Archive for the Fashion Category

The problem with PR

Posted in Fashion with tags on September 3, 2015 by markcoflaherty

I’ve been writing about fashion for over 20 years and, for the last five, been announcing ad nauseam that I’m almost definitely giving up (with a typically dramatic flourish on each occasion). Not because of the vampiric effect that the conglomerates have had on creativity and innovation – although that can’t be overlooked – but because being a journalist means I have to rely on the fashion industry equivalent of the aged Epson printer beneath my desk. It’s something that has one job to do, but has to be coaxed into doing it, and sometimes simply can’t be bothered: PR.

“Sorry, I thought the watch would be a great fit for your story on monogramming because it’s black and white”

There are, of course, agency owners who will always have my ear because I trust them and they know infinitely more than I ever will, and there are account heads who will reply to an email in a heartbeat to tell me when to expect an interview, collection notes, prices et al for a story, while also suggesting five other angles I hadn’t even considered. But there are times when the world of fashion PR seems populated largely by the disinterested and uninformed, drawn to the industry by launch parties, samples and glamour by association. Emails are replied to at a glacial pace; quotes cut and pasted automaton-style from press releases are offered as original interview material. Idiocy and attitude abounds: “What’s the hard deadline?” (As if there was a soft one.) “Maybe I could I send over a few samples… to sweeten the deal?” (From someone I’ve never heard from before, while attempting to place a story with all the finesse of a gypsy touting lucky heather). And my all-time favourite: “Sorry, I thought the watch would be a great fit for your story on monogramming because it’s black and white.”

Even something as simple as the details of what’s on the shop floor right now takes an age to be confirmed. “We’re still looking into that, sorry,” was the reply to my fifth email on a story recently about autumn prices. Two weeks after my first request, I went to the designer’s London store and detailed everything I needed with my iPhone. A week after I filed my copy, the designer’s PR emailed me the same prices.

Generally, I give myself six weeks to research any given piece. Where I can, I circumnavigate PR entirely

A significant problem is the increasing distance between designer and PR, particularly at the global agencies with myriad accounts. Trying to get the perspective of a creative director at a huge brand on any given topic is far more difficult than speaking to an independent. If I want to know what Rick Owens thinks about, say, Brutalism or Japanese asymmetry, I know he’s likely to call or email me directly (all in uppercase as is the Owens house-style – every aspect of communication is CONSIDERED). There’s no one above him who needs to sign it off. Tellingly, Owens worked without any out-of-house PR for the longest time. The turnaround from question to answer can be immediate. This isn’t typical. Generally, I give myself six weeks to research any given piece. Where I can, I circumnavigate PR entirely.

Brands need to value, encourage, educate and engage their PRs, beyond merely entrusting them with next season’s collection to book out for shoots, or setting them, pitbull-style, on the rare journalist or editor who dares offer criticism. And as for the aggressive posturing of the “big name” PR, a soi-disant mix of Diana Vreeland and Lucrezia Borgia but with more extravagant nail art, that whole act really isn’t constructive for anyone. There are brands I pointedly avoid covering because their PR representatives are self-regarding Gorgons who relish being seen as “fierce”, both by journalists and their usually short-suffering staff.

PRs can be lazy, just as journalists can be lazy. Many PRs operate a scattergun approach. They bombard everyone that the latest Fashion Monitor details as in-house with the most general of releases, ignoring the ever growing, influential freelance corps. I told the London-based PR of one of the most credible big Italian brands that, while they had been reactive with me for years, I had never received any news from them, ever. They explained that they were always in touch with my various editors, to which I pointed out that those editors weren’t in the business of disseminating information to the writers who provide them with the bulk of their copy. They aren’t there for that. Now I get daily emails from them. Usually it’s a Daily Mail-ready picture of Pixie Lott or similar carrying one of their bags, none of it relevant to a serious analysis of fashion. But it sums up the industry in many respects.

It doesn’t have to be like this. A PR’s role can be fluid and adventurous. Look at someone like Trino Verkade, who elevated PR into something else entirely at McQueen, and is now Thom Browne’s right hand for business development. Verkade has always been so much more than a cheerleader for her brand.

The role of the PR should be to inspire and attract the eye. They should be the oil that keeps the engine running. Crucially, the point of PR should be to supersede advertising, for a fraction of the cost. They should be the sommeliers of fashion and the true tastemakers.


The new man’s outfitter (FT How to Spend it)

Posted in Fashion with tags , , , on June 27, 2013 by markcoflaherty

There is a well-thumbed book on the counter of the Soho store Pokit, entitled Why a Man Should be Well Dressed. Written by the Austro-Hungarian architect and modernist thinker Adolf Loos, it contains a paragraph that Pokit proprietor Bayode Oduwole has marked in bright-blue highlighter pen: “A completely new type of shop has been introduced – the outfitter. In a well-run gentlemen’s outfitter one can expect to choose an item completely at random and not end up with something not in good taste. A true gentlemen’s outfitter cannot make any concessions to the needs of the masses.”

“That was written in 1930,” says Oduwole. “But it’s more true than ever.”

The term “gentlemen’s outfitter” is as evocative as the oft-cited “most beautiful phrase in the English language”: “cellar door”. It conjures up images of leather Chesterfields, wood panelling, tailors’ dummies and mahogany-framed glass cabinets. Though that style never truly disappeared, it’s now being revisited and adapted by a new wave of high-end retailers who are distancing themselves from fast fashion and anonymous shopping. They are redefining the one-stop shop for men, selling newly timeless looks that don’t disappear onto sale rails at the end of the season.

The Bespoke Room at Hostem

The Bespoke Room at Hostem

“We live in an age where you can order something online and it arrives within three hours,” says James Brown, owner of east London store Hostem. “That’s a great service, but it’s devoid of any experience and enjoyment. We want to focus on interaction.” In March, Brown launched Hostem Bespoke, operating out of the shop’s Chalk Room and bringing together the talents of – among others – tailors Casely-Hayford and shoemaker Sebastian Tarek to create one-off and made-to-measure pieces. Here customers can be measured for a head-to-toe outfit and order luggage by Globetrotter (from £725) at the same time.

The new style of men’s outfitter is the antithesis of big-brand seduction. “What people wear is often motivated by status and aspiration,” says Tarek. “My shoes are minimal and modern, and use traditionally tanned leather that ages beautifully. I create them for men who enjoy having something made personally for them. The cost of my shoes [from £1,500] is a result of the materials used, time and care, not the profit margins of a multinational luxury group.”

“The consumer benefits from direct interaction with the creator,” says Joe Casely-Hayford. The Casely-Hayford label – designed by Joe and his son Charlie – sits somewhere between the world of classical tailoring and the accessible end of high fashion, which is where many of the new men’s outfitters are positioning themselves. “Our work has a clear aesthetic. We both studied at St Martins, while I designed clothes for bands such as The Clash, and then more recently I was creative director at Gieves & Hawkes. Our style sits where these two worlds cross.” Casely-Hayford suits at Hostem (from £1,250) are fashioned from four different blocks and made to measure from a choice of hundreds of fabrics.

While many elements of the traditional outfitters have been co-opted by chain stores and watered down to create a kind of ersatz Jermyn Street, Hostem has energised the ambience and style. Yes, there is a buttoned leather 19th-century sofa, but the space has been reworked by interior design duo JamesPlumb and a long wooden table has been incorporated into the sofa itself. The timber and metal textures are rough, dark and dramatically 21st century.

Some might find Hostem intimidating. Similarly, the huge skull above the front window and the rock’n’roll imagery that decorates the interior of tailor Tom Baker’s shop in Soho isn’t to all tastes. There are electric guitars on the walls covered with backstage passes, and a (fake) blue plaque commemorating Sid Vicious. Alongside the swatch books from English mills Scabal and Dugdale Bros that Baker shows to his bespoke clients, there are also oversized hats (£150) and quirky ready-to-wear pieces (tailored jackets from £275) by Child of the Jago, the label designed by Joe Corré (Vivienne Westwood’s and Malcolm McLaren’s son), and a wall full of footwear by Jeffery West (from £240), including what Baker calls “bastardised brogues” (£325). Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin comes here for his suits, but then so do major players from the Square Mile.

“Eighty per cent of my customers come to me for a good business suit,” says Baker. “I’m known for my English Cut [from £2,700]: succinct shoulder, elegant waistline, slim sleeve and no excess on the chest; it’s often single breasted, with one button and peak lapels. Customers like coming to the store because they appreciate the association with rock’n’roll. They like a space with spirit and a heartbeat. Oddly enough, the huge skull outside the store works as a natural filter. I don’t get any time wasters. The sort of men who come in are confident and have money to spend.”

It’s not just attentive service, styling advice and the ability to buy everything from socks to weekend bags that make the modern outfitter special; it’s the freshness and the sophisticated twists in the tailoring. The Spencer Hart flagship in Mayfair can kit a man out from head to toe for weekends in the country as well as for deal-clinching power lunches, and specialises in what designer Nick Hart calls “Savile Row cool as opposed to Savile Row dandy – pared down, sharp and modern”.

Meanwhile, Brooks Brothers might be seen as the very epitome of the staid US men’s outfitter, but it has energised its stores around the world by having New York’s Thom Browne, renowned for the truncated hem lengths on his 1950s Hitchcock grey suits, design the Black Fleece range (from £130). For spring there are plaids, tartans, shorts suits, monochrome cardigans and, of course, business suits (from £1,350), all styled in a far more restrained way than Browne’s eponymous main line. “I think the role of the modern men’s outfitter should centre around good, timeless clothing,” he says.

The tailoring at Pokit also plays subtly with proportion, while otherwise classic Goodyear-welted brogues (£285) are elasticated and made to fit without laces. There are two-tone knitted ties (£55), a range of bright corduroy trousers (£179), three styles of white shirt (£154-£179), ridge-top Panama hats (£165) and four styles of Seven Foot Cowboy jeans (£225-£295) made in England from 15oz Japanese narrow-loom denim. “Jeans are a part of our style heritage,” says Oduwole. “The traditional men’s outfitter never stocked them, but jeans and a sports jacket are now key. And an outfitter is a one-stop shop.”

Ready-to-wear and one-off jeans – created in genuine bespoke style according to a pattern unique to each customer – are an integral part of the offering at Against Nature in New York City, a store with a wood-lined and Chesterfield-leather fin de siècle aesthetic that general manager Nathaniel Adams describes as “sumptuous decadence with a Victorian edge”. The space – named after the infamous Huysmans novel that led to the downfall of Dorian Gray – is the result of a collaboration between four designers who between them cover all of the main bases of any outfitter, old or new.

Amber Doyle and Jake Mueser tailor suits (bespoke from $3,250) and shirts (custom from $350) with what they describe as “a manly silhouette with strong shoulders, a trim waist and long legs”. Ryan Matthew creates custom-made and ready-to-wear jewellery, cuff links and belt buckles (from $250), while Simon Jacobs is responsible for the denim lines (from $275 ready to wear). There is also an extensive range of leather luggage, as well as footwear (from $550) by Jeffery West – more classic than the range at Tom Baker’s in London, but still with a twist.

The store looks like Oscar Wilde could walk in at any moment in the company of Keith Richards to order a cashmere cape. There are stuffed white peacocks, drawers full of shirt collars and paisley ties, tables covered in antique metal shoe trees, and rows of those aforementioned crisp dark-blue jeans. “We use the strongest raw and selvedge Japanese denim,” says Jacobs. “But all the jeans are single-needle stitched and pressed by hand. We make sleek and clean designs that men can wear to the office.”

Just around the corner from Against Nature, off the Bowery, is Freemans Sporting Club, well known in the city for its wide range of slick, high-quality, workwear-inspired casual clothing and accessories, from boots to bags (from $40). The shop is also the first port of call for men with appointments for the FSC BenchMade Bespoke Studio, which is a little further down the alleyway, accessed by a staircase in Freemans Restaurant and through a door disguised as a bookcase. Here bespoke suits (from $3,950) are commissioned and made on site. The factory is attached to the studio and is on view, via an open wall between the spaces. “If customers are trusting us to construct a bespoke suit and committing to the process,” says Kent Kilroe, FSC’s managing partner, “they should be able to be part of the experience.”

The name Freemans has had a place in the New York zeitgeist since 2004, when the of-the-moment, off-the-radar restaurant of the same name opened. So what flagged up the gentlemen’s outfitters as the “next big thing” for them? “I think it’s about people looking for integrity in what they consume,” says founder Taavo Somer. “They are highly knowledgeable about where and how their food is grown and raised. Likewise, they make an educated choice to buy a suit crafted by hand before their eyes in New York City, rather than a mass-produced ‘mystery meat’ child-labour product.”

The Bespoke Room at Hostem

The Bespoke Room at Hostem

Alongside the bespoke, FSC has two new off-the-peg offerings – the House Cut suit (from $2,875), which is displayed in store without a collar or sleeves, to be finished after fittings with the customer, and a made-in-the-US, ready-to-wear suit (from $1,200). Remarkably, at a time when fused linings – which can lead to fatal creasing at the hands of a dry cleaner – are to be found in many a rack-bought jacket, FSC’s new ready-to-wear suit is fully canvassed.

One of the things that makes the space such a destination for men on Manhattan’s Lower East Side is the adjoining FSC Barber. The true men’s outfitter is always so much more than a tailor and accessories retail unit. It is the male, no-nonsense equivalent of the spa – a place to socialise as well as somewhere for grooming. The barber at FSC, like the in-house barber’s space on the top floor of Bourdon House, the Alfred Dunhill “Home” in London’s Mayfair, couldn’t be confused with any kind of salon. It’s the classic cinematic set-up, with foot-operated leather chairs, white basins and pomade: no hairspray, just hot towels and cut-throat razors. It’s luxurious (at Dunhill there is the offer of “something stronger?” before your appointment), but in a prosaic, masculine way.

Alfred Dunhill, which might have been the ultimate original men’s outfitters, might also be the ultimate modern one. You can dine in the club, have coffee in the cellar bar, get a massage and buy everything from Denon headphones (£650) to alligator-skin-cased mah jong games (£10,500). Away from the bespoke room, there are tussah-and-mulberry-silk-mix zip-through casual jackets (£550), two cuts of jeans with red selvedge detailing (£225) and new-season ready-to‑wear crease-resistant suits in high-twist wool (£1,450), perfect for the travelling-light, globetrotting businessman. And, of course, lest you be in any doubt that you are in a gentlemen’s outfitters, along with all the brass pillars and wood cabinets, vintage-map wallpaper and other HG Wells-esque detailing, there are those omnipresent Chesterfield sofas.

Against Nature, 159 Chrystie Street, New York, NY 10002 (+1212-228 4452; Alfred Dunhill, 2 Davies Street, London W1 (0845-458 0779; Brooks Brothers, 150 Regent Street, London W1 (020-3238 0030; and branches. Freemans Sporting Club, 8 Rivington Street, New York, NY 10002 (+1212-673 3209; Hostem, 41-43 Redchurch Street, London EC2 (020-7739 9733; Pokit, 132 Wardour Street, London W1 (020-7434 2875; Spencer Hart, 62-64 Brook Street, London W1 (020-7494 0000; and branches. Tom Baker, 4 D’Arblay Street, London W1 (020-7437 3366;

The future’s so bright… (Financial Times Weekend)

Posted in Fashion with tags , , , , , , on June 28, 2012 by markcoflaherty

The world of luxury is divided into those who like a logo, and those who don’t. For every woman who covets the gold chain, quilting and distinctive double C of a Chanel handbag, there’s another who wants a less showy, but no less statement-making Hermès Birkin. Over the last few years, the accessories market has become polarised: discreet branding accompanied by distinctive but subtle styling details, versus maximalist bells, whistles and prominent trademarks. The look of that essential summer purchase – a new pair of shades – has gone the same way. Whether you buy Vivienne Westwood’s, with her orb insignia emblazoned in crystals on the arm, or a pair of Cutler & Gross’s logo-free titanium aviators, your choice speaks volumes. “Customers at our Selfridges concessions are asking for timeless glamour and large frames,” says Richard Peck, MD of David Clulow. “Those who prefer a small logo browse Persol and Prada and those who don’t want to pass unnoticed will go for Chanel or Versace, or perhaps a Bulgari frame with Austrian crystals on the arm.”

Brioni 2012

Brioni 2012

Oliver Peoples – which celebrates 25 years in business this year – was one of the first brands to embrace the no-logo ethos. When its shades first appeared, the market was saturated with post-Risky Business Wayfarers; Ray Ban, with its distinctive script, was a household name. Though Ray Ban has plenty of chic, timeless frames in its canon, it was the Wayfarer that resurfaced in a big way some years ago, tinged with heavy 1980s irony. While the joke has worn paper thin, many irony-loving Rubik’s Cube fixated youths remain enthralled by the shorthand kitsch of the coloured-framed varieties. Oliver Peoples, however, has never been self consciously trendy, so never went out of fashion. It’s designs are classic, while being in tune with the vogue for all things mid century modern. “The influence in fashion of the 1950s era is driving fashion away from the big logo,” says Oliver Peoples founder Larry Leight. “I have always wanted our frames to speak for themselves. And our discreet branding keeps the brand discoverable.” Their classic designs, including the Sheldrake and the Benedict, are luxurious style perennials.

Discreet branding is more apparent than the bold logo right now. Some of it stems from a stealth approach to wealth during recession. The rest is to do with the revival of the 1970s Henry Kissinger and 1950s Clark Kent look, forged, in part, by Lower East Side opticians Moscot. “We’ve been selling that mid century mod-style look for decades,” says the company’s president, Harvey Moscot. “We’ve never chased trends. And our customers like to spot other customers in Moscot. It’s like a secret handshake.”

Moscot trades on its establishment image, but is hardwired into the New York fashion scene. They recently created a limited edition frame, The TERRY, with Terry Richardson. They’ve also worked with minimalist luxe-sneaker brand Common Projects. That particular collaboration nods to a parallel sea change in the style of men’s trainers. There are the heavily branded Technicolor sports brands, and the likes of Gucci – with all-over GG-web patterning – and then there is Common Projects’ minimally branded monochrome shoe, identifiable to insiders by a small, prosaic, product number on the side of the heel.

That kind of pared down, knowing branding is growing in popularity. Thom Browne’s collaboration with optical company Dita led to a range of shades – riffing on Browne’s skewed 1950s tailoring sensibilities – which replicate the tri-colour stripe from the labels on Browne’s garments, on the tip of each arm. When worn, it is barely visible. “Discreet, but detail heavy,” says Jeff Solorio, co-founder of Dita.

Then there are the companies that eschew any exterior motif. British brand Oliver Goldsmith was founded in 1926 and much of its style is embedded in the sharply tailored cinematic 1960s.  The Renzo – a swinging London Michael Caine favourite – is an understated classic. “Branding through design is much smarter,” says the company’s current owner, Claire Goldsmith “One of the design features of the collection is the contoured temple. People in the know recognise it as Goldsmith. New customers are so happy to find something without diamante and branding scribbled all over it.”

Where a logo does appear in 2012, it often has a modernist, matter of fact, Muji style to it. Jack Spade makes a virtue of its simple, low-key, upper case, san serif logo. The range of sunglasses the company has produced with Selima Optique bears it on the inside of the arms. “The new product is stylish because it fills a need and has a timeless appeal,” says Jack Spade’s designer Cuan Hanly. “Likewise, military issue chinos aren’t stylish because of a logo.”

The new range of shades from Brioni, in 15 variants, are as luxurious as they are stylish – taking aviator and rectangular shapes and refining them with Zeiss crystal lenses, deerskin cases, and hand finished horn arms that bend 180 degrees. The Brioni logo is discreetly etched in the corner of a lens. “We didn’t want to put the logo on the horn arms,” says artistic director Jason Basmajian. “We wanted to give the product a signature, but Brioni is about a man’s personal expression of style, and doesn’t need a major logo to justify it.”

While some people are shameless label whores, it’s more often the case that someone favours just one or two particular brands enough to sport their insignia. They feel an affinity with a label, whether it be Prada, Brioni or Versace, whose Medusa-emblazoned shades remain as maximalist as their other accessories. “We’re about sex and glamour,” says Donatella Versace. “We can dial our branding up, or dial it down, but it’s part of our look. Versace must always be Versace, and branding through graphic motifs, log and key colours like gold, is very much what people like us for.” Sometimes, more is definitely more and only more will do.


New aged (Financial Times Weekend)

Posted in Fashion with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 11, 2012 by markcoflaherty

Sometimes in fashion, wear and tear is the best accessory. Of all the items on display at Hermès’ Leather Forever exhibition, opening this week in London as part of the label’s 175th anniversary, it’s the vintage pieces that capture the attention most. Next to contemporary flights of fantasy, including a brightly coloured, winged horse’s saddle, there is luggage commissioned by the Duke of Windsor that has the handsome patina of decades of use. Many of the pieces, including belts, hats and a leather wheelbarrow used by Wallis Simpson to house her glove collection, tell a story beyond ‘royal appointment’ – there is depth, integrity and a little mystery. These are elements that no new chain store item could possibly emulate, but which some designers are now trying to weave into their work before it makes it to the point of first sale.

Paul Harndnen Shoemakers S/S 2012

For many niche brands, this is partly about distancing themselves from the mainstream – when everyone’s saying the same things with black jeans and a double breasted sports coat, you need to have your own voice. “These producers are the antithesis of big brand, big thinking,” says Mark Quinn of the Shoreditch menswear boutique Hostem, one of several stores that trades on the aesthetic. “They are driven by a dedication to craft.”

Not to be confused with fads for distressed-denim, faux aged leather and clumsy patchwork stitching that appear every few fashion cycles, the current move toward the “new aged” has more to do with the fact that spending over four figures on a jacket in a quality hide is an investment and for men, in particular, its gradual softening and scuffing suggests a life well lived and a certain insousiance. Many men don’t have a buttoned-down existence. They want to feel that they are the masters of their wardrobes, away from the tyranny of box-fresh, crease-free dressing. The architect and the art director have their own notions of what constitutes well dressed. The fashion designer too: “I will never, as long as I live wear a tie”, declares Yohji Yamamoto.

Indeed, the allure of the “old” is not limited to leather. A handful of contemporary designers have pioneered a similar approach to other textiles. Comme des Garçons Homme Plus suits, for example, are often made in boiled wool or polyester, with both options looking as good plucked from an overhead bin after a 12 hour flight as they do on boarding. Then there are the sneakers by Maison Martin Margiela that have been artfully whitewashed; for men who remember having box-fresh trainers stamped on by classmates at school to “christen them”, there’s something reassuringly “ready” about these shoes. And at Belstaff, “Antique Black” is the new black – certain boots are available in the former, but not the latter.

This is, of course, a matter of taste. Many men – particularly those who would never consider vintage – will not succumb to what they see as pretention in fashion. Mark Quinn of Hostem disagrees: “These labels are actually a refuge for the unpretentious. It’s not showy and it’s not the instant ageing of All Saints or Levis. What might be perceived as imperfections are highly desirable – the result of fabrication sourced from the few family run mills left in business.”

These clothes aren’t meant to look preworn or distressed, merely relaxed and luxurious, with subtle of evidence of their artisan craft. It less as about an attempt to age, and more to do with painstaking construction and extraordinary detail. “Brands like A1923 and Lost &Found produce clothing that has a story to tell,” says Michael Takkou of Mayfair boutique Layers. “We recently stocked a collaboration between LAYER-0 and Avantindietro where footwear was constructed with leather that had been buried for 10 years.” Such avant-garde techniques can only be employed by small design houses. “These designers don’t follow trends,” says Mark Quinn. “Geoffrey B. Small hand makes his buttons and Carol Christian Poell dyes his leather in ox blood. Customers buy their clothes for decades, not seasons.”

Some labels, like Casey Vidalenc – known for their boiled wools and what they call “tight and tough fabrics” – aren’t even produced via traditionally structured collections. “We just make things when we want to wear them ourselves,” says Gareth Casey. “If clients want to buy them, then fine.” Much of what’s currently on sale at Dover Street Market and Hostem features fabrics that have been dyed, shrunk, laundered and distressed; many one-off Casey Vidalenc garments are made from short runs of textiles that Casey and his design partner Philippe Vidalenc “wash, wash and wash” and then twist by hand. The result is surprisingly subtle, and appeals to an intellectual customer who sees himself as being above the pervading smart casual look. It’s also very well made – there’s no vast production line in China, most of it comes straight from the atelier, as it would have done before the advent of prêt a porter.

The shop assistants in Rick Owens’ stores wear their proprietor’s black and “dark dust” coloured T-shirts to work, often in tatters, and serve as an instruction manual for newcomers to the brand; Owens designs some of his raw-edged items, like his sheer cotton T-shirts to distress, artfully, over time, while others such as this season’s stonewashed, buttery soft leathers are sold with a subtle weathering to the texture or a pre-worn tone. “I see it as a restrained patina,” says Owens. “Think of British gentleman who used to give their new shoes to a valet to reduce the newness. It can appear affected very easily,” acknowledges the designer, however, so “It’s best to approach it as a gentle finishing and let the client create their own authenticity” through wear.

Across the Channel, meanwhile, Brighton-based designer Paul Harnden creates tailoring that has the warped heft and, often, the weirdness, of a Joseph Beuys installation. Described as “very Greta Garbo” by long-standing customer John Galliano, Harnden makes music and underground Super-8 movies but has never produced a catwalk show. He refuses party invitations, interviews and online retail, selling exclusively at a few stores (Dover Street Market in London; IF in New York; L’Eclaireur in Paris). Much of his work resembles wrinkled, rugged, American Civil War costume, with heavy cottons and twists of Victoriana. Nevertheless, he has a slavish following amongst fans, including Galliano and Brad Pitt, prepared to pay over £1,o00 for a coat. Much of each new collection sells out on arrival because of scarcity and growing demand. As Gareth Casey says, “Quality garments, like good wine, improve with the patina of age.”

Life through a lens (Financial Times Weekend)

Posted in Fashion with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 19, 2012 by markcoflaherty

Take a walk around any major gallery this weekend and observe how in love with the digital image we all are. Forget what’s on the walls and count the people snapping exhibits with their iPhones. For some, it’s a way to own an aspect of the environment, for others it’s a distraction from the truth that they’d rather be having lunch. From holidays to food blogs, the digital image now serves as our brain’s external hard drive – a visual diary. For fashion designers working with photo prints it’s also a way to incorporate intimate experiences and personalise their work.

Zero + Maria Cornejo S/S 2012

Zero + Maria Cornejo’s spring collection is full of electric-bright, draped abstracts that began life as candid images shot in the Musee du Quai Branly in Paris. For an earlier collection, Maria Cornejo used her iPhone to capture details of the Bosphorus from the deck of a ferry. “Taking pictures has become my starting point,” she says. “I am always looking for patterns and colour – it’s how I look at the world and it lends a more personal narrative to the collection. We’ve started creating tags that go with each printed garment so that clients can read the story and feel connected to the clothes.”

For Cornejo, travel is vital for inspiration. Like Cornejo, Christopher De Vos and Peter Pilotto of the Peter Pilotto label shoot images while on a journey and then abstract the results until they are nearly unrecognisable. Still, an emotional connection to the source material remains. “We took many photos on a recent trip to Indonesia,” says Pilotto. “Some images went on the mood board and some began as a starting for a print. But we always rework everything.” Like those gallery and museum visitors with their iPhones, they are staking a very personal claim on an experience and a captured image.

Last summer, Bruno Basso of the London design duo Basso & Brooke drove across Siberia with two friends, a couple of smart phones and two cameras. The new spring collection that stemmed from it features a mix of images from Russia, manipulated with unlikely tropical colours. “I shot water, forests and skies,” says Basso, “The countryside was beautiful but very bleak; it’s hypnotic and never changes. I found myself fantasising about my childhood and luscious Brazilian flora for comfort, and I put the elements together.” Chris Brooke received the prints back in London and worked them into garments: “There was a clear and emotional feeling to them from Bruno’s unique experience of the journey.”

Basso & Brooke S/S 2012 © Fernanda Calfat

Many designers manipulate photographs out of all recognition, but some reproduce them faithfully and directly. Dries Van Noten discovered the work of James Reeve while judging at the Hyères Festival of International Fashion and Photography and reproduced some of his unpopulated nighttime landscapes on dresses this season. Reeve’s work is quiet and dark. Distant light sources punctuate his landscapes in a way that makes them work as abstract patterns, but on Van Noten’s garments they remain works of art in their own right. “I liked them for their urban and modern sentiment,” says Van Noten. “Although they are dark, I hope they lend the clothes an optimistic mood.” Fellow Belgian Ann Demeulemeester has used a monochrome photograph of a bird in flight as a T-shirt print this season.  It’s been blurred through Photoshop, but it’s still clearly figurative. “It’s an image that my husband shot,” she says. “I have adapted it to represent the memory of a bird; something that has faded away. I like the mystery and freedom of birds – you can’t own them.” Both Van Noten and Demeulemeester embrace photography as a fine art form in a traditional sense, with respect for the integrity of the original image. Demeulemeester’s first experiment with recontextualising imagery was via the painter Jim Dine. She put photo prints of his raven paintings onto dresses in over a decade ago. “I saw the original image and fell in love with it,” she says. “I got in touch with Dine and told him that I wanted to wear the image as a photograph, not just make a garment with it.”

Demeulemeester works predominantly in monochrome, which takes an image one step away from the obvious Kodak moment and two steps in the direction of wearability. Designers working with identifiable images, in colour, have to walk a more perilous tight rope; to wrong-foot would be to land in the realm of 1970s kitsch. “Mary Katrantzou and Erdem both use digital prints that are immediately recognisable,” says Samantha Lewis, one of the head buyers for the influential Italian store and online portal Luisa Via Roma. “But both have a feminine touch that doesn’t limit wearability. Erdem’s floral prints are soft, often with delicately embroidered overlayers.”

As with any graphic, a photo print lends a garment an often dramatic new level of style and meaning – from Maria Grachvogal and her pretty eveningwear florals to Mary Katrantzou and her edgy metal flowers. The democracy of the camera phone and the immense capacity of digital memory have now changed the kind of imagery that designers are experimenting with. It’s now less obvious, more intimate. “There’s a line in the film One Hour Photo about analog photography,” says Bruno Basso. “It’s about how most people don’t take snapshots of the little things – the used Band-Aid and the guy at the gas station, the wasp on the Jell-O, and how these are the things that make up the true picture of our lives. But now, with digital, they do.”

Menswear: the definite article (Financial Times How to Spend it)

Posted in Fashion with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 18, 2012 by markcoflaherty

Fresh off the plane from Tokyo – where he has a cult-like following – and back at his desk in the studio that sits at the end of his back garden in Newcastle, Nigel Cabourn is at work on his new collection. Sketches and fabric swatches are shuffled amidst racks and racks of vintage clothing finds – and antique globes. Gradually a story about Scott of the Antarctic is taking shape. “Next year is the 100th anniversary of his death, so I’m basing a whole collection on him,” he says. “I went to the Scott Polar Museum and studied the detail on the clothes from the last expedition. They’re made out of Burberry gabardine, with a woven windowpane check on it. You’ll never see that on a photograph.”

While Cabourn crafts the detail into next season’s clothes, the spring line makes its way on to the racks of department stores around the world. The new collection features a camouflage that he’s had adapted and printed from a pair of British Army trousers he spotted being worn by a customer in his shop in Japan. On seeing them walk through the door, he promptly bartered some of his own stock to add them to his collection of vintage inspirations. Much of the current collection (£395–£1000) is based on the uniforms of Field Marshal Montgomery, with stiff khaki drill and linens, inspired by jackets and trousers bleached by the desert sun.

Cabourn is the master of an ongoing and ever refining trend in casual menswear for faithful recreations of archive and historical garments. Sometimes they are based on vintage finds, sometimes on photographs. There’s a romance and integrity to this necessarily high-end pursuit of perfection (uniqueness in textiles doesn’t come cheap), and many customers love the romance and the backstory as much as the attention to construction and detail. Maison Martin Margiela has had a “replica line” in its 14 range since autumn 1994 – many of the items based on vintage store discoveries. “The Maison collectively sources special pieces from around the world during research trips,” explains a spokesperson. Each piece has a label identifying its style, the provenance of the original item and period of production. For spring there are sunglasses, (£335-£360) wing-tipped shirts from the 1920s and wide collared ones from the 1970s (£270-£280).

Some fashion recreations might be seen as postmodern art pieces. Last year Salvatore Ferragamo recreated a limited edition of the only man’s shoe that the eponymous company’s founder ever designed, using the pair that Andy Warhol used to wear in his studio. Each fleck of paint and imperfection on the pair, sourced at auction, was recreated. At the more prosaic end of the spectrum, US performance footwear brand Wolverine recently released a limited edition of its Wolverine 721 boot (£721), based on the very first footwear that the company made, pulled from archives that date back to the early 1900s. Recreated faithfully out of shell cordovan equine leather, it’s a standout, special piece for spring.

“Heritage, vintage and archive are all massive buzzwords in men’s fashion right now,” says Craig Ford, of the influential London-based contemporary menswear trade show Jacket Required. “Many of the brands who show with us have a part in it, from Carhartt reproducing their original workwear from 1889 to Chevignon remaking their brightly coloured iconic Togs down jackets that were popular in the late 1980s.” It’s not a case of “nothing new” happening in fashion – it’s just that in terms of casual off-duty and functional clothing, the market is dominated by either elegance-free sportswear or disposable rubbish. This is the reaction against these. Private White V.C is a Manchester-based casualwear label based on the wardrobe of WWI Victoria Cross recipient Jack White. After the war, White took an apprenticeship at, and subsequently went on to own, what has ultimately become the Private White V.C factory, Cooper and Stollbrand. Designer Nick Ashley – son of Laura, and previously on the team at Kenzo, Tod’s and Dunhill – has access to 5,000 vintage garments in the Private White V.C archive, and focuses on their heavy-duty detailing to create contemporary, muscular, menswear classics.Designers such as Ashley and Cabourn look back to heavy-duty garments that were often developed for military or expedition use and can afford to recreate or rework them with a modern and lighter fit for the most discerning of consumers. The original articles predate the idea of ready to wear and seasonality in men’s fashion, and were built at the very least to last – at best to keep the wearer alive.

“I was buying a lot of Second World War jackets and they were all in the same kind of cotton,” says Cabourn. “I asked an elderly gentleman who I’d been buying the garments off what it was, and he told me it was something he’d actually helped invent. It’s called Ventile, developed by the Shirley Institute in the late 30s for aircraftmen flying across the North Sea. If they were shot down, it kept them afloat and warm.” None of which is a concern over at Top Man or All Saints, whose garments are intended to wear out and be replaced as quickly as possible, but hip men’s style blogs like Selectism obsess about this kind of thing, along with the sizing of belt loops and the perfect length of trouser. At the highest end of casualwear, the attention to detail and fabrication is as luxurious as the most perfect bespoke suit.

Functionality aside, there’s a strong ongoing movement in men’s style away from “youth”. Men in their twenties are wearing the same Barbour jackets as their fathers. It’s about a kind of seriousness and masculinity that day-glo trainers and T-shirt patterns eroded for the longest time. Men are drawn to heritage brands for the same reason they have started to listen to folk music rather than coffee table pop; they want something with longevity and depth and an emotional attachment to it. And they want to be men, not boys. One of the most revered items in heritage circles is the Guernsey sweater. It’s a frequently lead-heavy boat-necked fisherman’s jumper, with a plain knit but a highly detailed chest panel. Private White V.C have a most excellent lambswool version (£170).

Sunspel recently reworked a pair of long johns (£95) previously owned by Peter Hill, whose great grandfather founded the company. Long johns seem like an inherently fogey item, but they’re functional right through a Scandic or Highland spring, and for a brand that trades on classics, the backstory is seductive. “It’s a nod to our heritage,” says CEO Nicholas Brooke. “The faithful recreation even includes Peter Hill’s initials, sewn into the back. We kept the loops at the waist – originally used to hold braces – and the combination of knitted and wove fabric, but updated the fit which gives the garment a more contemporary feel.”

Sometimes the garment that catches a designer’s eye isn’t physically available to study. Often there are documentary photographs, or perhaps film stills, that capture the essence of an item that has long since disintegrated or been lost. Last February, Charles Finch launched the “dive and mountain” label Chucs, and at the heart of the range is the Holden jacket (£685), which comes in spring and winter weights and is based on a photograph that Finch saw of the actor William Holden wearing it in Africa – offscreen – with his father Peter Finch. This might well be the perfect safari jacket, with its dark brown elbow patches, matching buttons and bold, functional multi-pockets. It’s the second version Finch has had made of the original – the first was made for his personal wardrobe by tailor John Pearse. For Finch, Holden represents the contemporary Chucs man. “I’m very inspired by him,” he says. “He was the quiet, strong type of artist – no frills, good work, a class act. The crew and actors in films in the 1950s were explorers, making their films in far off places. Look at Bogart, Bacall, John Huston and African Queen. Even the director’s chairs fitted the image and were used on safari and movie sets. Holden embodied this look when he was in Africa.”

The Private White V.C factory, Manchester

For many labels with a long history, it’s a matter of merely opening up the archives. When Aquascutum was asked to provide some of the wardrobe for Gary Oldman’s character in the film version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, they recreated the 1950s Sheerwater raincoat, now a part of the spring collection (£550). “It’s a timeless style staple,” says design director Joanna Sykes. “It has a long, lean silhouette, emphasised by side-slant welt pockets and detailed with contrasting horn buttons. It’s iconic and quintessentially British.” Belstaff, founded in 1924 has, in recent years, gained attention by recreating archive pieces right down to every scuff and repair mark on the rediscovered original. The current range includes their classic three-quarter length biker’s coat, the Trialmaster (£456), reproduced in pristine condition and in a new, “deluxe” version (£540) for spring. “The original Trialmaster is seen as a trophy by collectors and enthusiasts,” says Belstaff CEO Harry Slatkin. “Now it’s a must-have for the most demanding modern motorcyclist who wants a product to be highly protective and breathable at the same time.” It looks excellent on a pedestrian too. The hugely functional waxed cotton used has been reversed, so the surface appears matt, and there are extra waterproofing and quilting details. Another heritage brand, Gloverall, widely regarded as the company that wrangled the trad duffle coat into being a fashion item, celebrated its 60th anniversary last year. They have created three different men’s coats (two car coats, £280 and £295, and a duffle, £500) that they’ve recreated from archive originals. Fabric has been rewoven to match the pieces in their archives; the checked Harold model, with leather pocket detailing, is the most appealing and graphic of the bunch.

While recreating classics is a newly fashionable pursuit, its origins are in the early 1980s. “It was me, the late Massimo Osti and Katharine Hamnett,” says Nigel Cabourn, recalling the heady days of Hamnett as the London catwalk’s most visible fashion force, with her chic take on army surplus. “Osti built a very big collection.” With his CP Company label, Osti created the most premium technical outerwear label on the planet. He was a fashion scientist, pushing the boundaries of wear-resistant and performance fabrics, threading steel through wool and reworking vintage into something high tech. Now the Massimo Osti Archive – which includes 60,000 fabric samples from over 30 years – has inspired the MA.STRUM project by designer Donrad Duncan. For spring, there are three outerwear pieces (£210–£250) using nylon rip-stop material originally produced for parachutes. “Osti used rip-stop parachute fabric, and we’ve advanced it with applications and techniques so that it’s soft to the touch and highly breathable. Men love the idea of the backstory in fashion, but fundamentally they love something that is well built and that works.”

Denim has had connotations of nostalgia ever since Nick Kamen strolled into a laundrette and removed his Levi’s 501s in 1985. There’s also a trainspotter-driven industry that continues to grow around faithful recreations of the earliest pieces. Aero Leathers – who work on collections for Nigel Cabourn – are the go-to people for perfect replicas of early 20th century leathers and have been “busier than ever… and getting busier still over the last five years,” reports co-founder Will Lauder. Aficionados love them for their detailing, which includes the offer of original WWII dead-stock zips to put into new jackets. Their website also offers rare denim pieces sourced from Japan, like the recreated 1930s Lee Single Pocket Cinch Back Jacket (£180). Such is the obsession people have with rare denim that originals of this particular jacket have sold for $40,000. The Levi’s 501 may have had its big renaissance in the 1980s, but it pre-dates the costly Lee jacket by forty years. It was christened in 1890, and Levi’s make perfect replicas of what was on sale that year (£210), in a 9oz plain selvedge with cinch and suspender buttons and crotch rivet, as part of their premium Levi’s Vintage Clothing range. As design director for the label, Miles Johnson, says: “This is part of a global vintage trend. There’s a romance to wearing authentic styles and seeing the fading changes to the denim over time. Men are interested in original styles as opposed to overdesigned fashion, which just doesn’t last.”



Aero Leathers (01896 755353;

Aquascutum, 160 Sloane Street (0800 282 922; and stockists/branches.

Belstaff, 13 Conduit Street, London W1 (020-7495 5897,

Nigel Cabourn, and see Liberty and

Chucs Dive & Mountain Shop (

Dover Street Market, 17-18 Dover Street, London W1 (020-7518 0680,

Gloverall ( and stockists.

Levi’s Vintage Clothing, 5 Newburgh Street, London W1 (020-7287 4941,

Liberty, 208-222 Regent Street, London W1 (020-7734 1234;

LN-CC.Com, 18 Shacklewell Lane, Dalston London E8 (

Maison Martin Margiela, 22 Bruton Street, London W1 (020-7629 2682; and branches/stockists.

MA.STRUM ( and stockists.

Private White V.C, 55 Lambs Conduit Street, London WC1 (020-7831 3344;

Sunspel, 7 Redchurch Street, London E2 (020-7739 9729;

Wolverine ( and see Dover Street Market.


Savage knit (Financial Times Weekend)

Posted in Fashion with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 25, 2012 by markcoflaherty

Spring’s super-bright florals may already be in full bloom in boutiques the world over, but many of us are stuck firmly in the grip of a Siberian winter. Such is seasonality. Some of the new collections from the more austere houses of fashion take a conveniently heavier approach to the promise of summer ahead. Many practitioners of the luxe urban warrior look – for both men and women – have embraced a tough and tribal approach to knitwear. Often loose and supersized, it riffs on the same monochrome motifs, asymmetry and edge as the rest of their aesthetic.

Todd Lynn, S/S 2012

On the second floor of Rick Owens’ bunker-like black, white and concrete atelier in Paris, there’s a room which houses a row of samples of knit and fur mixed pieces from his studio’s Hun range. “Hun” is Owens’ nickname for his wife and muse, Michele Lamy, as well as the legend on the label for the most rarefied line that the pair of them design, previously entitled Palais Royal. While DRKSHDW is Owens’ diffusion, Hun is the couple’s stab at couture. The elephant knit pieces are typically black and bold. “They seem to satisfy Hun’s savage and voodoo inclinations”, says Owens, giving full credit for the line to Lamy. “I see her patron saints as Gustave Moreau – all swirling perfumed smoke and jeweled emotion – and Attila, with a savage little snarl.” The knits are as sumptuous as they are wild, hand crafted in Marrakech in a small studio Owens operates there.

Todd Lynn has several knits for men and women this season that fit neatly with his otherwise tough tailoring and leather style. Adopting a skewed, visceral and quite otherworldly approach, there’s a touch of H.R Giger to them. “The ladders in the knits are the focal point of each garment,” says Lynn. “It’s about textures but also the feeling of aggression that comes with that distressed look.” Lynn collaborated with London-based knitwear expert Sid Bryan on the collection. Bryan’s career kicked off after he graduated in 1999 when he created pieces for Alexander McQueen’s “Overlook” collection, themed on Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. “Lee (McQueen) simply requested ‘big stitches’”, says Bryan. “I think there’s an instinctive, spontaneous, accidental approach to my methods which is about reacting to the knit and the outcomes thrown up though experimentation.”

The pieces that Lynn showed for spring were strongly reminiscent of some of the work of Richard Torry, part of the celebrated Brit-pack – along with Galliano and Bodymap – in the 1980s. Torry all but gave up fashion in 1991 to work in music, going on to co-found the band Minty with Leigh Bowery, but his work has remained influential, and his name a key insider reference. This year he has been working with The Old Curiosity Shop in London, recreating some of his classic men’s knits, with an expanded range being planned for Japan in April. The pieces have an intense, dramatic, organic feeling to them, most notably the classic  “Herringbone Sweater” which he first designed in 1985, taking visual cues from fish bones. They also have their roots in punk – Torry worked with Westwood and McLaren at the end of the 1970s, and recalls “taking my knitting needles to punk clubs.” His 1980s designs, with their contrasting loose and tight weaves and stripes, are so fresh and vibrant that they could have been created yesterday.

Richard Torry

One of Torry’s biggest struggles in relaunching has been in sourcing production. Most of his work is currently hand knitted in the UK, which makes it – like Rick Owens’ Hun pieces from Morocco – inherently special but also time intensive, expensive and very limited. “There aren’t the knitting pools of little old ladies anymore, like there were in the 1980s,” he says. Dublin-based John Rocha – who frequently incorporates punk-tinged knitted elements in his work – showed a range of black Amazonian-tribal inspired knits for women for spring, with leather detailing. He also finds production difficult, purely because of the lack of artisans. “I insist on it all being done by hand, but few people are training in it. And I want it to look modern. I put sparkle in there. Knits can be very contemporary – you can boil it to make it denser, and knit it hard and tight.”

Much of the new style of knitwear treats an otherwise soft textile as unlikely, provocative, armour. Someone like Mark Fast creates body-conscious dresses that are as overtly sexual as vintage, figure-hugging Alaïa, while Swedish designer Sandra Backlund shapes her knits for women into strong and sculptural shapes, with immense shoulders and necklines. “Heavy knitwear has become my signature,” she says. “This season I’m focusing a lot on details, and how to create 3D effects close to the body.”

Many labels are pushing the boundaries of what actually constitutes knitwear. This season, along with a sleeveless cardigan for women in a super-chunky cotton-blend stitch worked into a rope-like motif, Maison Martin Margiela produced men’s pieces knitted using shredded men’s shirts. Again, the DNA of it harks back to punk. While the technique is different from Vivienne Westwood’s seminal, loosely woven Seditionaries mohair pieces from the 1970s, or indeed Kurt Cobain’s overlong, frayed sleeves of early 1990s grunge, it’s still all about attitude. It’s soft, but it’s hard – knitwear with a needle-sharp edge.