Paul Newman and Pharrell Williams may be fashion icons of their time. But you could argue that no man has defined the look of the past 60 years like Ken. It was the shorthand of the most fundamental male ideal. He has been underestimated and misunderstood. But now, finally, in his Berluti leather, and a corresponding capsule of Berluti accessories on a human scale, he is at home.
Maybe that kind of gratitude just comes with age. Ken has been a muse for designers Jean-Paul Gaultier and Gareth Pugh – the kind of attention that made him the envy of his friends Allan Sherwood and Talking Brad (his first black friend, who debuted in 1970, thank you very much).
Of course, the hill is not what it used to be. Hell, sixty looks a lot different than he was when Ken was young. (It doesn’t matter what young means.) He’s been a doctor, pilot, tennis star, firefighter, and lifeguard. (It doesn’t even fit into his movie roles – he learned to play multiple instruments for this 2004 pic. The princess and the poor man, and you don’t hear a thing.) He won two Olympic gold medals, for goodness sake! Last year he made this stint as a barista. He could spell Barbie’s name in milk. How many other dolls can say that?
But what is a career? What are the rewards? Is this the only measure of a man’s life?
Barbie says he’s never looked better, more modern. If progress, rather than progressivism, is a boomer ideal, so be it. Let Ken be a boomer. People laugh at Ken, say he’s old-fashioned, but they forget he’s actually two years and two days younger than Barbie – not to mention only half an inch taller. And he’s left her with his own things from the start – his own car, his own dream house, that series of roller coaster careers. Always comfortable giving up the show. Always happy for her to surpass him.
Think how far we’ve come since 1961 when he cost just $ 3.50 and wore that red swimsuit and cork sandals. Hard to believe Barbie even went looking for him on the set of that TV commercial, her hands shaking trying to light his cigarette between takes. Her towel was yellow – marketers knew nothing about color theory at the time – and her hair was only blonde or brunette. It was nothing like today, with our joy rediscovered in the inexhaustible variety of life, of identity!
And it’s true: now that Ken can be anyone, he’s never looked like himself again. Three body types, nine skin tones, ten eye colors, twenty-seven hair colors and twenty hairstyles. On any other guy, that would be vanity. But with Ken? It is Power. One way of seeing. Of understanding.
We never saw him that way until he turned 60. Could this be the work of all these years? The emotional burden of living and carrying the story? Ken smiles, looks at himself in the mirror of his beach stroller. Maybe it’s just his killer leather jacket.
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