Everything I know about light, I learned from my friend Fabrizio Ferri.
Fabrizio is a photographer known for doing with shadow & light what the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer did with pigments & a brush. He paints to exquisite effect.
Courtesy Fabrizio Ferri

Fabrizio’s favorite place to shoot is the desert because the dry, hot climate renders a clean, sharp light. Likewise, as the weather turns crisp in New York, the sun sits lower in the sky and a drop in humidity heralds the coming of fall– one of the things I’ve come to appreciate in this urban landscape is the way contrasts are sharper and shadows are blacker now than they have been all summer.
Still, for all my fascination with black & white palettes– now that fall is in the air my fashionista friends are all over the other end of the spectrum: as in “What will the hottest colors be this autumn?” And when it comes to matters of style, my go-to guy is Freddie Leiba. 

A front-row habitué of couture and ready-to-wear runways in New York, Paris, Milan and London for over 25 years, Freddie is also the go-to guru for A-listers like Beyoncé, Madonna and Elizabeth Hurley when they need a stylist to help put their best stilettos forward. Glossy magazines including Vanity FairEssence and InStyle routinely turn to Freddie to keep their pages fresh, clean and current. So when he told me the must have colors for fall would be “bright red, cobalt blue, berry, plum and violet” this year, I took him at his word and spread the gospel– because Freddie is to fashion what Fabrizio is to photography: a savant.
And yet, for all of his credibility and expertise when it comes to making other people look fantastic, I already know Freddie’s message will be lost on half the population.
Can you imagine a world where stags kept their antlers trimmed high and tight to avoid standing out; peacocks dyed their feathers brown to blend in; and the king of the jungle wore his mane in a bun to discourage admiring glances? 
I can. Because this is exactly how their domesticated human counterparts comport themselves. Even in style capitals where terms like Fashion Week have moved from insider lexicon to everyday speak, the human male is all to happy to play the role of Fashion Weakling.
I was shopping at Century 21 in lower Manhattan last weekend when I overheard the following exchange between a little boy and his father in the men’s department:
“Daddy, is this for a boy or a girl?”
“That’s for a boy, Sweetheart.”
“But it’s… pink.”
“I know, but there are some men who like to wear pink ties.”
If the child’s expression indicated what he thought about men wearing pink I missed it because I was determined to keep my eyes trained straight ahead while pretending to mind my own beeswax. Which I never do. Which is why no more than two seconds passed before I felt my head spontaneously swivel to left and heard myself asking the dad if he’d ever considered wearing a pink tie.
A shy smile spread across his face as he said: “No, I work in Washington, DC and they’re really… you know… (indicating “straight & narrow” with his hand gestures) down there.
“Most men would love to break out of that box,” came my unsolicited advice. “But they need someone else to take the lead. You should be the pace car and set the trend in your office. You’d look great in pink! Why be a follower when you can be a leader?”
For all his southern gentlemanly manners, I could tell Daddy-O was not having it. After giving me a look that said “You wouldn’t understand,” he sweetly allowed me to snap a picture of himself and his Mini-Me as they returned to the task at hand.
Courtesy Gail O’Neill

I often wonder if there’s a biological imperative behind the human male’s aversion to standing out on a sartorial plane.
And, to some degree, I can see how women like me are part of the problem. 
I once had a friend who broke up with her boyfriend because his grooming products took up a disproportionate amount of shelf space in their shared bathroom. Ingrid was a lean, long-limbed, all-natural beauty who only needed shampoo, conditioner and some lip balm to get ‘er done, as Larry the Cable Guy might say. While her Dandy Lion, a male model, possessed enough creams, gels, tonics, toners, lotions and potions to supply a cosmetics counter at Saks. Ultimately, the deal breakers were his concealer and eyeliner pencil (…no, she was not dating the Artist Formerly Known as Prince…). And while it’s hard to say if he even noticed that she was gone, I was in full support of Ingrid’s decision to pull the plug on the relationship with her 90’s incarnation of Narcissus.
Nobody likes the dude whose favorite sight is his own reflection. But the average guy could afford to be more like his brethren in the animal kingdom, flaunt whatever he’s working with and consider upping the bling quotient to reduce the blah quotient.
Like this… 
Courtesy Gilles Bensimon
Too much?
OK. I was just messing with you.
But what about this?
Courtesy Gilles Bensimon

Too Keith Richards?
I hear you…
…we can’t all be rock stars, can we?
But can you get with this look?
Courtesy Gilles Bensimon
I thought so!
Adding color to more traditional wardrobe staples is one way men can stand out without looking like they’re trying too hard. And there is no quicker way of putting a pep in your step without having to make a Starbucks run or downing a can of Red Bull. 
My friend, David Goodrowe, an Aesthetic Identity Designer http://www.goodrowehobby.com/ based in Atlanta, is as passionate on the topic as he is discerning when selecting just the right tones to make his day. These days, he has a thing for yellow– from his VW Beetle named Sunny to the lemony beads he incorporates when making bracelets in his spare time– and David believes the fever is catching. 
Courtesy David Goodrowe
“I think all of the color in the Olympics, especially all of the fabulous yellow shoes in Track & Field were great, and men  are now taking more notice of color.” 
A creative by nature and profession, David’s motto is, “Why blend in when you can stand out?” And while his tribal chic accessories won’t necessarily raise any eyebrows in his industry, the majority of men in more conservative settings wouldn’t dare experiment with the look for fear of what other men might think. 
And that’s a real pity, because as the picture below demonstrates, there is nothing about beading which inherently undermines a man’s masculinity. 
 
Is there?
The color pink is another taboo tone for men, mostly because it’s been co-opted by girls from cradle-to-grave. Whether the dominant color in a nursery, the must-have hue for budding princesses– and all those scary princess-themed appurtenances that are making a post-feminist comeback– or the popularity of blush-toned diamonds for engagement rings: nothing says “I love being a girl!” more than pink. 
But when a man has the cojones to rock that color with swagger, is there anything sexier?
Courtesy Gilles Bensimon

¡Claro que no, Papi!
Of course, the other great reason to embrace color is to enhance the view of everyone proximate to you, as does Nicholas.


Courtesy Gail O’Neill

Nicholas and I crossed paths on an Uptown E train near Wall Street and his colorful ensemble brightened my day. He also managed to do the damn near impossible and brighten that grimy subway car. Which is about the kindest thing one strap hanger can do for another while riding the rails.

But what if you’re better suited to be an Undercover Brothers? One of those men who appears perfectly tame on top, while taking a walk on the wild side down below?

Well… you could follow the lead of the hippest salesman I have ever met and represent your clan in an understated kilt.

Courtesy Gail O’Neill

I did a double-take when I spotted Ray Bowen roaming the aisles of Home Depot in Midtown Atlanta and knew I’d regret it later if I didn’t ask for a picture. I love Ray’s look not only for the originality and confidence it belies about his character; but the great pop of color his apron gives while doing double-duty as a sporran is absolutely genius!

Naturally, I was dying to ask the million-dollar question– but even I have my limits.

Then again, if you’re dying to know what Home Depot’s policy is on, shall we say, foundation garments for menfolk– and aren’t too afraid to ask– you can always check in with Ray at Invictus Forge http://www.invictusforge.com/  where he is a blacksmith and an artist.

Courtesy Ray Bowen

Then get back to me.

Please.

Not man enough to follow in the fine tradition of Ray and his peeps in the Scottish Highlands?

Then why not get jiggy with your socks?


Courtesy Gail O’Neill

I was seated next to a handsome dinner companion, Paul, at a mutual friends birthday party this summer, but only had eyes for his fancy footwork once I noticed the blast of color and play on patterns orbiting his ankles. In this case, I wasn’t too shy to ask, and was rewarded with a full monty of the Robert Graham socks http://www.robertgraham.us/shopmen/accessories/hosiery.html  Pau’ls wife Rima bought for him.

To this day I can’t think of Paul without picturing those funky stripes and smiling.

The same goes for this dapper, Atlanta-based salesman who recently helped me at Nordstrom. Clearly one who put as much thought into the upper half of his appearance as he did the lower…

Courtesy Gail O’Neill
… it was his sock garter gave me the vapors.

Courtesy Gail O’Neill

Which is not to say that I have some fetish for men in support hose, but the element of surprise in any outfit is absolutely irresistible to my eye.
And that’s why I fell in love with this duo the moment I spotted them crossing West 72nd Street on a motorcycle.  
“You guys are adorable!” I bellowed as they rolled into view. To which the biker responded “Yeah, me and Captain go together pretty good.” 
Indeed they do.
Sure, he was sporting the typical man-palette of gray-to-black, but I think any guy who would take the time to accessorize his best friend in a pair of aviator goggles and a shearling throw deserves an A+ for effort. 
And making an effort is, ultimately, what separates the men from the Fashion Weaklings… in any light.

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