Glenn O’Brien Has Plenty Of Advice For Men, Just Wants A Laugh With Kate Moss
Glenn O’Brien has spent the past several years establishing himself as an all-purpose ambassador on the subject of style: As GQ‘s the Style Guy (a career he picked up after being hand-picked by Andy Warhol to art-direct Interview, running his own cable-access show TV Party in the late seventies, manning Barneys’ advertising in the eighties, and briefly returning to Interview as editor in chief), O’Brien has counseled legions of confused gentlemen on the finer points of style and the good life. His new book, How to Be a Man ($24.95, Rizzoliusa.com), finds him dispensing wisdom on subjects ranging from art acquisition to vice. “I wanted to write an essay book, but that’s not easy,” O’Brien said over tuna salad in Noho. “So this is an essay book in disguise.” Style.com checked in with the self-proclaimed dandy on how to be a man, how to be a woman, and how to conquer that pesky inner beast.
You mention that this is an essay book in disguise. How so?
Being a man is such a broad subject that just about anything will fit into it.
And I suppose that plenty already look to you for advice on manly matters.
Yeah—I have that clientele. I think it’s serving my established audience.
What’s your advice to them, in general?
I always counsel diplomacy.
That’s sort of how I’ve always seen you—as a sort of general-purpose diplomat.
That’s what I always say. There aren’t any rules, it’s all about common sense. A lot of people don’t seem to have common sense.
Is common sense in decline, or have people never really had any?
I think it’s in decline because I think parenting is in decline. I think we’re in a period of decadent parenting, where parents stick their kids in front of the TV or the iPad, the video games, and just expect them to raise themselves. Really, I think that’s the best thing that parents can give you, is a sense of practicality and common sense.
Including common sense about fashion, I take it.
I always liked clothes. [But] I feel like maybe my generation had more options. Now they put the kid in the Steelers jersey and that’s it. I think that’s another reason that men look for advice. My generation, you still had a sense of occasion. You’d get dressed up to go to church, or change to go out to dinner, and I think that doesn’t happen as much. There’s this sort of default casual. And instead of men or even people changing for the occasion, the occasions change to allow this mode.
So your message is one of practicality.
I think, actually, the book is an exhortation to express yourself. Let your personality run wild.
Do women have an easier time with that than men?
Yes, I think women are still kind of given a sense of occasion, and wearing something for the occasion. Maybe people are more worried about their daughters, so they give them a little more counsel.
Who interests you in fashion?
I’m a big fan of Thom Browne. I can’t really wear his suits; they don’t fit me right. The pants don’t fit. But I like the aesthetic. I just think that what he did was kind of subversive. It was a huge influence, and he didn’t really profit from it the way that Armani profited from his influence. Everybody started imitating him.
And for women?
I think Marni is kind of interesting. I think that [Consuelo Castiglioni’s] approach is very much like an artist. With the prints and the color combining and pattern combining, I think it’s kind of bohemian in a way. Prada is kind of like that. It’s classical and rebellious at the same time.
Classical and rebellious—is that your preferred style for women?
I like women that have their own thing, that don’t change fashion so much. Like, I love the way that Lauren Hutton looks. There’s always something that’s really wrong that’s really working with Lauren. And she has great stuff. She puts it together in this kind of wacky way.
Tell me about the illustration on the book’s cover: A Jean-Philippe Delhomme illustration of a man in suit and tie and boxing glove sipping a glass of wine on top of a bear. Looks like he’s just delivered the knockout punch.
This is the man who’s conquered his inner beast.
Seems to have conquered the outer one, too. Is that struggle a particularly male one?
Traditionally, it’s the male role.
Women start tame and end tamer?
No, women are less tame than men… I think generally women are more in touch with their emotions; they’re less repressed. Men are always telling you to suck it up and shut up.
Whereas women tend to explain. In fact, I was struck by something Kate Moss said about you: “If more men read Glenn O’Brien, women would have a lot less explaining to do.” What are they explaining?
That whole side of the brain that deals with the unconscious mind. The id. Men are supposed to be doing business and being logical, and culture is always thought of as the thing that the wife took care of. So in a way, it’s really culture.
And what needs to be explained to them? What, say, would you explain to Kate?
Oh, we’d just have a laugh. I wouldn’t explain anything to Kate. The funny thing about Kate is, [that] I think people don’t realize…Why is she so popular? Part of it is how she looks, but she’s the consummate professional model. She loves it, and she works harder than anybody. So I think Kate knows how things work. I think a lot of women…we still live in a culture of women living off men, the Real Housewives phenomenon. Some women need to have it explained how to make your way in the world as an independent person, I think. As much as women’s liberation was supposed to accomplish all that, I think it really hasn’t. We still live in a world where bimbo-ism is encouraged.