Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Super Position

Y's Super Position spotted in Paris
Photograph by YoungJun Koo (I'M KOO)

Going anti-clockwise:
Birkenstock Boston Clogs
Adidas x Y's Super Position Trainers
Clarks Originals London Shoes
Dr Martens B1484 Shoes
Dr Martens 1490 Boots
Converse Jack Purcell Trainers

I remember choosing my first ever pair of "grown up" trainers. As often seems to be the case with my more memorable experiences, Summer was coming to an end. While I patiently waited for the conkers to fall from the trees at the end of the road, so that I could pick my prize fighter out from under a blanket of golden brown leaves, the back-to-school shopping had already started. Along with the excitement of picking out a new fountain pen for the year came the excitement of picking out my first pair of trainers. My father was, and still is, a stickler for dressing "respectably" - he is proud of the fact that he has never once worn a pair of jeans; but even he had to recognise the practicality of little children wearing trainers on the weekend instead of black leather derbies every single day. At school all the children were wearing either all-white Reebok Classics, or, for the cool kids, a pair of Nikes (I even remember boys coming to school with Nike swooshes cut into their fades at the back of their heads).

There I am in the shop, and I could go with the safe option of Reeboks, or I could try my hand at kicking it with the cool kids (...just reading that phrase should tell you how that would have worked out) with some Nikes. I walked around the shop running my hands across each of the trainers I could reach, feeling the leathers, feeling the meshes, feeling the shape of the toe boxes. It is something I do when I am out shopping even today - I like to touch and feel everything, after all, clothes are meant to be worn, so knowing how they feel is important to the experiential mode inherent to their design. I can still remember running my hands across the toe boxes in particular - all the trainers everyone at school wore were essentially athletic shoes, meaning that the rubber sole curved up at the front of the toe box. I felt pointed athletic toe box after pointed athletic toe box. But then something unexpected happened. I ran my hand over a shell toe.

These trainers felt different. Nobody wore these at school. As much as I wanted to buy something that would fit in with everyone else, I also knew that I wanted these trainers. I knew they were something special. Adidas Superstar - the name said it all. As a child, a name like that means something, you imagine yourself in shining lights. I tried on a pair of white leather trainers with dark blue stripes. Walking around the shop I found that the flat soles gave a completely different feel to my stride, and looking at them on my feet in the mirror, I thought they were the coolest trainers I had ever seen. There was me in a bobbly, scratchy acrylic jumper and hand-me-down corduroys, but those trainers were new and exciting. My father bought them, but waiting until we got home to try them on again seemed too long a wait, and I remember trying them on in the car and marveling at the shape.

I would later go on to wear Nikes (by then, not so cool, everyone wore them) and Reeboks like everyone else, but I fell back to Superstars regularly. The last pair I remember owning was when I was a teenager, and they were a white pair with red stripes. I still remember learning how to use a skateboard in them. They never really seemed to captivate the other children as much as they had captivated me, but to this day I still think they are one of the coolest trainers around. Heck, even Yohji owns a pair in black. Stan Smiths always looked odd on my long feet and I never liked the way the Gazelle toe box ended up looking after a little bit of wear. When it came to the round toes of other brands? I have never owned a pair of Nike Dunks, and I doubt I ever will, and as much as I like the look of Air Force Ones, they always looked far too bulky on my slender legs.

After a few years of only wearing canvas trainers, I thought it might be time to return to the realm of leather trainers. The main issue I have with canvas trainers is that they do not seem to last anywhere near as long as they should. I currently own a pair of Converse Jack Purcells, but after these give up on me, I do not plan on ever buying another pair of Converse. Where Vans are concerned, the Sk8 Hi is the only model I think I would ever consider purchasing again. However I have nothing but praise for Spring Courts - they are pretty much the king of canvas trainers as far as I am concerned. Anyhow, I had been thinking of buying some leather trainers for around two years, and whilst there were numerous Y-3 designs that appealed to me, the loud branding was something of a deal-breaker. I thought I would simply fall back to buying a pair of black Adidas shell toes, until I saw something that made me stop in my tracks.

I had already seen the photographs of the Y's Super Position when they were released, but I had yet to see any photographs of people actually wearing them. That is, until I stumbled across the photograph I have posted above of somebody wearing them at Paris Fashion Week. There were the Superstars of my childhood, but not as I knew them - Yohji had gotten to them. I was taken. These were the trainers I wanted. The design evoked all the personal memories and emotions of the Superstar, but those were combined with all the personal memories and emotions that I have connected to the work of Yohji Yamamoto. Of course by this time they had long sold out everywhere, but after months of searching, I found a brand new pair in my size, and snapped them up.

I have been wearing them for a few weeks now, and they feel exactly as I remember them feeling, albeit with a leather-lined interior rather than the mesh fabric of the Superstar. I left the strings uncut for some time, and although they did not impede me when walking, they did look a touch too messy in movement, so I cut them down to provide a sleeker look. I enjoy the smooth shell toe, as opposed to the ribbed shell toe of the Superstar, especially in contrast to the gentle creasing of the leather and the soft nap of the suede. Seeing them and wearing them feels altogether familiar and foreign. It is that feeling that I have whenever I wear Yohji's work - here is something new, but it greets you like an old friend. That is a rare thing these days.



Well, if you insist...


Tuesday, 5 August 2014

The Spectacle

Spring/Summer 2015

Spring/Summer 2015

As the dust of another Fashion Week settles, I am struck by the fact that the two designers with the most recognisably dressed followers had by far the most theatrical shows of the season - Thom Browne and Rick Owens. Thom Browne's influence is hard to miss, with the ubiquity of grey ankle-baring suits, suit shorts, and pebble-grained brogues with no socks. Rick Owens on the other hand is currently enjoying unparalleled success - you can see copies of his work everywhere you care to turn. Having already created one of the most recognisable womenswear uniforms of the past decade, it now seems that streetwear brands, eager to cash in on the all-black-everything hip hop trend spawned from a fusion of Owens and Tisci's work, are popping up quicker than you count them. The ongoing trainer collaboration with Adidas further emphasizes Rick's acknowledgement of the new audience he has gained (thus far them seem to be getting less interesting with each new design). 

Many hardcore Owens' fans lament the appropriation and reconfiguration of his work by the streetwear community, and the birth of (hopefully forgettable) brands such as Pyrex and Hood By Air. But it seems to my mind a natural progression for an aesthetic, lest we forget, originally inspired in part by hip hop culture (the baggy drop-crotch shorts, the elongated tank tops, the chunky basketball trainers, etc.). Indeed whilst Owens has created and refined his own clear aesthetic, these various diluted off-shoots are actually a testament to the power of his influence. Although we may currently be seeing a million and one streetwear brands ready to make a quick buck with their pleather and tacky printed t-shirts, the market is simply at saturation point. The very fact that it is everywhere means that it is by definition no longer a fashion, it is rather a diluted trend. Trends come, trends go, and thus, whilst waiting for the current vogue to boil over, I find myself wondering what will be next. The Rick fans will endure, but the majority will move on to something new, and it is that ebb and flow that fascinates me. 

As diverse as Rick and Thom's work is, there are still a number of recognisable uniforms to their canon - you can spot a head-to-toe Rick or Thom look a mile away. That is not to even mention the strict uniforms the designers themselves don. So how do catwalk shows, as both designers showed for Spring/Summer 2015, fit into this aesthetic framework? Thom Browne has long since figured that the catwalk is the place to make viewers think and to constantly examine the way we dress and consider masculinity. His work is artistic, it is creative, and although you can order some of the pieces, it is, for the most parts, unwearable costume. It is not the creative weirdness of Comme des Garçons, designed entirely to be worn, but rather an exercise in artistic expression (albeit still made with the same attention to detail and impeccable tailoring of the consumer clothing). After all, the designer sells the same suits season after season, so why not push the limits on the catwalk?

I do wonder whether Rick Owens is reaching the same point in his career. The staples sell season after season - at this point it would seem to be a leather jacket and trainer brand. For those who have been buying Rick for a number of years, they already have a perfectly serviceable wardrobe that does not really need frequent additions past restocking basics. So how do you get those consumers to buy more? Well Rick's answer would seem to be by continuing to sell the staples but introducing new colours - hence the likes of passport (dark blue). Of course the more complex pieces are still there for those requiring them, but in refining the basics with the introduction of new shades I think Rick is doing something quite clever. The very fact that he has such a defined range of basics means that he can go back to the use of colours in his earlier collections and reintroduce them to a newer audience who have only ever known him for creating in black. Spring/Summer 2015 was a prime example, with Rick pushing the boat with multiple colours, whilst looking back to older work, and thus shocking the newer audience (and of course it will be interesting to see how the streetwear communities react).

This self-referential style of design is central to Rick's approach (after all he is the designer who said that each collection is merely the continuation of the same story), but also one that I think is gaining traction amongst a number of designers in the contemporary sphere. With the rise of defined fashion tribes, propagated by the immediacy and prevalence of social media, it is no wonder that designers are beginning to look inwards. You already know that whatever you design will end up in H&M and Zara next week, so rather than starting from some external point, why not go back and refine? I personally think it is a far better way of designing, because in revisiting and rethinking, you create a coherent thread that allows you to pursue some idea of perfecting your aesthetic for the current moment. Self-reflexivity inherently allows for the formation of a clearly defined voice, and that is necessary for any designer wishing to be at their best (the difference between Lagerfeld and Saint Laurent being that Yves actually had a voice of his own, Karl never has done - I know I say this all the time, but Karl Lagerfeld is not a fashion designer, he is a stylist).   

The idea of a clearly defined voice returns us to considering the staples and uniforms. It is this that interests me most when it comes to my own relationship with fashion and dress. Although I am absolutely fascinated by the ebbs and flows of the fashion cycle, and the birth and evolution of trends, when it comes to what I myself wear, it does not really factor into things. Both designers provide ample choice for the creation and refinement of a small capsule wardrobe, and it is this idea that drives me - because in keeping my wardrobe intentionally small I am better able to examine my relationship with dress. The idea of having less may seem paradoxical to an interest in fashion, but I think it is actually intrinsic to my interest in fashion and dress. It is about constantly questioning and exploring the relationship we have, not only with the material object that constitutes dress, but with the idea of self-representation and social identity itself. In owning less it is easier to ask the numerous questions I have, because if it takes me two years to look for and buy a single white shirt, I am hardly wanting for more time to explore. But it is not simply enough to own less, you have to want less. Collections like these make me happy, because they force us to ask questions. But at the same time, you know you will see the usual variations of a uniform on the rails, and whilst that may bore others, I love seeing such focused design.  





Saturday, 19 July 2014

Spring/Summer 2015: Part Two

Spring/Summer 2015

Lucas and Alber doing Saint Laurent better than Hedi at Saint Laurent. Slimane transplanted '60s pop iconography, replete with a Jimi Hendrix costumed model, to the catwalk for his latest collection. It was yet another confirmation of his skills now being confined to mere styling rather than actual fashion design. Yes he can be a master stylist, but he is hardly a fashion designer these days. The Lanvin collection was to my mind everything Saint Laurent should be producing if Slimane would like to continue with his current direction. It was more interesting, more elegant, more relevant, and an actual fashion collection. I doubt it will sell anywhere near the volume that Saint Laurent shifts, but then Ossendrijver and Elbaz hardly have the star power of Slimane, and as evidenced by the choice to boot Ghesquiere for Wang at Balenciaga, star power eclipses the need for talent these days. 

Spring/Summer 2015

Beautiful clothes for everyday life. Yes please.

Spring/Summer 2015

I was happy when I first heard that Umit would be moving his shows from Milan to Paris, and this collection, his second in Paris, was beautifully executed. Paris is quite simply where the best show, and so I am glad that Umit has made that leap. Although thinking of Milan Fashion Week, if Armani ever steps down, I would love to see Umit (or maybe Pilati) take his place. His tailoring skills are incredible, his collections are always masterfully narrated, and he has proven that like master designers of the past, he can change the story each and every season without losing the distinctiveness of his voice. I own two pairs of Umit trousers, one of from his '80s investment bankers inspired collection, and the other from his soldiers on the day after the truce inspired collection, and both are some of examples of some of the best construction I have seen, second only to my Yohji pieces. Umit is a storyteller at heart and this collection was no different, being based upon the idea of a tennis club in Cartagena, Columbia. An elegant collection as always and you had to laugh at the tennis shoes with pieces of fake gum molded on the soles as a nod to Umit's childhood. 

Spring/Summer 2015

Y-3 grows stronger from season to season as of late, and for me it provides everything I wish DRKSHDW and Silent by Damir Doma still did - nice casual sportswear for going to the gym or having a lazy weekend (odd how those two are interchangeable in terms of the clothing they require, but sportswear is darn comfortable). Obviously there are the bright prints and more overtly branded pieces for those who are into that sort of thing, but for me it comes down to the black and white garments. As long as you avoid the louder pieces you could construct a perfectly versatile and practical small wardrobe based almost exclusively on Y-3. I like the fact that Y-3 aims to cover all options these days, from casual suits to sweats, and the footwear is far more versatile than the majority of Adidas collaborations (the Rick Owens trainers are too bold for day to day wear, and the Raf Simons trainers are fine if you live in a technicolor world made of Lego, but otherwise happen to be a touch too loud). Y-3 seems to be my personal answer to sportswear, but looking at these images that is perhaps not much of surprise to regular readers.   

Spring/Summer 2015

Two words = HECK YES.
Will no doubt have to do a proper review, including photographs of the back of the garments, in the near future, but needless to say this was Yohji at his best. I am so excited to see this in store and try it on.