For men, style cues from mainstream publications are few and far between. Trend spotting and glossy advertorial spreads are not the same as reading in-depth prose about how to actually wear staple attire, or say, distinguish between tweeds.
A new lecture at New York's Fashion Institute of Technology looks at M, a magazine that broke new ground in menswear fashion and lifestyle reporting during the 1980s. Presented by John Tinseth, author of The TRAD, a men's style blog often heralded for its cheeky and brutally honest approach to style coverage; the discussion also brings attention to the release of Tinseth's new book, M: The Civilized Years, 1983-1989.
"I bought my first one [M magazine] when I moved to New York City right after college in 1984… as a park ranger I didn't make a lot of money, so literally, I was working down my budget down to magazines," recalls Tinseth. After a chance encounter and subsequent interview with Robert Bryan, the former editor of M, Tinseth began toying more with the idea of creating a book. "I always thought someone should do a book about the best of M, because really, for me, none of it was dated. It just was as fresh, and it just has as much to say today as it did 25 years ago."
M was forced to fold in 1992, during the recession of the early-1990s, and its demise created a void in menswear reporting that has yet to be filled. "You cannot hold up an Esquire magazine or a GQ magazine from the same period - 1984, 1985 - without them looking pretty silly," asserts Tinseth.
M did not cater to trends. Its prose and photography captured the lifestyle of New York's high society and wove together stories of menswear pieces seamlessly. Readers were not only invited to experience a world of refinement, but were told how they too could gain entry.
New York City in the 1980s was a very different kind of urban jungle than it is today. Untamed and vulgar, it was a landscape where being flashy was communicated across all social strata. It didn't matter if you were a Wall Street trader or a street hustler, clothing and lifestyle was how you shouted at the top of your lungs without saying a word. Being noticed meant that you mattered.
In the midst of the wild, M captured the quiet murmurs of elegance - groundbreaking designers who used understated style to combat the vanities of extreme decadence. Readers would learn from the likes of Perry Ellis, Paul Stuart and Mariano Rubinacci. Luxury was not the label you wore, but the craftsmanship behind it. And it was this logic that Tinseth says he set out to capture. "The Internet helps you get things immediately whatever they are… back then you really had to track things down and in a lot of ways it was the hunt and that's what I kind of write about in some of these chapters."
Fashion writer and editor Bruce G. Boyer believes that part of what made M so special was its lack of pretentiousness. "The people who did M magazine… had just a very high level of taste and a broad knowledge and understanding of the world… they never talked down, they never simplified for their readers, they really educated them on a very high level…I can't help but think that the magazines of today simply pander to the lowest common denominator of their readers. I just can't get it through my head that doing a dozen-paged fashion layout of distressed jeans and t-shirts… constitutes a high-level of taste."
The culture of menswear reporting is strongly tied to market forces. The fashion industry largely caters to women, routinely dishing out buffets of information season after season. Meanwhile male consumers are often forced to make-do with a prix fixe menu; one plate, limited versatility and very little customer service - or as Boyer explains, a desire to genuinely inform and educate readers. "I've covered the top end of the market for years … and the fact is that it's getting harder and harder to find good tailors and good shoemakers … and to make matters worse … the fashion press does not seem to care about educating its readers anymore … magazines are now so much in bed with their advertisers that it's the advertisers they want to please. They are no longer really interested in educating or helping their readers at all. The only place where I see this is in Japanese fashion magazines."
Professor Marc-Evan Blackman, chairperson of FIT's menswear department, agrees and points to the impact of digital marketing trends. "There was no online anything when I was getting started. The venues were clearly defined … and there were certain very controlled, specific approaches in terms of getting work in a publication … much of that old world sensibility and waiting your turn patronage really has been thrown out the window…simply because there are so many young people publicising themselves and finding out new ways of getting the word out… back in the day you would have 40,000 [dollars] for an advertising budget and you would have three pages for press here and three pages for press there. And hope that the magazine would pick up your work. All bets are off now."
Blackman also believes that the culture of menswear reporting has evolved to a point where designers, bloggers and editors work to curate collections, sizing and shaping modes of wear together - a love/hate relationship, where all players need one another. But with too many cooks stirring the pot, the message and vision behind a particular style often gets lost in translation.
And it is for this reason, Blackman believes that fashion writers play a critical role in educating male consumers. "It's hard to get a melding of the minds sometimes, so that both parties are equally happy with the end result. But I do feel that every designer appreciates working with any type of publication when it's done openly … with a sense of transparency and with a person from the publication who has a heightened vision. Because often times they will see something in a design or ways of presenting a design, in a manner that the designer never even thought of. And at that point it's a win-win."
In the same respect, Tinseth's book aims to work as a carefully tailored collection, highlighting key moments in M's history, and the people who shaped it. Style advice from the likes of Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein are paired with vivid photographs and adverts. In each chapter, Tinseth recounts personal experiences and relationship to each issues featured. "I wanted to somehow take the best of the magazine … because this is a hard magazine to find nowadays. And not many people are going to get a chance to see it. I wanted to create something that perhaps a young man today could grab the book and be as influenced as I was."
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