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By James Sherwood
The backlash against Metrosexual Man has begun. In a typical fashion industry volte-face, the waxed, buffed and manicured male body is demode, and the rough, hairy beast is back. Say goodbye to smooth-skinned swains - it's follicularly blessed pin-ups such as Viggo Mortensen, Jude Law and Robbie Williams who are to the fore of the new breed of Retrosexuals.
Retrosexuals reject the implied effeminacy of rigorous personal hygiene in favour of the natural approach that reeks of nothing more than testosterone and Brut. And, frankly, when a man's got smoother legs than his girl, it's high time for macho stereotypes to rear their ugly heads.
After all, you couldn't envisage the fragrant Mr Metrosexual ripping your vest off and shagging you on the landing, could you? It would only ruin his suit.
Peacock-male syndrome may be money in the bank for global beauty conglomerates, but all those alpha males shift the goalposts for their significant others. It has come to a pretty pass when the guy accuses the girlfriend of stealing his moisturiser.
But more to the point - do post-post-feminists really want to date Piltdown Man?
Tom Ford, outgoing creative director of the Gucci Group, certainly wants you to think so, judging by his current advertising campaigns for Yves Saint Laurent perfumes M7 and Rive Gauche Pour Homme, in which his models display chest hair so luxuriant that it could win "Best in Show" at Crufts.
After two decades of smooth-bodied models, the shock of seeing major chest hair on a 16m billboard in Times Square is as shocking as underarm hair displayed in Vogue. "What Tom has done is to give us an extreme example of masculinity," says Mark Evans, head of the Models 1 Men's Division. "It's the antithesis to Freddie Ljungberg's Calvin Klein underwear campaign. Freddie is quite hairy, and they obviously made him shave his chest. It doesn't look natural. The rugged edge is definitely back."
And Tom Ford is not the only one who thinks so. Fendi's current ad campaign has twinned Linda Evangelista with the stubbly, shaggy-maned hottie Brad Kroenig, who wouldn't look out of place in The Lion King.
"It's about designers realising that there has to be some kind of identification with the model if that ad's going to sell," explains Evans. "Five years ago, if you went to a model agency and asked for guys with hairy chests, you'd have had a problem. Not any more."
The move away from the pretty, young androgynous boys was nowhere clearer than at last season's shows. Dolce and Gabbana, Gucci and Burberry sent rougher, slightly older men down the runway.
"The obsession with shaven, boyish models couldn't go any further," says Ashley Heath, director of Arena Homme + magazine. The tide has turned against the gawky, doe-eyed adolescents who populated catwalks and men's fashion bibles. For Spring 2004, the hot male models were slightly boho, with Heathcliff locks and stubble you could sharpen an axe on.
"Instinctively, it's time to move on," says Ashley Heath. "Men aspire to look sexy and successful, and in recent seasons, model casting has been dictated by stylists who want quirky-looking guys. Their idea of an interesting guy is a barman or waiter who looks edgy, so men's fashion is populated by quirky bit- players rather than aspirational role models. The fashion industry forgets that it has got to connect with the public, because it's too busy trying to keep up."
But, as Heath says, the fashion industry never bothers to follow fads when casting ad campaigns and runway shows. Ralph Lauren is too big to dabble with edgy. And other designers who pushed hairless young pups in the past have also realised that you don't sell expensive coats to grown-ups by modelling them on kids who look ill at ease in cashmere.
Edgy makes a great fashion picture, but it doesn't sell schmutter - and that goes for little boys and hairy beasts alike.
Models 1's Evans reports a similar rejection of extremes in the coming season. "Our big four male models this season are all very masculine-looking."
Bruce Santos, this season's Armani campaign model, has what Evans calls "the great body you expect a male model to have", as do Brad Kroenig and Justin Poortinga. "They are definitely men, not boys."
Despite Tom Ford's mischievous endorsement for chest hair in his YSL ad campaigns, the vogue for natural bush isn't quite cutting it at the London male-grooming emporium The Refinery
"There's nothing sexy about a hairy back," says a Refinery therapist, Kim Broomfield. "I don't think women equate body hair with macho anyway. In fact, a lot of my clients tell me that it's their girlfriends who have told them to get rid of their chest hair."
But there is a third way between Neanderthal Man and Freddie Ljungberg, and it's called stealth grooming. A little subtle work rather than full-body waxing is the answer.
And what about the notion of DIY rather than salon treatments? Broomfield is disdainful. "Keep it natural or wax it. Trimmed chest hair feels wiry and only looks silly."
That's telling us. - The Independent