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Kareem Tabsch

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2011: The Death of the Despots. The Death of Fashion.

Posted: 01/04/12 11:24 AM ET

For some, the end of the year is a time to recall all the blessings they've had throughout the previous 12 months. Not for me. For me, it's a time to drink to excess with friends who become more likable the more I imbibe. My favorite holiday party this year included a night of baked brie, booze, new and old friends, and a fun competition of 'ugliest holiday sweater.' Now, I can't deny that I have more than just a slight competitive streak in me. I mean, I'd push a pregnant woman down a flight of stairs if it means nabbing a good prize. Hell, even a mediocre one. So when this ugly sweater theme manifested itself, I immediately knew that I had to step up my game. After all, this was a party in Miami thrown by two stylish and crafty gays. The competition would be fierce but I've always prided myself in being able to out-tacky anyone and in this city, thats a pretty bold statement. As I started assembling my outfit, I needed to draw on some inspiration. Of course, I immediately thought of that bastion of style, the most daring of fashionistas: Muammar Gaddafi. I instantly got a little wistful.

Let's face it. While the deaths of Hussein, Bin Laden, Gaddafi, and the recent passing of Kim Jong Il have been good news for democracy they have really been terrible blows to the echelons of theatrical world leaders. I mean, who can compete with these guys? They had more than just nuclear arsenals. They had panache, and that's something missing from global politics today.

This fall, with each passing day's reports out of Tripoli about the storming of the various palaces that the Gaddafi clan called home, and even with the exciting and scandalous discovery of gay porn at his eldest son's pad; I was truly hoping that the breaking news on CNN wasn't that they found the Ole Colonel hiding in a drainage pipe but that some revolutionary had discovered an underground lair full of the kaftans, dashikis, robes, leisure suits, and fashion atrocities that made Muammar my personal favorite dictator. I mean, talk about creating your own look. Those bold colors and patterns! Those one of a kind pieces! The man single-handedly created desert couture. Gaddafi was as much an 80s style icon as parachute pants and leg warmers. Sure Reagan, Thatcher, and Gorbachev may be the first world leaders of our youth that we Generation X-ers think of, but were any of them as colorful as The Lion of Libya? I think not. Now all I'm left with are memories and old photos of the flowing silk robes and satin suits. No new creations to be awestruck by. All gone, thanks to some young revolutionaries and all in the name of democracy. Those selfish bastards.


The recent unexpected announcement from North Korea that 'Dear Leader' Kim Jong Il had passed cast yet another dark cloud for those of us who had grown to admire his simple -- yet elegant -- stylings. Never has a track suit looked so good as when it was worn on his 5'3" frame. While hard work and discipline were the only messages North Koreans were able to receive, his outfits sent a sense of relaxed composure that told people at home and abroad: "Don't stress it. I got this." Unlike his contemporaries across Asia, Kim Jong Il was hardly ever seen wearing a suit and tie but then again, when you're spending all your free time enriching uranium, it helps to look relaxed. Still, it wasn't just the leisure wear that set him apart. No, the supreme leader knew the importance of a tightly curated look and his haircut -- closely cropped on the side, high on the top -- along with his penchant for vintage Courreges sunglasses created a visage that may be replicated, but will never be topped. It was the kind of total look that would do Tim Gunn proud.

The title of Worst Dressed (and most despised) tyrant undoubtedly belongs to Osama Bin Laden. With his extreme height -- roughly 6'5" -- he could have pulled off some stunning looks. Just imagine how much more frightening he'd have been in highly stylized Jean Paul Gaultier or Commes Des Garçon rather than the drab white robes and turbans. I mean for a man who hated America so much, he had no problem wearing a camouflage fatigue jacket. This just underscores the importance of putting thought into your clothing choices. I mean how can you take someone seriously whose outfits include the jacket of your enemy's armed forces? Ugh, Bin Laden. Such a tragedy in every sense.

Of course with the death toll of dictators rising these days, it is inevitable that Miami as a whole is glancing south and hoping for news of a similar fate to the now-near-recluse Fidel Castro. As the child of a Cuban immigrant and a conscious capitalist, I have many beefs with Castro; but I have to think that even the most ardent of loyalists must be disappointed in El Commandante's choice of attire across the last five decades. For nearly 40 years of his 49-year rule, Castro's was almost never seen in anything but his olive green military uniform, matching cap, and black combat boots. It was as dependable a sight as the food ration lines.

Castro may be the most charismatic dictator ever, which made his fashion banality that much more of a shame, though I'll admit that shade of green truly was his color. Still, imagine how entertaining those four-hour speeches urging patience and resilience would have been if he'd been wearing a ruffled-sleeve rumba shirt re-imagined by Roberto Cavalli. Clearly, the Cuban people would have taken solace in the fact that though they may not have had enough to eat, at least their leader could dazzle in Dolce & Gabbana. I know the embargo makes things tough but if Nitza Villapol, the Cuban Julia Childs, could teach you how to make a plantain peel edible, there has to be some crafty seamstress in Havana who could have come up with some sort of sub-tropic couture that goes well with a beard. Hell, maybe one of the countless 'Envios a Cuba' businesses that are all over Miami could have sent him some Levis and Polos. While the 'hardworking military leader' look was what Fidel was obviously going for, was some cream-colored piping on the uniform really too much to ask? Sadly, by the time he started peppering his wardrobe with tailored suits, the damage had been done and the image burned into our minds.

If Fidel's uniform was awful, his post-retirement garbs are worse. I mean of all the things to be lounging around in... an Adidas track suit? What, were a guayabera and linen pants too comfortable? Too Cuban? Is Caribbean active wear really that hard to come by? Ms. Wintour is surely not impressed.

So while we look back at all that 2011 has brought and taken from us and look forward to what 2012 has in store, I hope someone gets the memo to Iran's Ahmadinejad and Venezuela's Chavez. If you want to make your mark on the global stage and in the history books, trash-talking the US and threatening your neighbors isn't enough. Get yourself a style consultant. And here's a free tip; don't be afraid of pink. They say it's the new black.