Fashion Statements: baring the most vulnerable muscle | Our Town | Chicago Reader

Fashion Statements: baring the most vulnerable muscle 

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We met Craig LaSeur in the weight room of the Lakeshore Athletic Club at Fullerton and Southport. His workout wear came bare, breezy, and ready-to-sweat. Still, members of our Fashion Intelligence Unit, wary of undercover agents, pressed the case.

The heavy-duty outfit balances its bulk on the Everlast belt. Above, the trophy T has been ripped open, Flashdance-style, to expose the outer reaches of LaSeur's tattoo collection. Arnold Rubin, who compiled the tattoo tome Marks of Civilization, would classify the bodybuilder's skin art aesthetic as International Folk Style--a jumble of "flash" (prefab) designs splattered across the extremities, drawn from a testosterone-powered palette of skulls, dragons, and sexy ladies. (Curator LaSeur interprets: "Chick with a Mohawk kissing a skull.")

Below the belt, the hulk's cut-off nylon warm-ups out his underwear in the popular "I See London" style passed from bike racers to Madonna to Marky Mark and back to the locker room. (Ever notice how menswear at its most intimate offers the choice between two sporty roles: jockey or boxer, not, say, chef or painter?) The flannel boxers are split at the crotch into two tartan patterns, trademarks of competing Scottish Highland clans.

The stud's weight-wielding hands, finger-baring "action gloves" slipped over a wedding ring, strip back his shirt to reveal a valentine engraved over his heart (or close). The ring's obsolete though, and so's the valentine. Since filing for divorce, he's had his wife's name blacked out and added the skull chomping into the left ventricle.

People have been etching tattoos (early action figure Captain Cook picked up the word--and the look--in Tahiti) into their skin since the Stone Age. Whether tribal custom, signature, prisoner ID, mark of devotion, freak show attraction, rite of passage, status symbol, or accessory, tattoos brand for life. Just as the tartans signal allegiance to a regiment, so do our bodybuilder's bleeding heart and angry bulldog fix his identity as a lovelorn ex-Marine.

LaSeur's athletic gear--torn open, snipped short, peeled back--performs a he-man striptease, exposing the wounded soul at the core of the macho muscle pose. The weighty Fashion Statement: "Man, not Superman."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Yael Routtenberg.

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