20 September 2019

OG Fashion Blogging: Performance of Self

At the risk of sounding a little jaded, I miss the old days of fashion blogging. I miss the sense of community and I miss reading what everyone thought about different collections. I miss people sharing what they were wearing just to share it, and writing about what they had chosen to wear that day. Before the days of stylized Instagram outfit posts...we had stylized blogging outfit posts. But before that we had mirror photographs and janky self-timer shoots (for both blogs and fashion forums). So I thought I would take it right the way back and indulge in the side of blogging that I really have missed these past few years. What follows is a series of everyday outfits that I have worn recently, with a little commentary on each. I did not dress up specially for these, I did not try to style weird and wonderful fashion looks, I just captured what I happened to be wearing each day. I thought it would be nice to document things as they currently stand and just catch up on sharing my daily style here on the blog. You getting to know me while I am getting to know my self I suppose. I chose my bedroom mirror rather than a self-timer because I like the idea of fashion blogs as a virtual bedroom. A safe public-private space where the blogger gets to explore and share the performance of self, manifest through the materiality of their clothing. The mirror feels like a gateway into this world, paralleled by the black mirror of the computer or phone screen through which the reader engages with the blog. Plus this was a lot easier and quicker than setting up my tripod.

Sleeves rolled up. Ankle socks. Must be Summer weather in London. Has anybody else noticed how Summer seems to get later and later each year? I remember being pretty much fully wrapped up and covered come the back-to-school season as a kid. But nowadays, the sun is out and it is pleasantly warm until well into October time. I lost quite a lot of weight over the Summer, so have been feeling a little insecure about my arms, hence the long sleeves. Although to be fair, it has been a number of years since I left the house in short sleeves, but I am working on that...well, not right now given that the colder weather is coming, but watch this space. And yes, I do wear white from time to time, although I usually only wear it layered underneath black, so this was a pretty bold look in my books (which probably goes to show how much black has become "safety" black for me).

The trousers are from this past Spring/Summer Uniqlo U drop - they are made from a medium weight shirting cotton, and have a really nice flow to them. I tapered the ankle roll a little, because otherwise they look a touch too wide for my slender ankles. I did however size up on them to get the baggier fit that I wanted. I wish they were longer in the leg, but the Uniqlo U trousers all seem to be cropped, so bear that in mind when the new season stuff drops next week. The shoes are classic German army trainers, which I managed to get fresh from Germany (thankfully before whatever Mad Max/Hunger Games situation descends on Britain once Brexit gets rolling). I might write a post on them in the near future, because it has been a number of years since I last owned a pair, so it was a nostalgia-fueled experience for me ordering them once again.

Untucked shirt looks a little sloppy here, but it is what it is. The shirt is an oxford cloth button down from Supreme, because apparently I am an undercover hypebeast. I like the way this shirt fits, but unfortunately they seem to change the cut ever so slightly from season to season. Couple this with the fact that you can only ever buy one size and one colour per season, and it does make it rather a frustrating experience. I wish Ann Demeulemeester did some heavier weight oxford cloth shirts year round, because the fit of their shirts is still my gold standard. I wish I could say Yohji or Comme, but being tall and slender means that the sleeves never fit as I would like, and so either I get a shirt that fits well in the body but looks like it has three quarter length sleeves, or I end up with something majorly baggy and oversized (which can be cool, but given the small size of my wardrobe, I prefer a more versatile fit).

The sweater is a merino silk blend from Muji, which, as you would imagine, has a slightly silkier and smooth feel than your bog standard merino, making it comfortable to move around in. I believe I bought it around six years ago, which is a testament to Muji quality considering the great condition that it is still in. The trousers are from Folk, and are sold as a "relaxed" fit, although I would beg to differ. They are a really soft cotton that feels nice against your legs. Given how often my weight seems to fluctuate, elasticated trousers are something of cheat code - I always feel secure in them. The Dr Martens are in fact waiting to be donated, because I do not wear them anymore, but it was raining and they kept my feet dry...but not my ankles, so those Missoni socks ended up wet. Oh, and the stone in my ring and the stones of my bracelet do indeed match, which is not something I would usually go for, but I wear them for protection (as weird as I am sure that sounds).

Fresh out of hospital and feeling tender? Feels like hoodie szn to me homie. I love this hoodie so much that I bought two of them. If you are expecting something rare or expensive, look elsewhere - it is an IND4000 heavyweight hoodie from Independent Trading Company. I bought it from one of those online commercial printing companies as a blank "sample". I suppose I could always get it printed or embroidered if I wanted at some point, but I think a giant photograph of my cat...ok, I was about to type "is not the best idea ever", but midway though typing that sentence I came to a different conclusion. I could wear it in the house and follow Yohji around with a banner reading "Best cat ever", and cheer every time he did something cute. Not the most practical garment though, so I am probably better off with the plain ones I already own. I know a lot of people seem to prefer the Champion reverse weaves these days, but I find those quite coarse and stiff. This has a nice fleecy interior that holds up well to repeated washing, and I really enjoy the shape of the hood. I went true to size, and it is like wearing a hug. I have only started wearing hoodies again within the last few years, because for the longest while I felt uncomfortable in them, which is weird because now I absolutely love how secure they make me feel. I have not figured out why I was previously so uncomfortable wearing them, but it is something that I do think about. Oh, and my socks have metallic gold thread in them so they shimmer quite a bit, which makes me smile.

More shimmery socks! This time gold chevrons. I might wear black most of the time, but I enjoy colourful accessories - hence my sock collection and the fact that I always carry a different Liberty print handkerchief in my pocket each day. The t-shirt is a waffle cotton top from Sunspel that I picked up on sale last year. The waffle knit makes this stretchier than your normal t-shirt and the cotton is super soft, so it feels great on skin. As might already be obvious by this point in the post, I really like soft fabrics and things that feel comfortable against the skin, especially when moving around. I enjoy sensory stimulation when dressing, because even though dressing is obviously also a visual process, for me the foundation is always the way it makes me feel. I previously spent an entire year getting dressed without using a mirror just to focus in on how the clothes made me feel.

Keeping the cosy theme going, I wore an ultra light down vest from Uniqlo, which is a cheap and cheerful mid-layer to go underneath my rain jacket. I feel a little bro-ish, for want of a better term, when wearing a gilet, but it is practical. The shoes here are the Fear Of God x Nike Skylon II, which I absolutely love, but do not seem to be all that popular with most sneakerheads for some reason. I actually wanted to buy these when they released, but was on the fence for too long about the price and missed out. Fast forward six months and they were reselling for under retail, so I finally pulled the trigger and I am glad that I did. The exterior materials are faithful to the original Skylon II, meaning felt and mesh, so I can understand why people might be a bit underwhelmed when there is Fear Of God branding to go with. What does however seem to get overlooked is that the interior of the shoe is lined with buttery soft leather and the tongue is made from an equally buttery leather, so your foot is encased in a luxury that is not readily apparent to the outside world - I love hidden details that are just for the wearer.

Polka dot socks because at this point my sock game is clearly more interesting than the rest of my outfits. The button down shirt here is a black poplin cotton from Arket. I like the sound poplin makes, because it is a very crisp cotton, and that gentle rustling sounds very "fresh" to my mind. Yes, it wrinkles almost as bad as linen, but I am not too bothered by wrinkles that appear from wear - I like seeing those traces of the body upon the fabric. On top of the shirt I am wearing a lambswool cardigan, because the Autumn weather is creeping in ever so slowly, and that means cardigan weather. This cardigan has pockets, and I love pockets, so I will take as many as I can. Whether it is keeping a handkerchief in the breast pocket of my shirt, or some chewing gum in my cardigan pocket, I like having storage options without having to necessarily lug a bag around. The trousers are a ripstop cotton from Folk and have a nice loose seat coupled with a decent taper, which works well for my figure (I have a somewhat larger bum coupled with stick legs). Again I enjoy the sound the fabric of these trousers makes when moving. It is quieter than the poplin, but there is still a soft susurration...similar to the alliteration right there.

Bro vest once again on account of the cooler temperature (I realise I might be the only one to get bro vibes off it, but it is difficult for me to describe exactly why). Here I am wearing a wool sweatshirt from Matthew Miller's Autumn/Winter 2016 collection. I got it on clearance at a crazy reduced price, which makes it all the nicer for me because it is a piece of luxury on an everyday budget. The feel of this sweatshirt is gorgeous, it is like a compacted candy floss. It feels soft and warm against the skin, is enjoyable to stroke, and has a dense enough weave that it does not seem to stretch out at all, even around the elbows. I will try to take a detailed close up of it at some point, because it has a finely wrinkled texture, with random broken vertical lines, that I find really interesting. The trousers are the elasticated waist Folk trousers again, because as you can tell, this was a cosy fit. I would have worn the Pleats Please trousers for some added cosy boy action, but my legs get cold in them, and I did not want to pull out the leggings just yet. Although saying that, I have just stocked up on leggings and vests (of the undershirt variety) for the upcoming colder months, and so am feeling ready for whatever Winter has to bring this year.

Turquoise, black and purple Basket Lunch (no idea who named them) socks by Ayame. These fit well, which I am not used to with Japanese socks given how large my feet are, and are nicely made. At this point I might as well do a blog post on all my socks, but I will save that thrilling adventure for a different day. Anyhow, I now own two printed pieces of clothing, obviously not including socks, and both happen to be shirts. In this instance I am wearing a Tana Lawn cotton shirt from Liberty with a palm print on it. I go for the more colourful Liberty prints where my handkerchiefs are concerned, but not for my clothes, because I feel more comfortable in a darker look. I like the muted colour palette here because it allows me to indulge my love of botanical prints without it being too loud or obvious from a distance. I enjoy looks where the real details are there to be seen when up close. I also really like lawn cotton, because it wears well and feels light without being unsubstantial. I find it wrinkles a ton when washing, but once ironed out, it wears without wrinkling much in wear. I am actually on the lookout for some printed black trousers of some kind, but have yet to find anything that I like. Who knows, by next year I could be rocking full on print head to toe.


23 July 2019


Autumn/Winter 2019

I seem forever drawn to oversize silhouettes and extended sleeves, not only because I enjoy the way they visually change the shape of the body, but because of how they look and feel against the body when moving. There is something oddly luxurious to me about an artful excess of fabric. Perhaps it is the way in which it helps to create a far more fluid dynamic between skin and clothing than the immediate intimacy of a closer cut. I do however usually wonder the extent to which that attraction is a reaction, and perhaps even a subconscious answer, to personal insecurities I have surrounding my body. I have had a difficult relationship with my body image over the years thanks to inflammatory bowel disease, which obviously has a very direct influence on my weight and overall sense of confidence in my own body. But then I have never really thought of oversize or drapey looks as necessarily negating the body, which I suppose one could easily levy as an accusation against oversize clothing. Indeed I find that when properly employed it is actually a style that allows us to truly appreciate the body. It teases us with the reveal of the body beneath without even having to show the skin, allowing us to imagine the whole while only ever suggesting a part. I especially enjoy seeing the body pressing against the fabric in movement (think of knees pushing against the fabric of loose trousers when walking). Yes, the body is covered, but I think that there is a distinct difference between a covered body and a hidden body.

Clothes are by definition items used to cover the body. A fact that has always tickled me is that the collective noun for tailors is a “disguisery”. Tailors work to enhance our strengths and hide our imperfections, making us seem far more symmetrical and sleek than nature may have allowed. My health has not been great this Summer, meaning that I have lost rather a lot of weight rather rapidly. It has naturally been exhausting, both physically and mentally. My clothes get looser, my belt has to be drawn in tighter, but oddly the thing that makes it feel most real to me is when my rings are loose on my fingers, and I find myself spinning them around with my thumb as I walk (side note: I really do want to sit down and write about jewelry properly in the near future, just because of how integral it is to my dressing process and allowing me to feel like me - I have mentioned this previously, but the moment I feel truly vulnerable in hospital is not when I remove my clothes to put on a gown, but when I have to take off my jewelry). I think I am more so aware of the changes in my body right now because I am in the process of getting outfits ready for an upcoming family wedding. I have been suit shopping for the first time in about eight years, which is longer than I had even realised until I tried to remember the last time I bought a suit. I have owned Yohji and Comme separates in the intervening years, but I believe that the last formal suit I actually bought was a Uniqlo x Jil Sander collaboration (still one of the greatest high street collaborations ever in my opinion).

I have a naturally narrow frame, which makes suit shopping difficult at the best of times, but combined with the fact that I am tall does complicate things further. I either find shoulders that fit well, which are however coupled with sleeves short enough to expose the entirety of my shirt cuff, or I end up looking like a child trying on their father’s suit, drowning in fabric and looking even thinner as a result. In trying on so many different styles and cuts of suits I become hyper-aware of my body shape and how it has changed in the past few months. It is a very stark realization, reminding me of how unwell I have actually been. I have also noticed how unnatural these suits feel on me, not to mention how odd they feel in movement. Rather than finding clothes that compliment my body, it has felt like a battle, with a readily apparent friction between fabric and skin. Umberto Ecco once wrote about "epidermic self-awareness", using the example of jeans that are slightly too tight, and how we register that discomfort at a barely conscious level throughout the duration of the day. But in this instance, that self-awareness might as well be accompanied by a fog horn. To be honest, I am not even sure whether it is simply down to the fact that I have had difficult in finding a suit that fits. There was a time when I felt more comfortable in a suit than any other type of clothing, but that time apparently slipped away without me realizing.

My natural inclination is to move towards the oversize and more forgiving cuts that a fashion-forward choice might allow, but in this instance that actually does feel like hiding, because that would be avoidance. If I would like to accept my body the way it is right now, even though it is not how I would like it to be, then I want to continue on in my mission to find a traditionally cut suit that feels right and feels comfortable for me right now. You see, the power of dressing for me is not about the end product, it is not about how I look. Rather it lies in the fact that it provides me with a choice in how I look, and just as importantly for me, a choice in how I feel. It is that freedom to choose that I am fascinated by, because of the myriad of driving forces behind our clothing choices at any moment in time. For me right now, that choice is about putting on a sharply cut suit and the confidence that comes with it. It is the choice to accept my body as it is and dress my body as well as I possibly can exactly as it happens to be right now. It is a feeling that I have not experienced in a while, but a feeling that is for me incredibly empowering and forever worth pursuing.


22 April 2019

Futurecraft or Futurewaste? The Loop Dilemma

Futurecraft Loop

Climate change is a very real and dangerous prospect that requires action to be taken now if we want to secure a liveable future for generations to come. Most governments are unfortunately reluctant to spend the money required to make the changes necessary to offset the damage we have done to the planet. The simplest explanation I can think of for this is that it requires long term planning and expenditure, and a government here in the UK, or across in the USA, only holds power for around four or five years between elections. So it is easier to address short term issues that will win votes, and use what money you have within your budget to address problems here and now (the majority of which are indeed necessary to address). Governments are slowly coming around to the idea of securing our future past just the next election, but those changes come at a glacial pace. This will continue to be the case until the public appetite changes and acting on climate change becomes a vote winner.

For the public discourse on climate change to be transformed, there has to be greater awareness of the issue. London has seen major protests these past few days, with hundreds of arrests resulting from said protests, and so I suppose that the issue of climate change has been rather forcefully brought into the spotlight. However I do hope that moving forward there is a more positive engagement, because these protests have in my opinion been rather detrimental to winning over public opinion. I believe that for there to be major change, it is about making the option to be environmentally friendly as easy as possible. In order to do this it is about creating an understanding that the changes we can make to improve our future need not be detrimental to our current quality of life. Of course how those changes are implemented is the real question.

It is easy for a wealthier person to say that there should be an additional tax on plastic food packaging, for example, but it will be the poorest in society who suffer. You can already guess that companies will drag out the process of changing their packaging, if they do so at all, and so the result will simply be a price rise that impacts those who are barely able to make ends meet anyway. And that is not to even mention farming practices, the welfare of the workers, transport methods and the myriad of others issues in the journey from seed to table. I do not think of action on climate change as a top-down or bottom-up process, but something that requires effort on every level, from micro to macro, for there to be an effective shift and positive movement forward. I really do think that we are all able to make decisions and choices on a daily basis that can have a profound impact in the long run. Even the smallest of habit changes makes a difference.

My primary interest is of course fashion and dress, and I am happy to see things slowly changing. Then again the majority of those changes seem to be a way for companies to cash into the latest consumer trend and raise their "woke" value on social media. Getting an environmentally friendly option to exist and be easily accessible in the first place is a major move, but it is what we do after that really matters. Within the last two decades fashion has become so fast that it is now disposable, and it is difficult to see how it could get any faster than that. In the UK it is estimated that £140 million worth of clothing, around 300,000 tonnes (however total textile wastage is apparently closer to 1,000,000 tonnes), is sent to landfill each year, rather than being recycled or reused. At this point even MPs in the UK have criticised major companies for promoting a culture of throwaway fast fashion. Such criticism has usually been met with the most tepid of reactions, with fast fashion chains putting out recycling bins for a short while, or introducing a range of "eco-friendly" clothing for a few days.

There are reports of how common it is for people to hit up cheap retailers for socks and underwear to take on holiday, and then throw each piece away after wearing, instead of bringing them home and washing them. But it is not just holiday clothing. Indeed, it seems as if fast fashion has truly become single use. Even where clothing is not ending up incinerated or in landfill, charities are actually concerned with what they can do with the amount of cheaply made clothing coming in. The garments are too poorly constructed to be resold or reused, and there is even difficulty with regards to recycling due to the nature of the fabrics being used. So not only is the amount of clothing we buy and dispose of each year a concern, but that clothing is becoming cheaper and cheaper, to the point that it is not even worth salvaging in many instances.

I am reminded of one of my favourite Yohji Yamamoto quotes - "Faster, faster, cheaper, cheaper. People have started wasting fashion." We are now used to buying new clothing and going shopping as a form of weekly entertainment, a desire met and reinforced by the abundance of fast fashion chains and clothing stores. In such a climate it is perhaps unsurprising that clothing and fashion have become so cheap to the point of being disposable. But then I suppose fashion at its beating heart is hardly concerned about waste - it is the constant pursuit of the new, and that necessarily equates to everything old falling by the wayside (until of course it is cut and sewn back together with a variety of other discarded relics by a designer looking for inspiration for their newest collection). However there are changes being made towards sustainability and socially/ecologically conscious manufacturing practices. These remain primarily at the fringes, either with high priced high fashion, or else rather unfashionable looking clothing for eco warriors.

But the fringe is where everything starts, because once it enters the market and picks up some speed, then others see the potential to make money and jump aboard. The cynic in me thinks it is all about commerce, and so even with big players like Ralph Lauren recently announcing a polo shirt made from recycled plastic bottles (along with a commitment to use 100% sustainably-sourced cotton and recyclable packaging by 2025), it does seem like a publicity drive. As long as the consumer behaviour exists wherein clothing is treated as disposable, the amount of clothing and amount of waste will increase, even if that process is made more sustainable. Surely it would be better to change the behaviour and treat fashion and clothing as something to be considered for the long haul - to be bought and repaired and reused? After all the most ecologically friendly purchase we can make is no purchase at all, or, failing that, to buy used.

And thus we come to my concern with the recently announced Adidas Futurecraft Loop, the first fully recyclable TPU sneaker made by Adidas, which is set to launch in 2021. The sneaker is made from reclaimed ocean plastic waste, and the idea behind it is that instead of disposing of the sneaker after wearing it for however long, it can be broken down and recycled in a closed-loop system to create another pair of shoes. The tagline of the marketing video they released on Instagram featuring Willow Smith is "Made To Be Remade". There seems to be a huge emphasis on recycling after wear instead of the shoes going to landfill, but it seems curious to me to advertise a shoe on the basis of what happens at the end of its lifespan. I really do have mixed emotions about advertising future waste, because while the fact that they are fully recyclable and made from recycled content is fantastic to see, they are essentially just preying on a pre-existing behaviour for disposable fashion and saying that now you can carry on guilt-free. Buy more, throw it away whenever you please, but don't worry, it will be recycled.

However, as cynical as I am about the marketing of the sneakers, I do still find them an incredible feat. It is a shoe that is fully recycled and recyclable, and looks exactly like the majority of the Boost sneakers that Adidas is producing these days. The fact that it looks similar to an existing product, but is recyclable, is a clever move, because it makes the choice easier for the consumer. It is easy to pick the environmentally friendly option if it is on the shelf next to the standard option and looks the same. Anything we can do to make those choices easier and more easily accessible is well worth pursuing, because eventually it will gain in popularity and proliferate as a result. I expect to see more recycled and recyclable clothing and shoes moving forward, and that can only be a good thing. If we are going to continue to gorge on fashion, the easiest step is to perhaps make the objects we are consuming at such a rapid pace greener. After that maybe we can work on changing habits.


26 March 2019

Talking Watches: The Seiko SKX013

A noticeable absence on this blog has been talking about watches, because I have honestly only gotten into watches within the past two years. I have worn a watch daily since I was around fifteen years old, however, until recently, never really thought about them as much more than a functional tool. Well, I say that, but I have always had a clear preference for clean analogue styles. In all the years since I began wearing a watch on a daily basis, I think that I have owned a total of two digital watches (both Casio). There has always been something about the simplicity of an analogue watch that I enjoy, and the fact that for me it seems somehow less obtrusive and more elegant than a digital display. Additionally, although there have been more adventurous designs, such as some Swatch and Mr Jones watches, that I have loved the look of, the lack of numeral markers, or too busy a dial, have meant that I struggle to get an accurate reading, which rather defeats the purpose for me. I realise that a lot of people consider their watches as nothing more than jewellery (after all, we all carry phones that tell the time far more accurately), but I like the idea of a beauty informed by such essential and simple function.

There has always been something magical about telling the time for me, which is difficult to describe without sounding a little bit insane. But sod that, I will try anyway. Here I have a tool on my wrist which measures time - one the most important concepts and metrics we have to identify, situate and consider our lived experiences, sense of identity and relationship with others and the world around us. Three moving hands and a dozen numbers, and somehow I can use those to gain an understanding of when I am, when I have been, and when I am going to be. There is something truly beautiful in that. An hour is an hour, but we have all experienced an hour that seemed like it would never end, and an hour that passed by so fast we wished we could have another four or five. Apparently time does actually move slower for children and faster for the elderly. It has to do with the way that the brain processes novel experiences. While you are learning new things, your brain apparently perceives time as slower, versus speeding it up when you are in autopilot mode. Consider commuting to a new job for the first time - that first half hour journey seems to take forever, but within a month it seems to go by in a blink of the eye (unless of course there is something out of the ordinary like a cancelled train).

My parents were kind enough to offer me buy me a watch for my birthday at the start of last year. Having researched for a few months previously to find something that felt right for me, I ended up choosing the Seiko SKX013 (the baby brother of the venerable SKX007). It is the first automatic watch I have ever owned, and having dived deep into the "watch world", I was fascinated by the beauty of all these different mechanical movements and complications, and so wanted a piece of that rich history. I am still a total novice when it comes to watches, but the SKX series seems to be where many collectors start, because they are just so well designed and functional. There is a wealth of information about watches online (a bit too much snobbish stuff, but I guess that is the same with fashion at large), and it really was that feeling of finding a new passion. I have never really thought of watches having character before, but I really like the character of this watch. It was the first time I have put on a watch and rather than seeing it purely as a functional tool, I saw it is as a beautiful object. I have owned and worn the watch for over a year now (and added a second watch to my collection for my birthday earlier this year), and it still makes me smile.

Seiko SKX013
Movement Type: Automatic
Movement Caliber: Seiko 7s26
Case Diameter: 37mm
Lug-to-lug: 43mm
Lug Width: 20mm

Despite the fact that I have never learnt how to swim, I love the style of dive watches. I suppose it is because they value legibility so highly, and tend to have a bit of a chunkier style that makes them easy to operate (...the more I think about it, am I just a grandpa when it comes to watches?). The SKX has a dial that is really easy to read, with large amounts of Seiko's proprietary lume, which is surprisingly bright and will last for hours. I chose the SKX013 over its older brother, the SKX007, because I have super small wrists. Although given the compact lug-to-lug measurement of both, most people can probably get away with wearing either. Apart from the size difference the only noticeable visual difference is that the second hand has an arrowhead lume pip halfway down the stalk. The SKX007 has the second hand lume on the counterbalance. That has never made all that much sense to me, because in the dark you are essentially looking at it backwards, but I suppose having a ball of lume sweeping around the indices might make it a touch confusing to read in lower light. For those of you who like a little bit colour, you can get a Pepsi bezel version, the SKX009, which is otherwise identical to the SKX007.

Speaking of the bezel - a rotating dive time bezel is something I never knew I wanted until I had one. I literally use it multiple times per day, which I really did not expect, but having the bezel right there makes it so easy. I think that it is the immediacy of it that makes me time things so much more readily. I mostly use it when cooking, because you can roughly time things on the fly. I find that with digital watches I never used the stopwatch feature, because you have to press buttons to get into another screen, but then have to press again to get back to the actual time. I do not like extra steps, preferring to see the time and the timer in one go, which is also why I do not set timers on my phone (especially not when cooking, because I prefer not to touch my phone then). With a dive bezel you can set your time in one twist, and see at a glance how much time has passed. I can most certainly understand why chefs seem to love dive watches (aside from the rugged nature of them), because that ability to time things so easily really is lovely.

The bracelet is apparently not all that popular, because it is not rigid, but I think that its flexibility makes it all the more comfortable to wear. I actually wear mine a little loose, because I do not like anything too constrictive, and find that it wears nicely with no pinching or tugging of arm hairs. I tried putting it on a Nato strap, but did not particularly like the top heavy feeling of that. But getting back to the comfort, the shape of the case is nice and compact, so it hugs the wrist, and I like the crown being shifted down to the four o'clock position, preventing it from digging uncomfortably into the back of your hand. It is a screw down crown, with the first position allowing you to change the day and date, while the second position is for the time. The movement in my watch runs at about -7 seconds per day, which is well within the stated tolerance, and suits me fine as I tend to set my watch a few minutes fast. Apparently you can strike lucky with the 7s26 and find ones that run within +/- 3 seconds, which is pretty amazing given the price, and not to mention the fact that they seem to run well for years between servicing. In general there is something quite nice about having an automatic movement - it feels like there is beating heart in the watch, as opposed to the comparative sterility of a quartz movement and cell battery. A quick shake of the watch from side to side and it starts ticking away nicely (well, sweeping, it is an automatic after all).

Overall, the nicest watch I have ever owned. It appears to have quite the cult following online, and I can most certainly see why.


22 February 2019

God Is Black (Part 1) - Umit Benan SS19

"God Is Black Part 1"
Spring/Summer 2019

This look = 10/10

I love designers who are story tellers, because in a way I think it is one of the purest aims of fashion - simply sharing a story. Umit Benan is one of those designers who shows each and every season his incredible ability to share stories, creating colourful fictions to immerse yourself in. And yet those fictions still manage to translate into wearable pieces that you can comfortably incorporate into your wardrobe. The starting point for his Spring/Summer 2019 collection, God Is Black Part One (Part Two debuted earlier this month in Barcelona), were takkes (otherwise known as topis or kufis) hand-knitted by his mother, that took him back to living in the Bronx as a young child. He said he remembered seeing African-American Muslims leaving the mosque, and thinking how stylish they were. And so for this collection he explored the ideas of religion and racial identity, looking towards an array of African-Americans including Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and, most obviously from the styling of the collection, Tupac Shakur.

If you are wondering why you may have not seen much of Umit before this collection, it is because he actually took time away from designing. During this hiatus he underwent therapy and says that process allowed him to reconnect with his Muslim identity and belief in God, a journey which led him towards creating this collection. The result is a collection that resonates with me on a personal level and that reminded me of just how meaningful Umit's work is for me. There are multiple threads in this collection that hit home for me, and a lot of it is admittedly not even intentional on his part. Instead, as with most forms of art, it is what I connect to within the collection, and how I interpret those ideas. And that is one of the reasons I am always so impressed with Umit's work, in that he creates these highly stylized fictions each season, which you think would constrain your interpretation, but for me there is always something there that I see which gets me hooked and then flowers in my mind.

I am fascinated by this collection primarily because of the very simple question - what does a Muslim look like? As regular readers will know, I do not discuss religion here, mostly because I subscribe to the Ron Swanson belief that I am a practising none of your ****** business. However, I am a Muslim, and what with my name I am sure that some can work out which sect. Given the dominant narrative surrounding Islam in the media today, I think the idea of dress and identity where being Muslim "in the West" is concerned is a truly intriguing topic. The most often spoken about article of dress when Islam is mentioned is the "hijab", although in fact people are usually discussing the niqab, which is the face covering worn by a small minority of women. Hijab is actually an umbrella term, referring not only to dress codes, but also behaviour, which applies to both men and women. However in colloquial discussion hijab usually refers to the simple headscarf for women that covers their hair. People seem to throw the term burka around a lot, but that is actually a full on long loose robe worn by women, whereas the niqab is the aforementioned face covering.

Umit took for his inspiration the idea of the Black Muslim, but this collection is clearly not a take on the stereotypical attire one might associate with a member of the Nation, which I assume most Americans would think of when given the combination of Black and Muslim. Rather it fits nicely into a wider discussion of Muslim representation as a whole, and what it means to be a Muslim today. An interesting aside at this point is that the Hispanic community is actually the fastest growing group of Muslim converts in America today. As much as the media like to portray a singular conservative image of Islam, Islamic history is actually one of a cultural melting pot, where one can find a wealth of diversity when it comes to architecture, artistic styles and indeed dress history. Here we see everything from a hoodie and bandana, to more formal tailoring, but all tied in together seamlessly. Remove the topis, and you would likely not necessarily even think the word Muslim, which I think is the power of this collection. What does a Muslim look like? Well, like everybody else. But even so, Umit's mix of sportswear alongside kaftans seemed wholly organic for me.

You see, I have my own childhood memories of topis, having attended Saturday school until my late teens. Even now I am fascinated by what people wear to the mosque, and how this has changed over the years - the most notable difference is actually just in the shift from working class to middle class, and the pecuniary freedom that comes with it. Whereas people used to wear discount high street brands, you now see far more higher end store brands and even a number of designer pieces. And where more traditional clothing is concerned, you used to see shalwar kameez that were ill-fitting and imported on the cheap, but now you are much more likely to see tailored pieces bought while travelling "back home". My local mosque was home to first and second generation immigrants as I was growing up, although now it has a far more diverse attendance. For those of us whose parents had come to London from abroad before we were born (primarily South Asia and East Africa in my local community), we grew up with a stark clash of cultures, and you would see numerous attempts to resolve that nebulous sense of identity through clothing.

Culture and religion are two very different things, and yet the overlap in this instance is difficult to divide neatly. Dress was the site for negotiating identity and exploring what it meant to be British, while also being South Asian (or East African, or Iraqi, or Syrian, etc.) and Muslim. It was, and still is, common to see a dishdasha worn with the latest Air Max sneakers, or a shalwar kameez with the pyjama swapped out for sweatpants and some Air Force Ones. My mother actually came to the UK as a child and went to school here, and she remembers wearing flared jeans with kurtas as a teenager. Combining styles and combining garments was a way of fitting into and attempting to resolve two parts of our identities, that to the outside world may have seemed entirely incompatible. But that is the beauty of dress, in that you are able to create something that reflects who you feel you are, and thus allowing you to celebrate the beauty in that. I have always thought of it as getting the best of both worlds.

Then again, I have been asked on a number of occasions when simply wearing a Yohji blazer and trousers with the hems rolled whether I was dressed that way "for religious reasons" (the answer is yes, you should accept our Lord and Saviour Yohji Yamamoto into your life, and I am happy to take cash or PayPal donations directly for the Church). I am a brown man with a beard, and here in the UK that generally seems to mean Muslim for most observers. I remember being stopped and searched by police on a number of occasions at the train station when I started university. I was always told that it was a "random" search. They would take me into a side room where, lo and behold, the only other people being searched were also brown men with beards. No matter that one person could be in a suit, another in sweats, and someone else in their work uniform. And obviously it goes without saying that not everyone there was even Muslim. But once I remember catching someone's eye as we were both being searched, and we gave each other a sad smile and a nod.

Even as a teenager being brown was enough to get Islamaphobic abuse hurtled your way. I remember shortly after the Iraq war began being pelted with hamburgers and a milkshake while in a shopping center. I was repeatedly called a "dirty Muslim" and told to go home (in actuality they had Northern accents, I have a London accent, and so clearly they were the ones who could do with going home). But no matter what happens, how I might be negatively judged for my skin colour and appearance (to say nothing of my religion), I am proud of who I am. I see the meeting and mixing of these different backgrounds and identities as an opportunity to find the best in each world and use that to celebrate what makes each and every one of us individual.

And so, while I obviously cannot relate to the Black identity or experience presented in this collection, the pride and celebration of racial identity in itself is something that most certainly resonated with me. Umit celebrated race and religion, I mean just look at the title of the collection, in a way that really hit home for me. I enjoyed how luxurious the clothes were, what with a workwear jacket made of velvet, or crisp white pyjamas presented alongside white tailoring, and the fact that there was such an effortless elegance and beauty to the garments. The hand-knitted topis really were the icing on the cake, and made me instantly smile. Here being Muslim and being Black are truly things to be celebrated, and I really do think we need more of that these days.