Thursday, 18 June 2009
Blokes in Cloaks: Caped Style Crusaders
This year everyone seems to be going around town saying how exciting men's fashion is and how boring womenswear has become. Friends and bloggers have been bemoaning this in reference to both the stock in the shops and the looks on the street and in the clubs usually frequented by London's more sartorially experimental female party-goers. In response I've been countering with the argument that in recent seasons the bar has simply been so much higher for exciting womenswear with such a precident created for strange silhouettes, interesting colour combinations and experimental, hard-to-define articles that are neither entirely skirt or trouser or dress or coat. The effect that this pushing of the boundaries of experimentalism has had on us is a slow dulling of the senses, shown by the fact that we wouldn't so much as turn our heads if a lady were wearing certain items but put the same item on a bloke and suddenly a chemical reaction seems to take place when it comes into contact with his hormones and it will be lauded as fashion genius or at least worthy of note.
This peculiar characteristic of the fashion machine is particularly perverse considering menswear's scavenging habit of following womenswear and taking trends to regurgitate masculine versions of them a season or two later. In this way, just as we get bored of seeing certain looks in womenswear, time and again, the essence is pilfered by menswear designers and stylists and then praised as cutting edge and inspired by all those around. ENTER THE CAPE...About four seasons ago I read an interview with Vivienne Westwood while she was warming up to her anti-consumerist, Resistance to Propaganda period, in which she urged everyone to don home-made capes made from flags and draped fabric. At the time the comments seemed a bit bizarre; apart from the (self-conscious) irony of a fashion designer telling people to make their own clothes rather than buying them, the idea that we were about to see people wondering around wearing capes and draped sheets seemed pretty implausible. But, yet again, a combination of Westwood's amazing prescience which helps her forecast trends and at the same time her influence which molds them meant that in womenswear by last winter cloaks and capes had filtered down from the designers to high street. Sure enough, by the end of winter, we barely turned out head when passing a lady wearing a cape in the street.
Fast forward a few months and to a quiet late morning a week ago on Bermondsey Street. That's when I chanced upon the art film maker, Tristan von Christann, pictured above. Ok, so what made me stop and pap Tristan wasn't just the fact that he was wearing a cape - his striking Manish Arora shades and the intricately embroidered tabi by Ikitabi certainly took his outfit into another avant garde place that the cape alone wouldn't have done. But it's the vintage cape which first caught my eye. There's no doubt that on a girl the cape would have been far less worthy of my camera.
Above: Batwing shirt by Holly Murphy (University of Salford Graduate collection)
Alas, it won't be long before we're a whole lot more used to seeing blokes in cloaks. With Etro, Burberry, Ferregamo and Ute Ploier serving up capes on their designer racks in a couple of months time. This was something British fashion students also seem to agree will be huge with most of the London graduate catwalks this month featuring some play with the winged silhouette in menswear as well as ladieswear. On the milder side this took the form of 80s inspired batwing sleeves, then came cape shoulders with arms underneath - the commercial solution preferred by premium high street last year - and in the most extreme examples there were full on capes and cloaks with no allowance for arm access at all such as those from RCA student Jasper Sinchai Chadrapajong's shown below.
More cape-inspired pieces from the graduate shows in my earlier photo report.
Below: Cape from Jasper Sinchai Chadrapajong intelligent RCA MA graduation collection
On the slate...