He’s gay. He’s Austrian. He worships Karl Lagerfeld. And now, he’s coming to a theater near you.
After two years of crashing catwalks, punking celebrities and assaulting heterosexual America with his high-fashion flamboyance, “Brüno” is hitting the big screen at midnight, thrusting the fashion industry into a rather glaring spotlight.
While the film’s primary targets are straight American men who find Brüno’s sequined homosexuality upsetting, there is in this sashaying insurrectionist an implied assault on the fashion industry, too.
Brüno’s version of an Austrian fashion journalist is narcissistic, fame-obsessed, overstyled. As portrayed by comic provocateur Sacha Baron Cohen, Brüno, who considers African babies the ultimate fashion accessory and describes Al-Qaeda as “so 2001,” is an ambassador of bad taste — both sartorial and political.
But the fashion industry seems to be in a mocking mood and not since AbFab turned “Lacroix, dahling” into a punch line has the market so readily welcomed an effigy of itself.
“He’s a great comedian and incredibly talented and I can’t wait to see it,” said Diane von Furstenberg. “In comedy, anything is fair game.”
Trish Halpin, the editor in chief of Marie Claire U.K. who put Brüno and model Alessandra Ambrosio on the magazine’s July cover, views Brüno’s ridiculous flamboyance as the perfect antidote to recessionary doldrums.
“People in this industry are very professional, but equally they have a sense of humor and a normal life as well,” she offered. “Fashion is, of course, an easy target, but when it’s done in a clever way, [making fun of it] can be a good thing.”
And clever it can be, even when Brüno characterizes fashionistas as pleasure-seeking glamazons. “You cannot poke fun at the fashion world. It is a stereotype that we are only concerned about appearance and drugs and that is not true,” he told WWD at the film’s Los Angeles premiere. “We are also concerned about parties.”
But being on the receiving end of Brüno’s antics isn’t always fun and games. Just ask Agatha Ruiz de la Prada, who watched in horror as Brüno invaded the backstage of her spring 2009 runway show and bullied his way onto the catwalk. Clad in a velcro jumpsuit, Brüno streaked through de la Prada’s collection, taking much of it with him, and stepped onto the runway in what looked like some kind of bad deconstructionist ensemble. His blitz prompted the designer to kill the lights and suspend her show.
“I was furious with that man. He was violent. He pushed my art director to the floor and scared the models,” recalled de la Prada of Brüno. “But there he was, turning my show into a nightmare, and I wanted to kill him.” Six months later, the anger still flared in her voice. No one likes being punked.
As in his previous mockumentary, the 2006 hit “Borat,” Cohen’s on-screen victims in Brüno have fought back. Two years ago, spectators at a Kansas cage-fighting event hurled beer cans when two fighters (one of whom was Brüno) began to make out. Last year, local police had to subdue flustered travelers when Brüno began an impromptu strip show at the Wichita airport. Last month, an employee of a bingo hall in California filed a claim against Cohen seeking damages for injuries she allegedly suffered while Brüno, dressed in “sexually revealing clothing,” shouted obscenities at the hall’s elderly guests.
By comparison, the fashion establishment’s only complaint is that Brüno didn’t punk them more.
“He didn’t come to my fashion show,” lamented von Furstenberg. “But I wish he had.”