Designer Nicholas Graham's success lies beneath the surface

CHAMPION OF BOXERS

May 14, 1992|By Kendall Morgan | Kendall Morgan,Dallas Morning News

One can learn a lot about a man by looking at his clothes. One can learn about Nicholas Graham by looking at what's underneath some of those clothes. The designer and CEO of Joe Boxer Corp. has elevated the lowly boxer short from something only your father would wear to a wild fashion statement.

The Joe Boxer concept began in 1985 with a small San Francisco-based neckwear line designed by Mr. Graham. That was his day job. At night, he sang in a rock band called Screen of Dreams.

When a Macy's employee said she was looking for some fun underwear to stock in the stores, Mr. Graham rose to the occasion.

In just a few years, most major department stores' typical selection of striped and white boxers had been turned upside down. Now men can wear shorts picturing pigs and fish; pushing the boundaries even further, one pair is covered with the word "no," but when the lights are out, the shorts glow with "yes." It isn't the least bit surprising that many women have been buying or borrowing men's boxers to wear for themselves.

"We found pretty much that one-half of the customers in the men'sdepartment for our products were women," says Mr. Graham. "A year ago we decided we were going to put out a women's line and call it Girlfriend and build this whole character, because Joe Boxer is his own character.

"The patterns are really funny," he says, describing Girlfriend. "But it's in good taste."

Joe Boxer Girlfriend, according to the designer, is a blond -- at least at heart. She wears silk pajamas to dinner parties, never returns phone calls from Warren Beatty and walks it like she talks it. She's the perfect companion for Joe Boxer, and the two could inhabit a global joke-shop world if Mr. Graham has his way.

Joe Boxer recently added a boy's line, along with a line of home furnishings for the bed and bath, including a bedspread that proclaims, "Shut up and go to sleep," in elegant script. Graham has even recorded a CD of original music as a gift with the purchase of a bedding set.

He also wants to break into active-wear and swimsuits, and has plans to start a line of tabletop ceramics and overstuffed chairs. What possibly could be left?

"We're right now developing a sitcom based on the company. It's gone through several stages, and it's getting interesting. It's just a crazy man who has an underwear company. It'll be just like our offices," says Mr. Graham.

Until the show gets off the drawing board, Nicholas Graham must be content with seeing his designs on everyone from Roseanne Arnold to Madonna and on such groups as Public Enemy and Tony!Toni!Tone! The only person left that he would like to see wearing Joe Boxer is President Bush, who would have to wear a pair of Joe Boxer's glow-in-the-dark shorts "so Barbara could find him if he was out late on the White House lawn. So she could keep track of him when he sleepwalks."

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