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Making your way through crowds in New York’s Financial District, you can’t help but notice that guys dress differently. Whereas the majority of offices around the country have shed their suits for never-ending casual Fridays, men on Wall Street appear to still have go-to tailors. “It’s a very cutthroat, male-dominated space,” says Michael, a 27-year-old who works at a law firm on Wall Street.
"Cutthroat,” you say? Sounds familiar — like the fictionalized Wall Street icons of the ’80s, Gordon Gekko and Patrick Bateman. “There’s definitely a reverence for how Bateman presented himself and how he dressed," Michael confirms. "Not for killing people, but you'd be surprised.”
There’s apparently a lot to like about a serial murderer and torturer. His skin routine and fashion, for starters. It’s why, even two and a half decades past the character’s debut, there are still obsessives of Patrick Bateman, the protagonist of Bret Easton Ellis’s 1991 novel, American Psycho.
“I'm occasionally and increasingly asked by readers of a book I published in 1991 called American Psycho about where its narrator, Patrick Bateman, would be now,” Ellis wrote in Town & Country last year. There’s seemingly always an occasion to bring up the murderous Wall Street worker, like an anniversary or the opening of a musical. But even beyond arbitrary checkpoints, the best reason is that the image of Bateman remains as relevant in 2017 as it was when the book was published in 1991, or when the movie, starring Christian Bale, was released in 2000.
A culture warped by toxic masculinity, a loosening grip on reality, and an obsession with looks, status, and luxury goods; ring any kind of bell? “Bateman has an obsession with working out and a self-indulgent grooming regimen that feels very 2017,” says Dan Rookwood, US editor of men’s luxury shopping site Mr Porter, which put together a selection to help customers “dress like Mr. Bateman” in 2013. “[His routine] would have sounded ludicrous 25 years ago but in this age of the selfie- and fitness-obsessed narcissism-as-normality? Fist-bumps all around.”
Mr Porter is hardly alone in using Bateman as a figure to learn from and copy. Frankly, the number of articles endorsing Bateman’s way of life while casually pushing the bad stuff under the rug is axe-wielding-maniac scary. “Why Modern Men Can Identify With Patrick Bateman,” from The Telegraph in late 2013, goes so far as to suggest that it’s “unclear” whether or not the American Psycho protagonist is a hero or anti-hero. Have to say, it feels pretty explicit.
The article praises Bateman as “hard-living,” physically fit, attractive to beautiful women, and a good judge of clothing. Today, it would be incredibly easy to replicate Bateman’s lifestyle, down to the exact font he obsesses over on a business card (Silian Rail). In addition to Mr Porter’s edit, you can find articles that break down or overanalyze his grooming routine, look back at the restaurants featured in the book as well as project where Bateman would dine today, and provide a virtual tour of his apartment.
And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. If you really want to inhabit Bateman’s world, there have been opportunities to eat at two separate Dorsia restaurants — one in Houston, Texas, the other in London — although reservations weren’t as hard to come by as they were at the fictionalized version, and neither lasted long. One of the most memorable scenes from the book/movie is Bateman’s comprehensive skincare routine, which involves an ice pack, two cleansers, two scrubs, a mask, an after-shave lotion, two moisturizers, and an eye balm. 25 years later, it inspired the very real Bateman Skincare.
Bateman Skincare was founded by three American Psycho fans, Michael Cohn, Michael Bradley Jones, and Reed Maidhof, in late 2016. It came out of the belief that a lot of people are “very attracted” to Bateman, says Cohn. “To his lifestyle persona — not his political views or his murderous intentions or fleeting mental health.”
But what grew out of that initial concept is actually a lot more self-conscious. Cohn believes there’s only so far a brand centered around such an insidious person can go. The co-founders agreed that the limited viewpoint may lend itself to a short-term project, and they’d need a headier concept to go beyond that. Bateman Skincare landed on a version of the brand that puts Bateman and his ideals on its head. “We purposefully chose him because he's completely the opposite of what we stand for socially and ethically,” says Cohn. The brand’s social channels are now giving voice to anti-Donald Trump sentiments, non-gendered products, and, ironically, cruelty-free products. Cohn says the brand wants to make “the transition from psychotic killer to ethical warrior.”
It’s a noble, albeit half-baked, concept, but the brand might be better served by its initial instincts. There’s a reason we see so many articles based around Bateman, why Ellis still gets questioned about him, and why the character remains so popular: That image is still pervasive today. Well-groomed men concerned about washing away their masculinity with the wrong face wash still influence guys’ grooming products.
Still, in 2017, Bateman is an incredibly useful tool for brands to become immediately approachable to men. “Because [men] are familiar with the aesthetic and the persona, they're not worried about how using the beauty products will affect their masculinity,” explains Cohn. The most striking thing Cohn says about Bateman is that he’s “a full-spectrum lifestyle brand.”
Whether it’s skincare, business cards, exercise, clothing, food, or even joyless criticisms of music, you make Bateman part of the messaging and it immediately opens up an avenue that men can approach without feeling like their masculinity is in danger. Mr Porter’s Rookwood says that to this day, there are Batemans everywhere — a sentiment echoed by an article written on the e-tailer’s site — and recalls a recent conversation with a coworker in which they obsessed over Smythson stationery. “There exists an acceptable level of design snobbery that has its genesis in Bateman.” Simply put, Bateman made it okay, even admirable, for a man to be obsessed with clothing designers, grooming, and how he looks.
This is a concept that loosely transfers over to the real world, where employees who work on Wall Street attest that there are still Batemans out there. In conversations with 10 people who work on Wall Street, I found hints of Bateman everywhere.
A premium on appearance is a value that’s hard to run from when you work on Wall Street, according to the guys I spoke with. “It’s key because you're representing your firm in front of the clients,” says Jason, a 29-year-old who works in finance. It’s important for employees to match the formality of their clients. While those who work with real estate brokers and casino owners say it's less critical to be suited up, wearing dress pants and a jacket is an obligation for the vast majority of Wall Streeters. “[Your bosses] won’t outright say you look like a bum, but it’s unspoken,” says Matt, a 32-year-old who works in the finance industry.
Another person I spoke with says that he showed up without a tie one day and his superior walked over to his desk with one and forced him to wear it. Matt says that at his firm, two Armani suits are symbolic for where you are in the pecking order. The more affordable one is worn by younger associates, but it’s imperative to upgrade to the more expensive model if and when you get promoted to partner.
And while guys profess to working with someone who idolizes figures like Bateman and Gordon Gekko (from Wall Street), goes for routine facials, and “fetishizes brands like Hermès,” the industry is a much more relaxed version of what Ellis describes. The most name-checked brands I got were Indochino, SuitSupply, J.Crew, and even Men’s Wearhouse. It’s a far cry from the likes of Armani, Bill Blass, and Ralph Lauren, which came up frequently in American Psycho. When I ask Jason if Men’s Wearhouse is looked down upon, he tells me it’s all about volume. “No, not at all. When it comes to price efficiency, it's the best way to go.”
Shaun, a banker who’s worked in the industry since graduating in 1996 and who very cooly calls Wall Street “The Wall,” says that codes of appearance have relaxed greatly in his time. However, his definition of casual is not wearing a tie every day — “That’s usually a relaxed look,” he says — and he still gets all his suits bespoke from his regular tailor, as do many of the people he works with.
What seems to have endured are the Batemanian conversations around grooming and brands that still take place. Like in the book, they sound more akin to dick-measuring contests than any sort of pursuit of knowledge “We're always in conversation about what are the best clothing brands, best shaving cream, where can I go right now to get something tailored?” says Jason. “Basically all day all we talk about is sports, we talk about news, we never talk about politics, and we talk about fashion.”
The aversion to politics may be the most unique thing about this industry, when the rest of us can’t seem to go a day without losing precious work hours fretting over the current climate. It’s certainly something Bateman wasn’t immune to in the book. If you doubt that Bateman’s relevance carries into 2017, consider that the character from the 1991 novel praises one guy’s then newly released book, surveys for him at parties and in limos, and stumbles toward his gold tower in the closing passages. Of course, the guy Bateman obsesses over is Donald J. Trump.