- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 26, 2000

NEW YORK Helen Gurley Brown, former editor of Cosmopolitan, once joked that it would take an act of Congress to get men out of the basic white shirt and regulation tie.

Turns out, quiz-show host Regis Philbin, a newly minted menswear purveyor, is the one legislating this summer's hot new look: a men's cotton dress shirt with a glossy necktie in the same color solid black, tan, blue or green.

The ratings powerhouse attracted a crowd that snaked out the door and onto the sidewalk at the Macy's flagship Herald Square store during the recent launch of the Regis by the Van Heusen Co. label.

Kenneth Cole, Richard Tyler, Hugo Boss and Joseph Abboud have sent the monochromatic look down the runways. A squadron of Hollywood's hottest, from Tom Cruise to Tom Hanks, have worn it on the red carpet. But it took Mr. Philbin, host of ABC's "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," to bring it to the masses.

"You'll probably see [the Regis look] in Middle America in droves only because, remember, his 'Millionaire' show is the top-rated show across America. It's a phenomenon, and it's on several nights a week. Now that's what I call penetrating a market," says Mike Cannon, men's fashion editor at Town & Country magazine, who expects Regis-label ensembles to saturate Kiwanis Clubs across the heartland, even if they don't show up at social-page soirees.

"Regis Philbin is cool to a lot of guys real men, not style setters," Mr. Cannon says. "I think his universal appeal will penetrate the country much like the Farrah Fawcett hairstyle and the pashmina (shawl) did for women and the Cabbage Patch doll did for kids."

That's no accident. "What made this so exciting is that Regis had the ability to not only introduce fashion to mass America," says Lee Terrill, president of Van Heusen, "but give it an acceptability and a comfort level. We are getting calls from all over America and Canada because people feel like they know him."

The trend "might prove that men are less influenced by fashion designers and runway presentations than the industry would like to believe," says Karen Alberg, editor of MR, a menswear trade magazine. "Television and music and sports today are far more important to the typical American man."

Indiana Pacers basketball coach Larry Bird wore a beige shirt-and-tie combo during this season's National Basketball Association finals. On CNBC's "Squawk Box," the host and two commentators gave the Regis look a recent tryout on the early-morning financial news program.

Van Heusen projects retail sales of $50 million for the Regis line this year. "We found that despite the fact this look is not fashion-forward or new, a lot of America really didn't relate to it or wasn't aware of it," Mr. Terrill says.

The "dark tonal look where the tie almost blends into the shirt" was launched on runways about two years ago, Miss Alberg says. It became popular at the higher end, thanks to Calvin Klein, Giorgio Armani and other prominent designers.

"But the typical Middle America consumer always associated ties with bright red or yellow, that power-tie look of bold stripes that contrast to the shirt," she says. "This monochromatic look was the exact antithesis, so it never caught on at the middle level."

Now it has a bright future. Men relate to clothes that take the guesswork out of getting dressed.

"You can't go wrong, even if you wanted to," says Elina Kazan, public relations director of Macy's East. "It's like Gift Giving 101."

Launched at her Herald Square store as $77.50 boxed sets, the shirts about $40 to $45 and ties about $38 to $42 were scheduled to be rolled out this month at department stores and specialty shops nationwide.

The look has legs, says trend analyst Tom Julian of Fallon advertising agency. "As I have traveled around the country, [I see that] it should continue strong as a trend for the fall as well as the holiday season. The shirt-and-tie market has been quiet through the end of the '90s, and now the renewed interest is a direct result from Regis."

The shirt-and-tie combo just might re-inject the $56 billion-a-year menswear industry with a turn away from casual Friday clothing, Miss Alberg says.

"It looks like there is a resurgence in dressing up," she says, noting recent increases in sales of suits and ties. "Executives are frustrated with how schlumpy the whole casual thing has gotten. Now there's somewhat of a backlash to all this casual dressing in the workplace."

"It's a rebirth," Mr. Cannon says. "Six months ago, people were saying: 'The tie is dead. The tailored shirt is dead. The suit is dead.' If Regis has piqued even 100 people's interest in more sartorial dressing, God love him."

Mr. Cannon, recently named to the International Best-Dressed Poll, adds: "It's not my favorite look by any means. But I'd much rather see a man in a tone-on-tone Regis shirt and tie than in a generic polo shirt and Capri pants and sandals."

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