Oh, my God. Simon Doonan.
Many of my early Inquisitr posts were written between celebratory DVRed episodes of the hilarious BBC show based on his teen years, shown on Logo in the US and called Beautiful People. The Fashion Institute of Technology is my alma mater, and one of the few schools in which the craft Doonan elevated to a high-profile art- window dressing- is taught. So it was with immense pleasure (that sounds gross, but I don’t know how else to describe it) and many fangirl shrieks (quietly, to myself, on the train) that I got to sit down and talk actually directly to Simon Doonan in the form of an interview before an also-amazing talk about his new book.
Doonan manages to pull off both a bit of British restraint while not mincing words, and his latest release- titled cheekily Gay Men Don’t Get Fat- is a great example of his signature wit and flourish. What is striking first about Doonan- besides his amazingly chic yet casual attire- is how egalitarian he is about style. (During the talk, he mentioned favoring the “what was she thinking?” spreads in Star magazine over the best dressed looks, because for him, not being your self- your crazy, whack-ass, color clashing self- is the worst fashion crime.)
When pressed about fashion advice for the average woman, Doonan referred to the fact that when he was coming-of-age stylistically, there were no H&Ms or Uniqlos making stylish pieces available for the masses- “we had to wear vintage.” Indeed, Doonan’s past doesn’t overshadow him, but he has a way of touching on weighty matters with grace and in such a way that they’re acknowledged, but not dwelled upon. He casually theorized that the perceived obsession with youth and beauty in gay culture, for instance, stems from a time when gay men were required to project an unshakable image of health, because all their friends were dying. He speaks of growing up in a far grittier Reading than exists today, but in such a way that demonstrates he appreciates every bit of glamor that’s copiously a part of his life with designer Jonathan Adler.
So on to the questions- what did Simon Doonan have to say about a woman and her gays (what he describes as a velvet entourage), how to eat like a gay man and the secrets of style even on a tight budget? Read on…
On his new book Gay Men Don’t Get Fat and its target audience, Doonan says:
“My book is really aimed at women- I think it’s a really complex time to be a woman, because the expectations are kind of extraordinary… You’re expected to look like Angelina Jolie your entire life, you’re expected to be successful professionally like Sumner Redstone, Bethanny Frankel- you know, have a brand and a lifestyle – and pop out millions of children like the old woman in the shoe.”
It is at this point, I totally want to cry and hug Simon Doonan, something that also happened when I read the jacket cover of Wacky Chicks. He continues:
“It used to be women only had to be homemakers, and now they have all these expectations placed on them, including physical perfection. So now I think it’s a good time to share the gay wisdom, because we gays know everything… So I’m sharing my nuggets of gay wisdom, because I think women need a bit of help right now. They need the velvet entourage.”
It’s true. At this point, I brought up Wacky Chicks, and Doonan’s recurring theme of encouraging women to accept themselves, to which he said:
“I’m a humor writer, but I have an underpinning of feminism… I hate it when women are so self-critical, and they’re depressed, and they feel they’re not measuring up to these expectations. And my books, Wacky Chicks, Eccentric Glamour, this one- they’re all about telling people not to give a shit, to have fun, telling people to use fashion as self-expression- not to use fashion as a masochistic, something to beat yourself with… try to use it as self-expression, not to follow trends or be slavishly self-critical.
“My MO is to get people to have fun- and see gay people, you have a bit of a rough start, being gay, you’re someone people hate, as a gay you learn to navigate all sorts of gnarly stuff, and hopefully come out the other end feeling good about yourself. I think we gays have something to teach the world about how to be flamboyant, and fearless, and have fun without being self-critical and I think, you know, women can relate to that.”
I then asked Doonan about his recent piece on Marilyn Monroe, and the notion gay men were attracted to tragic female figures. I mentioned that it is oft-repeated on the internet that Monroe would, were she alive today, be a size 16. Doonan rebutted this misconception in his piece- not only would Monroe not be a size 16, but her outfits didn’t even fit Doonan’s mannequins, Monroe was so tiny. (His advice “stay off those dolls!’ Meaning of course, pills, not dress forms.)
He also describes a collection of effects that were not (unlike Liz Taylor’s recently sold estate items) of much financial worth- Doonan explains:
“[Marilyn] was not really materialistic at all, it was quite touching… as opposed to like, Liz Taylor- I don’t know, Marilyn Monroe didn’t seem interested in that stuff. She was looking more for internal fulfillment, she had a lot of books- she married these intellectual guys, Arthur Miller- she wanted to be around people like that to build what she thought was her voice.”
Following on from the news that perhaps the most revered style icon of the past century wasn’t dripping in diamonds and Dior, I asked Doonan what his advice for women who don’t have the means- or, as he noted, the money- to pull off what they believe may be great style. Doonan rightly pointed out that money is no longer nearly as much as a factor in good style, and he says:
“Well, there’s no- you can buy any look at any price at any time of the day or night on the internet. There are incredible stores, like H&M and Uniqlo… in the 80s, there was nothing, me and my friends wore vintage clothes because there was no Zara, you were shit out of luck if you didn’t have the money.”
Back on the subject of self-flagellation, I asked Doonan about his contention that cleanses were masochistic- he pointed out that they’re often presented with a punishment bent:
“I have friends who do them, and I say, ‘why are you doing that?’ And they say, ‘oh, I’ve been this, I’ve been that…’ Oh and now you have to be penitent…”
At this point, Doonan had to jet with a cheery au chante, as the talk- which was brilliant- was scheduled to begin. If you’d like to read a bit more of Doonan’s wonderfully positive and hilariously spot-on observations and empowering advice, you can pick up a copy of Gay Men Don’t Get Fat, Wacky Chicks, or Nasty: My Family and Other Glamourous Varmints on Amazon. Below, a clip of Doonan talking about the concept of gay and straight food:
[Attendance courtesy of UGG Australia, sponsor of The New York Times Arts & Leisure Weekend; Image Credit: Wellington Lee]