What’s a Sunday without football? What’s a hardwood court without a team to inhabit it? What’s America without it’s national pastime? These might seem like impossible scenarios, questions not worth asking with answers not worth contemplating, but they’re the lingering ideas that I was left to consider this weekend after reading Michael Mooney’s article for SB Nation on the death of Jai Alai in America. Until reading that article, what little knowledge I had of Jai Alai I’d picked up from two equally off kilter episodes of Mad Men and Jackass, which meant that I remembered two things – in the sixties the sport made a push for a rightful place in American athletics, and the game is fast enough to inflict serious (read: humorous) bodily harm.
There’s this scene just over halfway through Borsalino, where Jean-Paul Belmondo’s character arrives at Alain Delon’s character’s newly acquired mansion and the two men reflect on their rapid rise from foot soliders to kingpins. As Belmondo stepped out of his open air coupe, wearing a double-breasted overcoat brown with this faint windowpane check and is greeted by Delon in a satin shawl collar belted robe, that he’s wearing as a jacket (complete with pocket square,) I couldn’t help but stop and think that Borsalino might be the best dressed movie that no one ever talks about. What strikes me though is that the film seems like it was specifically designed to be high scripture for the menswear community, right up there with Three Days of the Condor, Breathless and the Godfather Trilogy Borsalino plays out like an amalgam of all these films combined, it’s French Nouvelle Vague, meets gangster flick, all wrapped up in meticulously tailored outfits complete with a bevy of Borsalinos.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There’s few men more respected in this industry than Bill Cunningham, and while I could go on for days about what the illustrious New York Times photographer has done for this industry, today I want to focus on one small attribute that I have always admired about Cunningham. As he races around the city each day shooting street style, lead only by his eye and his enviable sense of what’s worth documenting, Cunningham has always kept his own wardrobe incredibly simple. Cunningham’s remarkably stripped down wardrobe consists of nothing but khakis, a button up, and his now legendary French workwear jacket. It’s been said that Cunningham buys his jackets at French hardware stores for dirt cheap, and while I’m not sure if they could still be found there, the story does check out, as the jackets really did begin as nothing more than inexpensive smocks for the working class.
The jackets first came about during the nineteenth century, and their distinctive blue hue was actually chosen out of mere necessity. During that period, indigo was an incredibly cheap dye, and for the working class it was just dark enough to cover up any stains that would occur throughout their day. The design itself was, and still is, loose and unstructured with numerous pockets across the front to stash whatever may be needed for a given job.
Over time what began as a practical top layer for the French worker became fashionable, partly due to Cunningham, but also largely thanks to the recent Japanese and American interest in workwear. Deadstock, and even faded out blue French worker’s jackets have became more desirable than anyone could have ever predicted. Stores in Japan now sell the jackets alongside classic Barbours, Levis, Aldens, and the ilk, while in America they can be found throughout various vintage resellers, as well as at stores such as Hickoree’s who sell deadstock models straight from France. Granted, don’t expect to find them for lower-class prices anymore, as the hype has driven the cost of the jackets into territory that is borderline laughable. They might’ve began as a cheap throw-on for the blue collar worker, but these days the cost of one jacket could certainly wipe out an entire week’s pay. Guess that’s the industry for you.