NEW YORK - Fashion designer Barry Bricken's got that diner-guy look. Fellow designer John Scher has club-kid charm.
Scher was hanging at Studio 54 in his early teens. Bricken spent his adolescence at the Hilltop Diner with pals from Forest Park High.
So, one was Barry Levinson's fraternity brother, while the other spied Bianca Jagger partying 'til dawn.
It hardly matters now.
Both Baltimore boys -- Scher's from Stevenson and Bricken from Liberty Heights -- eventually set up shop in New York, where they design clothes for men and women. These days, it's just a short cab ride from Bricken's palatial West 57th Street office to Scher's spare headquarters on West 40th Street.
But the distance between Bricken's traditional luxury sportswear and Scher's avant-garde line is probably farther than any cab would be willing to take you.
"You're not going to see the same person wearing Barry Bricken as you're going to see wearing John Scher," says Brian Boye, associate fashion editor of the Daily News Record, a trade newspaper devoted to men's fashion.
A peek into Bricken's showroom reveals silk twin sets, sporty tailored jackets -- all in the finest fabrics -- and shearling coats in colors beyond your standard black, tan and brown.
"We're not trying to be avant-garde," says Bricken, 56. "We're not a young firm. We're an established firm that has an established clientele."
Scher's modern clothes are more about technique -- shirring, laser-cutting -- than fabric and color. Edgy fare like leather python-print pants, laminated wool coats and electric blue cableknit dresses.
"We don't want to sell to every single store," says Scher, 37. "I don't care about that. This line has ... its own meaning, and it has its own place."
It would be easy to see Bricken and Scher in terms of old guard vs. new guard, but there's much more to the story.
They have more than a few things in common. Both plan to add jeans-based lines. Both wanted to be designers since they were kids, and both discovered that Baltimore wasn't the place to do it.
Still, sensibilities don't get much farther apart than theirs.
Says Jim Moore, creative director at GQ: "Opposite worlds, huh?"
These worlds never collided -- until now.
At The Sun's suggestion, the two are meeting for lunch at Trattoria Dell Arte, a tony eatery near Bricken's office.
Scher enters Bricken's vast showroom with its tall, mirrored doors, polished mahogany and easy-listening music. He looks like someone who took a wrong turn on his way to a rave and ended up at the Rainbow Room. His head is shaved and he's wearing a black T-shirt, jeans and psychedelic Birkenstocks. He clutches a cup of coffee in a plastic bag.
Bricken, the elder stylesman, is slick in a mint green coat, lavender T-shirt, khakis and striking Indian-head belt.
On their way to the restaurant, Scher jokes: "You should see where I eat every day," referring to the cafeteria-style dive he calls his lunchtime home.
Even before Bricken orders his lobster-packed salad, and Scher requests a vegetable plate, it's apparent this meal will feature a heaping serving of Bricken, with a side of Scher.
One minute Scher is waxing creative, talking about how anything, say, a leaf, can inspire a collection. "It depends on how you interpret it," Scher says excitedly. "That's really what makes it fun. Everyone has their own influences."
The next, Bricken launches in. He speaks with authority and dominates the conversation, pounding the table for emphasis. Scher sits back patiently, mostly keeping his cool.
On runway shows: "The first couple seasons we did runway shows, then they became this extravaganza with people spending a fortune," Bricken says. "Who could outdo the rest? The people getting the press were the people who spent the most, did the most weird things."
For the record, Scher once did a hillbilly-themed show featuring beaver hairdos and wolf fur jackets. He doesn't mention this at lunch.
"There's one thing that we both do. We pursue the look that sells. You just keep progressing with what you're doing," Bricken says. "I don't care how good it is. Been there done that, give me the next thing. Give me what's next."
Scher isn't so sure he agrees. He laughs and says: "With me, they're like, 'whoa, slow down.' "
Scher made his debut in 1990 with his women's wear collection and introduced menswear in 1997. His work has a "sleeper" quality, gradually building a strong consumer base, says Bruce Pask, associate fashion editor at GQ.
In his showroom, Scher has the last word.
The designer meticulously labels patterns and prototypes before handing the package off to his harried intern, who will rush it to a nearby factory.
"If they mess up, then I get to yell at them like we did today, because they put the wrong fabric-care label in one of the styles," Scher says.
His gentle features, twinkling eyes and smile belie his business acumen. "If it's their mistake, they deserve the wrath. That's all there is to it."
His headquarters have a college industrial vibe. Fleetwood Mac blasts from a boombox. A solitary laptop and dusty fax machine are the extent of technology. Dirty ash trays and coffee cups complete the decor.
Quiet and intense, Scher rifles through a stack of headshots of prospective models for an coming fashion show. Some are good-looking but too model-y.
"Our guys are a little more androgynous," Scher says. They're younger, intellectual, they have more character."
As young as age 6, he was dressing Barbie dolls with his originals. At nine, he sent sketches to Women's Wear Daily, and they published them.
Scher can't name his favorite places to shop in Baltimore, because he didn't shop in Baltimore. All his shopping and style-watching were reserved for New York.
The connoisseur of club and cafe life started visiting city relatives on a regular basis when he was 12, and his schooling at the Pratt Institute brought him there on a permanent basis.
"It was the energy. People are very quick," Scher says. "There were so many stylish people and so many different styles. That's what was inspiring."
His sense of the Baltimore fashion scene isn't far off. His clothes are nowhere to be found here.
The Cross Keys boutique Ruth Shaw gave his line a try in the '80s, but stopped buying after a single season.
"It's a shame we can't sell John's things in the city of his birth," says Ruth Shaw, the store's owner. "Here, people don't understand it. He's modern. Maybe he's too modern. We don't have that big-city mentality."
Other cities do. Nearly 20 stores nationwide carry his clothing, mostly independent boutiques where they hang alongside Stella McCartney's Chloe and John Bartlett. The majority of his men's line is sold in the more fashion-forward Asian markets.
Scher's main, and perhaps only, source of Baltimore fashion inspiration came from his mom, Evelyn, who died three years ago.
"My mother was very stylish," Scher says. "She was probably the first woman in Baltimore in the '60s not to have teased hair."
In Bricken's family, his dad Morris got him his first gig in the clothing industry.
At his father's local trouser manufacturing company, Dan-Mar, Bricken did everything from sweeping floors to cutting fabrics.
He had no formal fashion training. He learned by watching and doing.
"Barry was always a very natty dresser," says his brother Robert, who runs the business end of the company in Owings Mills. "He always cared about how his ties were tied."
Bricken never imagined his line would be so expansive. He was just going to design pants. When he first came to New York, he sold Trousers By Barry out of his apartment.
From 1969 through the '70s, he traveled between New York and Baltimore, where he owned his own store, Stonehenge, on North Charles street.
Baltimore "accepted the store and we did fabulously," he says. "We exposed Baltimore to Polo."
Bricken started his men's line in 1969, women's in 1975. He's now sold nationally in 700 retail stores, including Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue. In Baltimore, you'll find him in such stores as J.S. Edwards, George Howard and Octavia.
At work, he darts from business calls to fabric meetings, never really staying with any one thing for long.
He and Gretchen Golub, who heads the menswear division, are carefully eyeing some striped swatches they're afraid may induce vertigo. Bricken grows distracted by a blue V-neck acrylic blend sweater on a nearby table.
He feverishly pulls it on over his clothes and models it. "This is going to be out of this world!" he gushes.
"I think it might be more of a Morris thing," Golub says in an almost motherly tone. She's referring to the casual, lower-priced line named after Bricken's father, that is currently in development.
"This is very dressy, it's not Morris at all," Bricken says, lost in the glory of the sweater.
"Sometimes he's like a hit-and-run accident," she says.
And he dashes down the hall with the sweater still on.
Bricken's got something of the old-fashioned little boy about him. His office is full of flying paraphernalia -- stuffed aviator Snoopy dolls, photos of his own plane.
Bricken relieves stress by collecting model planes, Scher lights Marlboro after Marlboro. Yet there are a few issues that they agree on 100 percent. Both admit that having a strong foundation in women's wear gives them the freedom to push the envelope in the less adventurous men's market. Though men are slowly breaking out fashion-wise, they have a long way to go before surrendering to their inner peacock.
"You look at America," Bricken says. "The Big Three in menswear are Polo, Hilfiger and Nautica, and they have very mainstream, department store merchandise."
Scher says, "The American mentality is more, more, more, cheaper, cheaper, cheaper. It's the way we eat -- Sizzler. People don't like to step out of the box that much. They want to conform. I'm not really catering toward that mass mentality. I'm catering to people who are more individual."
The two have also come to terms with the death of the suit and the disintegration of formalwear. Everyone works from home. Scruffy entrepreneurs a la Bill Gates are judged on smarts, not style.
"It's not casual Friday anymore," Bricken says. "It's casual everyday."
Walking out of the restaurant after lunch, Bricken bumps into comedian Alan King. The veteran funnyman is wearing a pair of Bricken trousers. He's been buying them for years. Bricken takes one look and offers some fashion advice: Get them pressed.
Bricken's line attracts celebrities such as Katie Couric, Sally Jessy Raphael and Ed Begley Jr. Scher's styles have adorned such hipsters as the Backstreet Boys, Sandra Bernhard and cable sex show star Robin Byrd.
Being from the same place doesn't mean having the same taste.
"There is a vast difference between Alan King and the Backstreet Boys," Scher says. "That is true contrast."
Born: Jan. 5, 1943; Baltimore
Specialty: Luxury sportswear for men and women
Family: Brother Robert, 60; father Morris, 87; mother Bernice, 86; daughters Madelyn, 6, and Allyson, 22
Current home: Upper East Side of New York
What he wears to work every day: In winter, a pair of flannels and a nice sweater. In summer, linens and khaki.
Favorite designer: Paul Smith
Fall fashion picks: Red is the hot color. Fabrics are drapey and stretchy. Cashmere and lamb's shearling are in.
Celebrities who wear his clothes: The Beach Boys, Diana Ross and Katie Couric
Born: Jan. 17, 1962; Baltimore
Specialty: Modern, fashion-forward sportswear for men and women
Family: Brothers Robert, 44, and Adam, 38; mother Evelyn died in 1997; father Ernest died in 1989
Current home: Near SoHo in New York
What he wears to work every day: Jeans and a T-shirt
Favorite designers: Halston, Yves St. Laurent
Fall fashion picks: Look for gray as well as military greens and blues. Also keep your eye out for laminated fabrics and chunky knits.
Celebrities who wear his clothes: Backstreet Boys and Sandra Bernhard