Written by Buzz Bissinger and Originally Published in GQ Magazine in April 2013
An envelope waits when I arrive at the Park Hyatt hotel in Milan. It is very precious. A bellman comes to my room to give it to me by hand. Inside is an invitation the size of a billboard in gold embossed letters:
GUCCI MONDAY JANUARY 14th AT 12:30 PM FALL WINTER 2013-2014 MEN'S COLLECTION PIAZZA OBERDAN 2/B MILAN
When I look at it, holding it with two hands, of course, because of its weight, I am struck by the incongruity of how I ended up here. It isn't every day that a journalist who majors in writing about the culture of sports in America, with a minor in the cult of high school football as an outgrowth of my 1990 book, Friday Night Lights, gets an invitation like this.
My seat assignment is A3, in the front row. Celebrities get the front row. The fashion editors of Vogue and Women's Wear Daily and The New York Times get the front row. I am a FROW, not that I knew what the term meant before now, but I am fucking FROWING. Fifty-eight-year-old men who live in the nation's capital of fashion dreariness, Philadelphia, where wearing a striped tie with a striped shirt to a cocktail party causes Main Line doyennes to whisper "the horror, the horror" in between the third and fourth martinis and little nibbles on saltines with Velveeta served on silver trays, do not get the FROW.
But I am not here because of my particular journalistic qualifications. I am here as a private client of Gucci, one of five pampered and feted on an all-expenses-paid four-day trip to Milan and Florence. Business class on Alitalia Flight 605 from JFK to Malpensa on January 12. Private pickup to the Park Hyatt Milan, where the concierge has been clearly prepped before our arrival, calling me Mr. Bissinger with better pronunciation and far more enthusiasm than my friends. Gucci employees everywhere, like secret agents without the whole talking-wrist ritual. The fashion show with the presentation of the men's 2013-14 autumn/winter collection. A guests-only presentation at the Gucci showroom with champagne, way too much champagne. A sumptuous dinner with an unrestricted view of the Duomo, which shimmered with golden light in the shadows of the chilly night. A fitting the next day for a made-to-measure suit and shoes and shirt at the Gucci store. On to Florence and the Four Seasons. The Gucci Museo for a private tour of the retailer's legacy and then dinner. Then, on the final day, Gucci Casellina, where I am shown trade secrets that will get me lowered permanently into the Arno if ever revealed. And let's not forget the gifts waiting in each hotel room: chocolates stamped with the iconic interlocking GG insignia, a crocodile credit card holder, a crocodile wallet, and a tie.
There are other clients coveted and important to the retailer, who will also get the royal Gucci treatment. We five got lucky. We are Team Gucci, with representation from Argentina, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States. We are for the moment Gucci Olympians who have spent Olympian sums and will presumably spend Olympian sums during the week.
I believe I qualify.
God, do I fucking qualify.
Before I left, I promised my wife I would be restrained. She is very concerned, because she knows what can happen. But inches from the runway, waiting for the smooth mannequin boys with surgically removed hips and buttocks swaying like sunglassed Gumbys with the newest designs from creative director Frida Giannini, I know the promise is useless.
I have an addiction. It isn't drugs or gambling: I get to keep what I use after I use it. But there are similarities: the futile feeding of the bottomless beast and the unavoidable psychological implications, the immediate hit of the new that feels like an orgasm and the inevitable coming-down.
It started three years ago. I have never fully revealed it, and am only revealing it now in the hopes that my confession will incite a remission and perhaps help others of similar compulsion. If all I buy is Gucci, I will be fine. It has taken a while to figure out what works and what doesn't work, but Gucci men's clothing best represents who I want to be and have become—rocker, edgy, tight, bad boy, hip, stylish, flamboyant, unafraid, raging against the conformity that submerges us into boredom and blandness and the sexless saggy sackcloths that most men walk around in like zombies without the cinematic excitement of engorging flesh.
I own eighty-one leather jackets, seventy-five pairs of boots, forty-one pairs of leather pants, thirty-two pairs of haute couture jeans, ten evening jackets, and 115 pairs of leather gloves. Those who conclude from this that I have a leather fetish, an extreme leather fetish, get a grand prize of zero. And those who are familiar with my choices will sign affidavits attesting to the fact that I wear leather every day. The self-expression feels glorious, an indispensable part of me. As a stranger said after admiring my look in a Gucci burgundy jacquard velvet jacket and a Burberry black patent leather trench, "You don't give a fuck."
I don't. I finally don't.
Some of the clothing is men's. Some is women's. I make no distinction. Men's fashion is catching up, with high-end retailers such as Gucci and Burberry and Versace finally honoring us. But women's fashion is still infinitely more interesting and has an unfair monopoly on feeling sexy, and if the clothing you wear makes you feel the way you want to feel, liberated and alive, then fucking wear it. The opposite, to repress yourself as I did for the first fifty-five years of my life, is the worst price of all to pay. The United States is a country that has raged against enlightenment since 1776; puritanism, the guiding lantern, has cast its withering judgment on anything outside the narrow societal mainstream. Think it's easy to be different in America? Try something as benign as wearing stretch leather leggings or knee-high boots if you are a man.
The most expensive leather jacket I own, a Gucci ostrich skin, cost $13,900. The most expensive evening jacket I own, also from Gucci, black napa leather with gold threading, cost $9,800. The most expensive leather pants, $5,600. The most expensive jeans, $2,500. The most expensive pair of boots, $2,600. The most expensive pair of gloves, $1,015. Gucci by far makes up the highest percentage of my collection. The Gucci brand has always held special power for me, ever since the 1960s, when the Gucci loafer with the horsebit hardware was the rage, and my father, who fancied himself as being anti-status when he secretly loved it, broke down and bought a pair. Followed by my mother's purchase of the famous Jackie O. shoulder bag. As a 13-year-old, I circled the old store on Fifth Avenue several times before getting up the courage to go in and buy a Gucci wallet covered with the insignia.
I own forty-three pieces of Gucci—twelve leather jackets, six evening jackets, five pairs of pants, six pairs of boots, four shirts, seven pairs of gloves, and three scarves. I own items from Acne, Affliction, Alexander McQueen, Alexander Wang, Balmain, Band of Outsiders, Belstaff, Bottega Veneta, Brooks Brothers, Burberry, Chanel, Charles David, Diane von Furstenberg, Helmut Lang, Ines, Jan Hilmer, J.Crew, Jimmy Choo, Jitrois, Jos. A. Bank, Joseph, Junker Designs, Loewe, Lucchese, Marc Jacobs, Mr. S Leather, Nike, Northbound Leather, Prada, Rag & Bone, Ralph Lauren, Roberto Cavalli, Saint Laurent, 7 For All Mankind, Thomas Wylde, Valentino, Versace, and Wesco. I also have had several pieces custom-made for me by an amazing designer named Carla Dawn Behrle, who specializes in leather; they're worth every penny and more, given her fastidiousness and attention to detail. I apologize to those letters of the alphabet I have not gotten to yet. Zara, don't give up hope.
I keep meticulous track of my finances on my computer. Most of the categories of spending are under relative control. Except for the category of clothing, which goes on for nearly eight pages in very tiny type.
It wasn't until the preparation of this story that I actually took a detailed look at the items I have purchased from 2010 through 2012. I was afraid, quite candidly, although a total of a quarter of a million dollars would not have fazed me.
I was somewhat off:
I am not thinking about my addiction now in A3, except for the latest vow that this will be my last hurrah of spending, the typical bullshit that all addicts use to feed the beast. Just one more time and that's it.
I like turning around and seeing the poor lost souls in the gulag of the higher rows. I hope they hate me, chattering chipmunks trying to figure out who the fuck is this poseur, or however it's said in Fashion Italian. Then again, I don't see them dressed to kill, in an $8,000 Gucci pony-hair jacket that no one else in the U.S. has and wax-coated black jeans, shiny and sheeny and sizzling.
I see the collection, and the pheromones of hot clothing defeat the part of the brain that rations rationality—there is the deliciousness of desire overcoming, shall we simply say, overdoing it. I have to have it. I don't have to have it. I need it. I don't need it. I can afford it. I can't afford it. It is the cycle familiar to anyone who fetishizes high fashion. Still looking around at the crowd, noticing across the runway at least twenty-five attendees from China, the Wild West for high fashion, I feel the insecure contradiction of pride and self-doubt. I look good. I do belong, but briefs from Jockey are taking away a little edge: At least no one can see them. Everything else I am wearing—the jacket, the pants, the scarf, the boots—has been chosen in careful consultation with my sales associate at the Gucci flagship store in New York, whom I think of as the Divine Stylist, except for the Jockey shorts. I went out on a limb and chose those all by myself: I should have gone with Calvin Klein or nothing at all. My God, what was I thinking?
Before the trip, the Divine Stylist and I sent pictures back and forth to make sure everything coordinates. Given my worship of beautiful clothing, she has more impact on my life than anyone, with the exception of my therapist and my family. She has been my sartorial shrink, honing my style, putting all the components together. She knows what I like, even when I initially say I don't like it. Before I started shopping with her at Gucci, I could count on one finger the number of compliments I got from strangers on what I was wearing. Now I get dozens, 99 percent of them from women and gays and African-Americans who appreciate go-for-it style. No wonder male heterosexual whites are aimed toward obsolescence, boring the rest of us to death.
One model goes up the runway as another model comes back down, with an intersection somewhere near the midpoint. It is tricky for the uninitiated, whether to look up the runway or down, whether to concentrate on one model or both. The music is on and loud, and a narrow band of lights flash on and off. The collection whizzes by in my first-time-FROW confusion, only little bits and pieces of what may be promising.
Later that day, Team Gucci, as well as some other guests, are given a private preview of the collection at the Gucci showroom in Milan, months before it will actually hit the stores. Because these are runway pieces, some may never hit the stores. In the best tradition of a fashion model, I have changed for the event: I'm now wearing a pair of black jeans, below-the-knee black equestrian Gucci boots, and the Gucci evening jacket of leather and gold threading. Even the chief executive officer of Gucci, Patrizio di Marco, is impressed by my fashion daring. I'd never looked at the price tag for the evening jacket. I rarely do.
It is all part of the "Mr. Big" mentality, the waters parting when I walk into the New York store on Fifth Avenue and 56th, the smile of the normally very depressed security guard at the front who knows where I am heading, up the sleek stairs to the temple of the men's department on the second floor, an ooze of sensual darkness in the gauzy lights. The other sales associates know who I am; I hear reverent whispers of "Mr. Bissinger." The Divine Stylist, born in Iran and given her wonderfully fiery temperament, would do a sushi on them if they gave any remote indication of encroachment. The clothes hang like fantastic sex toys, but at this point I no longer bother with that. I am taken to a space at the back, away from the scrum that buys sunglasses and sneakers with the GG logo. I sit on a couch and sip prosecco in a fluted glass while the Divine Stylist gathers up clothing she thinks I might like or items we have already discussed (she immediately texts me with a picture whenever something hot comes in). Much of the time I don't come into the store at all, and clothing is delivered to my home. "You got two big boxes," my wife says. "I'm going to send most of it back," I say.
She knows. I know.
Back in Italy, the Milan collection hangs from racks on all three sides of the room. It's like Indiana Jones finally finding the Holy Grail, even though it was only three days ago that I bought the pony-hair jacket. But I am trying to be logical and systematic, resisting impulse, carefully going down each row to get a sense of what I might like. I see a black leather biker jacket I know I must have, even though I already own roughly fifteen jackets of similar style. But the leather is unlike any I have ever touched—and trust me, I have touched a lot—butter rich, with that irresistible gleam that can light up any night.
"Done," I say to my chaperone for the trip, the area assistant manager for men's ready-to-wear at the Fifth Avenue store. She is the Perfect Shadow, smart and tasteful but never forcing an item of clothing upon me. The Perfect Shadow has been carefully briefed by the Divine Stylist about my tastes. I don't ask about the price of the motorcycle jacket. The needle is in.
I see a pair of tight equestrian-style pants that will go well with the jacket. Done. I see a twill evening jacket with tuxedo lapels, different from anything I have, cut short in the style of the collection. Done. I see two sweaters, one black and one brown, with beautiful handsewn patterns that will soften my usual hard edge. Done. But some restraint is settling in.
I see a crinkled leather jacket with a shearling collar. I try it once, then twice. It is growing on me, a sexy blend of masculine and feminine, but I beg off. The same with a coat made of Persian lamb's wool that is probably the most spectacular piece of the collection. I want it, but I am not wearing the right clothes to get any feel for it. (It isn't until I am back in Philadelphia that I buy it; it costs $22,500, a new Gucci record for me.)
Then I see a leather jacket of red burgundy with gold military buttons. It goes to the waist. I like it, but it isn't quite distinctive enough. Something is missing, until I muse to the Perfect Shadow how great it would look if it could be lengthened into a full leather coat just above the knee, almost duster-style.
"We can do that. I'll make sure we can do that."
Nobody knows the price of the leather coat yet, since it falls in the custom-made category. I breathe in. I breathe out. It is too beautiful.
"I'll take it."
The approximate amount I spent on the four-day trip is $51,000. That is equivalent to roughly a full year's tuition at my son's college, Kenyon. I think about that. The self-indulgence is obvious. But it is my money, and I have paid his tuition for four years so he will not be saddled with any loans when he graduates this spring. None of which is really the point, anyway:
I can't resist for the very reason I can't resist.
As any addict knows, impulsivity is the meal ticket of addiction. The more you do it, the more you do it. Mine coincided with the boom in online purchasing and increasingly sophisticated websites. Up until 2010 or thereabouts, there was a leather jacket here and a pair of leather pants there, a modest collection worn sporadically. My everyday style was basically the same as it had been growing up, khakis from J.Crew and blazers and shirts from Brooks Brothers and Hickey Freeman and Jos. A. Bank. There was a phase in my life in the mid-1980s, after a year at Harvard on a journalism fellowship, that I took to wearing bow ties. They perfectly suited me at the time for the way I felt, scholarly and cerebral. Despite obvious longing, I did not buy my first leather jacket until the mid-1990s when I was 40.
If there was a precipitating event for drastic change, it took place in the late summer and fall of 2009 with the departure of two of the most precious people in my life. My wife, Lisa, left to take a job as an administrator at New York University Abu Dhabi. My youngest son went off to Kenyon. I no longer felt like much of a husband; the 7,000-mile distance from Philadelphia to the United Arab Emirates hardly lent itself to weekend pop-ins. I also lost the one element of my life that had always sustained me and been constant, the raising of my three children. I felt alone. I was alone. Life with anchors keeps you moored. Life without anchors keeps you adrift, which eventually leads to some kind of trouble. Add in a life of extreme repression, and explosion is inevitable. Or maybe it's implosion.
I am also a writer. I crave stimulation. I need it to create, to survive. Without it I feel dead, useless, overcome by the worst anxiety of all, nothingness, dead man walking. There was a time earlier in my life when I loved to write, the same feeling of orgasm that I now get with clothing. But in my mid-fifties the words were harder to find, the excuses to fuck around more pronounced, the anxiety multiplied that whatever I was working on would never reach the dizzying heights of Friday Night Lights. It had been my first book, written nearly twenty years earlier when I was 35—2 million copies sold, a film, a television series.
I began to dread the process, nothing ever good enough, the thoughts in my brain never quite finding the page, the withering negativity that had always been my guidepost in life only more withering. I fucked around more and more—nasty guillotine rants on Twitter going after everything and everyone, Googling my name six or seven times a day, craving crumbs of attention.
Then I started looking at clothing, hot and beautiful and transformative, a new sense of self-expression that I finally had the courage to realize. I hated khaki pants. Clothing became the stimulation and attention I craved.
I began to buy, as silly an understatement as somebody drinking a quart of vodka a day and insisting that he or she is not an alcoholic. Clothing became my shot glass, another round, Net-a-Porter. But too often hits wear off, and the laws of supply and demand for an addict are pretty simple: You replenish. And replenish. And replenish. You fool yourself at certain times into thinking that's it and you have quenched the beast. But the beast is never conquered, and you don't really want to conquer the beast anyway, until there is disaster. I wasn't mainlining heroin, just impossibly gorgeous leather jackets and coats and boots and gloves and evening jackets. I wasn't harming myself or anyone else. I was spending enormous amounts of money, but because I make a good living and received a generous inheritance from my parents, there was no threat of going broke. My wife and children never lacked for anything. Plus, I was a person of enormous willpower, and over and over I told myself that I could stop anytime I wanted.
The ritual became the same: online bingeing timed to any mood, feeling anxious, feeling depressed, feeling flat, feeling excited, and desperately wanting another excitement hit. (I am on medication for mild bipolarity.) So utterly displaced, I increasingly felt that life, which is a process of drowning in minutiae, was even more of a process of drowning in minutiae. Clothing took me out of it.
I went on favorite websites day and night—Gucci, Net-a-Porter, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Burberry, Ralph Lauren, Vince, Shopbop, ShopStyle, and, later on, Mr Porter and Moda Operandi. I purchased in the morning when I should have been writing, and it did ramp me up to help me write. I purchased in bed at night, happy that the melancholia of the day was over and I had somehow gotten through it and deserved a little extra. If there was an item that I had somehow warded off in the morning, I bought it. If something caught my eye, gave me the slightest rush, I hit the "purchase now" button. I bought with my cell phone while waiting to have lunch with someone, or dinner, or a drink. I bought while I was having lunch with someone, or dinner, or a drink, happy when they went to the bathroom so I could finish the transaction without interruption.
I bought when sober and I bought when drunk. There was a stealth action in London on vacation with my family in 2011 while everyone else was asleep: I sat in a soft armchair in the hotel suite sinking like a ship, barely able to keep my eyelids open in the wash of too much food and too much wine, but still managed to hit enough correct characters on my laptop to buy a $4,525 Versace jacket from Moda Operandi. I forgot I had bought it when it came a few months later, a pretty good indicator that I did not need it. But I still kept it, and it still is seriously smoking, and none of you can fucking have it. I e-mailed my broker for money when the debt became too much, on some occasions lying about the reason for the fear of my habit being revealed. I said I needed the money for tuition, or taxes. I doubt he believed me unless I suddenly had six kids instead of three. I did finally say I had a "personal problem" without further elaboration. I never mentioned a word to any of my closest friends.
My most anticipated sound became the ringing of the doorbell. It meant the UPS man was here, or the FedEx man, or the DHL man, bringing the goods.
For a period of roughly two and a half years, until my wife permanently returned home from Abu Dhabi, I received a package at least every other day and sometimes two or three or four. Because I ordered so much, I often forgot what was inside them. It added to the drama and the ritual: the slice of the Swiss Army knife down the spine of the cardboard box and then the quick cuts along each side, the greedy pulling out of the paper stuffing, the annoyance of having to unzip the inevitable garment bag because it took too much fucking time, and then holding the item aloft on its hanger with thrill and titillation.
The only clothing I ever tried on before buying it was from Gucci. But many of the online purchases were fantastic—the patent leather trench coat from Burberry, a cropped leather jacket from Versace, a brown leather jacket from Ralph Lauren, a studded leather jacket from Cavalli, boots from Jimmy Choo, leather gloves from Ines in Amsterdam and Madova in Florence. I bought dozens of stretch jeans and leather leggings and leather pants that sculpted my lower body the way I wanted, with no room for speculation. I bought dozens of leather gloves that actually did fit like a glove. I bought dozens of boots, some with a flat or low heel that any man can wear, some with five-inch heels that only a man with real balls could wear.
Lisa in general liked the rocker look. But there were times I was too outrageous for her taste, and she began to feel like she was living with a hoarder. The kids liked the flair, maybe, but there were times they seemed embarrassed, or simply stunned. My friends, particularly those from Philadelphia, were appalled and confused and amused. With the exception of Lisa, nobody had any real idea of the extent of my addiction.
Too many of the purchases were sheer compulsiveness multiplying into more compulsion like split atoms. I bought an orange leather motorcycle jacket and matching orange leather pants from Alexander McQueen that made me look, well, very, very orange. The same went for a blue ensemble that made me look, well, very, very blue. I bought dozens upon dozens of leather jackets—bolero-style, waist-length, above the knee, below the knee—in which the gradations of difference were microscopic. I bought a pair of knee-length Stuart Weitzman boots and then two weeks later bought the exact same pair because I had forgotten I bought the first pair. I bought at least a dozen items that cost over $5,000 each but did not fit, the hazard of online purchasing, since sizing by high-end retailers is often like Pin the Tail on the Donkey. I bought items I wore once, or never wore at all, the tags still hanging from the collar. Yet I returned very little: The more the closets in the house filled, the more discerning I became, the more expensive the items, the more I got off on what I had amassed.
It is day three of the trip. I am at the Gucci store in Milan on the bottom floor. I am going through book upon book of sample swaths to be fitted for a custom-made suit. I stop in the middle to take an espresso to sustain energy and regroup, like halftime at a football game. I settle on a pattern made partly of silk.
I stand in front of the three-way mirror wearing a mock-up and am fastidiously measured by one of Gucci's finest experts on tailoring. A second person assists him. Both of them step back for perspective. This is why Italians should run the world.
I am taken back to an earlier moment in my life when I stood in front of mirrors at Brooks Brothers on 44th and Madison in New York. I was a preadolescent, pimples and early pubic hair, looking at myself with mystery as I tried on the khakis my mother had selected: two sizes too big so they would last longer than a year, since much to her disappointment, I was still growing. Combined with the billowing Brooks Brothers button-down in style back then, I was all set to sail, with my clothes as the sail. It was the preppy look that most of my friends wore. I fit in because I did not have the courage not to fit in, and the look was only accentuated when I went to Andover, ready at that point to equip a three-masted schooner.
Even as a child, I was acutely aware of the sensation of sexiness, and lacking outlets—baseball cards did not do it—I associated that feeling with clothing. I so wanted that feeling. The '60s were a time when clothing became this act of self-expression. Instead, my desire was converted to contempt. I started to hate my knees, and tried to cover them up. I hated blue jeans. Which is why the closest emotion to hate is love.
I remained steadfast in my Brooks Brothers uniform, except for the time my father took me to a wholesale-clothing store. There was good quality at good prices, probably because there was no hint of ambience, just racks of clothes where size was a game of chance. But I felt like I was in a New Orleans whorehouse, colors and bright checks serving as my hookers. My dad bought me a sculpted jacket with an intricate pattern of orange and black, and a pair of pants in the same colors that fit tight.
I was scared to wear them at Andover. But finally I did during a parade up Main Street on Memorial Day. I marched because of the anonymity it afforded, surrounded by a shield of other students and professors. I suddenly felt an erection in those pants, as wonderful as it was troubling, since observable blooming bulges never had any upside at prep school. But I experienced a sexual vitality I had never felt before in my life.
I never wore them again.
In Milan I realize that my penchant for high fashion, leathered out in tight pants and jacket and gloves and tough-assed black boots with thick three-inch metal heels from New Rock in Spain, is a way of making up for lost time, sadly so much of it. My idol when I was growing up was Jim Morrison, not just because I so thoroughly enjoyed the nihilism of the lyrics, but the look, the black leather pants that clung to him like second skin and apparently did because he wore them for weeks at a time.
I began to seek sexual expression in the form of high fashion, men's because I liked the hardness and women's because I liked the sexiness. Blended together, it became a rocker look, particularly with the three skull rings on each hand to fit my usual dark mood.
It is safe to assume that when someone buys more than half a million dollars of clothing in three years, it isn't simply beautiful clothing that he seeks. My wife and I realized several years ago that we had run our sexual course. It was on the surface a strange decision, since both of us were highly sexualized. And great lovers to each other. And she was absolutely beautiful. But the twin killers of menopause and boredom had set in, as they do in every marriage. And I had never been able to equate sex with intimacy.
I had always been attracted to S&M, even at an early age, when I didn't know what it was. My mother wore leather gloves in springtime. My first teacher in kindergarten, who probably thought I was mentally challenged because I never spoke, also wore leather gloves, and every day as she left I would watch as she slowly put them on with the stretch and pull of the fingers. My eighth-grade math teacher wore stiletto black leather boots and black hair like Elvira and spoke in dismissive clips, and I adored her, even when she dropped test results into my lap with B- circled in red at the top.
I did engage in a relationship with a dominatrix after the failure of my second marriage. I left the scene after two years. But I clearly missed it, the trappings of leather increasingly irresistible. I liked extreme feelings of restraint and taking pain. But I was also interested in everything.
My sexual appetites began to spin in all sorts of different directions. My wife and I talked about it at length. She was far more experienced than I was, and she did in high school what I longed to but could not because of the need to please others—get laid, smoke dope, go to Woodstock. Before she left for Abu Dhabi, she urged me to explore, not on the basis that we wanted some open marriage but because of her feeling that I owed it to myself, to both of us, because my unfulfilled desires, or at least what I thought might be my desires, were leading to the nastiness and the contempt toward a spouse that comes from frustration.
That is when the purchase of clothing intensified beyond all measure. The clothes became icons of aphrodisiac, a way of substituting for the continued fear of being someone and something different from whom I was supposed to be. The eternally preppy boy in the button-down shirt.
I never fit the traditional definition of a sexy male straight or gay—tall, ripped, six- packs within six-packs. I wanted the power that sex provides, all eyes wanting to fuck you and you knowing it, and both men's and women's clothing became my venue.
I began to wonder about sex and sexuality and where exactly I fit in in the complex spectrum. I did go into the sexual unknown, and the clothing I began to wear routinely gave me the confidence to do it, to transcend the rigid definitions of sexuality and gender, just as I also know there were the requisite stereotypical snickers.
Was I homosexual because so much of what I wore is associated with gays? I did experiment. And while I don't think it is my sexual being, I can tell you that gay men as a group are nicer, smarter, have a shitload more fun than straight whites. Was I veering toward becoming a dominant leather master in the S&M scene, the leather fetish an obvious influence in most of the clothing I purchased and in much of high fashion itself? I did experiment. Was I a closeted or maybe not so closeted transvestite? Tom Ford makeup is divine; the right foundation and cheek blush and eyeliner and lipstick can do wonders for the pallid complexion. Thigh-high boots add to any wardrobe, although walking on six-inch stilettos for hours is just a bitch and therefore confined to the privacy of my house, seen only by the UPS man, who at this point could not possibly be surprised by anything. But a dress or skirt just doesn't look good on me, and I can't ever do a thing with my hair. The look I was going for was more David Bowie androgynous. It wasn't successful.
I also went to Hong Kong and Macao with some friends. We went to sex clubs, many, many sex clubs with many, many women. We became tired. Four days seemed like four years.
Maybe I'm strands of all of the above. Maybe I just like all the different hues that clothing can create, a way of living on the edge when, let's face it, most of us never come close. Maybe what I really am is an extreme narcissist. I love looking at myself in the mirror when I buy something new. I love the sexual rush to the degree that I wonder if it has become a replacement for actual sex. But just like fucking, the magic of new clothing wears off quickly, and you can't resist the cravings for new purchases.
All stories like this should and do end this way, the slaying of the beast.
The beast is patient. It has time on its side because it knows it is only a matter of time. Feelings rise up, in my case compounded by both personal and professional turmoil. I am grappling with a marriage, my third, in which I have reached the conclusion I was never meant to live with anyone full-time because of my moods and compulsive habits. I also had decided to take a break from writing. I was offered a wonderful opportunity in radio, which I blew last December because of my flash temper and scary outbursts. I lasted less than six months.
Still, there has been progress. The thrill of what I own lasts more than a single fitting. I turn out every day in the rocker look that has become totally comfortable. During the Gucci trip a fellow invitee said I looked like "Bon Jovi," a compliment that at this point in my life means more to me than any piece of writing. Both my wife and my therapist have refused to let me pass the beast off any longer as some temporary compulsion. I have agreed to go to meetings for sex addiction, since clothing and sex for me have become one. But I am only going to stem the addiction, not change the way clothing makes me feel depending on how I want to feel on any particular day. I am sometimes afraid, the beast nowhere near bottomed out, wetting its beckoning lips, knowing me better than I know myself.
Team Gucci all went out together the final night of the trip. We started drinking at the Four Seasons bar. We made a dinner reservation for 9 p.m. We drank some more. We got there at eleven and drank some more. We decided to go to a dance club called Yab. I hadn't been to a dance club in thirty years. But I was revved up and decided to stay up all night, since the ride to the airport was at 5 a.m. I haven't stayed up all night partying in thirty-five years.
I was dressed in tight black faux-leather stretch pants, a black Gucci T-shirt, and a black leather Gucci jacket lined with shearling. I looked so hip that the owner of the club put us in the special VIP section overlooking the jammed dance floor.
I ordered a bottle of Cristal. Another member of the party ordered a magnum of Veuve Clicquot. Then I ordered a bottle of Patrón tequila. At first we all took little shots out of little plastic cups carefully rimmed with salt. Tequila? That's no stinking way to drink tequila. I bit hard on a lime, licked down some salt, took a long pull straight from the bottle, and passed it along. We swigged like sailors, laughing, cheering, dancing, singing. I finished the bottle off. I beat the Argentinians, no small feat when it comes to partying. I did my country proud that night. I was proud. I felt alive. I was alive. I felt myself. I was myself.
All for $638,412.97.