Halfsie Hero New Face of Hilfiger

Jun 2, 2016

Nathan Adrian signs with Tommy Hilfiger… and some thoughts on looks and race and speed… 

Why are men and women of mixed race always so damn attractive? Must be all that cross pollination that produces the most beautiful specimens.  Whatever it is, Nathan Adrian is now the official poster boy of halfsie nation. His agents at Octagon announced that he’s signed a deal with Tommy Hilfiger as their newest “menswear ambassador.”

Out west the common term is ‘hapa’, a Hawaiian term meaning mixed ethnic heritage. It generally refers to those half Asian / half Caucasian kids that always seem to look like they’ve won the genetic lottery. I prefer the more literal ‘halfsie’ over ‘hapa’, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be that particular Asian-white combo. Any combination will do. Because the more you mix the races, the better the results seem to be. And not just in the looks department.

Adrian is a case in point: His mom is Chinese; his dad, Irish-German. Together they produced a 6 ft 6 beast who’s the defending Olympic champion in the 100 free; the longtime anchor of American relays; and the crush of countless ladies, young and old.

He’s in good company. Take a look at this quick roll call from the Halfsie Hall of Fame: Tiger Woods. Derek Jeter. The Rock. Bob Marley. And, um, the President of the United States.

Among swimmers, one could argue that the two fastest men in the history of American swimming are both halfsies: Adrian and fellow Cal Bear Anthony Ervin.

Heady company to be sure.

Though as Ervin experienced back at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, sometimes being of mixed heritage can pose some difficult questions when folks want to label your identity in singular terms. Back in Sydney, the 19-year-old Ervin was uncomfortably asked about being the first swimmer of African-American descent to win an Olympic medal in swimming. It was uncomfortable because, as Ervin would later say, “I didn’t know a thing about what it was like to be part of the black experience. But I do now. It’s like winning gold and having a bunch of old white people ask you what it’s like to be black. That is my black experience.”

That hard-won wisdom touches on an unfortunate quality inherent in all of us: the need to label and categorize. In a New York Times op-ed piece last week, entitled The Psychology of Genre, author Tom Vanderbilt dissects “why we don’t like what we struggle to categorize.” This is true of music and books and beer, and it’s also true of people. There is a built-in instinct to place everyone and everything in a certain genre or category. When that isn’t easy, when old white sportscasters like Jim Gray can’t get their heads around the sometimes complicated richness of multiple ethnic identities, it forces us to widen our perceptions. Which can also be extremely attractive, as it appeals across boundaries we might have only recognized subconsciously.

Which brings us back to Adrian. He’s long been the thinking woman’s pinup. According to my wife and her friends, it’s Nathan who gets the heart racing, not the himbo charms of Ryan Lochte. Leave Lochte for the girls in the club, where the music’s so loud no one cares about the lack of conversational talents. Adrian’s the guy the ladies really pine for. Lochte’s the one-night stand she’s proud of; Adrian’s the long game dream of a ring.

The folks at Tommy Hilfiger see it. And it doesn’t take any dive deeps into the psychology of mixed race to recognize the obvious.

(AUTHOR’S SHAMELESS NOTE: My daughter is a halfsie…)