10 February 2018

Episode 08 - "PODCAST"

Episode 08

"Benjamin"! "Barthes"! "Derrida"!
What do dead philosophers have to do with the work of Virgil Abloh? Find out in the latest episode of my podcast, wherein I discuss Abloh's claim of the post-post-modern and consider whether his "quote" marks are truly a lifetime of thinking, or simply a signature gimmick. In this episode I seek to frame Abloh as one of the quintessential millennial designers, given relevance by and existing because of social media and the Internet. I explore ideas of modernity, semiotics, meaning, cognitive self-awareness, and why I think that Abloh would be better served by never actually talking about his work. 

Hope you enjoy the episode, and please do make sure to give it a share!


3 February 2018

The Original 6-Inch Timberland: My Story

Original 6-Inch Boot
Black Nubuck
(The Bearbrick is just for the photograph!)

Another month, another pair of shoes. 

I was around 14 or 15 years old when I bought my first ever pair of boots. They were navy blue nubuck Timberland 6-inch boots, with a cream cuff and gum sole. I saved up all year and, even then, was only able to afford them because I was lucky enough to find them at a shop on clearance for 50% off. They were the first pair of shoes that I bought by myself, and were the first pair of shoes that I bought simply because I liked them and wanted them, rather than as a replacement for shoes I already had.

Growing up I had a relatively small and functional collection of shoes. Well, I say collection, but it was just three pairs - I had a pair of black leather lace-up school shoes, a pair of trainers for PE class (I believe Americans call it Phys Ed) and the weekend, and a pair of football boots, similarly for school lessons. If I was lucky enough to grow out of any of them within a year, then I might be able to get a new pair with the new school year, but otherwise they were my only shoes. Buying the Timberlands was a way for me to own a pair of shoes that had nothing to do with school, and what school regulations deemed to appropriate footwear, and all to do with what I myself enjoyed. I actually felt equally liberated and wasteful for having this extra choice. It is probably why, even until today, my footwear collection has never been particularly expansive.

For me it was a feeling of pure luxury to have this additional pair of shoes that I could wear in my own time. Not to mention the fact that they were not a pair of trainers, but a pair of boots. Boots for me felt somehow more mature, as if I had work to do, places to go, and people to see. I realise that Timberlands have a workwear connotation in America, but where and when I was growing up, they were actually something of a luxury item. The work boots I remember seeing are steel toed Caterpillar boots, Hi-Tec boots, and of course the infamous Magnum boots (still favoured by police and security personnel today). These were all very functional boots to which the nubuck Timberlands stood in complete contrast.

Timberlands were not something you saw that often on the street at the time. Indeed the only real point of reference I personally had for them were from media. I remember seeing Tupac on screen wearing the original wheat models, or the various coloured pairs DMX would wear. They were an aspirational luxury symbol that for me spoke of freedom and, most important of all - they looked cool, and thus by extension, I could look cool by wearing them. I remember that feeling when I put them on and wore them outside for the first time. I actually felt like I was faking it somehow. Indeed I remember thinking that they were too cool for me. I took every opportunity to put them on, but even so, I thought that they were somehow wearing me, rather than me wearing them.

As a result my eldest brother ended up taking the boots from me (I had large feet) after a year or so, and he wore them into the ground from that point. In the years since I have owned a few pairs of boots, with Dr Martens being the most common choice, but I never again felt that sense of coolness that I did from the Timberlands. In a way I think that I was subconsciously avoiding considering a pair again. But having recognised that, I thought that it was time to do something about it. And so, for my birthday last month, I asked my sister whether she would be kind enough to buy a black nubuck pair for me. I sized down, pulled them on, and they were as comfortable fresh out of the box as I remembered.

I was surprised at how natural they felt to wear. I had that nostalgic feeling of coolness the moment I put them on, but with none of the shortcomings. I guess I have come a long way since those days. It is something that I wish that I had done before, because that feeling was so nice. I really am coming to a point where I want to explore all the things I thought were cool when I was younger, albeit through the consideration of my current wardrobe and tastes.


24 January 2018

Clothing As Protection

Autumn/Winter 2018

What does it mean to feel protected by your clothing? 

At a basic level dress serves to protect our bodies from the outside world. In Winter we wear thick jumpers to keep us warm and jackets to protect us from the wind and rain; while in Summer we may wear a hat and sunglasses to protect us from the sun. But then one need only look to the streets on a Friday night in the dead of Winter to see that sometimes practicality goes straight out of the window. We often choose to wear clothes that seemingly do the very opposite of protect us, because we think that it looks good, and often simply because we can. Whether it be shoes that are impractical for the amount of walking we intend to do (say dress shoes with leather soles over a more casual rubber-soled pair), or leaving behind that warmer top because it does not quite go with our outfit (a thinner wool versus a fleece, for example), we make compromises without thinking about it.

But then when I think of protection, I do not particularly think of it in terms of technical function, but rather in psychological and emotional terms. You might feel protected in a sharp suit, you might feel protected in any clothing as long as it is red, you might feel protected wearing silk. Here I think that ideas of protection and confidence most certainly overlap, and even have something of a symbiotic relationship. I think that ultimately is about feeling a sense of security and stability in our dressed identity. It is not only what you are wearing, but also perhaps what you think that wearing those clothes says about you. The way in which we choose to present ourselves forms the visual component of our social identity. And at a cursory glance, it is the way in which others perceive and catalogue us.

But, more importantly, I think that it is about how we perceive and conceive of ourselves. In a way I think that dress is about the narratives we tell ourselves, and those we hope we convey to others. Through these constantly shifting narratives we form and reform our sense of identity through dress. Think of the wardrobe as a container of possible meanings, of the vocabulary if you will, where dress is the expression. In such a way I think that most of us are drawn to what we believe to be a stable display of our self in that moment, even if it changes from day to day. Whether it be a matter of fitting in at work but still choosing a colourful accessory to stand out, to looking like we are fashionable and knowledgeable of current trends, or to simply wanting to be comfortable and not being seen as "trying too hard" when hanging out with friends. The sense of unease arises when we feel the expression is not secure, and thus our sense of self is unstable. For example, turning up to a black tie event in smart casual dress because you did not realise the dress code.

For me the feeling of protection comes out of a sense of confidence in what you are wearing. It is an embodied experience made manifest through the interaction of body and dress. In a very practical way, for me it is about comfort and cover. I am a fan of long sleeves and covering up in general. It is not an explicit attempt to obscure or hide the body. Rather I think that there is a certain elegance to the play of fabric and small reveal of skin or muscle. I have never been the type to go out wearing shorts and a tank top in the height of Summer. I would rather wear some baggy trousers with rolled hems, and a long sleeve with the sleeves folded up. I like that little flash of skin, whether it be an exposed ankle or the forearm (not to mention the issue of sun damage).

I enjoy seeing the movement of the body through the fabric, because it is a reminder of what is unseen. There is a mystery to it. We all have bodies, but our nakedness is ordinarily hidden in day-to-day life, and so there is something about seeing the outline of the body in movement that is fascinating. But then to take it a completely different direction, I do wonder whether that preference where my own dressing habits are concerned stem from the fact that I felt ashamed of my body for so many years. And yet, even as my body has grown stronger, I still find that small reveal more interesting than anything else. As always I find myself continually re-examining my relationship with dress, trying to understand why it is that we wear what we wear, and collections like the one above are the springboard.