Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Comme Away With Me

Comme des Garçons Comme des Garçons
Autumn/Winter 2014

Does it worry you when people adapt your collections to soften their impact or commercialise them? 
If my ultimate goal was to achieve financial success, I would have done things differently, but I want to create something new. I want to suggest to people different aesthetics and values. I want to question their being.

Rei Kawakubo in conversation with Susannah Frankel
S. Frankel, Visionaries: Interviews with Fashion Designers (V&A: London, 2001) 


I have a bit of an odd relationship with Comme des Garçons - I love the crazier side of what Rei does and I wear the tamer side of what she does. As much fun as I would have wearing the hot pink suits from her Spring/Summer 2012 menswear collection, the reality is that my wardrobe is moving in a different direction. Thus I find myself hunting for one of the black (what else?) lace blazers from the same collection. Similarly if I look at the Comme pieces I currently own, or have owned in the past, they are undoubtedly from the quieter end of the spectrum. Indeed quiet is how I would choose to define my wardrobe these days - as I have said on numerous occasions before, a whispered beauty is for me the most alluring. But that was not always the case. In fact far from it.

In the past I wore amazingly bright colours and patterns, and although I no longer do so, I am still obsessed with colour. It seems a paradox to be sure - my clothes are black; my walls, floors and furniture are white; I try to have only a handful of possessions. But to my mind there is no particular disconnect between the two. For me it is merely about maintaining a balance. A blank white canvas and a canvas painted white are two very different things. I hesitate to use the phrase 'controlled outbursts', because I do not see my relationship with colour as something that needs to be consciously controlled or restricted in any way, but it is perhaps the easiest way to understand the state of things. I like engaging with the extremes, black and white, because in the absence of colour or pattern, you are forced to pay closer attention to the details. It is a learning process, and having that focus is incredibly helpful.

It is perhaps unsurprising then to learn that I am a major fan of BLACK Comme des Garçons. BLACK was initially intended to be a temporary line, reissuing classic Comme cuts with a more youthful touch (of course when it comes to reissues Comme des Garçons Evergreen comes to mind, but I believe that line is now unfortunately defunct). It has since become a fully fledged line of its own, however there has been a certain shift in emphasis and style since the line's conception. Although I do still enjoy the pieces, there has been a determined move away from unisex androgyny to a far more feminine styling. As such when it comes to my own wardrobe there are now only one or two pieces each season that I would consider, where in the past I wanted the majority of what was on offer. I do rather miss the black wool elasticated trousers from one of the early collections I owned, and would actually still quite happily buy one of the old above-the-knee boiled wool skirts to wear over trousers, so no doubt I will be returning to BLACK in the near future.

In a similar vein I adore older Comme des Garçons SHIRT far more than the majority of the current pieces. Looking at the images above I feel like Comme des Garçons Comme des Garçons is for womenswear everything I wish Comme des Garçons SHIRT was for menswear. CdG CdG is essentially a more everyday line, with typical Comme cuts executed in quieter colours and prints. And that is not to say that only the more basic styles are tackled - take for example the second to last photograph I have posted, that coat/cape hybrid is a reference to the coats featured in Looks 30-34 from the mainline Comme des Garçons Autumn/Winter 2009 collection (should you wish you can buy one from the lovely Gracia, aka Rosenrot, on eBay). I like the fact that the complexity of the garments are not watered down, for, just as with BLACK in its original form, it is simply about being able to wear Comme in a quieter fashion. And I love that. 

I would personally recommend trying to see pieces in person if you can, for as ever, images hardly do the clothes justice. You can find CdG CdG on the top floor of Dover Street Market (...next to the Play) and also in the Avant Garde section at Liberty (on the second floor I believe).

"Comme des Garçons has always been committed to its quest for the new and unknown, to its experiments with the not-yet-seen-or-felt, and is even more so now, when it appears that fashion is avoiding risks. Continually questioning, encouraging individuality and looking to the future - this is Comme des Garçons' approach to creating clothes."



Sensing Spaces


Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Try It On

Power Of Witches
Nick Knight x Rei Kawakubo

I was recently speaking to a friend who had just visited Dover Street Market for the first time. She expressed her surprise at the fact that in visiting this store fashion suddenly became "real". It was something she could see in person, something she could touch, and something she could try on. These were not garments immaculately packaged and presented in the pages of a magazine, these were not garments photographed on the body of some celebrity or model, these were simply garments in a shop. And, like in any shop, she could browse as she pleased and pass judgement on what she liked and what she did not like. Fashion was demystified.

Fashion must necessarily be exclusive to exist as fashion, so the mystification of fashion is actually highly desirable. If it is popular and available to all, it is by definition no longer fashion. Fashion carries a complex cultural cache in our society, desirable for its own sake rather than its actual content (hence the insistence of the high street to try and gain the veneer of fashion, either through designer collaborations or rather absurdly presenting with catwalk shows at fashion week). I suppose almost all luxury items, whether expensive clothes or expensive paintings, have to contend with this reality. Yet given that it usually benefits the seller, it is hardly going to be discouraged on their part. The faster fashions change, the more important it becomes to construct this heightened mythic status, otherwise what will entice consumers to part with their money? 

I would argue that the in-built redundancy of fashion makes its demystification essential. Fashion is conceived as an exclusive ideal, but soon becomes passé, by which point it loses its symbolic potency. In order to understand fashion from the moment of its availability, we have to treat it much as we would treat it by the point of its redundancy - not as something exclusive, but as something common. If fashion only ever exists in the mind as something unattainable, distant and perfect, it is only ever an exercise of aesthetic admiration. But more importantly it is an exercise of aesthetic admiration where you have already elevated the status of the garment before you even look at it. It is a scenario played out in museums and art galleries worldwide. By virtue of being presented in a museum context the object is conferred an inflated cultural value. It has been chosen, it has been preserved, it has been put on display. People feel the need to look and admire, even if they do not actually like the object, and seem afraid to voice an opinion. 

Go to an art fair, where the relationship between viewer and object is based on commerce, and suddenly people are more than comfortable to be vocal with their opinions (the memory of a man walking through Art14, stopping in front of several pieces, saying “ugly”, then quickly moving on comes to mind). Removed from the hallowed museum setting, laid out for people to see up close, with decent lighting, and with the potential to actually purchase, and the dynamic is entirely different. Art is suddenly accessible. The elephant in the room is perhaps the issue of pricing - but that issue is made redundant when one actually sees the way visitors interact with the pieces at art fairs. Yes it is primarily window shopping, rather than actual decisions of purchasing, but that in itself is dramatically different to how people interact with art in a gallery.

I believe that the same process is evident in fashion when considered in a shopping environment. Fashion is consumed primarily through imagery, but in the shop setting the garment is made tangible. It is no longer an image, but an actual corresponding garment. Whether that garment carries the full potency of the image of that garment, especially once removed from its artificial cultural context (as presented in fashion imagery and on the catwalk) is of course debatable. Indeed to quote Yuniya Kawamura, "Fashion is not visual clothing but the invisible elements included in clothing". Fashion is manifested through clothing, but clothing can never embody the full extent of fashion. Fabric and thread are far too slippery mediums through which to express the intangible cultural symbolism of fashion, but that is not to say that at times they do not come close.

So we return to the shop setting. Fashion, in terms of its manifestation through the garment, is no longer some intangible symbol, but something very real and immediate - you can try it on. Bring fashion down from its pedestal as an abstract artistic expression, and to the garment itself, something you can wear and interact with as you wish, and suddenly your appreciation and value judgements change entirely. In the shop setting you can be ruthless in saying what you like and what you do not like, and I think that is an incredibly useful process when it comes to fashion. Garments, whether they cost and lot or a little, are there to be bought and worn. You are the one who has to wear it, so you might as well wear something you love rather than what someone else loves. But even if you are not planning on purchasing and wearing the garment, in actually seeing it in person and trying it on you gain an invaluable insight. 

Dress is an embodied practice, thus to only ever consider it in abstract is to necessarily have an incomplete understanding. In trying something on, in seeing how it feels and how it moves, you learn more than you ever can from seeing images or reading descriptions. I actually went and tried on a corset a few years ago simply to try and understand the full implications of wearing a corset. Of course that is somewhat of an extreme example, but the point stands - clothing is meant to be worn, so wear it and you learn more than just seeing a picture of it, or indeed simply looking at it on the rail. The more you try on, the more you understand, and that understanding allows you to make a more informed decision. Try it on, fashion is there to be worn.


Curly Wurly


Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Revisiting Denim

Acne Roc Cash

The last pair of jeans I owned were from the debut Silent by Damir Doma collection. Since then my wardrobe has consisted of wool trousers – great for Winter, but hardly the most practical option for daily wear (dry cleaning bills add up!). I had been thinking about buying jeans for a while now because they seemed such an easy option, but I hesitated because the time just did not feel right. My relationship with clothing is incredibly personal, and the process of building my wardrobe has been consciously slow. It is, and has been, about learning. Dress is a dialectic between the body and self, and in that respect I see it as an avenue to learn about how I relate to my body, and how I relate to my self. I know that all sounds rather complicated and overblown, but it is actually quite simple. 

I am fascinated by why some clothes feel natural the moment you put them on, and why other clothes feel intrinsically wrong even though other people may say they suit you. My own experience of dressing has mostly included the latter, and I think that is actually a valuable thing. Mistakes are essential to learning, and when it comes to dressing, the majority of us probably have more mistakes in our pasts than we care to admit. Embrace them I say, that is how you learn. Whether or not is the best way to dress, I find it easier these days to dress according to feeling rather than look. Ignore the mirror, wear what feels right. 

I have worn everything from baggy skater jeans to spray-on skinny jeans, and both extremes were actually a manifestation of the same anxiety. Baggy clothes hide the body, tight clothes reveal the body, and yet in both instances it was a way of negotiating a similar concern – I was not happy with my body. You either hide, or you scream. But in reality neither option is worthwhile in the long run. You have to find a middle ground, admittedly leaning in either direction, but one that ultimately feels natural to you. We all know that feeling of putting something on and not feeling quite right. That discomfort is readily apparent. You need only have a look around at fashion week and you can tell the people who are uncomfortable – dressed up but not feeling natural, clothed in costume rather than dress. That anxiety is almost palpable in the air, with the nervous glances, the careful posing, the self-conscious walking, and the thought processes behind it fascinate me.

Seeing as over half my wardrobe is composed of Yohji Yamamoto pieces, it is perhaps unsurprising to learn that I currently favour a baggier look. But whereas in the past it was a decision based on hiding my body, it is now a way of revealing my self. A small distinction that may not necessarily be apparent to others - what we think our clothes say, and what other people see rarely, if ever, match up. But in a way I do not think it matters, because as I have said, I am trying to learn about my relationship with clothes, before I even consider how others perceive it. Obviously dressing requires us to place ourselves in observer mode in order to create an image, but as both dresser and observer it can easily be about a personal view trumping the view of some imaginary other.

By virtue of how few clothes I own, I have formed a uniform. When you dress in black each and every day, people do not tend to notice the subtle differences in your dress. I looked the same yesterday as I did today, and therein is a great freedom. If my clothes stay the same, people have no choice but to see me, there are no clothes to hide behind. Admittedly this is not the case in fleeting encounters, for the black dominates and, to some extent, obscures, but for daily interactions it is quite a different matter. After spending years hiding behind (loud) clothes, it is nice to have a mode of dress that at once protects me from unwelcome eyes (to quote Yohji), but also blends into the background. A whispered beauty is always more alluring, or at least it is to me.

So back to the subject of jeans. They are at first glance the most democratic of garments, but of course things are never quite so simple. Difference in fit, difference in wash, difference in brands - they all mark out the prevailing social and aesthetic hierarchy (or to be more accurate, hierarchies). But they are something almost everyone owns, so the room is there for making a personal and meaningful choice. Almost every option is available to you, and that array of options can be dizzying. So needless to say, I went back to my uniform. I wanted a pair of black jeans that I could wear and forget about. Clothes are for me always about the feeling – they have to feel right, not just look right. 

I tried on three different styles – skinny, slim with low rise, slim with medium rise. Skinny jeans are something I used to wear a lot a few years ago, and having rather skinny legs, they were quite a noticeable feature. Something about that forward reveal of the body disinterests me now though, because I find a beauty in the dialogue between body and dress in movement (the way clothes are designed to be seen). Saying that, there is obviously still an anxiety there about body image, but it is less pronounced, and I choose to negotiate that in a different manner (no doubt a post to consider in the future). 

Low rises also featured heavily in my past wardrobes, but once you embrace the looser fit, it feels odd going back. Plus I have rather slender hips, so they never tend to look quite right unless I size down, at which point the thighs feel a touch too tight. Speaking of which, I tried on a few Saint Laurent pieces recently in order to see how they feel, and all I have to say is wow...I am underweight, and even I felt too fat for those jeans. Here again comes that idea of trying something on and seeing if it feels right. What I find interesting to consider is whether the Saint Laurent pieces would have felt right to me a few years ago? I know Dior Homme did, but even that was not quite as skinny as these, so maybe not.

In the end I went for a pair of Acne Roc Cash jeans. Slim, with a medium rise, and a black wash that fades when cleaned (although, as with the raw denim I used to wear, I plan on wearing these as long as possible without washing to get some decent fade patterns going). They felt natural to wear, but little things took some getting used to – primarily the size and fit of the pockets! I like pockets. There is an art to crafting the perfect pocket, and it seems to be one that for me Yohji has perfected. But here I have given them the benefit of the doubt and tried to get used to the difference, and it has been surprising how easy it is to get back into that embodied space and practice. I may not know how to ride a bicycle, but you will forgive me for saying that it is like riding a bike. Some things you never forget.

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