February 19, 2010

The men's figure skating in Vancouver became a remarkable fashion event, in some ways overshadowing the Paris couture and the ready-to-wear shows last week in New York. Never, outside of the Ballets Trockadero, have athletic males dressed wilder, crazier or with more operatic glitz to perform their pirouettes and feats of gold. Apollo in Feathers was suddenly vastly more interesting than Venus in Furs.

Each time a man stepped onto the ice a kind of fashion history was being made, not always in the positive sense. From Johnny Weir's strange feathered fantasies to Evan Lysacek's jeweled-snake costume, with Star Trek shoulder fins, for his gold-medal long program, we entered new territory -- not so much the prim tuxedoed world of Dick Button but the kitschy crystal realm of Wladziu Liberace.

Several men seemed to be vying for the legendary status of the Chad Michael-Michael character played by Will Ferrell in Blades of Glory -- the only skater to have won four national championships and an adult film award. As videos of the routines and costumes quickly went viral online, the terms "male cleavage" and "glute cleavage" unfortunately entered public discourse.

Some of the men's costumes, of course, were tacky almost beyond belief: Italian skater Samuel Contesti's flannel shirt and overalls, complete with patches and grease spots (and a J. Geils Band score) -- a bizarre L'il Abner on ice; the rhinestone skeleton print worn by Belgian Kevin van der Perren; the snakeskin-print shirt and faded denim trousers on Japan's Takahiko Kozuka; and lastly, most regrettably Swiss skater Stephane Lambiel's Burberry plaid trousers with Burberry trompe l'oeil suspenders printed ... on ... his ... white ... T-shirt.

These fashion crimes were so international that it would not be enough to call the Fashion Police. One would have to contact Interpol.

And everywhere you looked there were feathers -- as trims on sleeves and cuffs, as shoulder details, as adornment for the hands.

After watching the male skaters compete in their tight-fitting sequined and feathered costumes, ex-Spice Girl Victoria Beckham, who is married to soccer star David Beckham, sniffed on The View, "I wear the feathers in our relationship."

Actually, it would have been more provocative for her to say that she wields them. In any case, since the scoring of figure skating has become incredibly arcane, with technical factors outweighing style points, the male skaters seemed to be obsessed with expressing themselves on ice. They were all aflutter, like birds.

Some outfits were beautifully rendered, for example, Lysacek's short-program feathered black suit, like a cocktail dress by Badgley-Mischka, perfectly fitted and adorned, in a sort of understated, but over-the-top-for-a-man kind of way. A skater of exceptional poise and grace, Lysacek in his black body suit, feathered gloves, black vampire hair and dark, man-tan visage seemed like an elegant raven. The clothes, which obviously had to have been hand made, were in the tradition of ballet and opera costume, not to mention the haute couture.

For the silver medalist, Evgeni Plushenko, the Nureyev of figure skating (to Lysacek's Baryshnikov), the preferred look was a variation on a toreador's jacket, or bolero, actually a skin-tight, heavily rhinestoned body suit. In his short program, the bullfighter effect was enhanced by his choice of music -- Concerto de Aranguez by Rodrigo -- but somewhat lessened by the mullet-style shag hairdo.

There is something amusing about the words "beaded bolero," in any context. When such a garment is worn by a man other than your server at the Russian Tea Room or a lion tamer at a Las Vegas hotel, the comic effect is multiplied.

Thene plus ultra of men's sartorial expression on ice is Johnny Weir, a U.S. skater who speaks Russian, has a Russian coach and favors both feathers and fur. His fawnlike, ultra-femme sensibility, equal parts Brighton Beach and far (far) West Village, was reflected in his short-program corset costume, with pink front lacing and shoulder tassels.

Weir's eerie style no doubt delighted millions of "emo" kids all over the globe. But Sonja Henie was probably doing triple axels in her grave.

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