Sunday, 29 March 2009

Cosplay or the Highway?

Recent fellow Blogger/Twitterer So Stylistic set my mind thinking this week. She posted a blog (link below) in which she admired a guy for the honest effortlessness of his geek-chic style. She stressed the difference between the genuine article she thought she'd snapped at a highway service station and those geek impostors who are self-aware, constructing their look self-consciously. This made me think about the age-old debate of the relevance of motivation in art. If this is interesting in other art forms, it's especially fascinating in fashion given the fact that the person is so inextricably tied-up with their creation. The effect of someone's look is so dependent on the way the wearer 'wears' the clothes which includes their body language when alone, their facial gestures and how they carry themselves with others.

It's usually those looks which subvert the status quo in some way that are the most closely bound up with this sub-text of wearer motivation. Manners of subversion include pushing the 'uncool geek' vibe, using deliberately clashing colours or combinations of patterns or items which received wisdom says should never be seen together. In London, Brick Lane's been the centre of fashion subversion for over 5 years now. A few years ago one of my female colleagues' favourite topics of conversation would be the girls they'd on The Lane mixing up stripes with polka dots and unlikely combinations of floral patterns, their outer contempt laced through with a generous streak of envy.

I saw this guy hanging out on the Lane a couple of weeks ago. I admired the daring originality of his eclectic look which I thought was a great example of the 80s tinged bad taste trend which is going around this Spring. To be honest, based purely on the aesthetics, I still struggle to appreciate the point of putting clashing items together in this way. But, by opening my eyes to more than the surface appearance, and looking more at the lines of motivation and how he's wearing the look, I can enjoy the look in another way.

I suppose in some ways this clash-dresser is the antithesis to SoStylistic's geek. While I'm very excited by the subtle charm of someone who 'doesn't know their potential yet' I also love the self-consciously over-the-top fashion wearers (Anna Piagi, the late Isabella Blow...) who shuns any pretence of subtlety in the name of experimenting. Personally, I love playing with this continuum of deliberateness in choosing my look. Although my style is less extreme, I feel naturally driven towards the Haranjuku/Cosplay end of the spectrum; a very deliberate way of over-doing a look in contrast to the relaxed chic of the French and Italian kids I used to envy during summer holidays on the Med. Ironically, it is a light version of this overdone, unnatural look which actually feels most natural and genuine to me.

So Stylistic's Geek post

Anna Piagi, this Milan

Colourful Isabella


On the slate...

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Off fruits at Borough

It wasn't till I was well into my twenties that I realised what a poor understanding of colour I had. My girlfriend at the time moaned disapprovingly as I went around shops grabbing as many things as I could in the same general colour expecting them to work well together. I remember returning from one shopping trip I made alone having discovered the colour green. Her face when I tried on my military green cords with a pea green shirt and black v neck sweater with jade flecks was a picture... After many wrong turns, she gradually managed to steer my stubborn mind towards the realisation that the key to matching colours successfully is actually to focus on tone and not colour at all. Unfortunately, I think this lack of ability to match colour skillfully is all too common in us blokes who's everyday clothes are often either monochromatic or centred around jeans with a splash of colour. It always amuses me that even men who wear a suit 5 days a week, still agonise for hours over the only colour co-ordination responsibility they have: that of the tie and shirt...and still they often get it so wrong!

In contrast, I though this female actor I snapped in Borough Market was a shining example of skillful tone matching. Her colourful ensemble stood out a mile from the drabness of the other shoppers while being tied in nicely together by all coming from the same off-colour tone. Last year we were told to expect an invasion of these off-colours but it never really kicked off to the degree we were promised. Perhaps that's because it's so hard to mix them with colours from other tonal groups and most people would need a completely new wardrobe to pull the look off. Since the start of this season we've been told repetitively that 'colour is in'. And sure enough, as soon as the good weather arrived a few weeks ago, Londoners were quick to don outfits as colourful as the blossom which appeared at the same time in Regent's Park. For the time being, according to the style cognoscenti, it seems any colour or tone is deemed to be long as it's matching.

As for what's next, if Henry Holland's AW09 show is anything to go by, it'll be chalky colours (see Karen Dacre's linked article for the Standard). I was highly dubious until someone tweeted this photo to me of next season's Preen Dresses: I think these milky tones will be just as difficult to co-ordinate with colours from people's existing wardrobes as the off-colours have been, so the chalky revolution's probably going to be just as subtle as that one was.

But some people will never learn. True to form, I've been enjoying wearing acid pink jeans with a clashing primary red hoody. When I put them together I smile to myself remembering that before I would have thought they went together. Now I allow myself the buzz from the very fact that they don't.

On the slate...

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Sir, I think you've forgotten your trousers! Men in tights...

A couple of years ago, there was only one place I wanted to go on Sunday nights. If I could get a few friends together who didn't mind starting the week bleary eyed, I'd head to Hoxton Bar and Grill for Boombox. Like it or loath it, while it was going, Boombox was a great melting pot of sartorial experimentation. For me, a few hours there could be as inspiring as a trip through the archives at the V&A. Every week there was a sizable contingent of precocious Central St Martins students who colonised the back of the stage shouting youthful confidence from every hand-sewn tuck. Their individual outfits put together on the cheap easily slayed most of the designer clobber worn by my generation and made most of look bland and predictable by comparison.

In the middle of this creative maelstrom, I remember one young chap who sometimes wore an outift based around a pair of black leggings. This was probably the first time I'd seen a man in tights outside of Saddlers Wells and it struck a firm chord of admiration and jealousy. They were made from a light matt cotton-elastane mix with a subtle sparkle. He wore them with smart patent Oxfords, a t-shirt, black cardy and black framed glasses with foppish hair. I think both of the guys pictured here share quite a bit with the Boombox boy and they all look good on it. The look works by keeping the footwear light and thinly soled - lightweight Oxfords or Converses. The most difficult area is around the waist and crotch. The problem's nicely diffused here by both our guys wearing mid length shirts with attractive tails. I think the key is to keep the top light and relaxed, for example with a long pocketed cardy or boiled wool blazer with enough length to cover at least half the rump.

And if you're brave enough to try the look but it leaves you feeling somewhat exposed? Don't worry, I have it on great authority that this is something even models face. When chatting with a Maison Margiela attendant in store the other day he told me of the collective embarrassment as the models were parading around the shop in their mirrorball leggings. Below is a link to the Margiela publicity shots. Notice how the models modesty is maintained in the photo, one of them looks like he's straight out of a penalty defence wall! Low and behold, their entire stock sold within a week of the leggings arriving on the shelves...

On the slate...

Monday, 23 March 2009

New Era of the New Romantic

A lot of people I know find my interest with the latest thing in fashion distasteful . They see trends as the tedious dictum of the self-interested style elite which stifle creativity and should be adamantly ignored. I admit that there are certainly many maverick dressers who look amazing while defying all fashions that happen to be floating around at that particular moment. But personally, I think there's a lot to be gained from the trends of the season, especially if they are taken, fucked with and put back on the body with creative interpretation by the wearer. If I was to rigidly refuse to partake in the season's fashion, I'd be denying myself all the enjoyment of playtime with the new toy of inspiration that's been thrown into my playpen. And when the trends are as colourful and outlandish as a revival of the New Romantic look, I have every reason to be excited. So, as it gradually dawned on me last week that a new era of New Rom is on it's way, I got very excited about where things are headed.

I managed to steal the snap above of Georg at the Mooch London launch party at the weekend. I like his layering on top from the two close fitting vest and upturned collar shirt to the cropped over-sized jacket. His over-sized Vivienne Westwood Alien-esque trousers were tucked into deep red high boots. The impact of his look depends heavily on the natural tones of the fabrics and his accessories: the vintage necklace, scarf and a belt which is worthy of being on display. Through it all he's managed to maintain a relaxed, slouchy unpretentious vibe through soft fabrics and collars and loose cuts. Not the easiest thing when you're going clubbing dressed as a pirate...

If you're in London and looking for some New Romantic inspiration, I'd start with a trip to the Westwood shop in Conduit Street. For men, they've got various styles of loose crotched trousers and £140 bat-wing shirts which would work. Their current Anlgomania range (for women) has great dresses in an exploded version of her classic Pirate print which would be a happy centrepiece for an N R look at about £240. Perhaps best of all, friendly manager/buyer Stuart has finally brought a small stock of her better value, rarer and largely New Romantic World's End collection and is offering them for sale in the Conduit street store. This should make the traipse down the King's Road a thing of the past for all but the most die-hard Japanese Westwood pilgrim...

On the slate...

Men's footbags: Loafers, Moccasins and Deck shoes

A few months ago I was deliberating over a pair of two tone blue/white brogues in Church's. For those unfamiliar with the brand, they still make everything by hand in England's shoe capital, Northampton. This is in contrast to rival Grenson who make their premium line there but also put together a cheaper and lighter range in India. While I was in Church's Conduit Street store I noticed a range of shiny, almost patent moccasin loafers with an amazing patina which I was told is built up over various weeks and 6 coats of colour. It now seems hard to believe that this was the first time I've ever considered getting a pair of loafers, a style which until that day I pretty much abhorred. Next stop on my shoe journey was a viewing of Frost/Nixon - a movie about Italian loafers, loosely framed around some interview between an English dandy and an old mafia don, for me to see that loafers were going to be this year's brogues. Enlisting my friends in a brogue/loafer debate it was suggested to me that brogues, as the most proper of proper men's' shoes are always in style. I doubted this theory as I reckon it's one of the unfortunate facts of the mechanisms of fashion that even if one's been wearing a classic fashion in a maverick way for years, once the style's been as thoroughly colonised by the masses as brogues have, one ceases to become a maverick and quickly becomes simply outmoded.

Vivienne Westwood puts the penny back into the penny loafer

Anyway, by this stage I'd agonised over my brogues/loafers decision long enough to become jobless and realised that I really shouldn't be spending £300 on any footwear. Initially disappointed I was saved by the amazing buyers of the vintage stores of Brick Lane. Their skill in sourcing racks of vintage versions of this seasons fashions always blows me away. They've currently got a great selection of brogues, loafers and various different types of moccasin type things. Of course you won't get the acid colours that the new versions come in, which are great for quirking up plain outfits (see Paul 'classics with a twist' Smith below). But worn-in shoes are actually easier to wear with most of the looks around at the moment. I picked mine up for £35 and christened them the other day with some sky blue Falke mercerized cotton socks (see top photo).

So, what's next? This summer the moccasin's cousin, the deck shoe, has already joined the men's shoe race. And further down the line distressed Oxfords ('Balmorals' in the US) are already looking pretty good on the shelf and will probably become the most popular choice to keep feet warm and dry after summer's come and gone. But if you're looking for something dressy and you haven't discovered monk straps yet, now could be a good time to invest ( )

On the slate...

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Irish lads loafing in Hoxton

I found these three handsome young Irish chaps lounging in Hoxton Square last week. When I asked them what they were planning on doing with the rest of the day they replied: 'Just hang around and get stoned'. Luckily for me they put their tight looks together before their day disappeared into a cloud of smoke.

I saw the guys on the left and instantly wanted to snap them as they're sporting a look I'm really enjoying at the moment: close fitting checked shirts (they've stuck around since Brokeback Mountain) or utilitarian tops, cropped or rolled up low-rise skinnies and loafers , deck shoes or dsitressed Oxfords (last year these were more likely to be brogues). Their hair completes the look: a good 3 to 5 inches kept easy and wavy with wet-look gel on top and close back and sides. The whole appearance is 50s inspired and goes well with the smoking, drinking, rebel without a cause vibe but beer guts are best avoided: this look really requires a gamin shape to carry it off successfully. The most exciting thing for me is the way the trend crosses sexuality and gender lines. Seeing a guy walk down the street sporting this look is no indication of where he gets his sexual kicks and looks equally hot on twenty something girls too, Aggy being a pretty good example.

On the slate...

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Geffrye Museum Takeoever starring Central St Martins 1st year students

Wondering through the Geffrye Museum the other day I came across a group of rather fashionable young ladies who's photos I wanted to take for MAW. I decided I'd pluck up the courage to ask them after seeing the rest of the exhibition. On returning through the museum, I came across them again but this time they were themsleves in full shooting flow all photographing one of them who had got dressed up. Turns out they were 1st year Central St Martins Fashion and Jewelry students recording some of their own coursework. I got their
permission to hijack their shoot...

The two-sided design of the wedding dress reminds me of Vivienne Westwood's amazing 1992 Watteau wedding gown: This was the highlight of the V&A organized Westwood exhibition which opened at the V&A a few years ago and traveled the world before closing in Sheffield last summer. But the fitted body, shorter length and traditional ivory silk obviously give it a completely different feel. I liked the mummy-esque strapping and overlength single arm too - they reminded me of the favourite sweater from Junky I mentioned in a previous blog. There's definitely something that makes one feel sexy when wearing a tightly fitted overlength arm...Not sure what to make of the sea of pearls neck furniture. What do you think? Is this an outfit to get married in?

Friday, 20 March 2009

East London's gets ready for Michael Mania

With out-of-date posters around the London Underground still advertising Michael Jackson’s originally modest project of 10 farewell concerts (these have now increased to 50 gigs, all of which sold out within hours of going on sale), London is bracing itself for Jacko fever once again. Not all the side-effects are positive: on BBC’s ‘I’ve never seen Star Wars’ tonight, viewers had to endure the excruciating results of a white haired newsreader (John Humphreys) being taught to moonwalk by show host Marcus Brigstocke.

In fashion, this Jacko revival does of course fit into the wider craze for all things 1980s. The 80s was, after all Jackson’s most successful decade seeing the release of his and, at the time, the world’s two biggest selling albums. Anyway…back to our Brick Lane bad guy: we’ve got a campification of the look sported by Michael on the cover of his late 80’s album Bad. The camp levels are hyped up through putting the whole look through a gold and silver filter, adding a fake pearl-laden bolero and leggings over which he’s wearing those leg warmers and micro skirt. So it’s primarily through borrowing these styles more normally associated with the early 80s that Brick Lane Michael has camped up his late 80s core ensemble.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Bow tie and loafers at Design Museum Debate

This is the smiling proof that the secret to stylish menswear is much more about inventiveness and courage than it is about forking out wads of cash. Take away the bow tie, unbutton the shirt and lose the glasses and there's nothing to mark this guy out from the crowd. All blokes need is the most minute accessory and a little chutzpah and we'll get bucket loads of style cred simply because most of our fellows fail to exhibit these. Using black from the feet up ties everything in nicely with his Mediterranean intelligentsia hairdo and well-maintained facial hair. And coming back to those feet...those understated brogues tell us this man is right on the moment but feels confident enough not to have to shout about it.

All-in-one at London Design Debate

The day after this was taken Beyond Retro held a special shopping event at both their London stores (Cheshire Street and Great Marlborough Street). The guest of honour at the events? The ladies' one-piece. Like polka dots, the one-piece was one of the bubbling under not-quite trends of last year. This year we'll see more and more of them, as they travel west from Brick Lane to Soho and beyond...

London Design Debate with Hussein Chalayan Shoreditch Town Hall March 09

A few years ago I very nearly splashed out £450 on a (men's) super long Yohji Yamamoto jumper. It was, to all intents and purposes, a jumper dress with a few buttons up the side. But it looked killer with the straight leg jeans I was wearing at the time. Since then I've lamented the lack of over-length knitwear for men. Thankfully last winter a few items creeped into the high street, or at least the side street, with Eley Kishimoto's unisex and Agnes B's men's long cardies. Sometimes we can get away with just wearing something from the women's floor but generally there's too much feminity expressed in the detail for most men to feel they can get away with that. We can but hope the choice widens next A/W. By the way, note the leggings...

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Junky Styling Show London Feb patchwork knitwear

I've never been a great fan of Junky's knitwear (but then I find it pretty hard to get excited about knitwear period). The exception is my slim-fitting black patchwork sweater which has extra-long arms with mummy-style bandages wrapped around them and a bias cut waist. Which, I happen to wear ALL the time...Another exception could be this pink number. The knitwear in this collection was mostly based on diamonds, giving a mild jester-like look to them. Obviously the success or failure of the outfits were very much dependent on the palette chosen. And this one which was coupled with shades and shown off by one of the show's best models was the hottest of the night.

Junky Styling Show London Feb 09...Women's purple coat

This is one of the most striking women's pieces from the show: a wool and velvet dress which I think was recycled from a dress (the velvet section) and a women's coat. It was last seen in the window of the store but it's probably sold by now, despite the fact that it's a winter coat and this is March...One of the great things about Junky's gear is that it can usually be worn for several years without too much risk of looking out of fashion. Thanks largely to Junky doing what they do so well, re-cut vintage has really taken off in London in the last couple of years, enabling them to raise their prices and other less experienced designers to sell their own watered down version of the look, often as close as around the corner in Brick Lane's Upmarket and Spitalfields every Sunday. But thanks to Junky's years of experience of creating cleverly recycled cuts, their quality usually shines through and items are put together in an intelligent way that surpasses the trend of the moment or sometimes (eg in their men's hooded blazers) creates it's own trend. What does all this mean? That you can buy next winter's coat in March safe in the knowledge that it'll look just as good when the cold weather returns.

Junky Styling Show London Feb 09...3 piece becomes 2

For me this is classic Junky: vintage menswear re-cut into a stylish look which is 'now' without the likelihood of it being 'then' in season or two's time. Here we've got a new invention of theirs for this 'season' (whatever a season is in Junky Styling speak): taking entire 3 piece suits, popping the waistcoats on the outside of the tails, jazzing up the shape and details like collars and just sprucing up the legs. It seems I wasn't the only fan of this piece...When I popped in to see how the show went down a couple of days later, Kerry told me that this was the first look they sold from the show. Someone laid out the required £400 for it the very next day. Kerry and Annie promise to make more soon though...just as soon as they can find some good 3 piecers...