Dallas designer Rusty Bell realized that not every gay man looks like a runway model, so he came up with ThrIII, a line of menswear for boys and bears alike
J. DENTON BRICKER | Contributing Writer
When Rusty Bell first started dating his boyfriend Corey, he was shocked to discover that Corey hated — hated! — wearing underwear. It was confining — an uncomfortable chore.
As a designer specializing in men’s undergarments, this came as a blow to Bell. (Corey wouldn’t even wear his creations!) For Bell, underwear presented opportunities: for a splash of color or a flirtatious, fun accent, especially when wearing conservative business attire. And a key was stylish comfort: That extra layer helps keep jeans fresh in Texas heat, and outer garments even slide over it better.
Rather than take offense, Bell took Corey’s resistance as a challenge. And what started off as a quest to “fix” a problem has rapidly grown into a unique, emerging menswear brand.
Bell’s startling discovery was compounded by the epiphany that many in the gay bear community shared Corey’s opinion. That led to the creation of ThrIII, which Bell named after his generational suffix.
“I would ask friends what kind of underwear do you buy and these huge guys would wear an XXXL on top and an XL on bottom,” says Bell. “Obviously, there were a lot of fit issues. I thought maybe there isn’t enough variety of fun brands for larger sizes. Andrew Christian, NastyPig and PUMP all go up to XL only.
Where do you go from there?”
ThrIII offers jocks, bikinis and boxer briefs in vibrant prints and solids in sizes from S to XXXL, which is indicative of how Bell’s work consistently demonstrates that he isn’t afraid to ask the hard questions before implementing innovative designs to help answer them.
From underwear, Bell naturally leapt into creating lounge/street wear and he started with a yoga pant specifically for men.
“All of the girls run around in these black, stretchy yoga pants everywhere,” Bell observes. “I really thought that men needed their own version of everyday lounge pant that you can wear to the gym, outside the gym and just have fun with.” His designs ensure such fun, employing bright colors and slightly sheer fabrics. The Yoga’ll is another yoga centric product he offers: Think of a cross between oversized overalls and a playful yoga pant with deep cut sides to show off those obliques.
“It looks amazing on everybody that puts it on,” Bell says. “It’s so comfortable, breezy, and I love the fact that it shows a little side hip without full blown exposure. If you wear a great pair of underwear you even get a little flash of color. Showing hip is the male version of side boob.”
His forays in yoga designs led to the creation a shortened, streamlined version of the long john in the commanding prints he is known for.
“I call them shortjohns,” Bell grins. “They are somewhere between longjohns and Bermuda shorts with pockets but it still has the fitted pouch in the front. It’s a little risqué but still fun. You can wear it in or out.”
The length makes them more practical and wearable in the mild Texas winters. The black graphic waistbands seen on his underwear also work well here, grounding the lively print while also lending the ThrIII brand further cohesion and fluidity. Bell upcycles a certain amount of special fabrics that speak to him, which ensures that collections are of a limited nature.
Bell’s eye-catching short-sleeved sequin hoodie is another standout amongst his product lineup.
“I love that I started off with matte sequins so it wasn’t shiny or glossy but still had a great texture to it. If you put a really masculine guy into sequins it actually works well,” Bell says. “It doesn’t add a feminine aesthetic like you would think. It’s kind of sporty but also a little glam. We started with black and then green.”
He knows that his clothing requires a certain confidence to wear but also reminds us that the tradeoff in fashion also make us feel good too. For example, the sequins may or may not require courage but the fit that hugs you in all the right ways makes you feel great.
Bell’s bold designs push the street/lounge aesthetic but they’re supposed to. Bell is familiar with Dallas and its sometimes conservative fashion tendencies and yet encourages us to grow.
“I would like to push the envelope as far as what people are digesting,” he says. “In Dallas, we typically stick to a more standard color, design or cut because that is what we know and it is safe. There are of course exceptions and different stages of this. I want to see the Dallas customer, my customer, whoever decides to wear this, feel the freedom of being able to jump into what they want to wear and how they want to wear it.”
Bell officially launched his brand this spring with a fashion show during Texas Bear Round Up, and he also made a strong showing at the Pin Show. He’s also been driving cross-country to have a presence at gay Pride events all over the nation, including Orlando, San Diego and Denver. He’s kept the ThrIII brand available online and at Skivvies, and the line also includes leather and wool vests, leather and sequin track jackets, pink leopard basketball shorts, swimwear (think water proof sequins), and he even does custom work upon request.
Add to all of this: Bell is studying for his Ph.D. in art education, while also working full-time at Wade College as a professor of fashion design while serving as design division director.
How does he balance it all?
“Segmentation of what I have is really wonderful,” he says. “I used to produce three different lines out of the house which was extremely difficult especially with our dogs. And school is just a sprinkling here and there.”
And Corey — now his husband, and a staunch defender of his underwear — is still integral to his work, actually managing the business side of ThrIII and providing an anchor.
“He helps me edit down and we balance each other out,” Bell says. “Don’t get me wrong: sometimes there are emotions and things that come into play. But in the end [those] contradictions work well for us.”
Relationships, like fashion, are all personal style.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 14, 2014.