18 October 2018

Autumn Shades

Vogue Italia (October 2018)
Photographer: Sarah Moon
Stylist: Jacob K
Model: Rianne Van Rompaey

I tend to classify fashion photographers by season for some reason. It is difficult to describe the way in which I come to each conclusion, but something about the mood of their work usually makes me think primarily of one season. Sarah Moon's work feels like Autumn to me. Hard to put into words exactly why really, but in a similar vein - Deborah Turbeville is Winter, Tim Walker is Spring, and Erik Madigan Heck is Summer. That probably sounds completely nonsensical, but hopefully someone else does something similar! And if not, then I hope you find this editorial suitably Autumnal nonetheless - it's layering season and these are some pretty amazing coats. Also, I know I say it every year, but perhaps this is the Autumn that I finally try something pumpkin spiced to see what all the fuss is about.


27 September 2018

Cosy Gang: Y-3 AW18

"Nice to Meet You"
Autumn/Winter 2018

My wardrobe goal for this Winter is to be as cosy as possible.

My Crohn's disease has been flaring rather nastily since the middle of Summer, leaving me feeling rather tender as of late (to put it mildly). On most days I would like nothing more than to curl up in bed and hibernate through Winter, but then that would mean I do not get to layer up for the colder months. I am sure that you are tired of anyone and everyone who writes or talks about fashion waxing lyrical about the magic and joys of layering up as we head into Autumn, but I guess it is preferable to pumpkin-spiced Twitter that will soon be flooding your timeline. To be fair the back to school period is actually my favourite time of year, and the time of the year that I most enjoy dressing for, and while I have yet to check out pumpkin-spiced anything, I have a sneaking suspicion I might actually enjoy it, so what the heck. Right about now a nice warm drink and some cosy layers sound like heaven, and that has pretty much been my mindset this year for my Winter wardrobe - I want to keep things as cosy as I possibly can, without looking like I am walking around wrapped up in my duvet. Yes, I know Margiela literally made a duvet coat, but the resale price on an original one of those is five figures, and I would like to forget the H&M collaboration ever happened thanks.

As I have written before, for me this year has been about exploring childhood nostalgia and all the things that ignited my interest in fashion and dress, which I thought was rather fitting for my tenth year blogging. It seems to me that these few months towards the end of the year used to be far colder here in London than they are these days (climate change in action I suppose). I have memories of running around looking like the Michelin man, wrapped up head to toe in order to stave off the cold. Admittedly that could just be because I had cautious parents, but even so, there is something comforting in that thought and feeling for me. I have strong sensory memories of cosy clothing, from padded gloves to thick corduroy trousers and fleece jumpers. I know a lot of people can feel a little claustrophobic wearing snug layers, but I actually enjoy the sensation of a fitted vest and long johns under my clothing. The way it feels in movement is springy and supportive, and thanks to advancements in fabric technology, these base layers are thinner, stretchier, and more breathable than ever. Indeed wearing slightly baggier layers on top provides a nice sensory contrast, because your body feels snug with that base layer, but still gets breathing room under the outer layer of trousers and shirt. That dynamic space, where you are able to see the body ripple against the surface of the cloth when in movement, therefore thankfully still exists. 

Few designers understand the dialectic between body and dress better than Yohji Yamamoto, and so perhaps it is unsurprising that I found the current Autumn/Winter 2018 collection by Yohji and Adidas so appealing. I am ordinarily drawn more to the side of Y-3 where Yohji plays around with tailoring and the formal aspects of dress, but I have to say that this season the actual sportswear looks were wonderfully cosy and inviting. Plus I am a sucker for any look with a blanket scarf (I'd happily rock the big scarf energy from the Lenny Kravitz meme). I actually have a few blanket sized shawls from Pakistan, which are worn in the mountains during the harsh Winters, but have yet to really play around with the styling and tying past a general wrap. Seeing the variations in scarf styling in this show has me thinking of a few different techniques I can try out to get comfortable. In general sportswear for me has always been about comfort. I was never a particularly sporty child, but I enjoyed the way that the clothing felt (rugby short shorts aside...if I never pick up a rugby ball again it will be too soon). Therein also lies the two extremes of my childhood - the formality and rigidity of school uniform, and the sportswear that surrounded me on the street and in life outside of school (wearing a matching tracksuit was seen as "dressing up"). I often feel like I am trying to find a way to bring both elements together in some fashion. My wardrobe has veered to both ends, but I usually find myself happiest where I can blend both in the way that Yohji seems to do so effortlessly. I know a lot of people only care about Y-3 for the sneakers, but I am actually the exact opposite - all I really care about are the clothes. 


26 August 2018

The Roadman Favourite: Air Max 95

Solar Red

A shoe I have never been able to make my mind up about - the Air Max 95.

The Air Max 95 is a cult classic. For years it was the most worn shoe by criminals in the UK, as determined by footprints left at crime scenes (overtaken by the Reebok Classic in 2010, although I am not sure what the current crowd favourite is). It was the sneaker behind what police at the time called the first ever recorded case of targeted shoe robbery in Japan. And it is the first ever shoe that I remember knowing by sight the exact brand and model name. In fact when it comes to clothing in general, it was the first time I knew the name of a product, could identify it on the street, and knew exactly how much it cost. And that had nothing to do with advertising, or because certain celebrities wore it, but purely thanks to word on the street. To put it into perspective for international readers, Nike Air Max are as popular and culturally relevant in Europe as Jordan brand is in America, and arguably nowhere more so than in London. Although they initially released at a price of £99, the Air Max 95s were soon retailing for £110, which is why to this day many still refer to them as the "110s".

The design of the shoe was inspired by human anatomy. The lacing system and those long eyelet loops that start down at the midsole represent the rib cage. The breathable mesh panelling either side of the eyelets are supposed to represent the lungs, while the layered suede panels seek to evoke layers of muscular tissue. The heel of the shoe has a relatively rigid 3M panel that represents the neck or spine. The original design sketch did not actually feature the Swoosh at all, but rather was meant to be a totally clean sneaker. Even with the Jordan 2 in their roster, removing the Swoosh was just not done at Nike. The colour choice behind the original Neon colourway, which is the same as the shoe photographed, but with neon yellow instead of solar red, was also contentious. Many did not think that consumers would buy black and grey shoes, fearing they looked dirty. Even having visible air units towards the front of the sole was quite a departure from previous designs. You hear about it here and there, but I actually remember seeing someone get jumped on the street near my school once purely so that the attacker could stab and puncture the air units on the victims shoes. Needless to say, it provided us with a talking point for months to come.

Indeed as a child this is the shoe that I remember more than any other, and more than the shoe itself, I remember the reputation. To put it simply, they were the drug dealer's shoe, and if you had a pair - you were the man. The area I grew up in was not the most salubrious, and so the older relatives of a sizeable number of my classmates in school made their money on the road. The functional requirements for such endeavours are shoes that are comfortable to stand in all day, but that would also work when making a quick getaway on foot; while the social requirements boil down to something expensive and exclusive enough to mark you out from the crowd. The Air Max 95 checked every box, and thus they were both status symbol and a surprisingly practical choice. The colourway I most remember is actually the OG neon, but soon you could see any number of colourways on the street. I would have been five or six years old when I saw my first pair, but even at that age, I knew that they meant something. Everyone seemed to know that they meant something. If you were wearing them, people would treat you with respect, or at the very least, a wary politeness. Of course that was context specific, because within a few years I remember children at school owning pairs, but even then, those shoes put them at the top rung of the social ladder.

As large a part as the Air Max 95 plays in my memories of childhood, I have never actually been able to decided whether I like them or not. It is one of the only pieces that I can think of that I have gone back and forth between time and time again. And so when I found out that the OG Solar Red colourway would be coming out this year, I knew that I had to get a pair to satisfy my curiosity. The truth is that I until I got this pair, I had never actually tried a pair on before. Nostalgia is a tricky business, and so when they arrived from Nike, and I pulled them out for the first time, it took me right the way back to being a little kid in school. I had not held a pair in over twenty years, and sitting there with them in my hands gave rise to an interesting mix of emotions. If I think about my interest and love of fashion and dress, then that pair of shoes that I sat there holding was arguably the first step that would define the direction of my life. I had never really thought about it in those terms before, but sitting there I realised that they were literally my earliest memory of having an awareness of the social and cultural value of a piece of dress. I remember the design, I remember the value, I remember the reputation, I remember the meaning, I remember everything that can surround a piece of dress to make it more than simply something you wear.

But like I said, nostalgia is tricky business, and the moment I put them on and saw myself in the mirror, I knew they had to go back. I usually look for garments where the meaning outweighs the design (i.e. I want clothes that mean something more to me than simply looking cool), but in this case, that skew was so heavily in the corner of meaning over design, it felt as if they were simply not for me. They felt comfortable on my feet, they looked pretty cool in the mirror, but I felt like I was wearing someone else's shoes. I think that the social and cultural meaning they hold in my mind are so great, that I feel as if I am wearing a piece of costume when I put them on. It is a difficult feeling for me to explain, but they belong to a life that I saw played out in front me, but thankfully not a life that I have ever lived. It is the same reason that I do not think that I could ever wear a pair of the patent leather America's Cup Prada sneakers. Some things are better left to those who lived it, or those who have no knowledge of it. I still think that they are a fascinating shoe, but they are just not for me. Even so, it was pretty cool to try on a pair for the first time - somewhere in my mind a five year old version of me had his jaw on the floor.


2 August 2018

Fusion Dance: Don C x Jordan Legacy 312

Don C x Jordan Legacy 312
These new colourways release on August 11th
(product images via Hypebeast)

Many call it a travesty, but I can't help but love this shoe.

This year has been one of dramatic change and self-discovery for me. My personal relationship with fashion and dress over the past few months has most certainly been influenced by this, and so I find that my year in dress thus far has been about nostalgia. I have been trying to reconnect with the things that made me fall in love with clothing in the first place, and just follow my interests in a more organic fashion to focus on the things that truly excite me and make me feel happy. It has been an interesting journey, and I plan on sharing some of it here on the blog in the near future. I have been revisiting pieces and ideas that hold a personal connection for me, ostensibly in a methodological manner (it started off that way), but to be honest, I have been having so much fun with it, that I have simply been following where my gut takes me. Indeed one of the areas that I have really been reconnecting with and enjoying is sneaker culture. Sneakers were the gateway to fashion for me as a youngster, and continue to be my weakness. However this year has been the first time in a number of years that I have been following release dates, watching and reading reviews, and just getting a general feel for where things are now and how the culture continues to shift and change. To be honest it has been interesting from a more academic viewpoint as well, and, as I have shared before, I think that there really is so much that needs to be written about and studied when it comes to sneaker culture. And I do believe that it is a perfect time for researchers, because of the massive availability of data thanks to social media.

But today is not about statistical data or sociological perspectives, it is about a childhood fascination with sneakers. The Legacy 312 is the latest collaboration by Don C with Jordan brand, celebrating his hometown of Chicago, and the history of the Jordan sneaker line. It is essentially a fusion shoe, with an Air Jordan 1 upper, Air Jordan 3 sole, and the strap detailing taken from the Alpha Force Low, which Michael Jordan did actually wear between the Air Jordan 2 and Air Jordan 3. The 312 name is a reference to the downtown Chicago telephone area code. Don C wanted to pay homage to Chicago and the history of Jordan brand, and so took two of the most important sneakers from the line. The Air Jordan 1 can essentially be credited with transforming sneaker culture from an underground subculture, into a commodified "upperground" (to use Yuniya Kawamura's term) cultural phenomenon. However it was not until the Air Jordan 3 that Jordans in and of themselves gained the beginnings of the cultural cachet the brand enjoys today. Indeed it was the first Jordan sneaker to be designed by Tinker Hatfield, at a time where Michael Jordan was considering leaving Nike. They are perhaps most memorable for the fact that they were worn in advertisements by Spike Lee's character from She's Gotta Have It - Mars Blackmon. Whereas the Air Jordan 1 started brand Jordan, the Air Jordan 3 made the line a household name. And so it makes sense that Don C would pay respect to these two styles, which I think resulted in a really nice shoe.

I find it odd how protective Jordan fans get over the line, as if ignoring the fact that hideous sneakers like the Jordan 15 and 17 exist. A brand cannot survive on retro re-releases alone, and so I like the fact that they are willing to take risks and try something different. I suppose it is a generational thing more than anything else, because no doubt those who grew up watching Michael Jordan play, and remember getting the original releases, feel protective over their childhood memories. But even so, I do not see this sneaker as disrespecting that memory, I see it as a celebration, and as something entirely new. I do find it interesting seeing the generational differences in sneaker culture though, because to read accounts by collectors from the pre-Jordan era, many of them saw the Jordan as heralding the end of the golden age. This was no doubt due to the shift from underground to upperground. I guess each generation of fans see themselves as the truest fan, and so when changes happen, perhaps intended to cater for a newer audience, they see it as a threat to their emotional attachment. You see this in culture everywhere, from original Star Wars fans to early Rick Owens fans, where they are resistant to a newer audience and any perceived changes to what they believe to be the core identity of the brand or product.

For me personally, because I did not grow up watching basketball, Jordans were never a concrete object for me, but an idea. I have written about this in a post before, but essentially the brand name and general style of the shoes held more meaning to me as a child than the specific design details of the shoe. Of course later on I would come to learn more about each design and appreciate them from that perspective, but even so, it is obviously not the same thing as seeing them and wearing them as they came out. It is for that reason that I guess I love this sneaker, because removing the fact that it has Jordan branding, I think it is a cool looking basketball shoe, that reminds me of my childhood. It seems like something I would have seen Will Smith wearing on Fresh Prince, or something you would have seen on Saved By The Bell. My gut reaction to the shoe is purely aesthetic, and on that level I really enjoy it. But then to see the design language and recognise the references, it actually makes me appreciate it more on a historical and cultural level. I think that the Air Jordan 1 is the most important sneaker in history, and that the Air Jordan 3 is perhaps the most important for the brand, and so that fusion really is a celebration that I enjoy seeing. If you had asked me as a child what a basketball shoe should look like, this is pretty much what I would have imagined.

As seems to be the case these days, people absolutely hated this shoe and went in on it online, but on release day they sold out. I hope the people who bought them were fans, but no doubt the majority were resellers (no judgement here, I have flipped the occasional piece too). I do find it odd to consider the sneaker market as of late though, because hype sells, but it no longer seems to matter whether that hype is positive or negative. Now we could go deep into it and say that social media has cultivated an audience that thrives on extremes, because that is the only way to stand out in the torrential deluge of information on social feeds, but I think that it has always been the case in fashion. And then there is the fact that I really do like this shoe, and I am sure that there are many others who do too. With all the popularity of "ugly" sneakers these days, I think it would be very hard to release a shoe with such extreme styling that would not sell well, provided you made it a limited release. Fusions seem to be the name of the game lately, whether it be adding Vapormax soles to 90s Nike models, or Boost soles to whichever Adidas model. I guess it is a way of bringing older styles back into the market and reorienting it towards newer consumers who are too young to really remember, or have been able to enjoy, the originals. If that sounds familiar, it is because it is the cycle of fashion in a nutshell, and that is what these sneakers are - a fashion shoe, not a basketball shoe.