Beige is back, but she–colors are female, non ?–has arrived with a lot of emotional baggage and an elaborate macramé of associations from the last century. Adored and reviled, beige is not just a color; she’s an evocative, multifaceted style signifier. See: Faye Dunaway in Network , anything Halston, early Armani, late LeSportsac. The one constant? She always connotes sophistication–even if it is the aspirant sophistication of the Members Only masses. She’s a whole lotta people!
Beige! is also the name of a vicious new word game sweeping Manhattan. This game, invented by me and my Jonny, was created after a viewing of The Boys in the Band –remember the 1970 William Friedkin movie of Matt Crowley’s 1968 hit play? (Rent it if you don’t. Some say this depiction of szhooshy Manhattan gay life in the late 60′s is far scarier than The Exorcist , which Friedkin went on to direct, though I myself find it quite refreshing.)
Beige!, the game, was born out of a snippet of dialogue that occurs as this movie reaches its drunken and plangent dénouement. Michael, whose nifty apartment provides the backdrop for this drawing-room tragedy, insults mincing party guest Emory (Cliff Gorman, a brilliant actor whose career was, in the eyes of the unenlightened, tainted by his overly convincing performance). Harold, the self-described “32-year-old, ugly, pockmarked Jew fairy” whose birthday party provides the raison d’être for the bulk of the shrysteria (shrill hysteria), lashes back protectively on Emory’s behalf–and “beiges” the hostile Michael. Observe:
Emory: “Oh God, I’m drunk.”
Michael: “A falling-down-drunk nellie queen.”
Harold: “Well, that’s the pot calling the kettle beige!”
Harold’s seamless substitution of “beige” for “black” speaks to the magnitude and penetration of beige, the color, in the late 60′s. But forget about that for the moment and focus on the brilliant way that Harold trumped Michael’s opinionated aggression. Think about how useful Beige!, the game, could be to you as you go about your daily life. Beige!-ing (not to be confused with Beijing) is the ultimate weapon with which over-opinionated New Yorkers can neutralize each other’s hyper-critical salvos. Example:
First New Yorker: ” Chocolat ! What a wonderful movie!”
Second New Yorker: “Really? I found it sub-par and strangely uncompelling.”
First New Yorker: “Well, that’s the pot calling the kettle beige!”
Exit, wincing, Second New Yorker.
Seasoned Beige!-ers are now abbreviating when they go in for the kill. Example:
First New Yorker: “Are you planning to watch the Oscars?”
Second New Yorker: “That smug, self-indulgent, tedious montage of mediocrity?”
First New Yorker: “Beige!”
Be warned: playing Beige! may well teach salutary lessons to regular folk–but with more competitive friends and acquaintances, it merely ups the ante. A curvaceous female friend recently Beiged! a hypercritical foodie after he, perusing the menu, dubbed the chef’s offerings “unacceptably lardy.” The smarting gourmand then lashed back, misogynistically counter-Beige!-ing my friend in front of the waiter after she innocently ordered a spicy tuna roll. I’ll let you figure it out.
Beige is a sleepy staple in the world of maquillage , but this season she’s taking center stage. Witness the libidinous and explosive Steven Meisel ads for Dolce & Gabbana starring Leonardo DiCaprio’s bit of crumpet, Gisele Bundchen. Despite her garish rhinestone-cowgirl-Madonna drag, the Brazilian beauty looks both chic and sensual. It’s that beige makeup: eyes, lips, skin, nails. Even her hair has been dyed beige.
Apropos of the sexy chicness of beige, MAC has just launched an extensive new line called Skin Flicks. Start with Fleshpot sheer lipstick or the slightly darker Fondle ($13.50 each); then drench your lips with C-Thru pale nude beige “lipglass” ($11.50) and glaze your talons with Barest nail polish ($8). Skin Flicks eye shadow (Brulé, Camel, Cork and Mystery, $30 for a special limited-edition compact that includes all four colors) completes your 70′s-inspired beige-athon. MAC creative director James Gager warns, “Beige is not for the meek. We call it ‘the shock of the nude.’” It’s available at Henri Bendel and MAC stores, or at http://www.maccosmetics.com.
The beige frock of the season is an asymmetrically hemmed gladiator jersey dress by Callaghan ($490 at Barneys Co-op and Bergdorf Goodman). If it’s sold out by the time you call, then head over to the Kors (Michael’s second line) boutique at Saks Fifth Avenue. You will find a nifty Ann Heche-ish (she’s the beige icon of the 21st-century) perforated suede skirt for $455. Mr. Kors, so long regarded by us international fashion sophisticates as the King of Beige, loathes the word. I spoke to reluctant beige-riarch Michael right after his fall 2001 show (Miss Heche was head to toe in beige in the front row … holding hands with a man!) and got an earful. “Camel or putty, now those are colors,” said his highness. “Beige is a club.”
Beige is indeed a club. As testimony to the power of beige, the concept, Beige the boîte de nuit has been packing them in (from Monica Lewinsky to Sophia Loren) for five years every Tuesday night at the Bowery Bar (40 East Fourth Street at the Bowery). Nobody is more surprised that the name caught on than M.C. Erich Conrad. “At the time, I thought I would give it a bland, mediocre name–in case it failed,” he said. It was an instant hit, but not everybody tuned into the irony of the name. “We were pre-lounge. People didn’t get the concept,” said Mr. Conrad. “They showed up wearing beige.”
My recommendation: Go little and often. It’s worth going every week in case you hit one of Eric’s unscheduled Nude Nights. As Eric says, “Flesh is the real beige.”
Beige-ing your home can be dicey. It takes a maestro like beige-iast Jeffrey Bilhuber (330 East 59th Street, 308-4888) to stop it from looking like a sad attempt at subtle sophistication. Mr. Bilhuber, who freely channels the beige Halston-esque, ultra-suede chic of the 70′s and did Givenchy’s legendary beige New York apartment in the late 80′s, believes fervently in the eternal sizzle of this hue. “It’s unwavering,” said Mr. Bilhuber. “Beige is the universal language.”
If you can’t afford Mr. Bilhuber (which is a drag, since you will miss out on some incredible interpersonal badinage), then buy one yard of beige ultra-suede ($40) from B&J Fabrics (263 West 40th Street, 354-8150). Choose from the following beige approximations: country cream, sand, camel, coffee cream and chamois. Next, borrow a staple gun from a window-dressing acquaintance and re-cover two of those fake Louis whatever chairs in your living room.
Invite friends over to admire your resourcefulness. If your amateur upholstery receives any caustic commentary–e.g., “Lumpy yet quaint,” “Poignantly saggy,” etc.–seize the opportunity to Beige! the offending guest. When the uncomprehending laughter has subsided–i.e., almost immediately–you will have the perfect opportunity, using your stellar example, to recruit and convert a whole new battalion of Beige!-ers.
Let the games begin.