I woke up at seven in the morning - this time because of my default alarm setting (bollocks!) - still very much drunk. Not good. I have never had a hangover in my entire life because in the extremely rare instance I overdrink, my stomach will empty its contents and I go back to square one. I was determined not to break my record so I went back to bed hoping my head would recalibrate in the next couple of hours.
The night before we had a wonderful dinner together with SF affiliates and friends. I was sat with Stephanie the awesome SF marketing lady and the crew of Monitaly/Yuketen. Yuki - the founder - is a Japanese who has been living in the US for umm.. forever and has a penchant for Native American jewellery. Over the main course he regaled his adventures that included jumping off the boat and swimming across the sea. Fok didn’t believe him. I think I do.
Dinner lasted until eleven pm and I would have been happy to feel the softness of my pillow there and then. Instead I found myself joining the contingent in search for a watering hole. Under the guidance of Skoaktiebolaget’s squad we ended up at a low-key Irish bar whose peace and quiet was shattered by our not-so-sober group. Many shots were involved. I mouthed along to what I could only guess was a Swedish drinking song.
I dragged my heavy head off the pillow four hours later sans headache (yasss gurl yasss!), showered and rushed off to the Fortezza. Despite the weariness I still had enough enthusiasm to put on my tight Junya biker over a Julius mohair cardigan that kept brushing the ground. It took me thirty minutes to get dressed. No outfit decision could be made swiftly when one’s head was swimming just hours earlier.
Jasper and David were typing away on their laptops when I met them in the Press room. Good Lord I’ve written nothing yesterday. Luckily neither of them noticed the shame creeping in my head. David appeared fresh despite rocking out to 90s high school anthems last night while downing shots. Jasper gave me the impression that he had had enough of people, that and the world in general. He notified me of his intention to only work for three hours. I was more than happy to oblige, so off we went to talk to people and look at stuff.
Since the first day I’d noticed that the classic menswear stuff made up a smaller share of the Pitti line up than I thought. We explored various other halls housing all sorts of labels and aesthetics. In ‘Urban Panorama’ there were strange names like Boom Bap Wear (wut), Moonboots (literally selling moonboots, talk about hitting a niched segment), familiar ones like Converse and Superga, but best of all was Crocs. Models, loud dance music, bright lights; everything I’d associate with Paris Hilton was under that roof. I came out feeling glittery and all neon like.
These smaller venues were situated at the opposite side from the main Uomo pavilion. I noticed that the outfits of the attendees evolved significantly the further we walked away from it. Less Sprezzatura, more Fuccboi, which peaked at the ‘Unconventional’ hall. According to the Pitti guidebook, Unconventional was ‘the new project dedicated to luxury underground styles blah blah strong personality blah blah corrosive impact rule-breaking unorthodox yada yada’. Not the worst copywriting we’d come across in this event, sadly. As soon as we entered the venue my sight was assaulted by none other than Hood by fucking Air. That explained the A$AP Rocky lookalikes.
A DJ was installed near the entrance, spinning more offensively loud music. Someone should have told the organising committee that loudness doesn’t correlate with unorthodoxy and strength of personality. I pittied the designers who had to endure the racket all week long. We brushed past Hood by Air’s stand - puzzling over a giant baby pink parka emblazoned with HBA all over it (Jasper: What’s the point of this brand again?) - to check out Isabel Benenato’s next to it.
Well here’s a familiar sight. Chunky uneven knits, oiled leathers, asymmetrical jackets, allblackerrrthing. We also spoke to a hatmaker (Reinhard Plank) or rather its representative, and a shoemaker (The Last Conspiracy), taking lots of photos in between while discussing the Owens and Wang effect. At first glance, many of the labels in this hall came across as derivatives of Rick Owens’s various lines, or the usual ‘artisanal’ culprits that one can find in PN/P. After taking a closer look, my opinion barely changed. I didn’t see it as a bad thing, they did make beautiful garments and accessories, but I wasn’t jumping out of my Ann boots either. As jaded as I was, I felt that there were one or two designers worth mentioning and I hope to do just that in a more in-depth article.
Shortly after we got agitated by the annoying loud music that made it difficult to have a decent conversation. We left the hall feeling mentally drained from the hubbub. That’s the thing I remember most vividly about Pitti. It was a constant onslaught on your visual and auditory senses, sucking the living energy out of you every single minute you spent within the walls of the fortress. And the huge number of people, jaysus. Every third person was inevitably jostling for your attention with their colourful suits and perfectly tucked-in gloves in the pockets, that or giant orange moon boots and skirts/butt flaps. It was a classic case of 'too much of a good thing can be bad'. As exciting as it was to see so much creativity going on in a single place, to absorb all the sights in a short period of time was overwhelming.
Sometime later we left the Fortezza, with me feeling mentally drained. To think that it was only the second day.
Preface: As I have mentioned previously, I attended Pitti together with The StyleForum crew, which shall henceforth be known as the SF crew, which consists of (aside from me) awesome people who go by the names of Fok, Jen, Jasper, and David.
I survived the first day of Pitti. Just.
I woke up at half past five in the morning due to my prolonged jetlag. At a less ungodly hour I walked over to the hotel where the rest of the SF crew was staying, just in time as they were finishing their breakfast. As soon as I sat down they offered me an orange. The cursed orange.
On the night before, I had met several people for a lovely dinner. In my state of drowsiness I clanged the cutlery a few times, nothing too significant, that is until it was time for dessert. The thought of fresh fruits appealed to me more than panna cotta or various other sweets. I had to choose between apple, grape(s) and orange. Uno, the waitress said. Uh, one what? Grape? So I chose an orange thinking that it would come nicely peeled and cut. Nope. It was presented whole in a bowl of ice, complete with a set of fork and knife. Also it took the longest to be served. I think I just paid to have someone run to the grocer’s around the corner for an orange.
The very first thing I noticed as soon as we entered the Fortezza was The Wall. That’s not a wall, that’s a bloody ledge, I uttered to Jasper.
We headed together to Monitaly’s booth for our first stop. It was my first exposure to the label and frankly I was half ashamed I hadn’t looked into the label before this. Yuketen too. I’d wear those creeper derbies, as I imagined myself in them with a Comme boiled poly suit before I remembered that I had work to do. The group split up. I walked about the hall with Jen, discovering a few labels worth mentioning (more to come later), like the Japanese-yarn-maker-turned-knitwear label, and a German bag maker inspired by German military backpacks, who coincidentally had collaborated with Junya Watanabe and Comme des Garçons.
Jen and I decided to hang out by The Wall. The Wall. How did that name come about anyway? I guess The Ledge doesn't sound as grand. We sat there soaking in the unnatural sights and sounds, creeping on people with our cameras. I love clothing. I love seeing people rocking awesome clothing. But after some time and many passing peacocks later, all the good-looking perfectly-coiffed bearded men blurred into a single entity with curved salt-and-pepper moustache wearing a blue checkered suit. I could no longer differentiate one from another. Nor did I want to. Later on David told me that colourful checkered suits are the norm, especially for Italians. All I could think of was how well they would match an old granny’s delightful home in an English village, particularly the dude in the red tartan suit.
After the amazing press lunch - wow this al dente pasta you guys, and they bothered to peel the oranges too - David and Jasper gave me a short tour around the main pavilion where the hastagmenswear clothes were exhibited. Suits after suits after brogues after bowties after half naked men.
We parted ways again and I thought I’d like to further observe the circus by The Wall in an attempt to get inspirations for my writing. It was four pm and the throng had grown tremendously, but I spotted a space next to this gentleman whose coat had holes, tears and raw seams. Absolutely un-sprezzy. Needless to say I got excited.
Me: Hey I like your coat.
Dude: Thanks, a friend of mine made it. His label is called Rareweaves.
Me: Fantastic. Would love to see more.
Dude: Is that a Junya you’re wearing?
Me: Oh yeah I’m a huge fan of his.
We spoke for a while. The gentleman introduced himself as Justin, owner of a cool store in New York called Gentry. I spotted familiar street style photographers as we chatted - Tommy Ton and Adam Katz. A woman with green hair with matching green trousers in the same exact shade of hunter green walked by. She must have been planning the outfit for months, Justin replied to my comment regarding her dedication. But none could have prepared me for the next scene that happened after.
Some Asian chap - admittedly very much swagged out in another one of grandma’s-couch suits - was surrounded by a ring of photographers clicking away incessantly. What was most disturbing about the sight was not how poised he faked his phone call. No sir. It was his unbuckled dubmonks. What the hell was that about?! I asked Jasper after picking him up from the Press room. He was surprised that I had never come across this. Well that’s because unbuckled dubmonks doesn’t happen in real life, I thought. Fok then introduced me to the term ‘sprezzatura’ over dinner. The art of nonchalance, the pretense that one doesn’t give a tooting care, David explained. Bejaysus. That’s like buying a pair of geobaskets, painstakingly remove the laces to expose the giant tongue and walk about uncomfortably, which requires sheer commitment. I can only wonder if he buckled them back at some hidden corner. Like how female attendees change into their flats after getting out of the Fashion Week circus.
Oh the things we do to get photographed. I can’t even.
PS. I would highly recommend reading the Pittilogues written by the rest of the SF crew as they have various different perspectives even when some of our activities overlapped.
Unrelated photographs aside, I am happy to report that I have arrived safely in the city of Firenze this evening. As soon as I had changed out of my hiking clothes worn on my journey in and from northern Italy, I ventured out on foot for a couple of hours around the city centre, soaking up the familiar sights and sounds of the maze-like streets. In the fleeting daylight I managed to spot a few potential Pitti peeps, judging from their sharp overcoat, sprezzy coiffure and most importantly, well-groomed facial hairs. A few looks were exchanged – not sure if puzzlement of amusement but we were obviously judging each other pretty hard – thanks to my favourite Junya Watanabe biker jacket. There were also the Asian contingents sporting strong anti-fashunz looks, consisting of padded long parkas, undercuts and ponytails. Certainly not what I was expecting in the Pitti circus.
I am currently typing this in my hotel room while waiting for my dinner/meeting while munching on a delicious, not-too-stale sandwich bought from Venice hours ago. A press sample had just been delivered – a first since my days as a journalist yonks ago. In it there was a beautiful faux leather-bound notebook which is exactly what I need right now to look professional in the next few days, considering I’d only brought my old college notepad. The only thing I’m lacking is some sriracha to go with the sammich.
Now to watch 30 Rock as dinner time approaches.
PS. I have made a few changes to the site, especially on the sidebar. You can now subscribe to my newsletter that informs you whenever a new post is published, as well as new comments you’ve subscribed to. Also a ‘Press’ page because I’ve been told that I’m not tooting my own horn enough.
As you folks may know I am the arbiter of fine classical tailoring and menswear (Rei who?!). I’ve found myself as part of the StyleForum contingent attending Pitti Immagine in Florence next week. I will be bumbling through the uncharted territories of classic menswear, non-deconstructed garments and possibly not recognising important attendees whatsoever. At the same time I hope to spread the gospel of wabi sabi to these dapper fashunz people by wearing Junya Watanabe. Then proudly proceed to regale you with tales of my ignorance at the end of the day. Wish me luck. Also I’d be most honoured if you say hi to me should you find yourself in and outside of the fortezza.
I don’t remember the last time I wrote about a trend analysis on this blog, partly because I don’t have the time to follow each micro trend, and mostly because everyone else does a much better job at it. However there is an overarching trend which I feel very strongly about, and I thought it would be a good subject to explore for the beginning of 2015. Speaking of which, Happy New Year to one and all. I hope you’re leaving last year’s crap behind and looking forward to a better future ahead, whatever it may be. Chin up and march on.
The trend that I will be discussing on revolves around the topic of gender identity in fashion. In particular, I would like to highlight a new approach in gender ambiguity on the runway - for both men’s and women’s - that we are currently seeing in the last few seasons. And most importantly, I would like to emphasise that there is a distinction between the androgynous movement of the 20th century and the burgeoning trend that attempts to subvert the boundaries of gender binaries.
The 20th century saw the rise of pseudo-androgyny in which female fashion adopted masculine associations in dress. In the 1920s, the flapper look, also known as the ‘garconne’, rose in popularity in major European cities. Women donned short bobs, and flattened their feminine curves to attain the boyish body, which was a far cry from the Victorian corset-dependent look highly sought-after just years prior. Decades later in the 1980s, women joined the boardrooms and offices. However in order to be recognised as men’s equal, they had to borrow masculine gendered symbols from them, i.e., the suit (Kidwell & Steele, 1989).
Suiting and tailoring have always belonged in the realms of masculinity, right down to the discourse on the subject (Kaiser, 2012). Yves Saint Laurent was lauded for his pseudo-androgynous smoking suit - a three piece ensemble appropriated from men’s suiting cut to fit a woman’s body. Thierry Mugler and Giorgio Armani cemented the power shoulder trend for women while ironically making bodycon, overtly sexual mini dresses for the evening, further deceiving women that true equality with men could be achieved despite a one way flow of borrowing of gendered associations - i.e., from men’s to women’s (Paoletti & Kidwell, 1989; excerpt can be found here). When feminine symbols were borrowed, such as in the cases of David Bowie and Prince, men’s masculinity and sexuality were simultaneously questioned, hence they were never widely accepted (Paoletti & Kidwell, 1989, excerpt here). It is no wonder that Entwistle (2000, pg. 169) and Paoletti & Kidwell (1989), believed that the androgynous fashion movements in the 20th century had not abolished gender distinctions as they were only playing with the boundaries of gender.
Fast forward three decades, we are seeing a vastly different approach to androgynous fashion. Unlike their staid peers, some designers have marched beyond putting women in tailored men’s clothing or conventional sportswear borrowed from the men’s. Instead, they are taking bold steps to blur the boundaries of gender binary in dress, either by removing gender marking (Rad Hourani) or creating ambiguity that subverts traditional notions of masculinity and femininity in dress (e.g., Rick Owens, Thamanyah, Craig Green, Rei Kawakubo and Haider Ackermann). By doing that, these designers are attempting to address, and even equalise the power imbalance between genders, while at the same time adopting feminine symbols for menswear, hence reversing the direction of flow of borrowed symbols, i.e., from women’s to men’s.
While one can not be too certain of the underlying reasons for this trend, I can only surmise that it is correlated with the growing interest in feminism, especially through the new media, as well as the proliferation of Minimalism on and off the runway.
“They embraced their softer side — feminine, by old cultural standards — without coming across as effeminate, which marks a quantum leap for culture. This is fashion for men rid of old insecurities about gender representation. What is taking shape is, in fact, not at all an idea of fey or gay masculinity — the influence of the gay aesthetic on the heterosexual world is firmly confined to the gym-buff, clone look — but the idea that delicacy and gentleness are qualities of contemporary men worth being considered as a sign of strength, not an expression of weakness. Which, if you like, is just another ambiguity.” - Angelo Flaccavento (2014)
As feminism begins to be widely accepted in recent decades, feminine-associated activities such as fashion - which in the last few centuries had been considered frivolous and beneath men (Radway, 1987) - is now being embraced by them. More men are actively searching and consuming fashion, and are also participating in the discourse, especially via online fashion forums which seem to be dominated by men of various age groups, as can be observed on StyleForum, StyleZeitgeist, SuperFuture, and most recently, Care-Tags. Technology, through blogs and social media, exacerbates the spread of images of men peacocking in the most lavish forms of dress while attending fashion and trade shows such as Pitti Uomo (Mellery-Pratt, 2014). Such images also introduce designers who break conventional boundaries to blasé consumers, exposing them to new approaches of fashion outside of the mainstream labels.
It is widely believed that the most recent wave of Minimalism surfaced after the 2008 global recession, a period in which conspicuous consumption was frowned upon. Soon after, the fashion industry saw the prominent rise of Phoebe Philo and her definition of luxury - discreet yet edgy. Together with the appointment of Raf Simons - the champion of clean lines and stark silhouettes - to Dior, Minimalism became a long-term trend that has persisted to this day. One of the central tenets of Minimalism is anti-figurative forms. When applied in fashion, Minimalist dress removes the idea of a ‘figure’, negating markings of gender and sexuality frequently imbued in Western clothing. By doing so, designers can challenge conventional figurative silhouettes. Female clothing do not need to accentuate the curves while men see an increasing range of silhouettes tailored for the masculine body, previously unavailable to them, or used to be considered taboo because they were cut for the female body only. For more in-depth reading into Minimalism in fashion please refer to an older article here.
At this point I should state explicitly the ways - there are three from my own observation - in which today’s androgyny differ from the 20th Century definition. As I have mentioned earlier, it’s no longer about women wearing suits or sportswear (which fashion journalism often reverts to), nor is it men wearing makeup and having fabulous hair.
While there are indeed unisex clothing pieces in the market, such as the T-shirt, unisex aesthetic is almost always inconceivable. Designers such as Rad Hourani challenged this almost impossible task by producing collections seasons after seasons that can be shared between men and women - i.e., all the garments can be worn by both genders.
Unlike the conventional offerings of unisex clothing, which is men wearing men’s clothes and women wearing said men’s clothes to appear less feminine, his clothes de-emphasises biological differences between genders. And with the absence of gender markings, his clothes are devoid of sexuality. They are in fact almost clinical and reminiscent of cyborgs of the future.
In recent times, Rick Owens has been taking the same approach with his menswear and womenswear, making unisex garments albeit with a less linear approach, which can be seen in the beginning of this essay.
The above photograph shows a pair of ‘Pod Shorts’, a garment designed by Rick Owens. It is a bifurcated covering for the lower torso, derived from the short trousers which historically have always had strong masculine connotations. However the crotch area has been pulled to the knee level, creating a skirt-like, feminine silhouette. The result is a hybrid bifurcated garment that has ambiguous gender associations.
Soft and swaying silhouette goes against the very grain of strong and masculine modern menswear, Yet this waterfall cardigan has been made for men by various designers such as Rick Owens and Julius, and enthusiastically picked up by experimental audience. It is a garment that resembles Victorian-era robes worn by men in the privacy of their homes, but with oversized square panels that moves gracefully in motion - a characteristic usually associated with feminine womenswear.
Male fashion is increasingly taking pointers from modern female clothing in terms of fabrication, silhouettes and colours. More designers are abandoning suitings and conventional menswear, instead preferring to explore new aesthetics by looking at and creating with what Euromodern cultures would deem as feminine elements, even if that was not the original intention of the designers. Often they are inspired by non-Western cultures which tend to have a less rigid dichotomy in dress.
For his Spring/Summer 2015 show, Craig Green showcased voluminous skirts and skirted trousers for men, cut for the masculine body while successfully avoiding sexuality-laden appearance of cross-dressing.
Rick Owens showcased the same gown made for men and women. He first introduced this dress on his Spring/Summer 2012 show, before releasing the same dress for women in 2014, thereby reversing the flow in which fashion innovation usually occur.
The unusual lengths of the garments in the photographs above from the label Thamanyah are most commonly found in Euromodern womenswear, but not in menswear. However these garments were actually reworks of the kandoras donned by Middle Eastern men (Pfeiffer, 2012). By introducing them to the male Western audience he attempts to shake up the masculine/feminine associations of modern dress.
Paoletti & Kidwell (1989) stated that truly androgynous dress will eliminate the disadvantages of feminine and masculine dress, while combining their advantage. At the time of their writing, historical evidence pointed towards an acceptance for women to adopt masculine symbols, but not the other way round. Fortunately, the current crop of influential designers are slowly changing the way we view gender and sexuality in dress and the consumption of fashion.
Wilson (1985, pg. 228) postulates that fashion acts as a vehicle for fantasy. If that is true, perhaps the persistent trend of blurring and erasing gender boundaries represents a dream for a feminist utopia, in which people of all gender spectrums, social and cultural backgrounds are recognised for their differences but not treated differently.