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Style Tips

Black – Out of the Darkness

Vivienne Westwood RTW Spring 2020

The equalizer, Black. The tone brings its own baggage and as well as you’ll say it (Saint Laurent says it best, for the record) – you have to say it right. Once a year it’ll get a glossy re-appraisal as if anyone really needed reminding what it might mean. This year, for example, Balenciaga were breathing like Darth Vader in an opium nightmare for Fall 2020. It didn’t bode well.

Black right now – bit of a faux depart. Looking back in time, for spring/summer it was the tone of political fermentation; clouds of discontent; contracts being forged against the common will.

You get the impression that when this things lifts, it’ll be colour that people are dancing to. But black will return, and may even be the best sombre re-entry point to a working world still trying to figure out how it feels.

 

Alberta Ferretti

You’ve been told a lot about contrast with black (black works best on those with darker complexions and hair), but understand that black and whatever colour your face and hair are provide their own form of contrast. The key to success is letting these elements play off each other and – if necessary – bringing something else to the show to help things along. 

Level of confidence is key. If you’re still a little self-conscious (with brown or blonde hair) then add some camel colouring to bring out your features or – better still – undo your top button and let your neck and upper chest be the paler frame. Shades or a tie can also bring out your natural colours.

In all honesty, those with jet black hair and olive skin do look better in black naturally, but they have less flexibility because all eyes refer to those monochrome essentials.

A problem with all of these inflections is that – eventually – you’re going to look like everyone else on the tube. With camel especially too, quality is of the upmost importance and – frequently – the people with enough cash to fork on camel look like bankers. Here’s a way to look different – buttons: for perhaps a total of £20 more you can snip of the generic plastic ones and go all black or metallic Swarovski or metal and look like you’re the kind of person who wears black because you have sophisticated blood, not because you want to look like you do. 

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Style Tips

Zoom – 7 looks make your room a runway

It was – of course – only a matter of time: Vogue’s feature on Zoom-tailored looks (that are de rigueur up top and generally scanty below the belly button) joins the UK Guardian’s feature on what on-screen bookshelves say about the those who bought the books, to generic articles on keeping it simple, smart and well-lit during face time. 

The fact is we’ve been reluctantly moving towards this moment for decades: when how you dress at the office/from that trendy bar/cab is no more (possibly less) important than how you look during a conference call. Kendall and Kim and all influencers have been dealing in this truth for how many years?

But now it’s our turn. Don’t lament the lost oportunities to stroll through Central Park or into that seedy bar, or to sweat it with the masses in a cavernous nightclub wearing Balanciaga or Adidas Collabs. Those times will (possibly) return, and we’ll love them all the more when they do, but the truth is – to paraphrase Amy Grant’s Big Yellow Taxi – that version of New York is being gated over and you’re too hooked to your phone to notice it, while the bars and clubs (haven’t you heard) are being turned into yet more gated communities. 

The new you – the one that matters – is the version people see online via ubiquitous social media channels and – increasingly – on video. It’s already happened. Here are seven pieces of style advice to help you shine there. 

 

High Contrast

We keep returning – not to Gigi or Bella or Kim – but to Kendall. Anyone who really digs style and deep fashion (over the taudry images on every fashion site of glamour models in risque swimwear, or in athleisure coming from the gym, or applying makeup in a YouTube tutorial) and who hasn’t heard of Mika Schneider, knows that Kendall and Kaia Gerber rock because yes, they do all the taudry stuff, but they do high contrast (white skin/dark hair) which emphasises their slim physique, but ultimately draws attention to their face. No you are not Kendall (or the male equivalent) but it’s cleanliness and high contrast (sharp and clean in whatever you’re wearing) that lets people know you mean business.

LIT

Photographers wax lyrical about a photo being a dud just because there is no light in the subject’s eyes. Now, your modified I-phone at home is not gonna provide you with the same quality of picture as a professional studio and a Red camera. You’d also need powerful lighting, reflectors and someone to do your hair and makeup. So what can you do on a budget? Draw your curtains and import a couple of standing lights, then navigate the room until you get the shot that best captures the YOU you’d want to get to know. 

For even better results invest in a light ring. These beauties have been THE go-to tool for photographers wanting flatter lighting instead of a classical shadowy portrait. You think Kendall’s photograher doesn’t use one? Take a look at the first picture above – no shadows under her eyes, nose or chin, and her eyes are lit like a crystal ball.

 

Black

Fashion is HARD. It’s enjoyable, but rich people spend lots of time at the shops because they genuinely can’t find what they’re looking for. The rest of us pretend we don’t care and slum it, or chase the dream on a budget. 

One thing that rich and poor (but rarely the slummers) have figured out is that black is the great leveller. To be frank, a twenty dollar black shirt is gonna look the same as a two thousand dollar version through your laptop unless the latter has Balmain giveaways and – to be honest – fantasy (pretending it’s a Balmain) is one of the joys of an online presence.

Start with black and go from there. Why? Partly it’s because monochromatic shades are organically photographic, and Zoom and Skype are ‘photographic’ in the sense that composition and lighting play such an important role. And yes, black can work with lighter hair colours because online conference cameras have the tendency to film in high contrast anyway.

Professional

To be honest, if you love fashion it’s hard to see why you wouldn’t want to dress up for a conference call, although it’s easy to see where the tendency to bum around in your gardening clothes comes from. You’re at home, probably with people you don’t dress for, and after your meetings have finished, you’ll have nowehere to go but back to the kitchen or lawn. 

But in terms of presentation, those thirty minutes online count just as much as five hours in the office used to (now that we’ve ‘flipped’ our working ways). 

As the New York Times has pointed out, getting it right can be a task: there’s a line to be drawn somewhere between dressing like a Gap advert and for the Met Gala. The former is fine if you’re a gamer/influencer, while the latter is good for Emily Ratajkowski, but what you want is black, grey, with maybe a little (shock) brown or army blue thrown in. Now you’ve got the look of someone who walks for thirty seconds from your car, up your gravel driveway to your front door.

Details

As you’ll have noted, dressing for the digital age is nine tenths fantasy. The great thing is that, because this fantasy world exists only within the confines of your spare bedroom for – say – thirty minutes a day, that fantasy (its perimeters and who you share it with) is much easier to manage. 

And because of that, you might want to start experimenting with looks you might never usually try. How about some glasses or braids, or a number one for the guys with that mop you’ve been too lazy to trim back for a month. 

Glasses are a good place to start. They can look GREAT when slipped on halfway through a conference call as you’re ‘checking your notes’. When people comment that they’ve never seen you in them before, just say you only wear them when looking at a screen. There you go, an alta-ego. Is it wrong? Not if it looks good, and it’s a heck of a lot classier than a fake tattoo. Just make sure you use plain glass.

Life as Simulacrum

When it comes to designer labels to sit down to, you’re obviously gonna need something high contrast that has plenty going on up top and that draws attention to your face. 

This is probably NOT the time for a gender binary Sacai camouflage outfit or an Undercover trenchcoat. You wear one of  these outfits to an online conference call and people will question why you’re not at a UN meeting, or you’ll look like the part-human overlord from some dystopian sci-fi art movie. 

Art – in a sense – is what you want to achieve. Fashion shows and editorials are all about narrative and themes and – unlike the world you have little direct control over – the visual elements of the interent are completley at your disposal, thus favouring the story you want to tell. 

While you don’t want to look like a sci-fi villain, the internet is still something very much of the future, so you DO want to look like you’ve come from there.

Visual Clues

Artists leave traces. Leonardo Da Vinci’s musical score or anchronistic oranges in  his Last Supper painting; Caravagio’s hidden self-portrait. Of course, you’re not painting a still life, and you’re not one yourself, but you are creating a tightly marshalled composition, within which your mug, plant or choice of scarf should say as much about you as your lack of extruding facial hair. 

Guidelines for mugs: Go for portraits of a cultural notable; play against your gender type and against your race. Play against someone who has likely appeared on a University dorm room poster (Bob Marley, Che Guevera, John Coltraine, Kendall) and play black and white. Or, if you’re stuck, just buy a black mug or cup. It’ll go with your shirt!

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Designer/Brand Focus Fashion Philosophy

Ambush as Art – The Consumer and Post-Covid Fashion

Ambush – The Shibuya-based label – gets that art and controlled artifice in fashion are the main thrust of a strong social media presence. 

The lifestyle-cum-streetwear brand is now managed by the same group who  oversee Off-White, and Ambush – in the same covert-cool way – is becoming synonymous amongst fashion’s intelligencia as a brand to get to know before …

Like most lifestyle-meets-couture concerns, there is a fine line to tread between the promotion of street credibility and the refinement of an aura of exclusivity. Take a look at Ambush’s website – you’ll note their preference lies more heavily in the latter camp.

Two major influences on 21st Century culture (the disappearance of the mainstream and the related technologization of society) have led to the promotion of those with design expertise into the higher reaches of the zeitgeist. I use the word ‘design’ in the technological/industrial sense, not as it applies to fashion where the ability to experiment can more readily influence the finished product.

Experimentation is especially important in the digital era, where fashion is often presented to us (as it used be exclusively in Vogue) through images and by influencers that distill what a product may and may not be. 

This is a time to take stock of that process.On the limits that fashion advertising and social media has placed on the consumer, and the need for a creative response from designers and consumers.

A lot of 21st Century fashion has been determined not by utility but by ideals. Ideals about what the postmodern world might look like, the kind of environments we would like to inhabit and the garments we would like to wear when traversing these spaces. It has assumed an autonomy and an eternal spiralling towards its ideals

In seclusion and with the time afforded, we can question those ideals and whether they matter. We can ask good questions about how we should dress, how important dressing well actually is, and decide how creative we want to be.

Ambush and the like make some very cool clothes. But rather than being wowed by their websites, I now have time to ask questions about the purpose and utility of their products; to push back where they once led us based on marketing assumption that used to be true.

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Fashion Philosophy

Tokyo Street Fashion is antithetical to Asian Design’s forward movement

Street style is renowned as a central tenet of Japanese fashion. The scene itself – borne out of the shops and small boutiques that line Takeshidadori and neighbouring streets and up to Harajuku Koen in central Tokyo – is still alive to streetwear and cosplay – the two intertwine, making Sundays part mass teenage convention, part tourist show.

But to define Japan’s fashion scene by this movement, in this time, is misleading. It’s contrary to what is actually going on in the best Japanese designers’ minds right now. Likewise, the proposition of such a scene has long since gone global: everyone is a street artist now, and to be one – in the post-mainstream age – doesn’t turn heads at quite the same speed.

For many years streetwear in Tokyo has been highly representative: the work of designers who are now operating at the pinnacle of international design have been touched by it.

But now the tables have turned so that streetwear is influencing more formal and couture clothing. Japan no longer uniquely influences couture (in fact many Japanese brands seek a Western aesthetic) although they do have a more radical, costumized street scene.

It was a sense of democracy that led to the fusion of street and design in Japan, but it is further global democracy that makes Japan’s domestic relationships less intriguing as a major influence on the rest of the world or its own bright sparks, becaue both are looking elsewhere too.

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Designer/Brand Focus Fashion Philosophy

Tae Ashida Fall 2020 – Risk and Momentum

Tae Ashida doesn’t meet the prototypical profile of a hip Japanese fashion designer; at least not one who’ll be successful in Europe, where Japan and Tokyo – partly erroneously – are synonymous with a vibrant but somewhat disparate street scene, and designers/labels who have graduated this scene to either calcify its tendencies (Undercover) or inflate them (Comme des Garcons). 

Neither does she fit in easily with the likes of Chitose Abe at Sacai – Japan’s most important contemporary designer – who has succeeded in seguing Japanese ‘tendencies’ (costumization through layered ‘non-disclosure’ being her primary trait) to create complex garments that lead the way in gender fluidity and work/street realignment; or the likes of Hiroko or Junko Koshino – traditionalists for sure, who haven’t flown the nest, but create exsquisite clothes more solidly rooted in Japan’s conservative past, for conservative customers.

Ashida – both ancenstrally (her father, Jun Ashida, was a designer for the Japanese Royal Family) and also in outlook, is a traditionalist in the only way it matters in fashion design: she embodies formal silhouettes specific to Japanese fashion (as have the Koshinos); to adhere to a seriousness of taste (as does Abe-san) in creating very stringent models of western style (Abe riffs more freely).

Rock n’ Roll and modern art are the things that influence Ashida, but what she’s saying about them hasn’t always been that clear. There are clear lifestyle elements to her designs (unlike Sacai) that in the Spring/Summer 2020 collection was ocassionally permeated with surprising colours in artistic shades. These mimicked the art she acknowledged in the collection, and revealed a relaxed approach that was intentional and intelligent: a second layer of thought and interpretation that – although not explicit – meant her designs sometimes transcended the lifestyle form. 

A favourable comparison is with Yasuko Furuta, the designer of Toga, whose work on the European runway is more youthful and layered, but has a weightedness matched by Ashida’s Fall line. Furuta began making women’s clothes for women long before the male gaze was an issue. Previously, Ashida’s collections were creative, artistic, even daring (she asked genuinely interesting questions about materials and colours) but retracted for those consumers who wouldn’t tolerate risk.

Fall 2020 is the first time she’s pitched forward. Not only asking questions, but giving, over the whole collection,  specific answers (to the issue of heritage as it relates to modernity; on reasons for weightedness that Milan might agree with) to the questions she posed. More importantly, like Sacai, she has given thought to those who will never buy her clothes, that they might want to look like the people wearing them.

Tae Ashida Fall 2020
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Fashion Philosophy Style Tips

Post-Covid Fashion

Suddenly those radical cyberpunk designs we admire from a distance on Tokyo high streets and sci-fi movies seem less of-the-moment and – to be honest – a little old hat. Should the end be nigh, what we wear won’t make a wool jumper’s worth of difference, but should we have to live through this thing, it’s worth bearing in mind others will be buying retail again, and we need to be healthy first, but ahead of that curve. Here are seven looks to take you past the post-covid world.

Anti-Surveillance

Looking good has frequently been synonymous with the attainment of self-actualisation – be yourself is the mantra of those who have truly made it in the beauty stakes, while the rest of us struggle to achieve that aim, thus compromising the whole endeavour. Surveillance and voice recognition software has made parading in plain sight, at least for those who value a modicum of privacy, a less desirable trait and – as if returning to the Masquerade Balls of the 15th century – millenials are keener to let their alter ego face front. This is not the first time we’ve been this route: from Kubrick’s psycho-sexuall exploration of the nature of masks in Eyes Wide Shut, V For Ventura or – without going polemic – voguing parties from the 80s to now, masks have always been darkly alluring. But never has the mask been such a conscious statement of ant-establishment values. Hiding not to hide your true self, but that that true self can be left alone.  

INSIDE OUT

Threads and loose bits of fabric;fusing two garments (indeed two genre silhouettes) together to make a homogenous look, patchwork and camouflage in a rainbow plethora of bright colours.All this hints at tougher times; at having to make do when resources and materials are scarce, but it’s also the starting point for every great fashion designer; Vivienne Westwood at her most iconic and irreverent/reverent and – more recently – Chitose Abe at Sacai and Jean Paul Gaultier Couture. This level of fusion applies to a dissolution of barriers too: the disruption of workwear etiquette began with the punk’s standing=down formality, while now it’s about gender stereotypes and the increased ubiquity of loungewear and athleisure. Coronavirus has brought the building of barriers (physical, economical, social), but it’s also helped us to reconnect, re-centre and consider that – even if things get worse – we can be creative wherever we are.

LAY IT ON

Lady Macbeth imagined through the lens of Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood ain’t exactly light going, but then Jun Takahashi never does light. Comme De Garcons and Toga are other Japanese labels with a real heavy feel that purposefully starts from – but quickly distances itself from – many things we come to associate with a Tokyo highstreet. So if cyberpunk really isn’t the way to go, then the 16th Century equivalent – doom and gloom through mist and fog, hubble bubble toil and trouble and all that – suggests serious, even murderous intent, except you’re letting all your negative emotions out via the clothes you wear.

HYPER PUNK

The melting of the polar ice caps, the rising of the sea, the destruction of the rainforests, the threat of nuclear war, chemical warfare, 5G, and now Covid19 – who needs enemies when you’ve got enemies like these. And for such times you better be dressed for war – layered. It’s like those kids that have been living below the radar; who come to mind in every computer hacker movie or post apocalypse underground movement have finally come out from behind their skip or computer screen and feel entitled to roam around nodding ‘told you so’

FACING FACTS

We may be getting ahead of ourselves. Surely there’s nothing trendy about the fight for effective face masks to keep this virus at bay and to stop it infecting others. But what if we have to face a future where this kind of thing is a regular (if not as epoch-defining) occurrence, and where venturing outdoors is always a matter of assessing the skies and the news for virus latests. If so, you can be assured people will start incorporating the mask into their daily routine and aesthetic as readily as their i-phone and tattoos.