In response to interviewer Charlie Rose's question 'What is fashion?', Editor in Chief of Elle Magazine Robbie Meyers eloquently responded, 'Whenever you talk about fashion, you're talking about women. We all want beauty. Men like to look at women and women like to be looked at. Fundamentally fashion is about love, sex and identity.' I'd posit that, as the head of one of the most powerful commercial magazines in the United States, she's probably on to something. But when, each season, editors and buyers look to the runway, they ultimately look to see how designers are imagining, or re-imagining, the female form. Is she lithe and long? Willowy and svelte? Athletic and robust? Curvaceous and sensual? From season to season, the pendulum swings.
What I, as a gay man, have pondered is why, exactly, is it that homosexual men, in many ways, dictate these ideals? In a multi-billion dollar industry that saturates the zeitgeist so thoroughly, how is it that queer men have taken such absolute power over women's bodies? They seem to understand what women want more than women themselves sometimes do. Why is it that men who have no carnal desire for women, no sexual longing for their bodies, are responsible for making said bodies into appetising sex objects. It's both puzzling and wonderful, contradictory and confusing.
It's easy to tick off the names of major houses with openly gay men at the helm: Yves Saint Laurent, Lanvin, Chanel, Dior, Givenchy, Dolce e Gabbana, Proenza Schouler, Burberry and Balenciaga, to name only a few. I could also ramble on about editors, stylists, hair and make-up artists, journalists and numerous other industry positions that are occupied by gay men. The irony doesn't escape me. I love women. I love being around them and I love to see them happy, and there are few things that bring them more joy than when they feel—know, rather—that they look attractive and that they are desirable.
What is it that predisposes gay men as leaders of this industry, so entwined with the womanly frame? Why are we so intrigued by the ways that women choose to cover, or not cover, their mysterious physiques? How is it that Alber Elbaz, who so notoriously cares foremost for his customer, innately understands how to make women feel more fiercely feminine? How did Tom Ford grasp the underlying eroticism that would ultimately entice women to want to wear Gucci? And how did the great Alexander McQueen so inherently channel the power, strength and romantic intensity that captivated his fans?
Of course, this could be a standard question of nurture versus nature. Perhaps it's biological, seeing as there are specific in-born skills required for a career in fashion design. Perhaps it's a development of the Oedipus complex, a lingering remnant of lustful feelings for a strong maternal presence. I also see it as an extension of the confidante role that many gay men take on in their relationships with women—the sense of joy in celebrating the womanhood of our closest friends, and perhaps a twinge of jealousy of what we, ourselves, will never embody.
I don't know the answer to these questions, but I'm endlessly fascinated by them. And although I think it's interesting, I'm not sure it quite matters. Certain groups of people excel at certain skills, and that's just that. And while, on the crowded streets of New York, it may be the masculine form which ultimately seduces me, its often a perfectly dressed female, confident and oozing sexual appeal, who catches my gaze longest.