Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Bunny Roger

There have always been flamboyant gay men, but few could hold a candle to Bunny Roger (1911-1997). In fact, I’m hard pressed to think of someone who was even in his league. Roger was glib, quick-witted, fearless – and the dandy to end all dandies. Christened Neil Munroe Roger, “Bunny” was the most eccentric of three life-long bachelor brothers, and by far the most interesting.

It’s difficult to imagine how he could take the time from being a full-time fop to establish himself as an important couturier, not to mention becoming a WW II hero. He died fifteen years ago this month, just shy of his 86th birthday, and he partied up until a month before entering the hospital for treatment for a fatal cancer. He bragged at the time that he had a waist size the same as that of Princess Diana.

The son of a self-made Scottish telecommunications tycoon, he taunted his no-nonsense father by peroxiding his hair. Roger read history at Oxford and studied drawing at the Ruskin. Oxford dealt with his indiscrete homosexuality by kicking him out. Maybe it was the rouge and dyed hair that gave him away. Undaunted, at the age of 26 he established his fashion house, Neil Roger, in London, and among his early clients was Vivien Leigh. Five years later he found himself serving in Italy and North Africa in the Rifle Brigade. Roger became a WW II hero known for his bravery and courage under fire, even though he exhibited a quirk or two, such as wearing rouge and chiffon scarves into battle. It is reported that he dragged a wounded fellow officer from a burning building that had been bombed. Roger once claimed to have advanced onto a battlefield brandishing a rolled-up copy of Vogue magazine while issuing the command “When in doubt, powder heavily”.

Perhaps he meant gun powder.

Following the war he was invited to run the couture department at venerable Fortnum & Mason, and he was quite successful at it. Bunny is credited with inventing Capri pants in 1949, while on vacation there off the Bay of Naples. He spent over £35,000 a year on his own wardrobe, which tended toward an extreme Edwardian look.

Roger was also well-known for the lavish and outrageous parties he hosted. These events were often themed, as in the Diamond, Amethyst and Flame Balls held to celebrate his own 60th, 70th, and 80th birthdays. Bunny wore an exotic mauve catsuit with egret feather headdress at his "Amethyst" 70th birthday ball in 1981 (see photo), and he followed that with a sequined "Ball of Fire" costume a decade later, which he wore as he emerged through fire and smoke to the applause of his 400 guests. For day-to-day wear, he favored jackets in lilac and shell-pink. Yellow was also a favorite hue. The man knew how to stand out in a crowd.

His father, Sir Alex, whom Bunny despised, did not live long enough to witness the mauve catsuit at the 70th birthday ball, but he exploded with anger in 1956 when a newspaper carried photos of Bunny's New Year fetish party at which men wearing leather bondage gear and high heels led women around tethered with chains. It seems his father had no sense of fun, although when Bunny, as a teenager, had asked for a doll's house as a reward for being selected for Loretto's junior sports team, he gave it to him. At the age of six, his mother and father gave him a fairy costume with diaphanous skirts and butterfly wings. Who knew what the future would hold? When he got a little older, Bunny plucked his eyebrows to resemble Marlene Dietrich, whom he adored. In later years his face was described as “much-lifted.”

Moving right along.

After his success as a couturier, Roger used his wealth to furnish his mansion with elaborate Gothic furniture, carved with bull and goat motifs, symbols of rampant male sexuality. He bought a set of 12 ebonized chairs and covered them in cowhide. He could have his butch moments, it appears.

But back to his clothes, which is what really mattered. Bunny Roger’s signature look was a high-crowned bowler hat paired with extraordinary spectator shoes he polished himself using homemade stains concocted from beeswax and natural dyes. Bunny enjoyed customizing his footwear, adding red laces, for instance, to compliment his ruby cufflinks. His footwear wardrobe was extraordinarily vast. For each of his suits he had four pairs of shoes or boots made, in order to maximize the number of looks for each trouser/jacket combination. Considering he owned over 150 Savile Row suits, this was no small footwear collection.  Bunny often had several pairs of the same shoe made when he found a favorite leather color or type; he owned no fewer than 14 pairs of pale blue and white kid spectator brogues. He was a great fan of Whisky Cordovan leather, the palest shade of shell cordovan, notoriously difficult to obtain due to the difficulty in tanning to such a light “tea” hue.

Did I mention that he loved to dance? He could really move those size seven feet.

From his obituary:
“Bunny was true: beneath his mauve mannerisms he was stalwart, frank, dependable and undeceived; to onlookers a passing peacock, to intimates a life enhancer and exemplary friend.”

There will never be another one like him. Have a gander at the goods in his closet:

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