If you were a gay man coming of age in the 1970s and 1980s, you’re very likely to remember how a mail-order catalogue redefined male fashion, and at the same time inspired sexual awakenings across the country – all without ever using the word “gay.”
The new documentary ALL MAN: The International Male Story tells the remarkable tale of how a motley crew came together to create one of the most sought-after mail-order catalogues of the 70s and 80s. Described as “Victoria’s Secret for men” in the early moments of the film, the International Male catalogue/magazine promised not just modern fashion, but jet-setting lifestyles.
After spending the past year screening at prominent film festivals like Tribeca Film Festival, OUTFest Los Angeles, and San Francisco’s Frameline Film Festival, All Man: The International Male Story is available starting today for viewing via Video On Demand. The documentary has received strong reviews from major entertainment outlets including Variety which declared the film “Delectable…as a chronicle of queer entrepreneurial success, the film is a delight.”
Filmmakers Bryan Darling and Jesse Finley Reed take us back to the 1970s where International Male founder Gene Burkard realized there wasn’t just gay liberation in the air, but sexual liberation in the media as evidenced by movie stars like Burt Reynolds posing nude in Cosmopolitan. Burkard saw the explosion of male nudity as something that could be commodified. That new view of masculinity inspired Burkard to bring more stylish clothes for men to the marketplace.
“International Male really capitalized on putting masculine guys in pretty not masculine outfits,” fashion expert Carson Kressley explains in the film. “The very start of the metrosexual movement—where you can wear clothes just to have fun.”
The first item sold by the company was a medical garment Burkard found in London called a suspensory. He brought the item home, had it redesigned to be more modern and sexy, and thus was born the Jock Sock. After running ads in several magazines to gin up orders, Burkard struck gold when he placed an ad in Playboy Magazine – and the orders poured in.
Check out the official trailer for the film below.
That was followed by vibrant colored shirts, pants designed with a contemporary cut, swimsuits and more underwear – all set amid heroic photographic scenarios shot around the globe and featuring handsome, muscular men. In the bold realm of International Male, fashion was meant to be a release from your daily life. So the creative team came up with fantasy worlds inside the catalogue, where men led exciting international lives.
Along the way, the 83-minute documentary explores the constantly evolving cultural zeitgeist in regard to masculinity, gay or not-gay fashion, the lack of models of color during the catalogue’s heyday, and the impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. When Burkard grew weary of working through the health crisis, he chose to sell the company to a huge catalogue conglomerate in 1987. But after some missteps like making a point to hire straight photographers and integrating female models among the handsome models, the corporation asked Burkard to return having lost much of IM’s gay customers. The catalogue doesn’t exist today but you can still see its effects on male fashion today in the red carpet lewks of artists like Lil Nas X and Timothée Chalamet.
ALL MAN features narration by Matt Bomer and appearances by former International Male staffers including founder Gene Burkard and VP Gloria Tomita, as well as several former IM models including Brian Buzzini, Robert Goold, Steve Lyon, David Knight, John Coulter, John Watkins, and Tony Ward (yes, Madonna’s former boyfriend). Also contributing commentary are pop star Jake Shears, actor Drew Droege, comedian Parvesh Cheena, radio host Frank DeCaro, and many more. The film is artfully aided by a synth/disco score by Bright Light Bright Light as well as Megan Toenyes’s ’80s-inspired animated graphics that land squarely in the International Male vibe.