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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.

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Fashion Business Fashion Philosophy

Fashion’s Fault Lines AW 2020

Movements that focus on the empowerment of women, or the salvation of the planet are vital to the preservation and continuation of (and are rightly adopted by) the fashion industry, but are frequently promoted to the hindrance of some really great clothes and shows.

This fall (through the first half of the four fashion weeks) there has been a return to something like a focus on form. No Extinction Rebellion hate-ins, no Vivienne Westwood sit outs, no (as yet) shows stealing the glory, and almost – thanks to COVID 19 – no shows at all. 

Regardless of the valid polemics, designers and brands would actually prefer shows that put clothes before issues. Victoria Beckham and Burberry delivered fine and affairs in an otherwise troublingly conservative London; Beckham has become the kind of Brit standard-bearer that Burberry used to be, while Burberry produced a sensuous collection that hints at less  British directions it could take under Ricardo Tisci. 

Never straying too far away from those tans trenches were patterns and layers that dared diffuse the ubiquitous check with nods to pumped athleisure. It was a show which acknowleded that – at the cutting edge – brands are willing to (have to) toy with their own legacy. This matters as much as diversity and sustainability in their received sense. Brands must diversify across the racial and retail spectrum whilst at the same time crystalizing brand identity, and must become sustainable for their own dogged survival. 

Gucci, the standout at Milan this week, has whittled  its aesthetic down to bare minimums in motif forms – Italian, catholic, perverse. Ultimately illustrating how to use simple, imperfectly matched, uncomplimentary colours to master a particular world. 

You wouldn’t be too stunned to see the same jacket or dress filtering through various seasons’ collections like some catwalk anomaly with the Italian brand. It’s the kind of spookiness Gucci vaunt; the idea that when the world is wrong you should turn a sweater on its head. Ironically, this is the kind of sustainability that brands cannot actually tolerate. 

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Fashion Philosophy

Is Men’s Fashion Fashion?

Men’s style has often been defined by an understated supporting role at red carpet events; a legacy that break-away looks like athleisure and streetwear only enhance in comparison. So does men’s fashion matter – or more pertinentently – when a man is dressed properly, is he being fashionable at all? 

Of course, men love dressing up as much as any woman, but – it could be argued – proper men’s style starts and ends with the suit, who’s purpose is not to steal the room like a woman’s knockout one-piece can.

Of course a sense of colour, proportion and cut can add gravity to any man’s entrance, while options like length of the jacket and cuff, shoulder silhouette and accompanying shirt/shoes reveal a lot about the sensibility of the wearer.

The metrosexual revolution of the early 00s – a healthy reaction to dress down Friday’s  – has promoted (re) attention to detail on multiple levels, aided by a broadening of man’s sexual/social identity that means once frowned-upon takes are – if not common place – then at least part of a more daring palette. 

But men’s fashion should be about inviting those with good eyes to take a look rather than playing the peacock. When dressed properly, men can use timeless standards to add colour, culturally influenced twists (sportswear and streetwear are the go-tos and modern menswear also incorporates various ethnic elements) that invite curosity and admiration (not that any self-respecting man is looking fir either).

Todd Snyder (below) has used a standard single-breasted slim suit template. The effectiveness of the look comes from the shirt’s chest and neck area – a frame for the face that is experimentally but effectively colour co-ordinated with the base. Easy and inexpensive to get right and to adapt.