Monday, 5 December 2016

Talking To Myself Podcast - Episode 03

Dear All,

I thought that it would be nice to get another episode of Talking To Myself up before the year ended. In this episode I take to the defence of school uniform and why I think that it can have a positive impact on child development. I talk about my own upbringing and experiences with school uniform, making this one of the more personal episodes. Hope you enjoy it, and as always, please do feel free to get in touch and to share with anyone who you think might find it interesting.

Love you all,



Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Brand Supremacy

Brand synergy. It is a term you hear from time to time on fashion forums and threads online, usually followed by a heated debate. The concept is simple - wearing brands that share a design philosophy and aesthetic direction is perceived as superior to an outfit where brands are conceptually disparate. For example, pairing an Acronym jacket with Arc’teryx Veilance trousers is seen as superior, both visually and conceptually, to pairing that same Acronym jacket with a pair of Dior jeans (usually regardless of how either look). While I can most certainly understand the original thinking behind such a suggestion, in the online sphere suggestions can quickly turn into ardent rules. Crossing the streams seems to have a curious effect on a small minority of those who think of themselves as 'true’ supporters and fans of a designer, versus those who are perceived as newer, and thus inauthentic, in their enjoyment of the same clothes.

I think that the term brand synergy can often be thrown around in a rather pretentious manner, simply because of the fact that it values brand name over aesthetic reality. It may seem like a semantic quibble, but I think that if someone speaks of aesthetic synergy, then they are making a point which can be discussed, but blind branded tribalism smacks of snobbery and a desire to mark one’s self out as a ‘true’ follower. To value brand synergy over aesthetic synergy seems to suggest that some manner of philosophical or conceptual similarity is more important that how the clothes actually look. I find that a rather odd perspective, because clothing is primarily a visual medium, especially when limited to photographs online or seen in passing on the street. Indeed once again I think that it becomes a way of displaying (and boasting) one’s insider knowledge.

You see instances where people will post an image of their full outfit, and simply list one of the pieces as “unbranded” or “no brand”, because they feel that it would be perceived by others as an unsuitable piece were they to list its provenance. I find that a rather sad state of affairs, because it then becomes an exercise of trying to fit in more than simply enjoying wearing your clothes and what you think looks good. I think some manner of brand synergy is a natural step for most, simply because we tend to be attracted to similar styles and brands, wherein there is usually some manner of overlap in terms of aesthetics anyway. If you happen to be into a skater aesthetic, you find that the brands that cater to you tend to have a similar background, so brand synergy tends to be a natural outcome rather than some particularly conscious decision. But to say that this synergy is more important than how something looks is not something that I agree with.

The comparison I would make is to people who walk into a museum and read the caption before looking at the art itself. Or else, coming across photographs and finding out what camera, lens and settings were used before looking at the image itself. It is as if you are afraid of saying whether or not you like something without first finding out whether it passes some basic (or, more often, quite complex and rigid) groupthink level of acceptability. I think that it can often be an incredibly narrow view of fashion, wherein stylistic creativity is stifled in favour of common uniforms - these are the clothes we wear, and these are the ways in which you must style them. Yes, you can dress according to the codes of your group and for the eyes of those few others in the know, but ultimately I think we all strive to dress in a manner we think looks good, and some manner of aesthetic coherence is a generally understood part of looking good.

I think that the idea of brand synergy can confine people in their outlook, and does rather gloss over the complexity of the self. You can own a whale foreskin wallet and still enjoy wearing Nike Dunks. People have varied tastes and varied interests, but can find a sense of kinship in the enjoyment of one brand, or select group of brands, whilst still enjoying a stylistic diversity among them. However I do not think that brand synergy is entirely useless as a concept, because I do understand the thinking behind the suggestion. For those starting out in developing their aesthetic direction, or those changing their aesthetic direction, it is an easy way of navigating the myriad of choices that make up the fashion market. It does make your job far simpler in terms of finding clothes that work together. If I like wearing brand x, then I know that l can try brand y and z safe in the knowledge that they will mostly work together visually. But to say that one is automatically poorly dressed for wearing brand x with brand c is too simplistic a view.

It can be a helpful suggestion to help navigate buying and dressing, but when it becomes an inflexible rule and demand, I think that brand synergy stifles creativity and encourages snobbery. I understand that the vision of the designer is part and parcel of the design, but ultimately the runway show is a very specific vision that simply gives you an idea of how to wear the clothing if you are wearing nothing but clothes from that collection for that season. Yes you can style the clothing with other pieces from the same designer and take inspiration from the catwalk, but to become a facsimile of the runway is not something I particularly strive for. I think that it is but one interpretation, and once you buy the clothing, you can wear it how you want and style it how you want (including altering the garments how you want to make it work better for your body or modes of wearing). While I respect the ideas produced by the designer, I also want to approach each and every garment individually, because they have to have merit of their own beyond the label attached to them.

All that to say - yeah, I wear Supreme with Yohji Yamamoto...and I look damn good. Wear what makes you happy, because life is too short to worry about whether this designer and that designer share philosophical perspectives, musical tastes and drink the same brand of tea. Once they sell them, the clothes belong to us, so wear it how you want.


Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Future is Now

Y-3 Autumn/Winter 2016
Shot for Hypebae
Photographer: Kara Chung
Model: Yana V
Stylist: Rebecca Lam
Make Up: Kidd Sun

Y-3 enables Yohji to expand a vision that occupies the space between fashion and sportswear, which is actually the very essence of sneakerhead culture. The clothing and shoes give the promise of technological advancement and perfomance enhancement that are inherent in the marketing of most sneakers. But rather than focusing this implied benefit towards sporting activity, it is aimed quite squarely at lifestyle. Yes, you can wear Y-3 at the gym and to participate in any number of sports, but the truth is that the line is primarily sold and bought as a streetwear label. I enjoyed this editorial because it focuses on what I consider the natural home of Y-3 - not on the track, but on the city streets. Warm concrete, cold metal, these photographs can be read to represent just about any city on Earth. The urban environment is one that engenders an ever-changing sense of identity, so perhaps sportswear becomes the armour that is the easiest to employ in the face of this instability. Always ready to move. And of course it has to be black.


Tuesday, 15 November 2016

A Classic Shave

Edwin Jagger DE89 knurled-handle safety razor and a selection of double edge blades.

Synthetic hair Omega S-Brush and Proraso shaving soaps - sandalwood (red) and eucalyptus & menthol (green).

The EJ DE89 is a three piece razor, with the handle screwing into the top plate, sandwiching the safety bar and blade between. Shown here with a Personna Platinum blade.

Here you can see the amount of blade that shows between the curved top plate and safety bar. As a double edge razor, it is the same on both sides. The blade actually curves when the razor is tightened fully.

Growing a beard is easy - you stop shaving (give it three months so you know what sort of growth you have to work with). Keeping a beard is a little more complicated - washing, conditioning, trimming and grooming. I have never actually shaved my entire face...except for when all I could grow was a mousy moustache I guess, because that definitely had to go. I have always had some manner of facial hair, and for the past few years that has been a trimmed beard (with a curly moustached interlude). All the men in my family have beards, so it is something that I grew up with seeing as a natural part of grooming. I trim my beard down with clippers to a slight taper, I neaten the moustache with a comb and scissors, and I clean my upper cheeks and neckline with a razor. My facial hair is not particularly dense, but thanks to my genetics I grow hair from just under my eyes all the way down to my Adam's apple, so regular shaving is a necessity to keep me looking well groomed.

For years I used disposable razors with generic shaving foam. It is a costly endeavour and a process I never particularly enjoyed because of the frequency with which I would end up with razor burn and nicks. Indeed this was even more so the case with those fancy multi-bladed cartridge razors, which seemed to irritate the heck out of my skin. So I kept it simple with a disposable two blade razor with one of those moisturising strips. I would use it for a few shaves, then chuck it as it got dull and started nicking my skin. I started looking for a better alternative and that is when I discovered the world of safety razors and their benefits. Benefits not just for my wallet, but also for my skin, because safety razors give a smoother, less irritating, shave. There is only one blade in contact with the skin, which helps in preventing tugging and reduces the likelihood of ingrown hairs.

The safety razor is a pretty simple piece of kit. Instead of replacing the entire razor as you would with a disposable, or the head of the razor as you would with the cartridge, you simply replace the blade inside. The razor itself is usually a metal body that you twist open (most commonly into three pieces like mine, but you also get two piece or butterfly opening razors) in order to place the double edge safety razor blade inside. Unlike modern razors there are no proprietary fittings or sizes - you can use any brand of double edge blade inside your razor. There are an incredible number of blades to choose from and the blades are cheap as chips - you can get a pack of 100 blades of most brands for under £10 shipped. Bearing in mind that each blade usually lasts around three or four shaves, and you get some idea of the savings you can make.


I decided to buy the Edwin Jagger DE89, with a knurled handle for grip, which is widely recommended for beginners. The gently curved shape of the head, and the amount of blade it shows (referred to as the aggressiveness of the razor), are such that it makes for a mild and smooth experience. To go with the razor I also bought a synthetic brush, because I try to avoid animal products where possible, along with two different Proraso shaving cream bowls (again in order to avoid the animal-based tallow soaps). Where blades are concerned, I got some free with the razor, but also ordered a sampler pack of blades, just so that I can take my time to figure out which blade works best for my skin and hair. Thus far I have used three different blades, using each around three or four times, and replacing once they felt dull. I erred on the conservative side however, especially given that I do not shave my entire face, so I am sure that I could have gotten another shave or two out of each.

Derby Extra: This was the first blade I tried because it is reputed to be the mildest. I found it to be smooth, but not particularly sharp, so they were not the closest shaves. Having said that I thought this was a good blade for learning the basics with, or if you want a milder shave I suppose, but it was nothing special.

Personna Platinum: I did not enjoy this blade too much. It was sharp, but I found it rather rough to use. I actually got a little razor burn on my neck from this on two occasions because I found that it dragged slightly. Fine to use in a pinch, but not my first choice.

Astra Superior Platinum: This blade is incredibly popular and I can most certainly see why. Smooth and sharp, this gave me some very nice shaves. From my very limited experience so far it is my favourite. The only thing I did not like about these is that the wax paper that covers each blade is glued on, rather than simply folded on like the previous two, which left residue inside my razor that I had to clean up.

It has only been a short time that I have been using the safety razor, but I am already a convert. It actually makes shaving a far more enjoyable experience, and there really is something to be said about taking the time out of your day to have a nice shave (it is pretty much a mini pamper session). I was actually surprised at how easy I have found it getting adjusted to the safety razor. I had been fully expecting to cut or nick myself the first few times I shaved, but have actually not had any issues except for some razor burn with the Personna blade. I would definitely recommend anyone interested to take the plunge, it is quite fun.

(This post was not sponsored, endorsed, or affiliated with them in any way, but for anyone UK-based, I have had really good experiences with Shave Lounge - free postage, well packaged deliveries, and cheap prices).  


Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Uniqlo, Is That U?

Lambswool ribbed crewneck sweater: I like the heft of this sweater - it is best suited to colder days because it is very warm. The fit is slightly boxy, particularly because of the raglan sleeves, and I like that the neck is not too tight, but gives you that room to breath without revealing your t-shirt underneath. The bottom hem is tighter than I had anticipated though, so when sitting down it can often ride up, which shifts the whole sweater up because of the stiffness of the knit. Even so, this really is a steal for the price.

Oxford long sleeve shirt: I like the hidden buttons under each point of the collar because it gives this shirt a really clean look. The fit is on the larger size, so I think anybody in between sizes would definitely want to size down for a trimmer fit. I am however used to baggier Yohji sizing, so I feel perfectly comfortable with this, with the exception of the sleeves - I wish they were a touch longer. But then I am six foot and have never particularly had luck buying shirts from Uniqlo or Muji because the sleeves are too short for me. Having said that the Lemaire and Jil Sander collaborations did have that slight extra length. I would say that quality wise this is comparable to the older Uniqlo oxfords that I remember, so worth a look.

Cotton twill elasticated trousers: If you have junk in your trunk like yours truly, you may want to size up or avoid these all together. The waist has an integrated belt, but unfortunately no button or hook closure. This means that while the waist has a comfortable amount of space when I am wearing the trousers, I do have to do a little wiggle and hard pull just to get them past my bum. The gusseted crotch means they are comfortable in movement, but really the bother of pulling them up and down means that I am not sold on these. Plus the fabric is a lint magnet, so if you want these, I would avoid the black.

Uniqlo U sweater and trousers
Both size medium

I used to wear a lot of Uniqlo back in the days when they were collaborating with Jil Sander, and still think that J+ was one of the best collaborations fabric-wise to ever hit the high street. That was some five years ago. In the intervening years my only real experience with Uniqlo has been Heattech leggings for Winter, which seem to get thinner and flimsier year by year. I actually stopped wearing Uniqlo around the time of their aggressive marketing campaign in the UK, because as quickly as they expanded their stores and production, so fell their prices and quality - thinner fabrics, messy stitching, and generally poor quality when compared to the pieces I already owned from them. I remember in particular going to the Oxford Street store to try on sweaters and being rather put off at how much cheaper the new ones felt in comparison to the older version I was wearing at the time.

So I pretty much passed Uniqlo by for a number of years, until news was announced that they would be collaborating with Christophe Lemaire. I already own some mainline Lemaire that I really enjoy, so I thought that it would be interesting to give the collaboration a go. I was curious to see whether it might compare to the Jil Sander collaboration that I so loved, or failing that, hoped that it would at least equal the quality of the old Uniqlo that I remembered. I bought a collarless shirt from the first collection and a loose knit sweater from the second, and must say that I was thoroughly impressed with both. For the price they were very well made and the cut of both was, as expected, a slightly more basic version of mainline Lemaire. I really do hope they continue with the collaboration, because it was really nice for basics and general beater pieces.

Anyhow, after two seasons of collaborating, it was announced that Lemaire would be joining Uniqlo as artistic director. In this new role he worked with Uniqlo to launch a line called 'Uniqlo U', which hit stores last month. I curious to try Uniqlo U, because while I was impressed by the collaboration pieces, I was not sure what a non-collaboration line might entail. I assumed that that cuts and fabrics would be closer to standard Uniqlo, rather than those featured in Lemaire's collaboration collection, and thought that it might be a good way to reassess my view of Uniqlo. So once the line was launched I ordered three pieces that I was interested in - the ribbed lambswool crewneck in black, the white hidden-button oxford shirt in white, and the elasticated waist cotton twill trousers in black, all in size medium - to get a decent feel for the collection. Most opinions on the outerwear were rather underwhelming, so I avoided that entirely, but would be interested to hear whether anybody has any outerwear piece from the line that they enjoy.

Overall I think this collection was a nice reminder of what I used to enjoy about Uniqlo, but now what was once their standard quality is being packaged and sold as premium quality. Having said that, the price is still decent given the increases in materials and manufacturing costs over the years, so I would definitely pick up something from this line before looking towards the rest of Uniqlo's offerings. I am hoping that Christophe Lemaire has a hand in the wider design scheme at Uniqlo, because it would be great to see them making improvements across the board. I think that this collection was a nice start though given the constraints within which he no doubt had to work, as opposed to a full Lemaire brand collaboration, so I will be interested to see what the next drop brings. A half decent lambswool v-neck cardigan please, the basic Uniqlo ones could do with an upgrade.