Tuesday, September 16, 2003

John Berger, who typically sports all-black attire, goes for a more laid-back look with new duds chosen by Danny Munoz. Berger's wearing a Tori Richards aloha shirt, $70; Summer Club hat, $25; Polo Ralph Lauren 100 percent linen pants, $97.50; Perry Ellis Portfolio belt, $34.50; and Bragano "Palmiro shoes (nutmeg), $235, all from Macy's.

Make me over

Writer discovers that change is good
after several decades of coasting
on bleached hair and black dressing

Looking at my reflection in the mirror, I felt I was looking at a stranger. My hair was short and very dark. It was not my natural hair color. Wait a minute, I thought, telling myself, the old color wasn't your natural hair color, either!

I was at the midpoint of an adventure that started several weeks earlier when my editor asked if I'd be willing to go through a "Queer Eye for a Straight Guy"-type makeover and write about the experience.

Apparently, she'd considered several newsroom candidates but deemed many either perfect or beyond help. The features section sits side by side with the sports department, and there she spotted a mother lode of "potential" but decided the sports guys were perfectly happy with their shorts and polo- and aloha-shirt existence. An upgrade into urban man-about-town mode wouldn't stick, making a makeover pointless.

I was skeptical about this makeover business. Should I take it as an insult that she asked?

"No, no," she purred, as befitting someone who makes a living coaxing people to step outside their comfort zones. "John, I've known you for 15 years, and you've looked the same all that time -- blond hair, black uniform -- I'd like to see you in something different."

She had a point. In that 15-year span she's had long hair, short hair, orange streaks, blond shags and butterscotch-swirl bobs. As for fashion, she's transitioned from metal moll and grunge waif to urban warrior woman. She thrives on change, so I could see how my rigid routine clashed with her sensibilities.

My hair had been the same basic color for 30 years, and it's been cut in the same style for almost 40. Black clothes and "albino hair" had been "me" for a long, long time.

It wouldn't be the full treatment, she assured. I'd have two fashion advisors rather than five, as in the hit Bravo TV show that inspired the makeover, the clothes my "fashionista" picked out would be mine only as long as a photo session lasted, and there'd be no time for diet, exercise or debating the merits of merlot vs. Crown Royal. As for redecorating my home, they weren't even going to go there! (I'm glad.)

I needed a haircut anyway. I was single, there was no wife or girlfriend to consider, and figured I had nothing to lose. Why not go for it?

Ralph Malani, left, senior stylist at Aveda, and Danny Munoz, fashionista, talk to John Berger before his makeover. Berger is in his trademark black attire and bleached blonde hair.

AND SO THERE I was, sitting in a chair at the Aveda Lifestyle Salon & Spa in Ala Moana Center, looking at the "new me" in a mirror, my hair short and neatly trimmed in back, slightly longer and spiky on top. And so dark!

My "grooming guru," Ralph Malani, had created a strikingly different "me."

Professional hairstylists can be extremely catty when appraising hair that isn't styled and colored to their standards, but Ralph had politely avoided saying anything negative about my hair or its color when I'd met him and "fashionista" Danny Munoz earlier that morning. I'd told him that I'd been planning to get a trim for several weeks but had decided to wait until the big day (which was true) and that I was open to almost anything in terms of cut or color leading to an improvement. (My editor had already ruled out corn rows, extensions and the easy out, the hairless.)

John Berger strikes a casual pose at Macy's with his new hair color and Hugo Boss shirt, $105; Kenneth Cole sweater, $79; Polo Ralph Lauren jeans, $85; Bacco Bucci Studio "Cove" shoes (bone), $140; and Lochan watch (borrowed from stylist Danny Munoz).

Malani explained that darkening my hair color provided a contrast to my eyebrows and beard (both of which remain natural), brought out warmer tones in my skin and made me look "a little healthier." He referred to the new color as a "dark blond, just with a lot more gold and a lot more substance to it." It looked like basic dark brown to me, but I discovered that sunlight and club-lighting brought out lighter tones and highlights.

"When you take color away from your face, it doesn't give any definition to your face. Now you have a nice frame around your face. It makes everything pop a little more. Your eyes look bluer, your skin will look a little more healthier, your eyes look brighter and it makes you look younger -- it took 10 years off (your appearance)," he told me.

"When you were slicking your hair back, it made your head look really round, but when you square it off a little bit and wear the top a little bit messier, it breaks up the shape of your face and gives your face more of that square, chiseled look that all men want to have, and it thins everything out, too. It gives you a longer look and draws the eye to the top of your head, not to the middle of your face, and it gives you a little style versatility. When it's spiky you can wear it with a business suit, but just make it a little softer."

"You can still use gel to slick it back on the sides, but you're not going to get 'round' anymore."

It all worked for me, and luckily, he was all for allowing me to keep my goatee.

"Goatees are good because they give men a chance to take away from or add to what they don't have naturally. If you don't have a real strong chin, a goatee is going to give the illusion of having that, and if your face is a little too full, it cuts the fullness and makes the eye to go the middle of your face. As long as you don't let it get crazy bushy, it's good. If you keep it neat and trim, it adds to the whole look."

Malani said he didn't dye my mustache or goatee because the dye could stain my skin and because facial hair grows so fast, roots would be noticeable in a few days. If I kept it neatly trimmed, the color would be gone in a week anyway.

"It really isn't worth it putting the chemical on your face, but the color in your hair brings out so much more color in your skin, which gives you darker eyebrows and a darker beard automatically. Now you can see the difference, and you're not monochromatic anymore."

Malani said that I could also use "the old mascara trick," but if I went somewhere hot, the mascara would smudge.

So, my eyebrows, mustache and goatee would remain their natural color.

Malani gave me an Aveda color conditioner for us twice a week to help maintain the new color as it started to grow out and fade, scalp conditioning shampoo and a stick of Aveda Custom Control, a pomade gel mixture, in place of a waxier product I'd been using.

"Your hair is really fine, and (the hair-styling stick) is a little too heavy. This is going to give it a little more movement and a little more lift when you use it," he said.

OF ALL THE stereotypes out there, the notion that gay men are more stylish than straight men is one of the easier ones to accept, Malani says, although he says there are plenty of stylish straight men and sloppy gay men.

"But I think my gay friends put more effort into their bodies, their hair, clothes, the way they smell. I think it's because a lot of my friends are in the service industry. We're seen by the public, so we have to look good, whereas my straight friends will wake up, take a shower and go out the door. They don't do anything with their hair, and they'll wear anything they pick up off the floor, whatever's clean."

Malani is often complimented on his appearance by his female clientele at Aveda, who tell him they wish their husbands could look better.

The married guy falls into another dress category, he said. "Their fashion sense falls into whatever their wives buy for them, and wives have the full intention of making them look good, but they get stuck, too, buying the same kind of shirt, the same kind of pants, then wonder why their husbands always look the same.

"The only time (the wives) will buy a dressy outfit is when they have to go someplace like a wedding; then they'll just get slacks and an aloha shirt."

Malani said he's not on a crusade to change the way people dress, but he says most people would look better if they tried.

"Maybe look in the mirror and start to notice the nose hair, or when you've shaved and didn't get everything -- there are a lot of guys walking around with patches on their faces -- or notice that your hair could use a little gel or washing.

"It's stuff that's easy but nobody tells them.

"Not everybody is born with model looks, but you can work with what you've got and look as good as you can look. A lot of local guys are bigger, so they get intimidated when they go shopping, but I'm a big boy, too, and I can find things. You just have to look harder and maybe spend a little more."

WHILE IN THE CHAIR, I had a lot to think about. In 40 years I'd had my hair cut relatively short twice, but it had never been nearly as short as it was now. It wasn't me, or at least it wasn't the "old" me. But I started thinking about "comb-over guys" -- men who compensate for male-pattern baldness by combing remaining hair over their bald spot to create the illusion of a full head of hair. Of course they fool no one and cheat themselves out of considering more flattering options.

Was I a victim of my own form of "comb-over" mentality?

As I waited for the dye to work, I had time to think about the role of appearance in society as well. Self-appointed "experts" are always lecturing teenagers about the evils of following the crowd and becoming fashion victims. But should we dress for ourselves or to meet others' fashion standards?

The traditional rules of attire found in John Molloy's classic book, "Dress for Success," may not apply as strictly to journalists and creative professionals as they do to those in more conservative circles, but there's no denying appearances do count when it comes to getting a job, getting a promotion, getting a date, getting noticed.

If "everybody" thinks I look better with dark hair, should I go with the majority? It occurred to me that many women who get breast implants or undergo surgery to attain "hapa-haole" eyes aren't doing it for themselves, but for others who believe surgically enhanced breasts and eyes are an improvement over DNA's work.

I FELT A BIT sheepish when I met fashionista Danny Munoz at Macy's. He'd put together more ensembles than I would have time to try on, and I'd recently been hit with the unexpected expense of buying a new computer, so I knew I wouldn't be walking out with any of the ensembles he had worked so hard to find.

It was fun playing dress-up anyway. Danny selected three "looks" that he felt would fit the various events I attend for the paper. The first would have been perfect for the recent Kenny Loggins party at Longhi's -- a black aloha shirt with small multicolored pineapples, tan trousers and tan shoes. I came out of the dressing room with the shirt tucked in. Danny said that was OK, the shirt could be worn over the belt or tucked in, and since I wasn't "that much overweight," I wasn't limited to wearing the shirt out.

Tucking it in also showed off the detail on the trousers he'd selected.

I'd learned in "prehistoric skool" days that people who are, let's say, stocky shouldn't wear light trousers with a dark shirt or vice versa because it cuts us into two distinct halves rather than presents a single unified, elongated illusion. Munoz explained that the tans and light browns in the shirt pattern played off the color of the trousers in ways that created a more "full look" than was apparent to me.

Munoz's second ensemble was more informal and hip, intended perhaps for hanging at the Wave or the Ocean Club, or going to a Pipeline Cafe concert. Two details of the look were folding the sleeves of the shirt back over the sleeves of the sweater, and making sure that part of the shirt stuck out under the bottom the sweat for a stylishly rumpled look.

Danny assured me that the untucked look was "very now."

"It's untidy, (but) you've got nice fabrics and you're got good textiles. The color differences are kind of clashing but still look like an outfit, and it kind of breaks up your upper half from your lower half."

Danny's formal ensemble would have worked well last weekend when Midori appeared with the Honolulu Symphony at the Blaisdell Concert Hall. The silver gray jacket and trousers hung beautifully, and the collarless shirt was a perfect compromise between a traditional dress shirt and the old T-shirt look of the "Miami Vice" era.

"It's classy, yet with a collarless shirt underneath you have a shirt that compliments the pants if you want to take the jacket off. It also gives it more of a casual look so it doesn't look like you're really dressed up," he said.

That last bit was critical. Dressing should look effortless. If there truly is a fashion court, "trying too hard" would be the No. 1 offense.

A pair of DKNY sunglasses were a last-minute pick and added a perfect final touch.

WHEN WE FINISHED and I was back in black, Munoz explained that his strategy as a professional shopper is to create a comfortable identity for a "straight guy" or client.

"I look at putting something together that will both fit your lifestyle and the events you go to. I basically take the attributes of your height, weight, accent points like your eye and hair color, and your proportions -- your upper body vs. your lower body -- and try to go with something that will give you correct height," he said, explaining that people who are not excessively overweight can "put something together" that adds a suggestion of height or less girth.

"(You can try) something with just a little bit more room inside your shirt or something that is a little more square-cut instead of form-fitting," he suggested.

MALANI AND MUNOZ weren't with me when I went to the Bobcat Goldthwait concert at Pipeline and then checked out Marlene Baldueza at Phillip Paolo's, and they weren't with me at the Ocean Club, or Nin9 at Sarento's the following night, or any of the other concerts, CD parties, theater openings and concerts I covered for the newspaper, but they received rave reviews for their work from almost everyone who expressed an unsolicited opinion.

One woman said she missed my long hair, and an older man harrumphed something about how he didn't need to dye his hair. Other than that, I've been getting -- let's make that, Malani's work has been getting -- rave reviews.

Playwright-actress Margaret Jones said simply, "I love it."

Susan Tejada was the first of many to tell me I looked years younger, and Baldueza said she almost didn't recognize me but liked the new look.

Celebrity photographer Russell Tanoue, who's fluent in the language of fashion, said approvingly that the new cut made my face look thinner and "20 years younger."

Veteran actors Dion Donahue and Stephanie Sanchez expressed approval. Percussionist and fashion model Laka was one of the first to confess that he didn't recognize me; neither did Andy Bumatai when I caught his Wednesday night comedy show at Brew Moon. Matty Boy and Flash Hanson, both of them all-around cutting-edge fashion mavens, told me the same thing when I dropped by Sarento's for Nin9.

Bree Bumatai summed up the transformation perfectly when a last-minute assignment sent me up to Manoa Valley Theatre to interview the stars of "Bat Boy." She looked at me twice and said simply, "Oh. My. God!" She assured me she meant it in a positive way.

The DKNY glasses Danny picked out as the last-minute addition to my "formal" outfit have been a huge hit as well. (They proved impossible to resist, and I bought them even though cheaper knockoffs probably exist.)

It's been about 35 years since I've worn any kind of glasses other than basic industrial-grade sunglasses, but several high-profile fashion-conscious celebrities have noticed the "awesome" glasses and commented that they also make my face look thinner and my head more angular.

That works for me, too.

One woman even told me I now look like some movie star whose name I didn't recognize but, judging from her comments, is apparently considered handsome. Thank you, Ralph and Danny!

What's next? Well, I plan to give the new hair at least six months, although I fear the cost of maintaining it. No one said looking good comes cheap.

I'm looking at clothes in a new light, two friends have offered to share their knowledge of skin care and related mysteries with me, and a fitness trainer has given me some suggestions regarding changing my diet and starting an exercise regimen.

I don't know what lies ahead, but making the big change has been great fun thus far.


You look

Bravo's hit TV series "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" may be in reruns but we're delivering a local style fix as we search for our next make-over guinea pigs.

That's right, YOU may be chosen to have your life, looks and home re-envisioned by our own Fab Five team. Nominate yourself or give up the names and photos of friends in need of a makeover, by filling out the coupon below.

After receiving the names and photos, our staff will select 10 finalists who we think would benefit most from a makeover, then ask readers to vote by ballot and on the Internet, to select the two people -- one male, one female -- they'd like to receive the make-overs.

The deadline for nominations is Sept. 26.

Hurry ... we want to see a new you!

Current fashion sense:
Current home ambience:
Why is a make-over needed?:
How would a makeover be life-changing?:
Nominated by:
Must be 18. Employees and relatives of Oahu Publications personnel are ineligible. Write to You Look FAB-ulous! Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Suite 7-210, Honolulu, 96816; fax 529-4750, or email

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