Apr 8, 2012

In Defense of the Beard

Back in December, Bergdorf Goodman featured a blog post called Beards: A Fierce Defense by David Coggins (a contributor to Art in America and Artnet). The piece was on the silly side (with scenarios of moms and girlfriends begging their sons to shave) but coincided with the store's window display of beard and mustache watercolors by John Gordon Gauld for the Men’s Store on Fifth Avenue.

The display led to a panel discussion which was moderated by David Coggins, and included the actress Whoopi Goldberg, the jewelry designer Philip Crangi, the investment banker Euan Rellie, the playwright and critic Cintra Wilson, and the writer Sloane Crosley. Discussed were styles of whiskers such as the classic mustache, the bowlstache, the cat whiskers, the blockade, and the dragonstache. According to the American Mustache Institute, however, the only "certified" styles are the Chevron, Dali, English, Fu manchu, Handlebar, Horseshoe, Imperial, Lampshade, Painter’s brush, Pencil, Pyramidal, Toothbrush, and the Walrus. But by whatever name you call it, as Whoopi pointed out, “Certain faces—and certain cheek structures—should not have beards. Or mustaches. They cannot pull it off.”

The Civil War's Gen. Ambrose Burnside had a mustache so epic that it coined the term “side burns.”

At the panel event, the beard styles suggested to be avoided were ones sported by Osama bin Laden, Kenny Loggins, most indie rockers, German hardcore-pornographic actors from the nineteen-seventies, Jesus Christ, and "the weird guy from ‘The Hangover.’” Favorite beards? Well those of Czar Nicholas II and Samuel Delaney. (uh, who?)

The popularity of the series in the store's window led to a small show for John Gordon Gauld at the Chelsea Gallery Salomon Contemporary.
Highlighting Fu Manchus, handlebars, muttonchops, chinstraps, and Santas, the exhibition reinforces a sparked contemporary interest in facial hair, and is intended for aficionados and haters alike. While the beard is timeless, certain patterns recall historical figures, eras, and past trends. Facial hair can show one’s status and level of intellect, or one’s diligence or laziness. It can truthfully reflect a personality; and it can deceive.

There is something both whimsical and disconcerting about these displaced facial features. Devoid of eyes, nose, mouth and ears, these few lines still manage to suggest the wearer's face. Or do we just have such preconceived ideas about these hairstyles that we don't need an individual to fill them out? John Gordon Gauld is, by the way, the grandson of the milliner Lily Daché. Are hats and handlebars so far from one another as accessories, as devices of adornment?

Is the beard is "an essential expression of man’s nature" and suggest "a man who’s comfortable with himself and his achievements" as Coogan purports? Or does facial hair styles fall into the realm of costume because we seem to already know what they mean?

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