Swimming in Style

Simon Doonan thinks everyone should add a little flourish and eccentricity to their life

Interview by Randy Shulman
Published on January 26, 2012, 6:54am | Comments

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MW: The new book is called Gay Men Don't Get Fat. Have you had any criticism from the bear community over that title?

DOONAN: Well, my book is very bear inclusive. The title is a riff on French Women Don't Get Fat and Real Men Don't Eat Quiche -- it's a little satire on both those titles. And in the book, I make fun of everybody, including gay men. In a way the book title is kind of a skewering of the gay obsession with being trim and kind of striving for some kind of Adonis physique. Any idiot can see that gay men do get fat.

MW: Talk about your own personal sense of style. How has that evolved for you?

DOONAN: In my youth, I was very trendy and used to wear really outrageous things and followed a lot of the more extreme youth trends -- from glam rock to punk to new romantic, I was into all that. Now I have my little look that I do and it's sort of a very sort of '60s Carnaby Street -- it's a little bit of Austin Powers and a little bit of mod and I throw it together. It's basically a uniform. I usually wear a flowery shirt as per the cover of my book with a little mod tie. The look I'm going for is kind of Ray Davies from The Kinks, circa 1966.

MW: Who today typifies style the best?

DOONAN: It's all subjective. I can't go on those shows like Fashion Police -- I'm hopeless at that because I'm not really autocratic at all about anything. If I meet some guy and he's got a mullet and is wearing an Ed Hardy T-shirt, I think it's kind of great and funny and I would say, ''Grow your mullet longer." I think people today who typify style the best are the people who are using it as self-expression. They're not slavishly following trends. They're using it like ''This is who I am, and isn't life a banquet?'' kind of thing, and have a sense of flamboyance and exuberance about it. Obviously, I love people like Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj, people who have a sense of real playful flamboyance that reminds me of Vegas entertainers, like Liberace and Phyllis Diller.

MW: It's interesting that you bring up Lady Gaga and Liberace. While both are flamboyant, I'd argue his was probably more of a studied flamboyance and hers is more unpredictable and creative.

DOONAN: She's explosive, and he had a formula. He was basically embellishing everything with rhinestones and fur and in the style of some kind of Russian tyrant.

MW: You made your name in window display. Is that a dying art form, or is it still important to the urban aesthetic?

DOONAN: I don't think it's ever been an art form and I don't think it's ever been important. And that's why I like it -- because it's profoundly ephemeral and fun. I would never want to be an artist myself. I would find that very sort of burdensome and depressing to be stuck in a studio working in a vacuum. Window display is great because you can do anything. It's unlimited and very democratic -- everybody gets to see it and then if it sucks it doesn't really matter because it's gone in a week or two. That's one of the reasons I stuck with it for so long because it had that sort of completely experimental, ephemeral quality where you didn't have to obsess about anything, you could just sort of fling it in and fling it out. When you write something, it's there forever to haunt you.

There was a guy, actually, named Gene Moore who did the windows at Tiffany's. He somehow elevated window dressing to the level of art. But I never aspired for it to be art. To make something art you really have to want it to be art and go at it from that point of view. Art is supposed to be this pure expression of ideas that comes without a sort of financial mandate or anything like that. I'm more of a designer and street theater lunatic.

MW: You're 60. Are you amazed where we've gotten to in the gay cause? Did you think ever think you'd see such movement on the gay marriage front?

DOONAN: I think it's fantastic. I celebrate all the gay progress. But you know I was fully committed to building a fabulous life with or without the approval of society. And I think many gay people in the last century were doing that, too, living their lives and managing to build a great life without waiting for society to give them a thumbs up.

Now, we have sort of a partial thumbs up and it's great. But when gay marriage is finally legalized ubiquitously, I'm not going to thank anyone except the people who fought for it. I'm not going to say, "Oh thank you for approving of me now, society." I would only thank the people who fought hard to make it happen. Everybody else can go fuck themselves.

Simon Doonan will sign copies of his book on Wednesday, Feb. 1, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the W Washington D.C.'s Altitude Rooftop Ballroom, 515 15th St. NW. His book, Gay Men Don't Get Fat, will be available for purchase at the event. The event is free and open to the public, but RSVPs are recommended. Email .


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