folding already perfectly folded shirts and obviously try to make me uncomfortable so that I would leave. It worked. I stumbled back out the little stone path into the heat and searing white sidewalk and started to feel lonely and scared. All I could think about were cigarettes as made my was forlornly down Rodeo Drive.
I found myself in front of Bijan’s store. There didn’t appear to be any activity inside. I stared longingly at the “By Appointment Only” sign on the glass next to the door. I wanted to talk to Bijan. He looked like a smoker. I wanted to know what he thought about what was going on in Iran, and also what was so god damn funny in all of his billboards and magazine ads that makes him laugh in that same obviously genuine way. It must be a pretty good joke, and I like jokes. I have some good ones myself. I think Bijan and I would get on pretty well. It was becoming very apparent to me, especially from the “By Appointment Only” sign, that the road of excess leads to the palace of Bijan. I interpreted that to mean I should drink more. So I went back to the taco shop and ordered another margarita and a beer.
The beer came quickly but it took them fifteen minutes to make my maragrita so I sat there watching CNN on mute with subtitles, except the subtitles were all screwed up, so I watched Santa Claus, who I later realized was Wolf Blitzer, stand in front of pictures of cell phone videos from Tehran with green banded fists rising into the air as far as the cell phone’s camera eye could see, which really wasn’t very far at all. Instead of telling me how Bijan was spotted in the crowds, Blitzer decided to say things like this to me in malfunctioning closed captions, “TE∃∂an 3κ%^an protesΦ⎨⎩÷÷.”
I sat there shoveling salsa that was too chunky and too watery and too fresh and not fresh enough all at the same time into my mouth with exotic colored tortilla chips. My throat was burning and eyes were watering and my beer was terrible and when my margarita finally came I downed in two or three desperate gulps and lurched forward out into the crosswalk ready to find some nice clothes. And where better to start than Armani?
Why is the men’s section always upstairs? Assholes…
As I browsed around the upstairs of Armani, grateful to be out from under the watchful eye of Mumbles, I began to feel a bit worried by the direction the latest Armani collection was taking. No, worried is the wrong word. I was feeling left behind. All around me were clothes that would look good, but that I wouldn’t ever wear. What is the proper occasion for a grey velvet sport coat? I don’t plan on being in Paris anytime soon. As with most Italian high fashion labels, their shoes were a mix of damn-good-looking and absolutely ridiculous. Of course, they had great suits, but that goes without saying.
The rest of the clothes were all one degree too futuristic for me. I would like to take a minute to explain my comment about Paris. For what ever reason, and no, I can’t explain why, I would not wear the latest Armani collection in Rome or Florence. I would not wear it in London, and I would not wear it in Los Angeles or New York. I wouldn’t wear it in Dubai, and I wouldn’t wear it Miami. The only place I think I could be truly comfortable with these clothes on my back would be in Paris. Once again, I don’t know why, but I’m sure of it. Paris. There are lots of dark grays and blacks and sport coats made out of unexpected fabrics.
There wasn’t anyone else in the Armani store except a few sales clerks and there was no loud techno house lounge dance electrogasm music playing. It was very tranquil. I left feeling centered, like a drunk Buddhist.
Thank God the next store was Hugo Boss. I will tell you all right now that I am biased. I like Hugo Boss. I don’t know why, exactly, I just do. I don’t love everything they make, but in my experience in trying to find good looking, reasonable looking clothes from a designer, I always end up with Boss gear. I walked inside feeling calm from my Armani experience. The first thing I noticed was that there were men’s clothes on the first floor. In fact, there were men’s clothes at the front of the store. The sales staff was slightly suspicious of me, maybe because I was feeling and unfolding everything and sloppily refolding everything I touched and I was moving quickly around the bottom floor, effectively disheveling most of the casual men’s wear. They had nice pants, more than anything else.
Next I went upstairs. That’s where they keep the suits. Why do Hugo boss suits always look better than all others? I don’t know. Why is it that Hugo Boss suits are always on sale, in this case at 50% off. I don’t know. But good things happen when I wear Boss suits. I get jobs and I meet girlfriends in Boss Suits. You may not believe me, but I am in no way being coerced to say these thing.
I was perfectly content to browse the suits myself without interference, but I was quickly intercepted by Chester. He was kind of fat, and black, and he had on a nice suit and shirt and tie that I wouldn’t necessarily chose but looked good on him and he had on a Kangol beret thing on his head. Chester wasn’t going to let me leave with out finding the perfect suit (there were several perfect suits). He kept spreading my arms out and turning me around and putting different jackets on me and completely ignoring my insistence that I was a 40 Regular with slightly longer than average arms. He wouldn’t, or couldn’t accept the fact that I wasn’t a 38. I am in the midsection around the top button (or a 2-button suit) but my shoulders are definitely a 40. I’m ripped. At the fifth suit coat or so I was starting to get dizzy again, and although Chester’s pudgy face was completely adorable, I was getting frustrated. He wouldn’t stop. I told him that I was trying to find a place to buy cigarettes. He ignored me by telling me that this particular jacket was too small in the shoulders.
I made the mistake of telling him that I wasn’t a big fan of pin stripes, which only served to encourage him. I told him I was writing an article and showed him my little yellow notepad and pen and the notes I had been taking and even held up the page where I had scribbled down his name. Thank God my handwriting is terrible or else he would have seen that “kind of fat” and “black” were the two descriptive features I had noted. I held up my notepad like it was a cross to a vampire, and put on the most pathetic pleading face I could manage to get him to stop putting suits on me that I wasn’t going to buy. Eventually he stopped but shoved his card into my hands and I made vague promises about coming in next week to buy the navy blue slim cut suit from the Boss Red Label.
I hit the wall. I had to have a cigarette and I wasn’t about to see if Dolce y Gabanna, Versace, Feragamo, Prada, or whatever else sold cigartettes. I walked the three god damned hot blocks up the 76 at little Santa Monica and Crescent and bought a pack of Newports.