Fashion 88 : Will the Power Look Work in Laid-Back Los Angeles?

Times Staff Writer

Forget, for the moment, any philosophical examination of the villainous nature of Gordon Gekko. Consider his wardrobe instead.

Would Gekko make it in Los Angeles, with his broad suspenders and high-collar shirts? Could he win by intimidation in the only city where you dress down to go to dinner? A city where stockbrokers are as likely to wear jeans to the office as a suit? A city where Shearson Lehman Bros. Vice President Frank Fenton can reminisce about one of the best brokers he ever knew, a man who came to the office every day in a workout suit, ready to play tennis the minute the market closed.

Would California investors give their trust, not to mention their money, to a man who hosts poolside conferences wearing a tie and silk suit?

"It just wouldn't work here,"says Richard Myers, a bicoastal businessman who keeps both a California and a Manhattan wardrobe, and never the two shall meet. "The idea here is to look groomed without being groomed. Michael Douglas is too slick."

Myers, on this day at his office, is wearing a beige-tone Missoni sweater over a green-and-white stripe Daniel Hechter shirt with tan Perry Ellis slacks, Calvin Klein socks and Gucci loafers. (Should clients arrive, he says, he'll throw on a charcoal houndstooth jacket.)

Were he in New York, he'd be wearing a suit--French or Italian, blue or brown, bought either in Europe or at Bergdorf-Goodman--white or pale blue shirts by Ralph Lauren and tie shoes by Ferragamo. But never on either coast, never would he wear colored shirts, suspenders or any kind of jewelry. "That's not the kind of statement I want to make. It's just too flashy," he says.

It's typical New York, though, think many Los Angeles observers.

Of the financiers, businessmen, brokers and bankers interviewed for this article, most had seen "Wall Street." The others had seen the previews. All knew the clothes. And no one doubted clothes as a telling political tool that sometimes could be a small, but decisive factor in sealing a deal.

Bart Sokolow, vice president of Coastline Financial, an Encino-based investment banking firm, was only typical when he said: "I find I judge people not by what they are wearing, but how they put it together. It's a subliminal thing. Say, a brown tie with a garish blue shirt. You wonder how they can put deals together."

"Polyester, stains on shirts, you know they're sloppy technicians,"said Ronald Klein, a consultant to Ziskind, Green and Associates, consultants on law firm mergers and an attorney given to tweed jackets and suits from Paul Stuart in New York and button-down shirts from Cable Car Clothiers in San Francisco.

And the bicoastal Myers laughed, but wasn't joking, when he admitted: "I have an intolerance for 'schlumpy' dressers. It does prey on my mind."

Yet as Richard Broude, a partner with the law firm of White & Case, pointed out, "there's no such thing as inappropriately dressed in Southern California." Broude's look: "grey or greyer suits," colored shirts (95% from Ralph Lauren), bold neckties worn in theme to one of his 18 pairs of suspenders.

Shel Brucker, president of Avery Services Corp. and managing partner of KB Ventures, also saw "Wall Street." His is a low-keyed elegance, he says: Dark suits from Theodore or Ron Ross in Beverly Hills, muted shirts, Bally shoes. For pizazz, he says, his ties are paisleys, stripes or polka-dots. Occasionally, a coordinated (never matching) handkerchief square. Never suspenders. Never jewelry.

Brucker says his step-brother, Karl Sussman, associate manager of the Century City brokerage firm of Donaldson, Lufkin and Jenrette, has the Gekko flash. That's just fine by Sussman, who thinks Gekko looked excellent on screen. On the day of his interview, Sussman wore a blue, double-breasted blazer, charcoal slacks, blue-and-white striped shirt, paisley tie and Coleman-Haan shoes. Nearly everything he owns is either from Mel Fox in Encino or Rudnick's in Beverly Hills. Except for the ties. Some of Sussman's ties go back to the '50s.

"I grab one in the morning and everything else I wear is built around it," he says, adding that he has two pairs of suspenders, one with clowns and the other bright yellow."

And what difference does it all make, growled Stuart Buchalter, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Standard Brands Paints and an attorney fond of bright-colored suspenders, very bright ties and any shirt that works. "Gekko was too stylized," Buchalter says. "Most brokers I know get more rumpled in a day. I don't know what the big deal is. Lots of us have been wearing suspenders for a years."

In L.A.'s downtown financial district, an informal poll of men on the street revealed that Gekko's film-fashion look was "just too much."

"The movie was an overstatement of a fashion trend," notes Robert Parton, who works at the law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and plans to study securities in law school next fall. He calls the style "restated '30s," and takes from it slicked-back hair and precision-cut suits with pleated pants.

"They were dressed larger than life," explains Bruce Robinson about movie co-stars Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen. "Real men can't get away with so many bold patterns worn at one time, where neckties contrast with suspenders and patterned socks." Robinson is a financial analyst for Security Pacific Bank who dresses in dark tweeds with pastel ties.

At Citicorp Center on Flower Street, a crossroads for the L.A. financial community, men seem determined to hold onto their own well-established style. "The uniform here is white shirts, red ties and pin-stripe suits," says Alan Grossman, a Price Waterhouse CPA who's wearing exactly that as he speaks.

James McKnight, a young analyst for Security Pacific, says if anybody in the financial business actually does wear what Douglas and Sheen wore in the movie, they are brokers and traders, known as the flashiest dressers in a conservative-fashion community.

While most men agree that the worst of "Wall Street" fashion is the overstatement of it all, some say the look is out of date as well. The pastel yellow and pink neckties they wore in the movie used to be considered "power ties." But that was last summer, notes Carl Hanserud, a bicoastal investment banker whose suspenders stretch across a barrel chest built at Gold's Gym.

As for blue or pink shirts with white collars and cuffs, CPA Grossman recalls: "They were popular a year ago."

Despite initial signs of a cool reception to the big-screen style, L.A's money men are already investing in certain aspects of it. Interestingly enough, men who work in L.A's financial district seem to spend entire lunch hours talking about "Wall Street's" toney fashions, even though they haven't seen the movie. Bruce Chemel of American Airlines is just back from such a lunch, so he's heard all about it. He predicts the look will catch on in New York.

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