Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Customise Me

   It's no surprise to anyone that I've developed quite the bulging... wardrobe over the years. And it's pretty much a sure thing that I don't wear everything I've bought, stolen, borrowed or been given. But I try to be a waste not-want not kind of man and over time, I'll be looking at customising pieces I own

   The bug bit me late last year when I snagged one of the many highlights of Junya Watanabe Comme des Garçons Man's S/S 08 collection, which in itself practically encapsulates half of my ideas on how menswear can be fun yet refined and referential. Perhaps the pinnacle of the ongoing collaboration the designer began with the ever iconic Lacoste in 2005, it's a safari jacket made out of Lacoste's own polo shirts, recut and stitched together, lined with Junya's own fabrics, designed using fanatically classic tailoring techniques and overdyed in various colours. Indeed, on the runway, it made two appearances, with one model peacocking in a rather sharp red:

   Naturally, Japan received every variation going (I mean, orange), but London made do with the pink one. As excellent as brazen pastels can be for the bright, sharp season, I needed a little more seasonal versatility from such a compelling piece, and I was prepared to stake its entire look on my desire

   All it took was one box of Dylon dye, one box of Dylon Colour Remover (essential to make sure the dye will run evenly over a more neutral, mostly colour-free garment), about 300g of salt and the help of a very good friend:



   FAQs tend to focus on the lack of overdyed stitching. Simple answer: polyester thread doesn't take well to dyeing, and even the industrial strength dye of the jacket's original configuration only lent the tinge of pink to the stitches first time around. The faint purple wash on the buttons is a rather nice result, and all in all, I got what I wanted - a jacket to wear almost anywhere I want

   The fellows at Browns weren't so pleased, though

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Under Inspection: H&M Trend for Men S/S 09

   Somewhat unheralded in the stores themselves, but not hidden away either, it took me a few minutes to note that there was a specialist H&M fashion collection distinct from the current offerings of its Oxford Circus and Regent Street bases last month

   A mixture of lightweight fabrics, offbeat cutting and tailoring, bright to the point of lurid colours and sweet, optimistic prints, I wondered if I'd finally found outfits that would suit a Gilligan's Island remake set in 2165, but that would be a spin-off too silly - Team Knight Rider was bad enough. More observation revealed clues that further distinguished the collection - a purple and black label of the H&M logo and, printed on the bottom of the size tag, the word "TREND"

   It's an apt, and on-the-nose, title for a cornucopia of influences that coalesces into a summary of around the last 2 years of menswear (if you're feeling snarky, all it needs is the 'y' at the end). At first, it's a somewhat self-conscious effect, jumping from the shorter tailoring of Junya Watanabe and Philip Lim to the eyecatching but tasteful prints of Dries van Noten to the double lapel buttonholes of Paul Smith. It especially seems to revel in the block colours and busy stripes of Raf Simons and the fabric play and nonchalant cuts of the ever-directional Lanvin, with nods to the moddish tendencies and safari suit days of Yves Saint Laurent

   But none of this is meant to take away from what H&M is for. It's still about basics a-plenty that are to support or enhance the wardrobe of many a fashion-thinking man, and there's an enticing thinking to throwing today's "hot" styles into a blender and kicking it into the affordable arena with nary a care but for success

   Of course, it's mainly of interest for a regular H&M customer looking to side step outside his comfort zone, or, more pertinently, for the ones who camp outside for each year's designer collaboration. Shirting takes particular twists - short sleeves come with waist-level side pockets, or collarless and chest-bearing with pleated details. Other clever-clever ideas include patched flap pockets stacked on top of each other, and barely-there cutaway collars

   The pyjama-inspired shirt trend, possibly approaching a temporary respite for next year, is rendered in tonal grey-blue, with a lighter grey trim along the placket, collar and chest pocket, and there's a somewhat garish number in the same colours in wide, dyed stripes. I ultimately procured a white button-down collar shirt with paneled sides and arms in grey that nods to Junya's recent Brooks Brothers experiments

   Trousers are tapered, cut slim in cotton and nylon, and proffered in a simple range of bright-to-dark colours, but the attention is mostly on the top. The best stuff is the outerwear, boasting a serviceable charcoal topcoat that dresses one up or down, an off-white windbreaker with elongated zipper details (very Tim Hamilton), along with a similar, shorter number in nylon navy, and a lightly crumpled beige-grey leather jacket suitable for your "Quadrophenia in the Summertime" needs

   Par for the democratic age of style we're in, as well as some of this fits together, so the versatility highlights its incongruities. When Trend was first launched last season, H&M itself pointed out that "Menswear right now is all about choice", and there tends to be a case of both too much and too little. The knitwear and coats are generally strong, but not offered in enough colours or variety (less so the knits, admittedly), and also generally lack the bold hues of the other garments. Although the lookbook promised shoes, I have yet to actually come across any, and hope this will be rectified soon. And frankly, since there's deliberately no single guiding aesthetic, no sane or smart man will be piecing together too many looks from this collection, since that way may lie a "hot mess" more often than not. It's not impossible; merely a matter of careful choice. And there really are some fun choices to be made here

   I had to give kudos to a floral print shirt that isn't immediately identifiable as either Liberty or Paul Smith (although the other offering is almost eye-bleedingly bright and busy) , and the short sleeved cardigans with contrasting trim give a subtle finish to a ubiquitous staple; subtlety being one of the strengths that Trend actually has, if one's prepared to dig deep enough

   It has its moments. It's a mess of fun. It can do the Lanvin thing on regular folk without the 80s fabric nightmare results. And it's good to see H&M branching out under its own name

   Take a look

Portraits by Peter Gehrke for H&M via www.nitrolicious.com

Friday, 20 March 2009

Outfit - Sunday Stroll in Windsor

   The sun shines on Windsor; the bombs fall on Slough. The perfect day to bring out the Panama right before spring and summer begin for real

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Thursday - More Fun With Suiting

   Grey enough to cope with London's ever-morphing weather, sober enough to contend with some ever-idiosyncratic accessories. Good times

Live ReView: Q-Tip Rocks The Roundhouse

or, "My Failed Career in Concert Photography"

   Whilst I feel that one can't always put a price on seeing their heroes take the stage, it speaks oh-so-highly of my own awareness that I paid a tout's fare to get to see A Tribe Called Quest's golden voice live because I didn't hear about the gig until the last minute. And just to reinforce the severity of my error, eBay, Gumtree and Seatwave had absolutely nothing to get me up to speed. I do think you can put a price on talent, but thankfully, this was a fee I'll happily live with. Because, quite simple and plain, Q-Tip put on the best hip hop live show I've seen in 5 years

   The Camden Roundhouse is the perfect setting for a large scale indoor performance - a little reminiscent of the Globe. Since my friends and I weren't in the market for most of the DJs that heralded the first London performance in around 14 years for the world's most charismatic rapper, we only spent half an hour rumpshaking to the best that 90's hip hop had to offer; the songs that we rapped along to in our bedrooms and our cars and our showers, the anthems that made fans and DJs and dancers and musicians out of so many, the classics that earned the iconic Parental Advisory label one hundred times over. And their presence not only underscored one key component of Q-Tip's appeal - rarely bettered party hip hop - but imbued nostalgic joy in the faithful. So when the man finally came on, the head nodding in the crowd was at whiplash levels and not about to settle down

   Tip worked the crowd in approximately 0.5 seconds, even before the obligatory "What's up, London?" introductions and the hands-in-the-air incitations. With the kind of charm that only gets better with age, his brand of charisma - a rare blend of worldly wisdom, youthful exuberance and the insight and Trust-Me appeal that only President Obama (sampled in speech before Tip took the stage) and few others share - had the attending singing along to the new jams of latest LP The Renaissance - 'Move' (sampling one of the Jackson 5's greatest moments, 'Dancing Machine'), a vastly expanded version of 'You', 'Gettin' Up' and the anthemic finale 'Life Is Better', for which he disappeared into the crowd to rhyme - as they did to the A Tribe Called Quest classics that prompted the sellout ticket sales. Although the obvious classic 'Can I Kick It?' failed to appear, the back catalogue was (appropriately for its performer) thoughtfully utilised to mesh best with the soul exhortations of the new record, and as such, most of the classics were from Tribe's defining 1993 record, Midnight Marauders. 'Award Tour' (the night's largest jumping moment), 'Electric Relaxation', 'Sucka Nigga' were the sorts of songs we'd all come to hear and see, but there were outings for other seminal tracks to keep us satisfied

   Perhaps aware that he couldn't omit two signature songs, 'Bonita Applebum' appeared with an intro humourously interpolated from The Brady Bunch themesong, as did early solo hit 'Vivrant Thing', along with a few from my favourite Tribe record, The Low End Theory - 'Check The Rhime' and 'Scenario', still bringing dancefloors to their collective knees. And the band earned every single kudos and dollar they were given to back up their leader. The rapport Q-Tip shared with its members was reminiscent of so many stars of other genres who know that live renderings of their music is worthless without the contributions of other talent, and it was a joy to see him entice his bassist into a jam and dance atop the speakers as if in celebration of their energy and skill

   There's absolutely nothing abstract about the man's magnetism - this is the MC whose half assed freestyle led to one of the Beastie Boys's best singles after all - but if he was to leave it another 14 years... I don't think it would dent his appeal at all. And he'd have the time to work on his singing

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Switch Up Suiting

   Most people tend not to see the suit as a garment for pleasure and leisure, despite the efforts of style magazines, bloggers, writers and clubbers to give it back its sense of everyday (and night) usage. To them, the lack of knowledge and effort displayed by the masses in terms of sartorial standards often leads to a sense of exasperation and a niche kinship with the relative few who feel the same, though this is also an easy path to disagreements about the minutiae and appropriateness of those details that they cherish. For every person voting the sober elegance of Prince Charles as the best dressed man in the free world, there's the more fashion forward inclined who'd much rather throw in with his late uncle, the Duke of Windsor

   Well, to hell with that. Each side has their place and their uses and results are undeniably different. What matters is that they're done well. And I'm certainly in favour of Prince Charles's voting - it's probably about one of the 3 things I've agreed with in Esquire's pages over the last 5 years

   To highlight the differences, I submit two different "event outfits". The grey suit on the top was worn for a professional education fair, which I felt called for a calm three button suit, a City Boy-style striped shirt and a reasonably sedate tie. The only touch of individuality I allowed myself was a tie clip I recently acquired via eBay, and an indulgence I allowed myself that day because it blends in while standing out. The coverage on tie accoutrements of late has been centred on the US as the style press have found the generation of younger guys appropriating old school accessories to be a more American phenomenon. Call it the Don Draper Effect. An acquaintance remarked "I feel faint" when he saw me, due to my apparently out of character (ultra) conservative business dress. Better my appearance than my eau de toilette, I suppose

   Of course, I'm usually in more comment-inspiring gear like the double breasted blue pinstriped suit in the second picture, or the other photos below. I was crawling through an installation at Maddox Arts, and the occasion of an opening always calls for a more lively ensemble, the better to blend in with and stand out amongst the offbeat creatives that also go to see a contemporary's work. A print silk tie is hardly a step away from the business world, but that always depends of the style of design, which is a fairly notable mix of colour and pattern in this case. Throw in a green hued shirt with faint blue stripes, a complimentary watch and a royal blue pocket square, and it's not so likely that I'd be mistaken for an on or off-duty banker at any given moment. And I feel just as free and easy in this as I would in my casual clothes

   Whether they ultimately like the result or not, I think people do notice your ability to scrub up well if you've got it in the first place. And for me, that makes it worth it

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Rebecca Warren; The Serpentine

   It amused the hell out of me that in a roomful of East End arty types - loud checked trousers, Oriental dudes with bright blonde hair, Tracey Emin, Duggie Fields, girls with grade one buzz cuts - that a bow tie attracted so many lingering glances. At least Winston isn't taking a stand alone

   The show itself was interesting, though obviously not because of the crowd, which was very much the same crowd at any given opening at any major gallery in London. What interested me was that the work was so open-ended (so to speak - a lot of it revolved around sex, unsurprisingly) as to make discussion almost pointless

   Fiona, who brought me as her +1, is one of the most thoughtful and erudite people I know, not to mention far less jaded than I am, and when she's challenged to muster up words on a presentation of art, something can't be clicking. Even moreso when the conversations I eavesdropped on had nothing to do with the pieces in front of us

   My next gallery outing this week should be more fun, though

Monday, 9 March 2009


   Weekend outfits - a kind of "French vibe":


   1970s Depardieu?

   The womenswear shows have been interesting so far. As usual, Junya Watanabe absolutely slayed me

   Update on the Styleforum competition - 4th place. Narrowly missing out on the runners-up prizes, but good fun, nonetheless