CUTTING THE LOSSES Smooth found a groove for awhile, but body hair is making a comeback


Wimbledon was all a-twitter last week about tennis champ Andre Agassi's suddenly smooth body, as fans wondered whether he uses a razor or wax to remove the fuzz from his torso and legs. He says it's a revolutionary process that he might market.

Then there's the Italian Adonis, Fabio, the lusty 6-foot-3, 220-pound glam-guy who adorns the covers of more than 300 romance novels. He shaves his bulging chest.

Print model Joe Flores never had any hair sprout on his chest, but to get work, the 22-year-old must pluck his eyebrows and groom the bushy growth on his legs and in his armpits.

Take a look at most of the rippling male bods in fashion advertisements, photo spreads and rock videos during the past year or so and witness a chilling phenomenon: Body hair has gotten the brush.

But take heed, Mr. Agassi and the rest of you body-stubbled guys: You might be on the dull edge instead of the cutting edge on this one. The natural look is making a comeback.

If "International Male," a trend arbiter of all things masculine, is any indicator of where men's body hair is headed next season, furry fellows might be able to unbutton their shirts with confidence once again.

Michelle Muller, coordinator and publicity manager for the beefcake-y San Diego catalog, which features guys in thongs and other skimpy threads, says she's been seeing a body-hair boomlet for a couple of months.

It seems her customers are complaining they can't stand the hairless look.

"We get a lot of calls saying that they wish the men looked a little bit more manly -- more realistic," Ms. Muller explains. "Guys can't relate to it."

So Ms. Muller, who books the muscular models for "International Male," has been warning the modeling agencies a week ahead of her photo shoots to make sure these guys leave their body hair alone.

In the July issues of GQ and Esquire, fashion spreads are beginning to show hints of chest sprouts as well, though the bare look is still de rigueur.

Chest forests protruding from unbuttoned-to-there shirts were hits in the late 1970s with the gold-chained disco kings. But the style quickly dropped from favor, unleashing what seemed like a decade's long body-hair backlash.

Consider: Last year a Montgomery, Ala., judge ruled against Matthew Stalter, a firefighter who insisted his hairy chest was a freedom of expression issue.

His supervisor had ordered him to shave his chest hair or wear a T-shirt to cover it.

The fire chief said he asked Mr. Stalter to trim his chest hair so it didn't roll out from under his collar.

But the 31-year-old firefighter was incensed. He eventually relented and shaved, but still brought suit.

You've heard of the fashion police; now hear from the fashion judiciary:

The ruling was appealed two weeks ago and the firefighter lost -- again. Case dismissed.

Now he's divorced, living in Arizona and managing a convenience store -- not quite the fiery career he once had but at least there he can still be true to his hairy self.

Model Flores has felt pressure from the Hair Patrol as well. His thick eyebrows form a solid line across his forehead.

"They're always telling me to shave in the middle of my eyebrows," Mr. Flores says of the modeling agencies that book him.

As for his bald chest, he likes it and still thinks it's very much in vogue.

"International Male's" Ms. Muller thinks the hair-free trend evolved from bodybuilders, who zap their chest hair to flaunt their perfect pecs.

We can thank AHHHH-nuld Schwarzenegger for that.

Hirsute exceptions from the acting world -- notably Alec Baldwin and Robin Williams -- haven't been hurt, though; they're in big demand. Mr. Williams is so hairy that even with his nude scene in "The Fisher King" a few years ago, there was never any danger of the movie becoming a skin flick.

Like Mr. Williams, Jake Najarian doesn't try to hide what he sees as an asset. The 56-year-old Detroit dry cleaner says his neck-to-toe carpet makes up for his thinning pate. But he admits to having received some weird looks from young people.

"They make me feel funny because I see them staring. Older people it doesn't seem to bother -- but sometimes I'll get comments from them."

But Mr. Najarian's undaunted by this kind of attention. He says he gets plenty of positive reinforcement from women: "They say there's no manliness in a lot of the guys because they have no hair."

Mr. Najarian says his wife of more than 30 years adores his chest hair, but goes crazy because women flirt with him all the time.

"I had a girl at Kmart's just lookin' at me, lookin' at me," Mr. Najarian recalls. "I said, What are you lookin' at -- my gold (necklace) or my fur coat?" -- the "fur coat" being his body hair.

" 'The fur coat,' she said. 'I'm lookin' at that fur coat.' "

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