“What’s the best menswear collection of the past decade?”
Whenever you start talking about “the best” this or “the greatest” that, it’s only a matter of time before the water gets murky, before “top one” evolves into “top ten” or twenty, each with their own asterisk next to it. So it was against my better judgement yesterday, that after revisiting Daiki Suzuki’s “Hunting Noir” collection for Woolrich Woolen Mills from Fall 2010, I decided to ask, “what’s the best menswear collection of the past decade?” My inquiry didn’t really have a chance to devolve though, because it only took about two minutes for my friend Kyle to give me the answer that I was really looking for.
To arrive at a quantitative consensus would be impossible, so what actually matters is personal preference, and so I was glad that Kyle reminded me of his personal favorite collection, and one that I hold in incredibly high regard – Number (N)ine’s “My Own Private Portland” from Fall 2008. My Own Private Portland is admittedly a couple years ahead of my time, and unfortunately shortly after it hit stores, Number (N)ine folded all together (Takahiro Miyashita now designs under The Soloist label), but it was a collection that’s been in the back of my mind ever since I became interested in menswear. As we move further away from the unveiling of My Own Private Portland, it’s importance as a collection only grows, and while the photos, and the occasional eBay listing are all we have left now, it remains a critical moment in modern menswear.
My Own Private Portland was billed as the fusion of two separate spheres of influence. On one hand Takahiro Miyashita was drawing from River Phoenix’s fur-collared, barn jacket wearing character in Gus Van Sant’s 1991 film “My Own Private Idaho,” and on the other he found inspiration in Portland’s Ace Hotel, a destination tourist spot which had become somewhat of a shortcut to the modern Northwest as a melting pot of heritage motifs, grunge undertones, and complimentary minimalist designs. In turn, My Own Private Idaho read like the most fascinating thesis on truly American clothing that I’ve seen thus far, a perspective that really could have only come from an outsider such as Miyashita.
As a dedicated scholar of western design (arguably the only sphere of style that is unique to our country) Miyashita built his collection upon the sort of clothes that you would expect to find hanging in the closet of Phoenix’s character in My Own Private Idaho, likely as beat up, faded hand-me-downs from this father. At first glance, it’s all about buffalo plaids, cracked leathers, handwarmer pockets, and cowichan style patterning, but what we’ve been conditioned through old westerns and rehased Ralph Lauren collections (first Western, then country, then RRL) to see. But that’s what makes this collection so rewarding, Miyashita altered our very notion of what western style even means. Through suede overcoats with ribbed, roll neck collars, deck jacket, chore coat hybrids, velvet dusters with knit shawl collars, and fair isle cardigans with double way zippers, Miyashita rewrites the narrative on American style, rearranging the stale stories told by the likes of Pendleton and Woolrich into something worth studying once again.
In ’08 the heritage wave was in it’s infantile stages. Birthed in response to fast fashion hipsterly brands and the defeatist attitude of most twenty-somethings when it came to clothes, heritage was hailed as a return to form for American style, with a scope that largely ignored newer collections, focusing instead on the archives of “classic” American brands. It was a sentimental ode to the days when Woolrich, Brooks, Ralph, Filson, Pendleton, and Florsheim not only monopolized the American closet, but the American factory as well. It was an attractive philosophy but heritage was not an advancing of American style, it was a revival, and we could only remain trapped in the past for so long, and that’s where Number (N)ine stepped in.
My Own Private Portland helps to represent a turning point in American menswear design, because it’s not founded upon the faux nostalgia for clothes three times as old as we are, rather it’s a progression beyond the derivative. This is an approach that brands such as Engineered Garments had taken during the aughts to carve out their own niche, but to me My Own Private Portland is the greatest example of this style, something that is at once familiar and entirely original. I would dub it Miyashita’s rear view mirror ideology, glancing back, but not lingering on what’s behind him and always looking forward. It’s why as you flip through the looks in My Own Private Portland you can see belted cardigans, shawl collared overcoats, modified varsity jackets, and a slew of other pieces that have become commonplace in collections over the past couple years. Miyashita helped to reshape our perspective on American menswear and My Own Private Portland was not only a precursor to how we dress and consider clothes today, but it is in my opinion one of the greatest collections of the past decade.