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Monthly Archives: August 2012

This year at (capsule) things just came out a bit dull for me.  Despite these past couple years where it feelss like we’re cycling through trends at breakneck speed, menswear is still a painstakingly slow industry, and while there were a lot of brands that I like and wear at the show, there weren’t many new discoveries for me.  Out of everything that I saw, the only brand that’s still stuck on my mind these weeks later is Journal Standard, a Japanese brand that has built up a large following abroad but hasn’t really broken into the U.S. market yet.  In fact, Journal Standard is so new to the western world that finding any real info on the brand (without the aide of Google Translate that is) proved to be next to impossible.

In the states it’s carried by Bodega in Boston and Unionmade out in San Francisco, although I couldn’t tell if they are still actively stocking the brand, or if it was just a one season deal.  From one source I read that the brand’s been around for over a decade, while another said that it had only been around since 2008.  I’m not sure which is true, but considering Journal Standard’s thirty-four stores across Japan, Hong-Kong, and Paris, I’d venture to guess they’ve been dominating abroad for years now, with their push into the U.S. market only being a recent phenomena.

While their backstory is jumbled, Journal Standard’s structure is very typical of Japanese retail.  The brand’s layout is reminiscent of United Arrows, with separate brands and stores that stock their own lines as well as third-parties, and cover everything from higher end clothes to housewares.  As for their menswear assets, there’s Journal Standard, J.S. Homestead, Journal Standard Trisect, and Journal Standard Relume.  Now I’ll admit, in contrast to United Arrows, I don’t really sense a strong distinction between any of these brands.  They’re all clearly inspired by the Japanese interpretation of American workwear, with a much more comfortable, relaxed feel to all their pieces.  Throughout the line’s there’s lots of variations of blues, neutral colors, collared knits, and unstructured jackets.

I suppose if I had to break it if up, I would say Journal Standard is a casual blend of trad and heritage with touches of bold pattens such as floral and camo.  J.S. Homestead is the closest to true workwear, think more chore jackets and denim.  Trisect features classics such as slimmer knits, ties, blazers, khakis and button ups, for a line that’s more directly inspired by Ivy than workwear.  And finally Relume is unisex basics, which reminds me of a more heritage Uniqlo.  Although with Journal Standard, focusing on the minutiae that distinguish the lines ignores the brands greatest asset, their individual pieces.  Journal Standard is never stronger than when it’s looked at piece by piece, because throughout the brand they use some of finest Japanese textiles and patterns, which creates that washed texture that’s become so desirable as of late.  The clothes are comfortable and warm in a way that has nothing to do with temperature, and with brands such as R by 45 RPM, Kapital, and even Visvim already having a strong impact on the American menswear landscape, I see no reason why Journal Standard shouldn’t be next in line.

Journal Standard

J.S. Homestead

Journal Standard Trisect

Journal Standard Relume

Yakuto Kamoshita via Barneys

As someone living in New York I realize that I have absolutely no right to complain about us not having a certain store, but when it comes right down to it I’d trade about ninety-five percent of the shops in this city for just one United Arrows.  Yet this raises the obvious question of why out of all the obscure Italian, or British brands (looking at you Boggi and Hackett.)  I mean sure it’s a brand that I have almost zero first hand experience with, but the answer lies in something I had mentioned in an earlier post: the concept of the Japanese doing American design better than Americans can, only with United Arrows it isn’t just Americana.  Looking at United Arrows’ entire umbrella, they cover more ground than almost any other brand out, poaching the best features of each “wave”  along the way.

Yakuto Kamoshita by Sean Hotchkiss

So much of UA’s style can be attributed to their impeccably dressed creative director, Yasuto Kamoshita.  In the eighties, after graduating from school, Kamoshita started from scratch in menswear, getting a job as a salesman at Beams, which was then, and continues to be, one of Japan’s most significant retail chains.  Kamoshita’s passion pushed him further into the company as he slowly worked his way up from the bottom to become a buyer.  In 1989 he left Beams to became one of the founding members of United Arrows, where he first continued on as a buyer until 2007 when he was promoted up to become their creative director.  Kamoshita’s pedigree acts as a foundation for understanding what it is about United Arrow that’s so appealing, because that period that he spent cutting his teeth as a salesman and buyer corresponds with what is now considered to be the most crucial years for Japanese menswear.

Yasuto Kamoshita by the Sartorialist

Unlike western countries, Japan doesn’t really have a set “classic” style to build off of, a fact that Kamoshita himself has alluded to, therefore as Japan’s interest in menswear grew, it was more about learning from other cultures than learning how to embrace their own.  This is what drove Japan toward it’s Americana obsession in the eighties, and Italian style in the aughts.  If Japan’s story is about education, then Kamoshita is nothing less than a scholar, guiding United Arrows’ various brands by relying on his own knowledge of what has worked over the years from across the world.  Opening up a United Arrows lookbook is somewhat like looking at a best of from menswear over the past fifty or so years.  But more importantly for a larger “umbrella brand,” Kamoshita understands what goes where, and how to diversify within his own line.

Beauty & Youth United Arrows Fall Winter 2012

If you’ve ever been to Japan, you’re probably familiar to United Arrows approach.  The closest thing we have to their concept in the states is a department store, only United Arrows actually care about good design, their in-house brands are good enough to stand on their own, with separate retail stores and lookbooks.  Out of all their in-house brands, there’s three diffusion lines that make up their larger menswear package, or at least, that’s as much as I can gather from their poorly translated site and the brief bits of info floating around, and as far as I can tell, the three brand’s actually do blend together, both in how their packaged for press and their style, quite a lot.

United Arrows

First is the aptly named “Beauty & Youth United Arrows”, which as you could probably guess appeals to the younger set.  Overall I would say it’s a mix of New England collegiate trad, British prep school, and French beatnik.  For this upcoming season, there’s a slew cable knits, quilted jackets, patterned trousers, slim suits, deep colors, and chunky overcoats.  A step above this would be the straight United Arrows collection, which is best explained as what would happen if Free & Easy designed their own line.  Half of it sticks to the classics with suits that are clean but not bland, shoes that feel very Anglo, uncomplicated dress shirts, and knits that are Italian-esque.  And then there’s the other half of the line, the more experimental, contemporary side, filled with camo shorts, denim shirts, and more technical outerwear.

Camoshita United Arrows via Selectism

Finally there’s Kamoshita’s pet project, Camoshita United Arrows which he debuted at Pitti a few seasons ago.  Kamoshita himself has said that this line is very heavily influenced by Italian design, but also by the concept of a Japanese dandy, aiming for a well-read, well-dressed class clientele that doesn’t mind being a bit flashy.  The intersection between these two can definitely be seen in the relaxed look of jackets, the bold choice of patterns, texturized fabrics, extreme cutaway collars, loud trousers, soft shoulders, and loosely woven knits.  It’s also worth mentioning that Camoshita United Arrows is the only part of the line that you can readily find in the states as it’s sold at Barneys.  Put these three together, add in United Arrows endless stream of collaborations with everyone from New Balance to Nick Wooster and you have a brand that makes me desperately wish I could get back to Japan sometime soon.

Beauty & Youth United Arrows

United Arrows

 

Camoshita United Arrows

With the announcement last month on the impeding untimely death of Daffy’s, there’s been a lot of talk about the loss of the discount retailer and it’s random inexplicable deals.  Shopping at Daffy’s was far from enjoyable, it was an insultingly ugly and poorly laid out store that was constantly ransacked, but it still always drew me in thanks to the consistent stream of rumors about (insert illustrious Italian brand here) being available for dirt cheap.  Overtime I heard stories of Cucinelli, Isaia, and Zegna all being sold for below cost at Daffy’s, but every time I’d go there, all I ever found was a bunch of shoddy products from brands I’d never heard of.

Yet, Daffy’s did have one “true deal” that you could always count on if you were willing to ween through a sea of garbage, and that was Incotex pants.  Daffy’s sold the Italian brand’s slim-fitting pants in a bevy of colors for well below what they were worth and when it comes down to it that’s probably the only real reason to mourn Daffy’s.  While you can now pick up Incotex at Mr. Porter, Barney’s, and the ilk, there was obviously something appealing in getting an incredibly well-made, tailored trouser for next to nothing.  Nonetheless, I’m sure Incotex will get picked up somewhere else and they’ll find a way to offer it for just as cheap (looking at you, Yoox) and then everyone will slowly forget Daffy’s even existed.  While I never ended up buying anything at Daffy’s I still owe it to them for creating buzz around Incotex, not because I wear their pants often (full disclosure, I’ve never owned a pair, although my dad swears by them) but because they turned me onto Slowear.

Slowear could be considered Incotex’s “parent company” although that’s probably not the best term for them.  Slowear is an Italian based company that produces pants branded as Incotex, knitwear branded as Zanone, shirts branded Glanshirt, and jackets as Montedoro.  Now why they decided to have every facet of their line be a different “brand” I’ll never understand, especially because Slowear is such a great name on it’s own, but when you put all these products together you have what I believe is the next “big” Italian label.  Slowear was founded in 1951, producing private label trousers for other brands, but in the seventies they decided to go out on their own, starting Incotex with the philosophy of creating simple contemporary pants that were remembered for their fit and attention to detail, not for branding.  In the early aughts they applied this system to the rest of their “brands” creating a larger company that wasn’t just about pants but a complete wardrobe.

To me Slowear sits in a similar position as Cucinelli or Loro Piana in that they’re an Italian brand that’s trying to be about the entire package not just individual pieces.  Much like Cucinelli, Slowear has a relaxed sensibility to them, the colors are all a bit earthy and the garments have a comfortable, broken in feel to them.  While I doubt Slowear’s production is as meticulous as Cucinelli’s (therefore the prices are significantly lower) they are all still Italian made (except for Incotex, which I believe is partially made in Spain and partially made in Romania.)  What’s most fascinating to me about Slowear though, is not that they’ve built up this entire attitude without having many solid accounts here in America, it’s that when you look at their website, you can’t help but wonder what they’re waiting for.  Their look-books seem like an Italian version of a J. Crew catalog, they have a journal that covers everything from green living to food in Beirut, their products express that clean look that has come to define Italian design, but where are they expanding is slow and a bit perplexing having just opened up a store in the unlikely market of Mexico City.  Slowear is about totality, it’s a packaged lifestyle that is refreshingly forward-thinking, the only thing to do now is wait for them to really hit the states.

A couple days ago Vanity Fair came out with their list of The 25 Most Fashionable Films of All Time, a collection that undoubtedly included some stylish films, but also raised a few questions about contemporary movies, because the list didn’t include a single film past 1988.  I wish I could outright argue with Vanity Fair’s decision to focus on the classics, but I do have to agree with them that our most stylish cinematic days are probably behind us.  Over the past twenty-four hours I’ve been racking my brain trying to com up with a recent movie that I feel could have made that list, and a few have come to mind, but they never really stand up against an “all time list.”  It’s hard to find a film that matters in that context these days, mostly because I find style in recent movies to be too deliberate.  There seems to be something forced about costumes, especially because most our contemporary films that are concerned with fashion are set in the past, or at least allude to it.

Yet, there is one film that comes to mind, Tom Ford’s A Single Man.  While Ford did not do the costumes for the movie himself (a fact that I was pretty surprised about) he did work directly with costume designer Arianne Philips, in conceptualizing the style of the film.  Set in California in the 1960’s, the film focuses on George Falconer (played by Colin Firth) a homosexual professor who is copping with the loss of his partner.  The whole film is filled with the hard angles and strong hues of the mid-century modern period, a backdrop that only amplifies George’s already dramatic outfits that include little more than a form-fitting black suit, pressed white shirt, thick rimmed black glasses and a thin black tie.

There’s something haunting about his costumes, like a man dressed for his own funeral.  He’s surrounded by few other characters but their clothes only seem designed to compliment his.  There’s a young student in a fluffed out shaggy dog sweater and a lightly checked shirt-a plethora of textures against George’s flat black suit.  A random acquaintance wearing a rolled white tee, cuffed selvedge denim, and work boots, sitting at the opposite end of the spectrum of simplicity.  And then there’s the flashbacks to George meeting and spending time with his partner, the costumes are softer, the palate is more neutral, George wears light pants, and more relaxed shirts, painting a scene that is warmer all around.  And then it’s back to normal, and George’s black suit feels all the more abrasive.  With a film as small, and simultaneously as colossally important as A Single Man, the look of George and those around him exaggerates the effect of loss and guides the film to it’s completion.

It’s difficult to write about Alan Flusser without recognizing how polarizing of a figure the man has become.  As we’ve seen in some recent comments, the author/designer’s work isn’t exactly as respected as it once was by the up-and-comers in the menswear world.  Not to mention his personal style at this point, which is slowly turning into a farce of what he once preached.  Yet, there was a time when Flusser reigned as king, when he was declared one of the best menswear designers in America, had a small but influential bespoke shop in midtown, and outfitted some of the best dressed men of that era.

To grasp Flusser’s reach, you have to look no further than what is arguably his greatest work ever, the costumes of Gordon Gekko.  In 1987 when Flusser was approached to design Gekko’s costumes for Oliver Stone’s Wall Street he had already been running his own shop for almost a decade, becoming the tailor of choice for the financial district’s upper crust.  In the face of both triumph and uncertainty, there’s never anything amiss with Gekko’s outfits.  It was all peak lapels, horizontal striped shirts, bold ties, patterned suspenders, collar pins, chalk white pinstripes, trousers without belt loops, and white contrast collar, facets that mirrored the power and prowess of a man like Gekko.

His style embodied old-school New York trad, but also something new, a flashier, more worldly look that embraces the excess of the era.  Gekko is as remembered for his insurmountable greed in the film as he is for his suits, but they both reflect a time period where those on Wall Street thought they were untouchable gods, something that they felt everyone must recognize.

In the end Gekko’s suits cost upwards of fifty thousand dollars, but it was money well spent, the film became a classic, Gekko is now considered one of film’s all-time best dressed characters, and Flusser’s name began popping up everywhere.  Flusser claims that the next year his business quadrupled off the press he gained from the film, but there was also a bit of pushback from Wall Street’s credited custom designer, Ellen Mirojnick.  She wasn’t exactly happy that Flusser ultimately overshadowed her and her work on the film.  So a couple years ago when Oliver Stone began working on the sequel, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, he called on Mirojnick to design the costumes, but in turn Mirojnick never called Flusser, instead choosing to guide the look of the character’s all by herself.

Her decision certainly left the film with a much less iconic style to it, but then again, it’s not like wall street really has any style to it these days.  I can say that I don’t think anyone on wall street actually dresses how Gekko, and Jacob Moore (played by Shia LeBeouf) did in the sequel, because their clothes actually seem to fit them.  As we all know there’s no longer any sort of definitive style to the financial district, unless you consider oversized suits and square toed shoes to be a “style,” but, looking at these costumes in the sequel, it seems a bit confused to me.

Where the original spoke volumes about the literal golden age of wall street and expressed a time when men really put effort into looking good, Money Never Sleeps feels like it heads in the opposite direction.  It’s not that the outfits are bad, it’s just that they’re unimaginative, there’s really no expression to them, the suspenders, patterns, collar pins, all those little touches from the original are absent in the sequel.  The clothes fit, but clothes can also fit a mannequin, and I think in the end that reflects where we are today in the style of New York’s professional class.  There’s a lot of guys with money to spend, but instead of dedicating that money toward getting a suit that reflects who they are, they’re walking into department stores and absentmindedly buying what they think they’re supposed to.  Hell, Gekko might have been greedy but at least he could dress himself.

In the early seventies Ralph Lauren was just beginning to find his way as a designer. He’d won an award for his collection in ’70, then a couple years later he debuted his signature line of polo shirts, but as far as most people were concerned he was still just another menswear designer who hadn’t really made his mark yet.  All of that changed in 1974 when Ralph received an offer to work on the costume’s for Jack Clayton’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby.  Ralph constructed dense outfits for Robert Redford and the rest of the male cast that captured the style of the Jazz Age.  Even though the movie’s head costume designer Theoni Aldredge went on the win the Academy Award for the film’s costumes, and never really gave Ralph any credit for his work, he got what he needed out of the project.  At the time The Great Gatsby went on to gross over twenty-five million dollars, and helped to propel Ralph into becoming a household name.  The movie is largely forgettable, most people classify it as a misdirected adaptation of the book, but the costumes are still remembered for giving an early glimpse into Ralph’s prowess as a designer.

Forty years later, we all know Ralph’s record.  He’s become arguably the most important American menswear designer of all time, never compromising, instead thriving off the consistency of the “Ralph Lauren” look, a Northeast meets Southwest, preppy by way of heritage aesthetic that reflects his personal style.  Ralph’s always known when to experiment and when to reel it in, when to look forward and when to allude to the past.  It’s this reference to the past that I couldn’t help but think about as I scanning through the photos of Ralph Lauren’s Spring 2013 collection. It’s not to say that the entire collection is reminiscent of the costumes from The Great Gatsby, but certain looks, especially in the more formal areas, seem like they’re ripped straight from Ralph’s sketch book from the seventies.  It’s the chalk white stripes, the two-tone spectator-esque shoes, the low button stances, the double-breasted waistcoats, the patterned ties, the cream colored suits, the pastel shirts, the contrast white collars, the club collars, all of these characteristics of Spring ’13 remind me so much of The Great Gatsby ’74.  With interest in the Great Gatsby obviously peaking again thanks to the new movie, and the inevitable return to the formality and details of the Prohibition Era, it only makes sense that Ralph would take a literal page from his own design book right now.

Before I dive into this, I feel the need to point out that I’m not some Americana fanboy.  Do I find it sad that out of Hanover, Footjoy, Florsheim, Allen Edmonds, Bass, Alden, Chippewa, Wolverine, Red Wing, hell even Nike, New Balance, and countless other brands that once produced their shoes in America, we’re left with only a couple that have stayed true to the states?  Absolutely, but for me, what’s really disheartening is that as we move our production to other countries we might gain cheaper products, but we’re also losing the notion of true American design.

You look at English shoe brands, or Italian shoe brands, or even Spanish brands, and there’s a definitive look to them.  You can tell their origins, their era, their style. On the other hand, if you pick up a pair of American shoes or “American” shoes, they’re just sort of there.  I’ll leave Alden out of this discussion because they’ve always been a brand that’s open to innovation and collaboration, but as for everyone else, they seem content to just keep cranking out the same designs, or worse, stealing from other brands.  It’s not about the lack of products made in this country, it’s about the lack of products made in this country that are worth talking about.  Flipping through eBay listings of vintage American shoes, there’s something dignified about them, there’s a touch of English influence, but they’re also sleeker, the details are more city, less country, but what’s most important to me is that they’re absolutely American, not just in production, but in design.  I’m truly not even sure what it means to be an “American shoe” anymore.

I was inspired to write this after looking at a photo that Ping had posted on Tumblr of his shoe collection, which included a beautiful pair of vintage Florsheim longwings.  Sure his shoes looked so great partially because he’d taken care of them, but there was also something inherently handsome about their design.  Everyday, people scrutinize and discuss the lasts, details, and shapes of Edward Greens, Carminas, Alden, Church’s, Vass, Alfred Sargent, etc. because these are shoes that deserve that analysis, they are thoughtfully designed, and meticulously crafted.  Maybe it’s just the nerd in me, but I wish that all American brands still made shoes that called for that sort of critical eye.

The only sign of hope comes out of the Northeast, where mocassin brands such as Rancourt and Co., have worked to keep production as close to the original methods as possible.  They’re setting a new precedent for American innovation mixed with traditional craftsmanship that I can only hope that other brands learn to follow in the future.  I apologize if this sounded like some heritage blog post circa 2008, but recently I feel like people are searching only for the aesthetic and ignoring what goes into a product, and what makes it worth wearing, I know we now have access to the items we want at cheaper prices, but I can only hope that it doesn’t mean we forget where we came from.

Arnys via Nowness

To be honest, the number of French brands worth talking about has always been considerably low, especially when stacked up next to their European neighbors, but on June 18th of this year that figure dwindled even lower, as LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy) announced they would be purchasing and subsequently phasing out the French tailoring institution that was Arnys.  Arnys had been a family run business, proudly positioned on Paris’ Left Bank since 1933, where the Grimbert’s and their knowledgable team peddled adventurous ready to wear pieces alongside meticulous custom suiting.

Arnys via Nowness

Yet, that was really the extent of their portfolio, and to a behemoth umbrella corporation like LVMH this was not good enough, as they announced plans to do away with Arnys and place Berluti, the shoe brand that they’re pushing into the apparel world, in it’s place.  For Arnys, it was their endearingly small and creative approach that was both their great assest and their ultimate undoing.  Unlike Italian, British, or even American brands, that have the ability to rest on their laurels a bit when it comes to design, Arnys didn’t have any distinctly “French” characteristics that they could fall back on in their collections.  Their location wasn’t their guiding light, instead it was their creativity.

Arnys via Nowness

You would never look at Arnys and think “Oh, that’s definitely French,” but you would probably think “Oh, that’s definitely Arnys.”  In defiance to ritzy French “luxury” brands, Arnys was a bit more country, as their signature piece, the Forestiere jacket exemplified.  Based around a “gamekeeper’s” jacket, the Forestiere was a thick twill overcoat, finished off with three patch pockets, turnback cuffs, and a narrow collar.  As for the rest of their collections, they adhered to a similar style-pronounced pockets, rich fabrics, deep colors, a sort of English foundation mixed with italian craftsmanship.

Michel and Jean Grimbert, the Brothers who were in charge of Arnys

In the end though, it was Arnys lack of an easy to identify aesthetic that contributed to their downfall.  Year after year they would almost experiment too much, placing their more understandable and accesible pieces alongside designs that were simply too confusing and misguided to make for a coherent collection.  Nonetheless, it’s a great loss, as when Arnys was good, it was great, and watching them fade out into oblivion is just an all too apparent sign of the times.  A bloated conglomerate replacing a company run by the third generation of a family with a more “luxury” and deliberate name brand simply does not sit well with me.  Oh well, such is the industry I suppose, at least we’ll always have the images.

Le Forestiere

Dominique Lelys, Arnys Designer via For the Discerning Few

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