No doubt about it, Glenn O’Brien’s life is diverse and colorful. For the past 10 years, Mr. O’Brien has been writing for GQ magazine in a column titled, The Style Guy. He has been called one of the most stylish men in America. Glenn also has had stints as editor and art director of Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine, as well as articles editor and editor-in-chief at High Times Magazine. His biography also notes, that while at High Times Magazine, he was the first ever “editor-at-large” in magazine history. If all that were not enough, you may have seen his work in various other publications.
Away from the media world, O’Brien formed the rock band, Konelrad and launched a 1978 television program titled Glenn O’Brien’s TV Party. His biography notes that David Letterman called the program, “The greatest TV show ever.” Interestingly enough, O’Brien might be best known for his work on Madonna’s controversial book, Sex.
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I have read that Glenn has kept many of the clothes he’s accumulated over the course of his life. In fact, he has ties older than his wife. And when it comes to fashion influence, Mr. O’Brien tells us:
“My wife is rather young and my ties are rather old. I guess I’m a pack rat. I never threw anything out. So that means I have a good book collection and tie collection. Although sometimes I look at photographs sometimes, I wonder what happened to that shirt…I may have stopped men from wearing baseball caps with overcoats. I don’t know if I’m fantasizing or I really had an effect, but it’s really hard to gage. Maybe I have stopped men from wearing flip flops with suits. Or at least some men.”
As for general fashion mistakes men and women make today, Glenn gets specific:
“I think the number one mistake that I see is that men don’t know what size they are and often you see guys who are wearing really, really baggy suits and it’s not a flattering look, then kind of general sloppiness. There’s a big sort of movement of wearing the shirt tail out, which maybe looks not so bad if you’re Brad Pitt, but on the average guy it looks like you’re trying to hide your beer belly…People who are dressing to try and simulate youth. I think a lot of women are guilty of that. They’re not aging gracefully. They’re being dragged screaming into maturity.”
When CYInterviewed about what he thinks fashion represents during these challenging economic times, the GQ Style Guy provided an interesting response on fashion and economics, and the difference between fashion and style in general:
“I think a lot of the motivation obviously behind fashion is economic. It’s to make people get rid of their clothes before they’re worn out or outgrown. Thorstein Veblen wrote about the idea of conspicuous consumption and a lot of fashion is driven by that. It’s like showing how wealthy you are and how in the know you are by what you’re wearing. And a lot of women will say, ‘Oh, look, she’s wearing last years Prada, the poor thing.’ Style is a different arena. It’s not really about what everybody is wearing or is expected to wear if they want to fit in about who you are…I think fashion, it is possible to be a fashion victim if you’re too much influenced by what everybody else is doing.”
In his early 20s, Glenn went to work for Andy Warhol at Interview magazine. As mentioned earlier, he became the art director and editor. While there, O’Brien helped widen the publication’s circulation. He recalls working for Warhol and who he really was. He says Andy Warhol was a man of many dimensions.
“I was quite young actually. I was 23 when I went to work for Andy. I was in grad school at the time, but it was much more of an education working for Andy Warhol than going to the Columbia School of the Arts. He was very generous with his time and his advice. I really learned a lot from him about, not just about art, but about how to work and maybe a little bit how to live. He was one of the most hard working people I’ve ever met. He was somebody who no matter what he was working on, if it was a painting or a TV commercial for Schrafft’s [Restauraunt] or a book or whatever, he always gave it his best effort treating it as if it was a work of art…For some people, he was the guy who made the 24 hour movie of the Empire State Building and for other people he was the guy who had dinner at the White House with President Ford. For other people he was a great painter. He had so many dimensions and he kind of just let you believe what you wanted to believe about him.”
Underground entertainment society has changed a lot since the days of Andy Warhol. O’Brien, who was part of that era, tells us how certain industries have now become specialized and thus, there’s been a change.
“When I first arrived on the scene, there was much more interchange between artists, people involved in fashion, theater, dance. There was kind of a cultural community and today everything is a lot more specialized. I remember at Max’s Kansas City that the artists liked to hang out with the rock stars cause they think the artists wanted to have groupies and the rock stars wanted to be taken seriously. So they had things to learn from another.”
If you are tempted to believe your favorite actress or actor chooses the clothes they wear to a big award show, you might want to rethink that. O’Brien notes he is always amused when certain people make best dressed lists and they didn’t choose the outfit, or it might not have been in their taste range. Many stars have fashion consultants that get them ready for big events. He says movie stars have to keep up with fashion trends and the times.
“I think movie stars feel like they have to. A lot of them have fashion consultants, which is why I’m always am amused when they’re named on a best dressed list because it’s really not even their tastes that they’re being honored for…There are a lot of people who set the trends. There are people who are just kind of the classics, somebody like George Clooney… Really the fashions are set by the fashion designers who we’re talking about, real fashion.”
When looking at the spectrum of fashion, including outrageous outfits, that sometimes have those wearing them end up on worst dressed lists – think Lady Gaga – it’s clear those clothes are worn as a publicity stunt. O’Brien expounds:
“Somebody like Lady Gaga for instance is trying to dress to get her picture in the paper. That’s always going to get a certain negative attention. As long as we live in a mass media society, there’s gonna be a tendency sort of toward the publicity stunt and fashion. Going shopping in your underwear as she has apparently been known to do is certainly a way to get your picture in the paper or I guess not wearing any underpants if you’re getting out of the limousine.”
Finally, Glenn believes we will continue to see crazy fashion for its publicity value, but there will always be individuals who are truly fashionable, even regal, compared to their follow celebrities.
“I remember when Barbra Streisand actually went up to accept an Academy Award wearing a see through outfit…That’s always gonna be with us. But then you have people who want to be a model of good taste, somebody like Gwyneth Paltrow. I think among celebrities you have both tendencies. You have the tendency to be regal, extremely tasteful and fashionable like Audrey Hepburn or to be an atrocity that will stop traffic.”
You can email Chris Yandek at ChrisYandek@CYInterview.com