Where Have You Gone, Tyson Beckford? New Male Model Is Pale, Frail

l doonanmodel Where Have You Gone, Tyson Beckford? New Male Model Is Pale, FrailMadonna is having her Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone moment, and I for one am giving her a ferocious thumbs up. Naysayers be damned! So what if she’s old enough to be her Brazilian boy toy’s grandmother? Cougar Madge is rewriting the rules yet again, and more power to her. Her mojo, unlike that of everything else in the world, is clearly going full throttle. Can’t we just be happy for all concerned? 

Madge’s current taste in men—handsome, brunet, godlike, strapping—very much mirrors my own. Maybe I am just a deeply naff person who has very conventional and cheesy ideas about what constitutes attractiveness, but I think her Jesus is cute.

In this respect, Madge and I are, however, wildly out of step with prevailing tastes. In the World of La Mode, hunks are persona non grata: Pasty is the new handsome; scrawny is the new buff; limp is the new erect; and asexual is the new humpy.

If you don’t believe me, then clearly you did not attend any of the recent men’s shows at New York Fashion Week. My dears, you simply cannot imagine what passes for a male model these days!

To my eyes, the new crop of runway lads are shockingly genderless. Many resemble Cate Blanchett. Some even look like Tilda Swinton. In lieu of the dashing, square-jawed Mark Vanderloos and Tyson Beckfords of yore, we saw a group of “men” so androgynous that they could easily be mistaken for a troupe of F-to-M transsexuals. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!) It is hard to imagine, based on their languid, hairless, anorexic appearance, that these lads possess “equipment” of any sort.

This castrated fashion ideal—it crept up on us over the last few years, largely due to former men’s Dior designer Hedi Slimane (thanks for nothing, Hedski!)—is now so pervasive that it’s hard to remember that there was a time when fellas actually looked like fellas. Masculinity was once very much part of the equation: In the last century, a male model needed to look as if he could chop down trees and unblock toilets. Now he appears too feeble to even crochet the poodle for the spare roll. (I’m sticking with the toilet theme to avoid confusing you.)

How did the male waif get such a stranglehold on the fashion psyche? Who is to blame? Why, when faced with such grim global uncertainty, are fashion designers vaunting an ideal that looks so frail, lost and screechingly incompetent?

Though I lack the insights to answer any of the above questions, I can tell you one thing for sure: This issue is an ongoing bone of contention in my office at Barneys. For some strange reason, all the gals seem to adore the twiggy male waifs in their skinny Nudie jeans. Can’t get enough of them. If a bloke looks like he has two red corpuscles and no testicles, then my colleagues go all wobbly and weak at the knees. When I suggest that it might make a nice change to see a few individuals who look like they might actually have penises, they regard me as if I am trying to defile a Lanvin man-blouse by stuffing Burt Reynolds into it.

There is one positive side to all this: The catering costs on our advertising shoots have plummeted. Those waifsters are all on gerbil diets. I recently tried to tempt one lad with a corn tortilla; He looked at me as if I were pushing crack.

I’m optimistic about the future. Fashion is a pendulum. At some point in the future, real blokes will undoubtedly Tarzan their way back into vogue. When they do, Madge and I will be there in the front row, peering through our lorgnettes, chugging down the Geritol and checking out the goods.

sdoonan@observer.com