Monday, 20 October 2014

The Staple: Sugar-Coated Iceberg

Apologies in advance for the Lightning Seeds reference - I'm sure you'll get over it though (aside: CHRIST, that song is nearly 20 years old.) It's a terrible reference to coats, and thank the Lord, one that avoids talking about a change of seasons. #copywriterproblems

Anyway, I seem to have developed an obsession with coats of late; partly because, well, why the fuck not, and partly because of my summer-fuelled eBay addiction. It started off (like all good addictions) with a bit of fun, and has of late turned into a proper compulsion; I'm constantly searching for some really good menswear pieces from brands like Cacharel, Wooyoungmi, Carven, APC (of course) and vintage Helmut Lang and B Store. And there's plenty to be had, at a pretty reasonable price. A month or so ago, I managed to pick up an old B Store raglan-sleeve coat for £15, which was a bit of a steal.

Anyway, I digress. After a late-night booze-fuelled trawl of the Neil Barrett stream on eBay (tip: NEVER do this), I decided that bidding a not inconsiderable, but just about bearable amount on a short, DB camel peacoat was a superb idea. Also, I'm newly employed, so obvs had to treat myself. And I'm SO glad I did - this piece was a runway piece from AW13, and appaz retailed for in excess of $1200 originally, so it was a total bargain. And it is EXQUISITELY made; all stiff wool lapels and beautifully-lined interior. It's also bloody warm which is nice on the freezing overground platforms of east London. There's something rather pleasant about a coat like this: it is clearly beautifully-tailored and constructed, and you feel that every time you put it on. For significantly less the price of a wool & leather-look jacket from Topman, I've got a proper, made in Italy, piece of craftsmanship. Long live my eBay addiction, right (currently bidding on an Aquascutum cashmere parka - OMGZ, right?)

My other coat acquisition comes from Stone Island - the other end of Italian outerwear. This was, I am incredibly lucky to say, a gift for working with the brand and their fab PR agency 4M over many years at Notion (they got their fair share of coverage), and I was invited to pick something out in-store (yes, clearly missing some parts of being a magazine-hack). Cobalt blue has always been one of my favourite colours, and in this classic windbreaker shape, it's a lovely bit of bright on the overground. It's featherweight, beautifully-tailored (with narrow arms) and makes me walk with a weird kind of lad-swagger. I'm obvs such a terrace hooligan IRL, though I'm not sure it sits well with listening to Annie on repeat on my iPhone. I'm actually after a nice pair of Adidas Gazelles to cplete the look, after seeing some look fabulous at the Richard Nicoll SS15 show in June (OMG ALERT: 4 days of LCM in Jan!)

Anyway, I have much-digressed. The great thing about these two coats is that they are both fantastically-made, fit brilliantly, and cost about the same as a run-of-the-mill high street winter jacket (OK the Stoney was a gift, but you can pick them up for about that much on eeBs). It just proves that with a little research and a well-timed drink/bid, there's stuff out there that will really elevate your wardrobe from the masses. And make you feel great at the same time. Cos that's one of the most important things about buying great statement pieces, right? Especially when you wrap yourself into a winter coat? You want to feel great.

(With apologies for the photos: I'm a Wordsmith, not a photographer, so these cheesy shots in my hall mirror, nicked from Instagram, will have to do. Plenty more baking, mirror shots and embarrassing moments there if you need a laugh.)

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The Staple: Proper Fashion Telly

So it seemed that the BBC actually made an effort to do some proper fashion TV around this season's LFW. There was a triplet of short docs on BBC4, hosted by Susie Lau, Abbey Clancy and Daisy Lowe, they were variously entertaining (intelligent, fun and pretty pointless, respectively), but it also seemed to catapult someone in the backend of iPlayer- longing for the much-vaunted return of The Clothes Show, perhaps - to dig around in the Beeb's archives and pull out a number of old-school documentaries on fashion.

Entitled the Art of Fashion collection, it's not only a really fascinating selection of programmes, but a window on how documentaries used to be made, before the advent of event telly and overbearing, omniscient, dramatic Big Brother-style narrators. My favourite was an episode of 'Ex-S' (a long-running Scottish documentary series akin to Arena) called Styling the Swan which explored Jasper Conran's attempt to costume design a version of Swan Lake, back in 1995. Presented without knowind comment or celebrity voiceover, the whole thing is a simple set of montages with Conran talking us through what's going on; there's a deliciously simple pace to it. It's not been through several rounds of Director approval; it doesn't have a social media strategy or a hashtag; there's no tacked-on 'mission'; it's not really even all that sensational. It's just a film crew following a creative guy as he wrestles with a creative problem.

And stripping all of this away (or rather before all of this was bolted onto documentaries), it's much more freeing, intimate and intelligent as a result. Maybe that's how telly was before the internet, maybe there was much more of an emphasis on showing without judging, but this simple and clean format is endlessly appealing for telling a story. In keeping the format and filming style as simple as possible, the entire focus is on the story, and crucially, on the costumes themselves; the camera is allowed to linger on details and slot in breaks for the digestion of ideas. It felt at times like a documentary from the future: when attention spans were elongated. I hope someone, somewhere, with commissioning powers watches it, and takes some notes.

The joy of this for me was both the format, and the way it allowed Conran's ideas to breathe. Looking in detail at the costumes, the problems they presented, and the way the designer got around them was hugely interesting. It kind of reminded me of Grand Designs tbh, and that can only be a good thing.

It also reminded me that there's so little good fashion telly, especially on YouTube. A very good friend of mine who is now running a fairly powerful video company was asking me if there were any and I drew a blank. I've sought a number of times a credible, intelligent fashion vlogger (especially in menswear), and they just don't seem to exist. Surely someone (*not me*) is going to take this slot - it seems too good not to, right?

Anyway, there's a few still on iPlayer (apparently for a year!) so if you're looking for a distraction, I can highly recommend. Oooh or the Julien Macdonald one! Back when he was relevant (post his days at Chanel, pre-Strictly), there are some great PTCs of him talking about how he got to where he was and how he put on a show (in Spitalfields! In 1997!), but the best bits are his parents and sisters sitting around on a dralon lounge suite, giggling about "how we knew he was diff-rent".

It's fashion televisual gold. And when was the last time you could say that?

Monday, 6 October 2014

The Staple: Spray It Again, Sam

The thing with grooming products is that, as we all know deep down, they are shameless cash cows. Flavoured waters and scented creams in shiny boxes are the mainstay of most of the big fashion houses now, offering more profit per unit than a custom-detailed jacket could ever hope to. It could be seen as sad, but really it works: you buy into a brand at a fraction of the cost of a dress, you feel great, brand makes money. All good, right?

I'm as guilty as anyone else of spending £25 on a tube of face moisturiser: sometimes you know it's wrong, even at the overly-perfumed duty free desks of doom, but you get involved anyway. There's something of the treat to great grooming products, especially those that work perfectly with your skin.

Thing is though, there are limits. Some time ago, after a fabulously indulgent haircut, I purchased an expensive bottle of salt hair texturing spray, thinking it was some hugely complex concoction. High on hair putty and great beards (as is the norm after a haircut anywhere in a postcode beginning with 'E'), I swished home and had a look at my bottle of magic. Ingredients: water, sea salt, and lavender oil. Price £16.

I'm not normally one to complain about the pricing of luxury goods, but £16 for some salty water was a step too far, and though it was a great product, I decided that, to teach myself a lesson, I'd mix my own. I mean, how hard can it be?

Turns out it's easy as pie, so for the last few years, that's exactly what I've done. And here's how you too can do it at home - it's *really* not rocket science. Get an empty spray bottle from Boots, or use an old one from an expensive bottle of hair product that you were duped into buying. Measure out some hot water from the tap into a jug, add plenty of salt - it's amazing how much will hang in suspension in the liquid - and stir vigourously. Find an old perfume tester, or use some drops of your current fragrance, or mix up some essential oils, or bath oil, or face oil - hell you could even add coconut oil - and put a few drops in to add a bit of fragrance and oil to the mixture. Mix well, et voila. Total cost of hair spray: can't be more than about 10p.

Spray on liberally before styling or blowdrying and Bob is indeed your mother's brother. Think about how much money you've saved, and then splurge it on eBay. Repeat daily.

Rarely has Saxa been chicer.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

What menswear can learn from womenswear (maybe)

So SS15’s fashion shows have finally come to an end, with Paris’ stragglers ending yesterday. Slightly outside of the magazine world, it’s hard to believe that it went on for so long – how can an entire industry take two collective months a year to view new product? It seems like an age since I took my Mum to a few shows at LFW.

Anyway - while the fashion elite are in recovery (and the rest of the industry gears up for the torrent of press days, launches and industry tradeshows), it’s time for observers to pull together overarching ‘think pieces’ on ‘trends’.

I know I said just last week that I wasn’t going to look at broad brushstrokes, but I’m contradicting myself: the joy of being in charge and all that. I’m going to try and look at womenswear from a menswear perspective: what can menswear designers learn (if anything) from the way womenswear was presented?

I’ve often said that menswear and womenswear are totally different industries. Like live telly and on-demand (or DVD and film), they are two separate industries with different consumers, different habits, different approaches, different teams, different marketing campaigns etc etc, united solely by a single medium: in this case, clothes.

Actually. That’s not strictly true. They’re also united in the way in which the clothes are presented: catwalks and presentations. One thing that really stood out about this season’s shows was the sense of spectacle and occasion that the shows – particularly the Paris shows – had.

Karl Lagerfeld ‘s Chanel is the obvious proponent of this here. You don’t need me to tell you how much of a shift in ideas that the Chanel supermarket was for AW14. SS15’s dubiously-motivated ‘feminist’ ‘demonstration’ (‘inspired by May ‘68’, I mean, c'mon!) was all about the sense of occasion – or more cynically, the Instagram moment. Bailey’s Burberry might have had all the digital bells and whistles, but Chanel trended much more successfully by putting on a proper spectacle.

Back in the day designers like Galliano and McQueen used their clothes to evoke a sense of drama. This season though saw a micro-trend of fresh takes on presenting clothes: Opening Ceremony’s Spike Jonze-scripted play at NYFW, for example; or Gareth Pugh’s beautiful balletic drama (in collab with, bizarrely, Lexus); or even Meadham Kirchhoff’s tampon-adorned tree installations.

Though OC’s show was devoid of cameras (and let’s be honest, designers have played with subverting the catwalk format for years), it seems like this reworking of a clothing presentation is mostly about creating a social media ‘moment’: giving a seasonal shove to a more established brand that brings them back to the forefront. Rick Owens did a great job of this with the step-dancers for SS14’s ‘Vicious’ collection.

But would January’s menswear shows benefit from these bells and whistles? Not yet. But I reckon designers would do well to keep the idea in the back of their minds. Creating a moment that defines the brand has worked for someone like Craig Green, and as the world’s Instagram users get used to regular floods of catwalk images (aside: please no more fuzzy finale videos), they need the occasional shot of something different to punctuate those shots.

In the age of Instagram, shows are no longer just for buyers or top press; they are the first way that a designer’s clothes are presented to the world, so you want to make the most noise. Shows cost so much money…etc etc; you get what I’m saying.

The way that fashion weeks work has been revolutionised over the last five years. So why not change the way that designers show their clothes? I expect some designers are already plotting some exciting things for the men’s shows in January.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

The Staple Returns

No apologies for being a bad ‘blogger’ this time.

As most people reading this will probably know, I left Notion a few months ago to ‘freelance’ and work out what I actually wanted to do. A tough thing, given that the future of word-based editorial around the topic of fashion and music is so uncertain. I’ve been pretty lucky in that a number of great opportunities have come my way (you know who you are) and I’ve managed to forge a semi-successful/solvent career of sorts in the last few months.

It’s taken me a while though, to realise that I can actually be a publisher myself again, without the backing of Style Title X or Men’s Magazine Y behind me (though if ‘Style Title X’ or ‘Men’s Magazine Y’ do want to commission me, then drop me a line at the usual address). After a number of enlightening conversations with an array of great people within fashion, I’ve decided to reboot my blog.

I’m hoping that writing and publishing this way - without any specific editorial constraints, advertiser puff-pieces or deadlines - will be much more entertaining for anyone reading (and me as a writer), without the hassle joy of chasing invoices.

I’m going to try and avoid broad brushstrokes of ‘trends’ or ‘scenes’ and focus simple on great things, done well. Whether that’s music, fashion or a particularly well-made bathmat (getting a strong homewares vibe right now), but let’s say the focus will be primarily menswear. The whole LCM thing is pretty well-documented, but there are pockets of brilliance that never really get the coverage they deserve, and aspects of what the big designers do that often end up on the digital editing room floor.

Anyway, slightly pretentious manifesto over, on with some ‘content’. Well, some words at least. No fancy bells and whistles, not even any GIFs (for the moment) – I’m going to stick to what I’m good at: words. Hope you enjoy.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

The Staple - Nike Air Vortex Vintage

In Training

< insert obligatory apology for not blogging for six months >

So. I'm not quite sure why, but I'm now more or less living in these trainers. I didn't even own any Nikes before Christmas, and I'm starting to wonder what I spent the last twenty-asdghfhg years with on my feet. Don't get me wrong, I've always had a few pairs of trainers knocking about, but for some reason these have become my 'I'm wearing those today and tomorrow, in fact every day' shoe. As usual, I picked them up in a sale, this time at Office in Topman, on the day before LCM, in a moment of 'I've got nothing new to wear so I'd better buy SOMETHING' panic. These Nike Air Vortex Vintage spoke to me and I saw, tried them on and bought them in about 3 minutes flat. They're both exceptionally comfy - kinda essential as I'm getting as old as the hills - but also still cool; the mix of colours means that they stand out, and the metallic sheen give them an extra dimension. I've got a few other pairs on the go (some New Balance 420s, Ellesse Italia Heritages and another pair of Nikes), but these are what it's all about for me. Perhaps I'm blinded, but is there anything that they wouldn't go with? I've got a worrying feeling that I'm probably going to become one of those sneaker obsessives who seeks out rare colourways and stores piles of never-worn kicks in a cupboard under the stairs. It's a worrying thought, but I could totally go that way. The whole retro trainer thing has been a big story in fashion for a while now, but it's only just filtering onto the catwalks - see the recent lust that those camo Valentino kicks created? Or how everyone from Raf Simons to Lanvin is showing trainers on the runway? The thing that makes the look is to pair trainers not with jeans and a sweater (though obvs I am guilty of that) but with tailored jackets or smart coats for a real mixed-up approach. It's what I'll be doing at LFW in a fortnight's time...
Other Staples of the week:
Nike Air Vortex Vintage
Alicia Drake's 'The Beautiful Fall'
Rhye's album, 'Woman'
Still baking cheese scones
Africa on the BBC
The latest issue of Man About Town magazine
Finally making it to Paris men's fashion week

Monday, 16 July 2012

The Staple: Maria Francesca Pepe Bracelet

Brace(let) Yourselves

It's been six months: #obligatorybadbloggercomment. Times are busy with Notion, but I'm still all over menswear, just pon de Twitter rather than on blogger. Anyway, a few things left me to start up The Staple again; many of which stem from the fact that my Staples have been significantly added to since I last did any proper blogging, and that I reckon there's still a bit of mileage in the format of a blog analysing menswear from the angle of individual essential pieces. Which brings me nicely to one of my latest purchases. I've long been an admirer of LDN-based designer Maria Francesca Pepe's jewellery. It's bold and statement enough to warrant its own installations at LFW (including a memorable one a few seasons back in the crypt at the Freemason's Hall), yet still subtle enough to be worn everyday. So after last season, I was contacted about pre-ordering AW12's collection at a rather attractive discount. Press discount and pre-season private ordering are increasingly common with London designers - they know who their audience is - and it's a relatively inexpensive and pleasingly ahead-of-the-curve way to think about clothes. Anyway, my longtime lust has been the perfect wrist bangle. I bought a Margiela Love/Hate bracelet a few years ago, but it's broken after the catch becoming loose. In any case, it wasn't the brass nail that I really wanted. With Cartier's beautiful signature Juste un clou bangle well out of my price range, MFP's line sheet arrived at precisely the right time. I selected this one, fairly simple copper-plated brass set with two Swarovski black pearls back in March, and it arrived in the mail just the other week. It's barely left my wrist since. And now my wrist is free from the tyranny of the green cast, it's free to be adorned. The tones complement my watch, and it fits perfectly on my wrists. It's in fact from the women's collection but items like this are pretty unisex IMHO. What I really like about it is the subtle sparkle that it adds to my gloomy summer mornings: there's something really energising about the rosy hues and reflections that it makes on the bus, and it makes me smile when I see it. If that ain't a necessary Staple quality, then I don't know what is. Other Staples this week:
Maria Francesca Pepe black pearl copper-plated brass bracelet
Not having my arm in a cast! (though the green shade was rather fetching)
Frank Ocean's 'Channel Orange'
Brownies from Salvation Jane on City Rd
Pernod's Bastille Day garden party and a rediscovery of Chelsea
A full-size umbrella
A pair of comfy, retro trainers (New Balance/Ellesse)

(Hope you like the new visual motif btw - it may look like a pub table, but it's in fact a piece of wall art which was a gift from my very old schoolfriends...)

Monday, 30 January 2012

The Staple: White Shirt

It's pretty safe to say that there's not much more of a menswear wardrobe staple than the classic white shirt. I've blogged about it before, but this return of my somewhat-sporadic updates was prompted by an email dropping into my inbox from the lovely people at Jermyn Street shirtmakers Charles Tyrwhitt. Entitled the White Shirt Challenge, it's a classic Ronseal job: take a white shirt and make it interesting. Now since last LFW, I've been toying with the idea of a fur collar, so in my best Blue Peter mode, I decided that this was the right moment to trial it. I picked up an old baby's faux-fur jacket in a charity shop in Hastings for 4 quid, made a template of the collar shape of the shirt and chopped off a portion to fit the collar. Luckily fur has a shaggy edge, so it didn't need to much careful trimming and (not being a dab hand with a needle or thread), I safety-pinned it in place. For some reason, it made me think military, so I upended my enormous box of badges and made this lil militaria-inspired collage on the breast before teaming the finished article with a pair of Helmut Lang military trousers, a Reiss patent belt and these lovely (and in need of a resole) Russell & Bromley patent boots. Et voila: look complete. I'm pretty pleased with it tbh - it's been a while since I did any kind of bloggy/customisation thing and this one came around at the right time. LMK thoughts through the usual channels. And who knows, a regular return to blogging soon? Let's hope so.