Mustaches are having a moment.
They've recently been spotted on stars such as Brad Pitt and George Clooney. Organizations like "Mustaches for Kids" and "Movember" encourage men to grow them to raise awareness and donations for charitable causes.
But for professional photographer Ricky Chapman and the Rhode Island School of Design students and alumni who collaborated with him on the 2010 "Moustache Calendar," growing a mustache is not about the latest trend.
People often associate mustaches with "creepy" men, if not ironic Brooklyn hipsters, Chapman said.
"There's nothing ironic about the Moustache Calendar," said collaborator Nathan Phipps, a senior studying industrial design at RISD who is featured in the calendar as March's "Mr. Introspective." "It's kind of about the classic mustache."
The calendar instead shows the type of mustache "that you could wear at the office," or while "romancing women," said Chapman, who added that he chose the spelling "moustache" for the calendar's title because it seemed more sophisticated than "mustache."
The calendar's black-and-white photos feature RISD students and alums (and their mustaches) in intimate, personal shots. All the photos have captions, including "Caveman" and "Casanova." And yes, all the mustaches are real.
The calendar is subtitled "Sex-Confident," defined on its first page as an adjective denoting "realistic confidence in one's power and ability to attract the opposite sex."
"We wanted it to be a celebration and a form of empowerment to the mustached man," said collaborator Matt Cavallaro, who sports one of May's mustaches.
Chapman attended a Catholic high school where he had to stay clean-shaven, but he hasn't shaved his upper lip once in the past seven years, he said. For half of that time, he has had a beard, and for the rest of it, just a "stache," he said. His current mustache, he said, is part "classic chevron" and part "horseshoe."
"Sex-Confident" is actually Chapman's second mustache calendar — the original was created in 2004 when he and a friend wanted to raise money for a trip to Hawaii. The two friends "shot it, designed it and printed it at Kinko's in about two-and-a-half weeks," Chapman said. They sold the calendars on their small college campus and turned a profit of about $800 — enough for the plane tickets, he said.
Chapman told this story to a group of RISD students, who think of Chapman and his wife, Amy, a RISD alum, as friends and "surrogate parents," he said. After hearing the story, several students decided to work with Chapman on a new edition of the calendar.
The calendar is partly intended as a way to publicize the young artists featured in it, said Cavallaro, who manages the calendar's Web site, themoustachecalendar.com. He hopes to post updates for each man during his month in 2010, he said.
Some of the featured students already sported mustaches before the photoshoots, while others grew them or shaved off beards in order to participate.
Phipps had occasionally worn a mustache before working on the calendar, but he said he had always seen it as "funny."
But "since we did this whole thing, I've grown to appreciate the mustache," he said.
His girlfriend, Lindsay Perkins, a RISD student featured (without a mustache) in February's image, said she felt the same way. "I‘ve definitely grown to love it," she said.
Perkins said she has also noticed that Phipps' mustache generates respect from other men. "Nate and I will be out to dinner, and other guys with mustaches will give a nod," she said.
But not everyone is equally impressed. "My mom says she can't take me seriously with it," Phipps said.
Most participants, however, decided not to keep their mustaches. "I thought it was interesting to find out that it is something of a statement, and a lot of the guys weren't willing to keep it for that reason," Phipps said.
Cavallaro kept his mustache after the shoot was over and continued curling the ends of his conquistador-style facial hair during the summer. It was a style of mustache he had been considering before the project started, an interest that inspired the "Conquistazuma" image for November.
In general, Cavallaro said, images were inspired by the students themselves. "This calendar isn't so much about the mustache itself, but more about the man behind the mustache," he said.
So far, 3,000 copies of the calendar have been printed, Chapman said. The calendars, which cost $15 each, are for sale at the Brown Bookstore, the RISD Bookstore and Books on the Square on Angell Street in Wayland Square. Chapman hopes to bring them to more local retailers, as well as Urban Outfitters stores in Providence and in New York.
Chapman, who financed the project, has not broken even yet, he said, but he thinks he may donate part of his eventual profits to Movember and RISD's Office of Student Life.
But for Chapman, the Moustache Calendar is not about money — it's about celebrating its namesake, "sex-confidence."
"I feel like mustaches can work for most guys," Chapman said. They should "be bold as men and let their mustache be a sign of that boldness," he said.
And for young men seeking a role model? "Nietzsche had a very, very bold mustache," he said.
Mustaches are having a moment.