All dressed vincent gallo

All Dressed: A column, loosely, about living in and out of clothes

“There is a well-worn phrase, clothes make the man. I have found this to be true. When I leave the house in Adidas track pants and a sleeveless shirt, people treat me like a wife-beater. But when I don a fine, tailored suit and custom-made boots, people tend to treat me like a gentleman.”

We all want to look good. We all want to have style. But what do those things even mean? And if we get those things, if we get what we want, what do we get in return? This is a column, loosely, about living in and out of clothes.

There is a well-worn phrase, clothes make the man. I have found this to be true. When I leave the house in Adidas track pants and a sleeveless shirt, people tend to treat me like a wife-beater or something. But when I don a fine, tailored suit and custom-made boots, and I have a fresh haircut and smell like Frederic Malle’s fever dreams, people tend to treat me a lot better, with a lot more respect, like a gentleman. Maybe they just assume there is a wife-beater underneath.

It is easy to follow trends, so it is easy to be fashionable, if you have the means and if it is of importance to you to be fashionable. Style is another level above fashion. Style means that you can wear something out-of-fashion, but still wear it with flair. 

This is why quality vintage clothes are always stylish. Even boring, poor-quality clothes can start out fashionable. Like Yeezy’s Gap collaboration that was sold out of trash bags to stress the simple fact that it was garbage from concept to creation. Perhaps Yeezy’s Gap collaboration will be fashionable to wear one day, but it will have to become vintage first.

Kanye West’s fashion cynicism is interesting and recalls Zoolander’s Derelicte line, but without the laughs. It is pop culture reflecting its own vulgarity back on itself, with the added funhouse mirror effect of misrecognition. Is that us? Is that what we aspire to look like — homeless people?

West is begging for someone to write a think-piece — possibly even teach a university class — about the pointed social commentary and deep political meaning behind this mercenary marriage of rap’s biggest mouth and fashion’s most un-stylish brand. Even the Beastie Boys preferred Sears. But the meaning isn’t deep, nor political and the commentary is anti-social.

For pointed social commentary and deep political meaning, we have to look a little bit further to another bigmouth (who curiously won’t talk these days) — I’m talking about the storied American artist Vincent Gallo. Since coming out as an unabashed Republican sometime in the early 2000s — as if it were a shameful revelation, like being gay in the 1970s — Gallo’s music, films, writing, modelling, artworks, photography and fashions, too, have become decidedly unfashionable. Gallo is too curmudgeonly for this Woke world.

This is not a biography of Vincent Gallo, only because his life is too rich for this simple column. You can Google him if you are curious, and I always encourage curiosity. This is a story about the effect of wearing Vincent Gallo’s clothes.

In 2020, Gallo released a series of one-of-a-kind t-shirts sold exclusively from his webstore for the highly conspicuous price of $666 each. The shirts feature Barbara Kruger-style captions over famous faces, many of them crude, some cruder than others. One depicts the popular Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez labelled, “Ignorant”; another brands Canadian PM Justin Trudeau a “Fag.” Gallo penned lengthy descriptions for each of these works which, taken together, constitute an artist’s statement-slash-diatribe of the sort we might expect from a Right-Wing talk-radio show, and his first public statement since a self-written interview with Another Man magazine in 2018. 

Being an admirer of Gallo’s after discovering Buffalo ‘66 at the video store in 1998, and then becoming obsessed with his curious career, spanning from membership in the New York no-wave band Grey with Jean-Michel Basquiat, to his cameo appearance as a baddie on The Equalizer, to being booed in 2003 by Roger Ebert at Cannes for The Brown Bunny, to his indie rock band RRIICCEE, whom I saw perform at Club Lambi in 2007, to his role as an Yves Saint Laurent model and real-life real-estate mogul — well, I just had to have one.

Given the Justin Trudeau t-shirt was sold out, I chose the Skip James model with the caption, “JAY Z MY ASS.”

For its first outing, I wore this shirt along with a pair of white Reebok track pants and white Asics trainers for lunch to a very fancy restaurant in downtown Montreal. If even rich people dress like hobos these days, I was well-dressed in contrast, and likely nobody knew the t-shirt’s origins or price tag. One of the servers who I had come to know and who is a hip Black woman took a long look at the shirt and said, “I want it.” I figured this was validation enough. 

Then something happened that I will not forget. Suddenly, there was a lot of commotion and before anyone knew it, another patron, a slim Black woman with bulging eyes and wearing a skin-tight leopard print skirt and blonde wig stormed the restaurant shouting at each and every person present, myself included, “TOI, TU ME FAIS CHIER! TOI, TU ME FAIS CHIER! TOI, TU ME FAIS CHIER!” She pointed a bony finger in everyone’s face as she cursed us individually until the SPVM arrived and removed her. Like a scene from Brazil, but instead of a bomb it was a person.

What possessed this woman? Because she was possessed by something. I’m not saying that Vincent Gallo’s t-shirt has the power to summon some demonic spirit, but it was part of the zeitgeist in the room. The coincidence was noted, as was the $666 cost, and the various identities of everyone in attendance, and the confrontational nature of not just my wardrobe but today’s fashions, like armour, both protecting and hiding the soft machine beneath.

It isn’t difficult to decipher the significance of a $666 t-shirt. Give unto Satan what belongs to Satan. Among many things, Vincent Gallo is an icon of style, not just fashionable, but with a message. Even if the message is uncomfortable, the gentleman behind it doesn’t seem to be. Gallo politely declined an interview for this piece. Still, the Devil himself deserves an advocate. ■

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