Dries van Noten Men’s Spring 2022

Just as we sharpened our critical talons in consideration of the latest Dries van Noten spring collection, a funny thing happened. “Private sale starting this weekend” on the previous (and in actual human biological calendar, current) spring season’s collection. Would we stop by?

In our “of course,” we yielded not just to the vanity of being wanted. Cherishing a secret and unsayable passion for the label as teens, we could never have dreamed of a personal invitation to an American flagship store on Melrose, an hour from our door. This loyalty, to Dries as part of the structure and fabric of the story of our lives, exceeds by now, after the corporate sale of the label and its rather unfortunate popularity, our desire to have all the clothes.

This is in part because at the Los Angeles store, with most of the season collected, there is just so much of it, and especially in spring seasons, where a kind of pattern has emerged. It seemed to set in spring 2019, when, then resident in Japan, we also set our own buying habits for the collections. Using dozens of variations of the archival prints of a greater (Werner Panton) or lesser (Len Lye) known artist, we get bright and sheeny coloured summer looks, from summer trenchcoats to shorts, the latter often available in multiple fabrics and lengths, which can, somewhat implausibly, result in objects which, seemingly identical when folded, produce at try-on wildly divergent amounts of lust. Alongside these signature patterns of the season there are usually two further motifs, one of tailoring, like a brilliant camel and red pinstripe suiting from SS20, and second of monochrome textures, like the current (SS21) season’s combination with dark mesh. 

We tend to lust for that tailoring because, apart from its excellence, there’s simply less of it: it’s rarer, and other designers have a harder time copying it without straying beyond the scope of their label. And other labels do copy the Dries spring prints. It’s very nearly an industry, and a shame too, since, when the collections are based on an artist’s prints, these copies represent a double plagiarism.

And yet, here we go again. Passing through the small section devoted to sober tailoring at the Los Angeles store, we saw a lone pair of satin viscose Lyn Lye print trousers, separated from the long hall that houses most of the print pieces. Isolated in this way and with the satin drape that the denim and wool versions can’t match, we smuggled it ourselves to the changing room. There, as we slid its smooth chilled surfaces over our flanks, we had that laugh-aloud magic moment, the thrilling surprise of a piece which at once fits better than we could have dreamed and which we know will go home with us. What makes those obsessively sought but too rare moments so special? They reproduce that rarest and happiest type of compliment, of a disinterested observer, with nothing to gain, telling one how special they appear. 

‘Tis ever thus. After playing hard to get with the prints of a spring Dries season, we are seduced by the combination of exquisite fabric, cut, and a made-for-us fitting. Now begins the process of buying up as much of it as we can, on the strength of our experience with this single gorgeous piece.

This familiar epiphany upended our working thesis for the new collection. Spring ‘22 we expected to be predictable. But, we reflected, if there is a version of that satin print trouser, is a groove (a circuit, repetitive, but also a little bubble of bliss, the halo which sanctifies the unselfconscious solitary dancer) such a bad thing?

None of it! Far from predictable, the men’s Spring 2022 season is all over the place. As if to assuage our concerns over recent (SS19; 21) strictly structured spring collections based on a series of archival prints and produced in huge numbers and variations to worryingly popular appeal, the new season is all variety. Typically a spring season from the label contains one or two secondary themes in addition to the signature print variations. ‘22 by contrast is so varied that only a list will do.

We have:

*Signature summer light cotton and silk shirt-sleeved collared shirts, in two types.
*Camouflage
*Mesh and perforation
*Chunky, black synthetic suiting we might find from Rei Kawakubo
*A black oversized shirt and cropped trouser combination in an orange blurred shutter print suggesting Yohji Yamamoto
*Abstract prints in their typically measured and clever variations/combinations
*A series of soft, light monochrome casual suiting, including shell jacket.
*90s Anglo-American thrift store working-class rocker unisex casual pieces
*Army green hefty cotton workshirts with excellent matching skirts
*Super oversized trousers, reminiscent of streetwear from the second half of the 90s
*That one must-have spring matching suit

Borderline incoherent. But the season is also a kind of classic. The key is in the show location and concept: 24 hours in Antwerp. This collection is a modest, tender, almost private love letter to Antwerp, a homecoming, the variation of clothes a “bringing it all home.” While the iconic and unforgettable Dries seasons have—for us these tend to be Fall/Winter—immersed us in endlessly surprising reimaginings of a single historical moment or artistic concept, this show’s conceit represents a nearly Odyssean reckoning with Dries van Noten’s career. The collection is a subtle and, in the way that a museum reflects a mature artist’s various departures, a necessarily unfocused retrospective.

A drone shot approaches the quayside—low duvet of clouds blocking a powerful sun, the microwaved light of a place we are from and where we die, but not a place anyone goes—scanning parking lots and loading docks before settling on the boardwalk, where a short white platform serves as a mobile runway taken around the city, the models crossing like the James Bond intro gambit. There are few people about in this love message to a city: one father and daughter look modestly at a model’s turn before turning away. And yet the appreciation and hope for Antwerp’s lived experience is evident in the variety of location shots as well as the print references. As the accompanying music by Primal Scream echoes throughout, “We want to have a good time.” Heard in the mostly empty nightclub which concludes the show, this is a conscious, responsible, grown-up message of cautious hope that has been characteristic of the label’s philosophy and clothes during these pandemic years.

What, then, are our three or four loosely connected themes for the season? As the music selection suggests, there is first of all 1990s working class boy-artist earth-tone emphasis. Look 3 involves a mustard coloured brushstroke inspired striped sweater. Long, slouchy, perhaps borrowed. The model wears a 90s boy bob haircut with artfully bad highlights to match. Think Damon Albarn.

Look 7 adds the dark military cotton familiar from recent spring Dries seasons. Here an oversized workshirt with exaggerated sleeves and pockets combines beautifully with a fitted matching skirt. Recent seasons have contrasted these dark cottons with layered bright florals. There is less of that here and much more monochrome, including a series of fresh tailored soft cotton (we think) pieces in easter egg colours: slightly oversized coats with sleeves that cleverly balloon at the cuff, layered with slightly off-matching tourist jacket and shirt accompanied by tapered lounge-formal trousers. The recent saturation of technicolor Dries summer prints makes these a welcome departure, and recall the skill required to make monochrome effective.

The label’s by-now familiar summer graphic print shirts, summer cotton and silk button-downs in collared shirt-sleeves, come in two categories. First, and winningly, a series (this writer has no press guide) which make use of early modern Flemish art prints on orange/gilded/salmon backgrounds, framed at buttons and bottom seam with a contrasting colour. These prints are also included as panels in a tapestry effect applied to t-shirts—an excellent use of a classic Dries code. Second, and rather too familiar from recent seasons are a series of the summer shirts which make use of photographic images from Antwerp in a collage (front and back) or straight photoprint effect. This is similar to the Raf Simons teenage bulletin-board-above-the-bed concept from which that designer is desperately struggling to escape. The first type of shirt is better: they imply and suggest atmosphere, giving both wearer and observer options, rather than forcing a limited range of effect and interpretation.

A worthy mention too for the shoes: puffed siliconed and enhanced leathers, zoomed-in strappy sandals. We are happy to see also the split sole leather loafers with heel tab introduced in FW21 (which we await in store) as well as a new jacked-up boat shoe, a delicious send-up of the goofy male codes in the American South. What staff at the Los Angeles store call (off the record) the “bread loaf” sandals are back for their second summer, this time in matching, quieter tones than ‘21. Less effective is an exaggerated sole, heel-heavy sneaker that looks far too close to Daniel Lee’s early sneakers at BV.

There are, as the show reaches evening, some beautifully oversized yet fitted (it’s somehow true!) tops in the perforated mesh materials which the label has explored in recent seasons, as well as unisex oversized synthetic suits which resemble something by Rei Kawkubo or recent Prada. If the show sounds slightly incoherent, a more generous reviewer might claim there is something for everyone. The sell-out print party shirt; beautifully measured abstract print combinations; a new monochrome leisure suiting that can claim the Dries name (what’s with this weird James Perse dad stuff they reserve a room for in Los Angeles?); edgy/campy/sexy/unisex/lusty night on the town pieces. They are all here. For Dries fans the big tent is welcome: the popularity of the loud prints can go its way and we will explore these encouraging monochromes. Here’s hoping the variety in the season is an organic artistic impulse, and not only an effect of a corporate push to produce and sell ever greater quantities, that feeling of glut that comes on an old Dries hunter when entering the prodigiously stocked flagship store.

Reviewing Issues

Regular readers will know we have closely watched the early collections of Daniel Lee’s Bottega Veneta. Our concerns are easily stated: is there any room for younger fans of the old BV in the new? Has the label we once sought for lush pieces of rich anonymity, an acceptable compromise with that toad, maturity, been replaced by hype, by the unwelcome curled lip of recognition from the teenage drop-catcher?  

An examination of the first two numbers of BV’s new digital magazine, Issued by Bottega Veneta, ought to tell us whether we’ve lost a home. On the heels of their withdrawal from social media, a protest, we imagine, of toxic politics and the gonzo celebrities who dull us to it, here is a magazine, a kind of recent-retro late aughts slick PDF e-zine, a collectible modern lookbook for our personal archive, set lovingly aside our collection of the season’s clothes. Or so we thought. At our desk, setting up our working materials, we recovered the email announcing the first issue and clicked on the link. Dead. Gone. Deleted. Just another “snap.” So it is with the BV’s new marketing strategies: bold, near revolutionary ideas (which is to say, restorative: of human interaction and consumption) followed by confusing and often disappointing execution.

There are more worrying paradoxes in this social media retreat. Mere days before the label withdrew from social media in January, it held a widely publicized private viewing (filmed as a pandemic runway show) in London of their Salon 01 collection. The most celebrated attendee of the innovative and diverse new media outlook of BV? Kanye West, fresh off a presidential run which, had it been successful, in his own victory or in the splitting of votes from Joseph Biden and reelection of Donald Trump, would have rolled back even further the tenuous protections of black lives in America. Why would Daniel Lee, who has bravely celebrated black models in all of his collections, continue to associate, and so publicly, with a man whose self-loathing manifests in destructive anti-blackness?

The most recent issue of, ahem, Issued, is another grappling with this tension between innovative, intelligent art and our revanchist single-channel media moment. It contains lookbook photographs in Lee’s so-far signature dim, greasy flashbulb style. Clingy monochrome looks in a just-right formality-it’s in the fabric and cuts-washed out by an overexposed shot of the evening as it begins to turn sweaty. The models are mostly brilliant; diverse, and deceptively common: a few are B list film stars, the kind of whom mother would say aloud, in a machine-gunned satisfaction: “You know who that is, don’t you?”

Other photospreads are more puzzling. Jeremy Scott, father of an heir to the Kardashian/Jenner media monarchy, posing in a camp-masculine version of an album cover for The Cars. Naomi Campbell in an anaemic conceptual piece, heavily (apparently unironically) airbrushed. To be fair, the magazine may be going for a “group show” gallery effect, made up of highly individual interpretations of the BV collections/look. Nevertheless, we are in these shots a long way from those leering, big pored shots preferred by Lee, and in the choice of models, a much longer way from anything approaching a departure from our social media death spiral.

The magazine’s best photography showcases the label’s outstanding, and from a look at the online stores, quick-selling jewelry. These close zooms, of rings on disembodied fingers, on bodies painted to flatter their lustre, represent something of a controlling thread of Lee’s BV. Bodies in these images are a backdrop, a contrasting tone to mid-century colubrine shapes. The confusion of models, then, from anonymous and vaguely familiar to nauseatingly oversubscribed, all suggest a generosity from Lee, a generosity which, like most, is of a kind most easily given: Lee appears not to care very much about his models. 

Some designers work from a muse backwards. A collection, sometimes a career, as an extended grope for an elusive, embodied youth. Daniel Lee is not, it seems, one of those designers. Take, by contrast, Hedi Slimane. Here he describes the inspiration for his Eau de California perfume for Celine:

THE HOUSE IN BEVERLY HILLS WHERE I LIVED FOR TEN YEARS IN THE SCENTS AND AROMAS OF PALO SANTO. THE SAN CLEMENTE AND SAN ONOFRE SURF BEACHES WHERE I SPENT MY SUMMERS, THE SMELL OF CONNOLLY LEATHER IN MY ROLLS ROYCE CORNICHE HEADING OUT ON THE PACIFIC COAST HIGHWAY 

Given Slimane’s habit of removing unknown coastal upper-middle class rocker and skater boys to Paris for runway shows, there is an appealing plausibility and coherence to this story. Although to an outside viewer these boys constitued, over the years, a certain type, one verging on predictability-lean, petite, fair, white, androgynous punks-they all nevertheless represent for Slimane so many fresh, thrilling encounters; each model a revelation of that beautiful pyrotechnic period of youthful exploration via subcultures: identity-making. Slimane’s project is to match the most interesting boys with the most interesting times to have been a boy. Models are for Slimane at the core of his creative activity; in his casting he cannot afford like Lee to be generous, flexible, and wilfully incoherent. Slimane will compromise and sanction Celine logo sweaters, but not his jealously guarded concept of models.

This may be generational. There is in Slimane an older, more cautious and constrained gay male gaze, a kind Proust associated with a man called the “solitary,” who jealously guards, from risks of social censure but also from a collector’s personal inclination, their preferred sites of beauty, a man who

“…regard[s] homosexuality as the appurtenance of genius and the great periods of history, and, when they wish to share their taste with others, seek out not so much those who seem to them to be predisposed towards it, like drug-addicts with their morphine, as those who seem to them worthy of it, from apostolic zeal, just as others preach Zionism, conscientious objection, Saint-Simonianism, vegetarianism or anarchy.”

Lee doesn’t invest in models in this way. Lee’s form of inspiration is not the uneasy, possibly illegal application of pure theory to cute boys at the Orange County locals beach. If Slimane is the creepy guy that doesn’t conceal his stare quickly enough, Lee would seem to be upshore, laughing among friends. The new BV employs a slicker and more accessible range of references, hovering breezily over concepts and decades before skipping on to the next.

Consider one of the short snapchat style videos in Issued. The camera follows closely a black and purple feathered trouser bottom as its wearer proceeds down a mostly obscured urban street. The audio is ambient noise: a car passes with windows down, vernacular pop music blaring. Finish. Although the city and its pleasures enhance the garment, they remain strictly ambient, incidental, not, as they would be for Slimane, part of the rigorous structuring theme of a season. In a Slimane production, the model would have been the musician who created the audible pop music. Here, there is no such deep dive into the fabric of an era.

If the marketing people at BV were a contemporary filmmaker, they would be Ryan Murphy. Creator most recently of costume-nostalgia streaming series which have skillfully woven American pop and gay histories, Murphy’s interest in the iconic stories covered in The Death of Gianni Versace or Halston comes with an equally profound challenge: most viewers know how the stories end. Murphy’s shows as a result don’t attempt intricacies of plot. Nor is much time spent on development of character. The streaming series are both too long and too short for this: we tire before long of the repeated flaws of our anti-hero, while briefly important characters appear and fall away without much explanation as the protagonist swiftly reaches his fate.

What then, makes up the six episodes of a season? Murphy’s climaxes are not of plot, but of a coming out, or, more precisely, a going out, with a dedication to the ambience and materiality of a historical moment. Gianni Versace’s most powerful scenes depict Andrew Cunanan intoxicated by his power to appropriate glamour by association with and dominance over the wealthy and powerful. Recall Cunanan exultant while dressing in an older boyfriend’s mansion, seated on a Steve Chase lounge chair. In Halston, the lush and compelling sets hook the viewer before another frenzied going out moment, when our hero marches in full fig to his first night at Studio 54. These music video set pieces, heavily indebted to skillful prop work, suggest in both content and method a kind of glut, a satedness, an excess in both the characters and the limited commitment to plot in these films. The point is the surfaces, the art of the props; in Lee’s case: the clothes.

While Slimane grudgingly reveals the tension between his freighted gaze and its amplification through his models, Murphy gives us Halston snorting cocaine on a red Steve Chase dining table, the legs of which look like nothing so much as the smooth serpentine shapes of BV’s new jewelry. This is gay history for a much more confident audience, one attuned to irony and slow to blush, plenty familiar with that kind of boy, that kind of party.

The Murphy/Lee nostalgia of surfaces is encouraging for fans of Lee’s Bottega Veneta. A persistent and not inaccurate criticism of Slimane over the years has been his repeated harvesting of his own back catalogue. Lee’s inclination for surface inspiration, of ambience or mood over deep narrative is evident in the already impressive range of styles in his collections. So far this has been limited, because of his interest in shapes rather than prints and patterns, to tailoring and the outstanding footwear. But as Lee warms to a wider range of colors and prints in the clothes (we are encouraged, if not convinced, by this season’s Chanel-ish Boucle in wavy stripes), we might hope for further explorations of the epochal surfaces that seem to inspire him, of cultural histories prodded and handled in a utilitarian utopian craftsmanship which happily insists on the centrality of new and underrepresented faces. Here’s hoping BV will follow its own advice and drop the social/reality media dinosaurs as well as their platforms.

Crotchety in Westwood at Westwood

We strolled last week down Memory Lane. Not, to be sure, our own, but that of a visiting out-of-town friend, who worked in film in 1990s Los Angeles. Our template was Melrose Avenue, where we walked a reasonable length, (a contradiction: to ambulate in southern California beyond the mailbox is to be instantly declasse) from La Cienega east to Wasteland, a second-hand store we understand is largely unchanged from our friend’s prowling years ago. We noticed high prices, above end-of-season sale rates, for much-worn pieces. We noticed our age, too. The music was far too loud and the light too low. Girls wandered through the gloom in states of semi-dress, trying items on in mirrors fixed to architectural columns. Only as they departed, so meagerly clothed, did the intelligence of their efficient changing-room outfits become clear.    

The city’s retail transformations might, paradoxically, be more evident to recent and infrequent visitors to Los Angeles, like us here at Gyun Gyun. There are on Melrose and elsewhere long stretches of high-rent spaces empty, creating segregated and no-go spaces within the famously patchwork neighbourhoods of the city. The dialectic effect is of a hyper segregation of geography at the same time that, as we have remarked elsewhere in these pages, a much greater diversity of Americans are bravely patronising neighbourhoods historically closed—except as staff—to them.        

Our friend came of age and self with Vivienne Westwood, whose tall, light-stone store looms incommensurably on a corner lot arm’s-length from the self-consciously luxurious stores of Melrose Place. With its VIP space upstairs and rooftop garden, the store evokes a mistaken urbanity, of a Parisian atelier placed clumsily like a monument on the Washington Mall. 

We have had over the years similarly bewildering in-store experiences. Where other sellers of rebellious, liberating, and identity-transforming clothes have tended to be welcoming and encouraging (when not grooming), the Westwood staff have always been impressively cold and standoffish, with a remarkable, almost trained, consistency. Maybe it’s a “punk” thing?        

On one such occasion, we mistook such negligence for tasteful discretion, only to look up from a rack of clothes terminating behind the counter, where staff were idly scrolling the Huffington Post homepage. As we exited the store we loudly praised the Westwood/The Rug Company rug near the street entrance. Finally sure of an audience, we slowly dug our toe into its surface. “I have the bigger version.”   

This visit the staff were much more lively, showing consideration and efficiency to walk-in shoppers while they operated at much-reduced capacity, though not without that familiar suggestion of effortful patience. The clothes don’t quite work for us here at GG-like Punk music an artistic dead-end, at their best an Edwardian style and texture put to better, more progressive use by Burton at McQueen. Neither did the prices suit our guest. We each took home a neatly coloured pub/football towel at what we thought a fair 75 USD. One can never have too many towels near the beach. 

Before entering the store, we made a small queue with a young couple arrived shortly after us. The man, unusually tall and thin, wore a black, logoed, ironic-synthetic athletic warm-up suit. The sun was out and it was warm. He campily puffed a heavily flavoured cheroot, bringing to mind a clammy Jimmy Savile. His partner was heavily made-up, with a gyroscope eye which, though her head was invariably turned away, would at intervals fix on us a level stare.

“Who makes that bag? Lanvin?”

“You have a good…eye. Wow. Yes, it is.”

He nodded and half-turned his head to exhale. A mock-propriety amidst virus-shy regulations. 

“How much was that?”

We alternate between policies of inquiry and disclosure on cost. For a time we thought it a cutely anti-bourgeois line of conversation. On reflection it seems a dubious way to start a revolution. To his direct question we thought the only move a straightforward reply.

“21. Or 25?”

We cringed at our own abbreviation. Surely that is only on when there are at least two more zeroes in play.

He nodded. 

“Seen the new collaboration with Gallery Dept.?”

“In fact, I just read the email this morning…”

“Those are going to be rare. Expensive.”

“Oh?” Doubt concealed with quick agreement. “I’m sure. They looked interesting.”

“They’ll be hot.”

He nodded confidently.

Such genuity regarding fashion betrayed the man as an avid consumer rather than insider. And who, apart from fans of older Lanvin womenswear (we’re sure we’re the only ones who half-heartedly collected the old men’s) would spot their latest bags? Both a Paul Smith and a Loewe employee misidentified ours as Loewe since we started wearing it. We were impressed by this young man’s research.

The exchange raised questions for us on the future of legacy fashion houses. Here was embodied proof of the excitement of the drop/dump/collaboration. Hype for its own sake; utterly false rumour of limited quantities; truly dubious artistic merit. And yet, clearly this young man was a serious shopper: the future. What then, does that future look like for the big houses? Should they remove the fixed designer entirely, rotating as they do now between teams, like relief pitchers or football goalkeepers, and set up shop as so many art galleries, lending their logos to a changing cast of influencers, who will dump/drop/collab a remix on the hype-hungry?  

Bag Bumming

My new daily driver is Lanvin’s “Hook” Bag. It is large and structured, so that I can load it with all the necessaries of a full day out, yet also flexible enough for a tight space; between people or car seats. It is also thrillingly unisex, with a sturdy, comfortable strap that can produce purse, tote, and even backpack effects. Adjusting it is a pleasure, since it fastens with a tasteful loop stamped with the Lanvin text logo. The hardware has discreet house logos, too, and the eagle-eyed (a rep at the local Loewe store not among them; she thought it was one of their own) will note the “JL” stitching of the strap. 

The bag is elegant and luxurious, but not too “cutely” shaped. It serves very well on days we haven’t the strength to trade in “well, men’s bags aren’t pretty-deal with it!” defiance.

On receipt of it from Lanvin’s K11 Musea Hong Kong store, I didn’t think of reviewing or filming it. I just wanted to cram our things in it and use it. That process was a relief, too, as I transferred my cards to the attached wallet. For years now I’ve used a Valentino rockstud fold wallet. A pleasure to use and pretty, the studs nevertheless required careful attention to avoid scratching other leather accessories in a shared tote. The (permanent?) retirement of the Valentino and the personal revelation of the attached wallet-how many discarded bags have misshapen, abused, royal like the currency they nobly carried, these little flags separated from their bodies, waving in surrender?-gave me a delightfully carefree feeling. 

Perhaps too carefree. After a midweek lunch I stepped into a local Whole Foods grocery store for a single item: peanut butter for post-exercise smoothies. 

Whole Foods stores in this area resemble nothing so much as a singles bar. Shopping expensively, in their sexiest athleisure wear, the no-longer-quite youth here describe the very kernel of their souls by the food they (don’t) eat. There has always in this location been bouncers, too. They have since it opened nearly a decade ago had a preoccupation with imagined theft (of what?), and employ patrolling security at all hours.

So it was, dressed thus

that we entered for a precision grab of organic peanut butter. I picked from the shelf the nearest container and brought it to my chest before, superstitiously, remembering to replace it for an “untouched” container at the back of the shelf, no matter that I already handled the “dirtier” one. 

Quarry in hand I made for the checkout. But first, I made to extract the attached wallet from the Hook bag. Pulling on the leather strap it was rapidly reeled to the surface. My hands though, were still damp with hand sanitizer from entering the store. Concerned, unnecessarily, with the leather finish, I attempted to unzip the wallet while exposing it to the minimum surface area of hands and fingers.

Although I have long since lost any shame at the public display of “women’s bags,” I also feel no need to advertise this little gender rebellion in a “conservative” (that is to say, anti-cosmopolitan) locale. I half-turned for privacy, still by the peanut butter, to learn the best use of the wallet, struggling in a pinched chicken wing posture, sawing ineffectually at the string zipper.
Card in hand I waited in line behind a family of three, the father, trim and outdoorsy, negotiating with his daughter, whose head reached just below the terminal, about who should conduct their card transaction. 
“I can!”
“You will-one second.”
The father inserted the card, rather unsportingly I thought, while the girl stood with furrowed brow, her two hands poised around it. 
“Okay, take it.”

I gave a “wasn’t that nice” smile to the checker, a woman in her 30s. In my left hand the peanut butter; in right, shouldered bag and credit card. 

As I extended my arm to hand her the peanut butter she asked, “Is that all?”
“Yep,” I said, automatically, in the way a parent might affirm a newly speaking child’s identification of a passing object. 
“Is that all?” she said again, this time with a low tone to the final word.
“Yeah,” I said, with an apologetic chuckle, unsure whether she hadn’t heard us, or if she thought a single item unusual.
“Is that all?” she said, this time taking time over each word. 
“Oh. You think I’m shoplifting?!”
“I don’t know what you’re doing.”

I immediately understood why I was being accused-it was the fussing with the bag and the peanut butter swap. Nevertheless an unedifying scene followed.

*

Of the hand-wringing threats to the fashion industry-sustainability, diversity, retail/resale-the least threatening to us is the big resale websites. What is the benefit, when a live-feed of a purchase broadcasts our individual credibility, of buying a used bag at 80% of retail on the TheRealReal? Overproduction and year-round sales from all but a couple of the conglomerate labels mean it is possible to buy these items new for less than on consignment, where the buyer has to pay for two sellers. 

TheRealReal is useful as a well photographed archive, however. Searching for the proper name for our Lanvin Hook bag, a used version was advertised to us by Google. TheRealReal called it a “leather Hobo bag” (1125.00 USD). 

After our experience trying to buy peanut butter with it, we thought this an accurate description.

Or: was it to do with that double waisted Prada trouser? Does the sight of it anger people? You be the judge:

Commodity Fetish Hot Potato

Available now on our new (!) Youtube channel: a pilot episode for an innovative new unboxing series. We—well, health protocols mandate that a solitary associate intern shares—the thrill of making runway dreams a reality. 

Our intern reports strange sensations in the course of filming these productions. We expected to feel a diminished pleasure from the staging for public consumption of the private, neurotic pleasures of collecting. This has to a certain extent proved true: that furtive first unwrapping, in half-lit, not yet repossessed rooms, of objects half-forgotten in the journey home, has been held off, the amateur’s impulse deferred for a professional stoicism.

The pleasure is no longer our own. It must wait, for the calculated angles of daylight, camera, and sound equipment. Our private reification—the attribution to things of qualities and relationships usually reserved for human beings—has been displaced, transferred, to the viewer. 

To our surprise, the handling of clothes during filming, the consideration of how they are best placed before a camera, to demonstrate their features and different uses, all create in us a far more materialist relationship with the pieces, one that is closer to the ideal proclaimed by good designers: of repeated, creative, much-handled and thoughtful use.   

In our traditional processes of purchasing and not-at-all taxonomic addition to the wardrobe labyrinth, we rarely reached this level of practical relationship with new items, particularly when registering more of an already well-represented item (leather jackets). So that, what might appear, to the casual viewer passing the thumbnail frame, just one more example of our all TV must be an infomercial moment, is, in fact, someone unexpectedly working their way out of commodity fetishism.    

Our first episode looks at two pieces from Celine.

Southern California Fieldwork

Yesterday we sent one of our assistant content researchers to explore their local fashion ecosystem. Their official assignment was to compare the colours of Lanvin’s Bumpr sneaker there with our inventory in Asia. Afterward, with a two digit per diem—that’s 00.00, not 00,000.00—local observation for future features.

Turning into the Lanvin store we were greeted with: ‘Are you here for the Curb sneaker?’ After a rapid self-examination of our clothes, we drew ourselves up proudly. What gave the impression that we were contributing to the Foot Lockerfication of the most ancient fashion house? But of course, we were; for the other model, we explained. 

So very many colours! Slight variations of synthetic upper, the latest—we ought to have anticipated it—in full grain leather. Attractive on first release as a retro middlebrow athleisure reference, the lux irony loses its gild when the luxury house itself produces infinite on-demand variations. Thus our discomfort at buying, rather than simply admiring, luxury sneaker trends. 

Jealousy, no doubt: we have been delighted by the resort ‘21 collection, which suggests some of Bruno Sialelli’s range. We wish there was as much of it in our local store as there are sneakers. The resort collection, making use of prints from the twentieth-century Russian artist and designer Erte, is much more grown-up. The preferred wider cut of Sialleli’s trousers are a natural fit with these more formal, wide cut blazers for men. Did we say wide? They aren’t in fact; and this is an attractive conjuring trick of Sialelli’s tailoring. Fitted at the chest, with slim and elongated drainpipe sleeves similar to the women’s, the monochrome colouring, square shoulders, and play with buttons all add a formidable, martial punch to an otherwise androgynous look. It appears that the suit will be as masculine or feminine as its wearer, or better, their mood at the moment. An achievement.

Finally, Sialelli’s preference for warm weather wear doesn’t look quite so sweaty. These clothes might be worn to a glamorous dinner. The womenswear is all about the hardware: gorgeous metal, self-fabric and leather buttons, fixed to jackets and coats (the leather lapelled peacoat is particularly good) with variations of balloon and rounded sleeves, all combined skillfully with refreshing Erte printed silks, scarves and blouses. This, not a hoodie and a bag of Cheetos, is what we aspire to after lockdown. Note the Erte collaboration in our blouse below, bought at Harbour City, Hong Kong.            

*

Cross the way at Louis Vuitton, a dozen shoppers wait in line. So, down the corridor, at Gucci. Elsewhere, including Saint Laurent, empty. Black people now shop at South Coast Plaza, something which, before the renewed publicity of the Black Freedom Struggle, was not the case. It is not without shame that one imagines the discomfort that kept them away in the past. 

We explored emerging and underappreciated designers at feel-good local French-owned boutique Please Do Not Enter and, extinguishing our allowance, bought socks. 

Then, to Bottega Veneta, to get, for the first time among our American staff, hands on the latest collections by Daniel Lee. It was, in our brief glimpse, impressive. Despite BV’s apparent resurgence, there was no line at its door, which was moreover, open. Losing ourselves in the moment, we entered, noticing one employee reviewing an accessory with a pair of Chinese women. 

As we paused at the sunglasses, we noticed a tall, lean, bespectacled man polishing a jewelry case in the center of the store. His suit, at the second half of its laundering cycle, brought Dickens to mind, its colour no longer quite black. As we made our way to ready-to-wear he grasped the shoulder-width sides of the jewelry case, as if bracing himself before fainting. Doubled forward over the glass, his neck was peeled stiffly back, like an opened tin of sardines, over which his head lolled heavily. He gasped. 

“It’s ok,” we said, forgetting the times, hoping in this way to indicate a “browser.” 

It’s no wonder Daniel Lee has overseen the label’s retreat from social media. Short on logos, he makes use of impressive combinations of textiles and leather, as with, for example, the Plat Lace-Ups, which looks like an elegant if slight ‘50s football boot with asymmetrical lacing. The woven upper is in fact, to the touch, ingenuously structured, with a beautiful contrast leather tongue. Neither would be evident digitally. 

Examining the shoe, we heard a breathless sigh. “..Lisa…” 

We looked up at the still-stricken store minder. He leaned further over the jewelry case, his back by now as flat as its illuminated glass. He spoke again, this time the syllables stretching to a moan: “Lisaaaa!” 

Unaware, from too much unbroken lockdown, of the agony we were inflicting on the man, we assumed, at best, that he worried of a missed sale; at worst, of theft. 

We had our eyes trained on the curious Quilt sneaker, imagining its proper use, when we heard a dry, halting whisper at one ear. 

“Excuse me, would you leave?” said the polisher, who had silently liberated himself from the liferaft of his jewelry case. His speech, like all which pass through the turmoil of a body suffering from harmless unsociability, was utterly royal. 

Horrified, immediately, on recognizing our violation of health protocol (all of us to a man are devout rule-followers), we fled, giving the polisher, by now perhaps rising at the chance to express a long suppressed occupational wish, our quickest and sincerest apology. Taut with personal anxiety, the polisher’s face softened as we departed to one of sacerdotal benevolence, of commiseration at our recklessness unchecked.

Meanwhile back (far) East, we have added a few BV pieces to the wardrobe labyrinth. About which, more to come. 

*

Whenever staff undertake such assignments, we ask—with gyungyun HR staff present—what they are wearing. Our assistant researcher wore a Haider Ackermann sweater styled with BV necklace (unremarked on in-store), Lanvin shoes, and a pair of jeans which were incinerated between research and publication. 

The Erstwhile Influencers and Fashion

High fashion is in an abusive relationship. In this caper, the fashion industry occupies the peculiar role of the infinitely patient parent. The big money labels, on the strength of accessory sales, advertise for big money in what few extant non-specialist publications will take them. Rather ungratefully, these publications, when they do take notice of fashion, in the form of seasonal summaries or designer profiles, adopt a singularly apologetic tone, as if the subject could only ever be of passing or embarrassed interest to its adult readers. I can think of no other industry with this kind of arrangement. Public asset-stripping unprofitable rideshare apps; wildcat fossil fuel extractor and refiners; criminal national champion airplane builders; all reported in earnest. Fashion by contrast gives (more), but gets questionable loyalty in return. 

A few such apologetic articles in the Financial Times. Lauren Indvik, a friend of fashion, summarized the spring couture season with the headline, “Who needs haute couture?” This seems on reflection only reasonable. 2020 was a dreadful year for the industry, with the quickmarch development of remote working forcing a reconsideration of dressing not only today, but in the many imagined futures of labour. And yet, what industry, with even the smallest trade organisation and advertising budget, would encourage such a discourse? Would the auto industry countenance an article headlined “who needs another car?”, or question competition and elite client programmes that are expensive, exclusive, beautiful, and push the limits of science and the market? Highly doubtful. For an industry responsible for such a substantial slice of the global economy, wasteful indeed but by no means irreparably or the worst, it’s a very unique identity the fashion industry has permitted for itself. 

One can’t help tracing some of the cause of this apologetic discourse to the dubious, often unquantifiable connections between art, artists, and femininity. Consumerism and feminism really ought to team up.  

A related disservice to the industry is the habit popular publications have of presenting clothes and fashion as, first of all, a discipline. Clothes by this logic are like cricket: a set of complicated rules the pursuit of which, especially for beginners, obscures and threatens to overtake the pleasurable purpose of the activity. Helen Barrett opened a FT advertorial for spring 2021: “An inherited sartorial rule is hardwired into most of us.” Robert Armstrong wrote an entertaining and schoolteacherly article in May 2020 titled, “Cancel that cravat: my rule for retro dressing.” Good clothes, we hear, with a wrap on the knuckles, “do not have to be fashionable…But if they are not, they have to be timeless. This rules out sentimentality…” and so on. 

The hyperbole is all part of the fun. After all, what are rules, and listicles of rules, but scrutinized, obsessive shopping lists? But the humour rests on a fixed rubric for thinking about clothes. Don’t tell anyone you like this stuff! Don’t do this! Don’t mess it up! Who could blame the punter for wondering why to bother at all? It’s no wonder that when Americans think of luxury brands they grasp the liferaft of a blameless belt or safely traditional print bag. 

There are harsher approaches to fashion among mainstream publications, even among those that publish the occasional fashion supplement. A contributor to The New York Times in January suggested the cancellation of talk about clothes tout court. During a live commentary of the video feed to the Presidential nomination one staffer posted, “I don’t want to be sexist by talking about clothes, but the first lady’s…” etc. And clothes were studiously avoided in that coverage, to be picked up in memes (Bernie Sanders), and rather bizarrely, by conservative outlets. Something is most definitely wrong when the curious have to resort to the rebarbative New York Post to learn who is the person in that spectacular Miu Miu coat. Doesn’t Prada advertise in the Times

Talking about clothes isn’t sexist. Assuming, imposing, or limiting the purposes of another person’s body certainly can be, though for many of us, the very act of spurring the viewer’s mind to action is a large part of why we dress. 

Clothes are one of very few harmless ways we can escape from our selves: from last year, last childhood, yesterday, even a slow, sloppy, self-loathing morning. Clothes are a source of liberation, their daily (re)iteration a process of healthy diversion and renewal. It is perhaps symptomatic of our modern media moment that the big tents of high-circulation newspapers don’t know quite what to do with fashion. To which reader should these papers appeal? We have on the one hand a business-friendly clientele battling with self-imposed Weberian Protestant sumptuary codes. We all know this rich, constipated Dad. On the other, an aging group of progressives tentatively mouthing “cancel?” at young readers who, in fact, wouldn’t at all mind luxury goods, if they could find work to pay for them.     

There is no shortage of new fashion writing. Great quantities are produced for the increasingly siloed digital world. But the loss of the legacy papers would be a blow to fashion. Where else should a lover of clothes read about their passion in correct serif font? Free from “ironically bad” photo collages of product, from think-pieces on the perils of consumerism, and sentences like this: “For artists working across eras, what they make is often a collective effort: to remember and honor what was almost forgotten and cannot be.” 

While the old papers last, fashion ought to reset the relationship. Stop apologizing and back itself as the industry of new beginnings. In our ticker-tape world of horrible news, fashion doesn’t deserve its self-flagellating identity. 

What are my top rules for dressing? Chuck out the rule book.