13 July 2020

A Yohji Army + ShowStudio Live Panel

Spring/Summer 2021
Photographed by Takay

"Soldiers uniforms for a Yohji army fighting the current world in crises. Global warming, social movements, sanitary emergencies, animal protection. Yohji Yamamoto express his feelings in his own poetic way. Eyes printed on clothes as witnesses of what is happening today in our world and also looking into the future."
What is the role of fashion in the midst of a global pandemic, ongoing social and political crises, and a widespread feeling of uncertainty in the world? I think that social, cultural and political contexts are always important when looking at fashion shows and fashion trends throughout history. Fashion does not operate within a vacuum, for it is designed to be of the moment, and thus entirely anchored to our lived experience and understanding of the present. However, fashion seeks to operate outside of any linear notion of time, existing forever in the present moment and thus ultimately seeking to fly in the face of death (a personal favourite read is Giacomo Leopardi's Dialogue Between Fashion And Death, written in 1824). However, every so often we are faced with events on a global scale that impact us all in some form or another, to the point that it seems as if every designer is ostensibly forced to respond. 

In light of the global COVID-19 pandemic the Paris menswear shows for the Spring/Summer 2021 season have been digital, with designers opting for fashion film in the place of live runway shows. The impact of the pandemic has forced a radical rethink in how we approach fashion shows and collections this season, with many fashion houses saying in the earlier days of the pandemic that they would be cutting down the number of shows per year, and some considering the transition to season-less releases. 

It has been interesting to see how quickly designers have embraced digital content, given that it is something I believe ought to have happened long before the pandemic. Fashion has been consumed digitally for a long time now, and so it seems well overdue for fashion houses to focus more on digital content as an avenue for creative expression and promotion. Most people, myself included, consume the majority of their fashion content online or in print, through fashion show images, video campaigns, magazine editorials, and posts on social media. This is certainly nothing new, for once fashion was disseminated through fashion dolls and fashion plates. You do not have to look far for evidence of fashion designed primarily for social media, with an emphasis on photographic value rather than creative design.

Fashion is at its core about the relationship between body and fabric, and few designers understand this better than Yohji. People often talk of his work being cerebral, and while I agree that is the case for the observer, I think it is important to note that it is ultimately a kinaesthetic experience for the wearer. You have to wear the clothes and move around in them for the full experience, because that sensory feedback informs the way you come to understand his work. It is a psychosomatic connection, because the sensory experience is where the psychological feeling of armour derives from in his work. I believe that it is that liminal space between your biological skin and your social skin (the clothing) which provides you a breathing space, both physically and mentally. The flow and drape of the fabric is soft and almost sensuous, and yet that coverage and softness is what for me provides a psychological strength by way of comfort.

For his Spring/Summer 2021 collection Yohji proposed uniforms for those fighting through the "new" normal we find ourselves in now. But there was a quiet optimism there that was truly poetic. These were not the bruised and stitched men of his Autumn/Winter 2015 collection, although some sported eye patches, but rather determined and resilient, even as the designer himself wore a coat with the word "Fragile" stitched on the back. I think there is always a strength in the vulnerability that Yohji shows in his men, because it is not about bravado or machismo, but what I personally feel like is an honest emotional expression from him at the time (with some seasons being more melancholic than nostalgic). Indeed he says he does not like talking too much about his clothing, because he puts all the emotion in the clothing for you to see and feel when wearing. The collection was half the size of his usual collections, which is still no mean feat during a pandemic, and I actually thought it was one of this strongest in a while now.

Army uniforms and archetypal masculine uniforms feature heavily in Yohji's work, but they are always reframed in such a way as to make them suitable for the vagabond or rebellious man that he so loves. Here using linens, cottons and light wool, the clothing was soft in its drape and flowed poetically in movement. Seams that looked upon first glance to be torn were instead buttoned, showing men who had been through a lot but still held their composure. And then there was the running eye motif with those beautiful eye buttons that appeared throughout. The eyes were witnessing the world, and so we come to think of Yohji witnessing the world as he created this collection and wondering how to respond. But once the clothing is worn and out there in the wild, it witnesses an as of yet un-imagined future, for who knows what is to come (this year has already had so many surprises!).

I do often think of that phrase, "to bear witness", for it appears so much in legal and religious texts. To witness is to give, or at least confirm, truth, and yet in modernity and post-modernity truth is uncertain. So one proposes truths, and that is what I think of when I think of Yohji - a designer proposing ideas for those who witness the world in a similar fashion to himself. If his clothing is armour, the eyes keep a watchful lookout as the world constantly changes around us and we seek to re-establish our place within it. Yes, the videography and photography by Takay is dark, the music, at times sung by Yohji himself, is moody, and yet there is always hope to be found. The show continues and we are all thankfully here to witness it.


I was also incredibly fortunate to be able to discuss Yohji's work on the ShowStudio live panel for the show with the amazing Dal Chodha and Rachel Tashjian. Please do check it out on their website, or embedded below!


24 June 2020

Masks and The New Normal

A selection of sewn masks alongside a disposable mask

Some Liberty print masks and filters

When did wearing face masks become a political issue instead of a public health issue? I find it curious that the two countries with some of the worst recorded fatalities from COVID-19 worldwide, America and Britain, are also the two counties where the wearing of masks (or face "coverings" as the British government would prefer them to be called) is such a contentious issue. To be clear I believe that the high number of deaths in both countries has to do with poor government response, however I do think that the widespread adoption of face masks would be helpful. It is a practical step that the vast majority of us can take in order to help reduce the spread of the virus. Obviously a small minority are unable to wear masks for health or age reasons, however I do believe that it is incumbent on those of us who are able to, to do so, so that we may help protect the most vulnerable in society. If wearing a mask reduces the risk of transmission by even a small percentage, then I think that it should be encouraged. Besides, if nothing else, they are useful in ensuring that you do not touch your face as often when you are outside because there is a physical barrier to your nose and mouth. 

I go for daily walks, and where I currently am in South London I am lucky to see one person out of every thirty wearing a face mask. Even on buses, where it is now ostensibly mandatory to wear a face covering of some kind, you still see a number of people without. I really do find this frustrating given the number of family friends who have passed away from the virus thus far. The government has said on many occasions that it will rely on "the common sense of the British public" rather than creating actual laws or enforcing guidelines. It does rather confirm my belief that nobody in government has ever met members of the public. I therefore believe that with everything opening up again we have to make sure that as individuals we are being responsible, because the government is clearly not helping as much as they could. But regardless of what a government does or does not do, life hopefully goes on for the majority, and so it is a matter of adjusting and making sure that we carry on in the healthiest way possible, both mentally and physically.

There has been a lot of talk of "the new normal", which I find an interesting phrase. To my mind each and every one of us has our own idea and experience of normal. Ideally we should seek to adjust to the present moment and to things as they are right now, rather than as we wish they were. People spoke at the beginning of quarantine season of their lives being "on hold", but the truth is that life goes on, the conditions simply change. You have to learn to adapt, and the quicker you are able to adapt, the easier it is for you in the long run mentally. It is the reason why children are more resilient than adults in certain instances, because they do not always have the life experience to compare a bad situation or event to and understand that it is out of the ordinary, so they accept it as it is and try to adapt accordingly. The quicker you are able to accept things as they are and figure out how to operate within those conditions, the easier it is to keep going. It is one of the reasons that I think that normalizing face masks is so important, because the sooner we come to realize that coronavirus is not going away anytime soon, the easier it becomes for us to adapt and carry on rather than having our lives on pause. 

I hope you do not think I am trivializing the issue, but I honestly believe that the sooner masks become just another clothing accessory that you throw on before you go out, the better it would be for us. I think that if it can become an everyday mundane behaviour to wear a mask in crowded places, or see people wearing masks when out and about, then the easier it becomes for us all to re-adjust to "the new normal". I am not saying that masks should be compulsory for everyone at all times, but rather than it would be nice to see wearing masks as a normalized behaviour, especially during Winter when cold and flu season arrives, because it would be useful for public health in general. It has been a common behaviour in Asia for years now to wear masks to prevent droplets from spreading when coughing or sneezing, and I think that is a really considerate societal attitude to have, because it does help protect those most at risk. I am actually looking beyond the current pandemic, however think that this a good opportunity to create a future where we have a plethora of mask options just as we do for glasses or gloves or shoes. 

You can already buy masks in a number of stores from supermarkets to clothing shops, and I am happy to see that there is choice available at different price points. Nobody should be priced out of owning a mask and I do think it is important for free masks to be offered in certain situations to ensure that everybody is able to wear one when required. I think we are still in the early days of mask production and mask wearing, and the market has a long way to go before reaching maturity. The higher the demand, the more choice there will be, the better the pattern cutting will get, which means the easier it will be to find masks that fit you well and that are functional. One of the innovations I am interested in is the idea of a transparent mask that does not fog up, which is useful for lip readers, but would also mean that we are able to see more facial expressions, making interactions easier with others. I think in particular that when sports brands get involved that we will see truly innovative design and features. Reebok have, for example, shared concept designs for transparent exercise masks that feature technology such as heart rate monitors and breathing sensors, which I think gives us a fascinating glimpse into a potential post-corona future. 

Once you have the ability to choose different fabrics, different patterns, different colours, and match your mask to your outfit, the sooner masks stop being something scary and daunting. Rather than a fearful prophylactic they become an optional accessory. Wearing a mask then becomes a normalized behaviour and a normal sight on the street. My hope is that it would allow for us to become a more considerate society, wherein we come to see wearing masks as a polite thing to do, especially during cold and flu seasons. Even when the pandemic is long gone and our memory of 2020 feels utterly surreal, I would like for wearing a mask not to be seen as unusual, but rather a socially responsible behaviour, particularly when feeling unwell. And, to be flippant for a moment - imagine all the new styling possibilities. 


15 May 2020

Quarantine Vibes

(June/July 2020)
Robert Pattinson shot by Robert Pattinson

By now I am sure that many of you have already seen the cover and accompanying editorial for the June/July 2020 edition of GQ Magazine. They were shot by Robert Pattinson while at home during the ongoing quarantine season. This might be the first time I have considered buying an issue of GQ Magazine, simply for the fact that I love this shoot. I have to admit that I know very little about Robert Pattinson - I remember seeing him in Harry Potter, and then his funny French accent in The King, which was also the first time I ever saw Timothée Chalamet in anything. For some reason I thought Chalamet spoke with a French accent in real life. I was suspicious of how good his English accent was in the film, because he sounded like an American doing an English accent, and it turns out that he is indeed American. My knowledge of celebrity these days is quite poor to say the least. 

Anyhow, I think that this editorial works so much better than the umpteenth "Facetime" photoshoot that I have seen recently. The difference an actual camera that you can move around makes (not to mention the image quality), compared to a phone that you have to keep propped up or a laptop that you have to keep on a level surface, is night and day. I am not saying that you cannot get good results with a phone or tablet, but the Facetime shoots have all looked rather similar in execution to me, with static framing and no real sense of dynamism. They seem almost sterile in a way. This shoot in comparison manages to draw me in and capture some of the chaotic energy of the interview itself. Plus anyone who manages to get a can of Heinz beans and a bottle of HP sauce into a GQ photograph is cool in my books. 

I like the fact that this is not simply a series of full body poses in front of the camera. I hope they do not try to overdo this style of editorial, but I love the concept of this issue. Hopefully I can order a print copy for myself, because there really is a vast difference for me between experiencing images on a screen and holding a physical magazine in your hands. I am still not the type to read magazines on an iPad, and do not enjoy reading long articles on my phone, because my eyes tend to hurt after a while. I have actually been on the lookout for a new fashion magazine to subscribe to, or at least some that I can buy on a semi-regular basis, because I miss the editorials. If anyone has recommendations feel free to hit me up! 


5 May 2020

Crep Check: Quarantine Edition

I have seen a number of articles and shopping guides covering house shoes lately, and maybe it is just me, but the idea of spending a ton on a pair of high fashion slippers seems a bit redundant right now. If you have the money, then by all means ball out, but I thought I would share a few comparatively more affordable options that I have personally worn over the years. Admittedly these are all more expensive than your standard flip flop or fabric slipper, but I like footwear that will last as long as possible and I believe you are getting your money's worth with all of these. If you happen to be the type of person wearing their outdoor shoes around the house right now...feel free to check out the rest of the blog, this might not be for you. But for those who are interested in some comfortable and functional options, here we go!

To be clear, my personal preference is for footwear that is easy to slip on and off, is hard-wearing, provides a relatively decent amount of support, and, if possible, is easy to clean. I grew up in a household where we removed our shoes at the front door and wore slippers around the house. We did not walk around barefoot or in socks alone, so the ability to slip them on and off quickly when trying to curl up on the sofa is important to me. I do not personally wear slippers in my bedroom - it is a strictly footwear-free zone - but that is up to your own preference (unless you one of those people who wears or puts shoes on the bed, in which case, hopefully the pandemic has been teaching you better hygiene practices). These are just some of my choices, but please do go with what works for you - whether it be leather slippers, fuzzy teddy bear slippers, room socks or moccasins.

Not sure when slides and socks became such a big thing, but they are what I wore throughout childhood, so apparently I was fresh as a kid and did not even realise it. Slides are a pretty no nonsense option - as the name suggests you can simply slide them on, they wash easily, and you can go as basic or creative as you like. I actually like the fluffy pink or purple ones that you can get from the likes of the Fenty x Puma collaboration, but that does not really fit into my wardrobe (and I am not sure they actually make my size), so my preferred pair is the black Adilette. The Nike Benassi is another popular option, but it is does not hold its structure, and so ends up looking lopsided and worn out rather quickly. I like the fact that these have at least some attempt at a molded footbed, and I do find them comfortable to wear around the house, although I would not personally wear them outside.

These are fully vegan Birkenstocks with a synthetic felt upper and a microfiber footbed lining. They have a clean indoor slipper design, with a gently curved tongue which I prefer to the elongated tongue on the otherwise visually similar (non-vegan) Davos model. Cosy and comfortable. These are clearly not designed with long walks in mind given the lack of any way to adjust the fit of the upper, however the EVA sole mean that these will last a long time. I do like the fact that so many footwear manufacturers offer vegan options these days, as it provides the consumer with greater choice (although not all of them are necessarily better for the environment, it really does depend on the materials used).

One of the more practical Birkenstock designs out there, because it is made entirely from EVA, making it hard-wearing, lightweight and easy to clean (the material is technically waterproof, although obviously the design means that in practice it is anything but). While it may not have the same feel underfoot as the cork latex footbed of the regular Birkenstocks, these still feel comfortable and supportive. The straps are also practical for getting a good fit and they feel secure when walking. I have worn these outside before for short trips in a pinch, and they are perfectly serviceable, although for that I would prefer the Bostons.

The classic Birkenstock clog, I absolutely love these. The cork latex footbed is comfortable, and these really do mold well to your feet. I find them incredibly hard-wearing, with the EVA sole and the leather upper. The leather is thick, but does not feel uncomfortable, even when fresh out of the box. The strap offers the chance for an adjusted fit, and even I can find a good fit (I have large but thin feet). Pair these with chunky socks during colder months, or wear them barefoot in Summer, and they really do work for every season. They do a "soft" footbed option that I have never tried before, but I am curious about. These work well if you want something you can wear outdoors too, although I have tended to use them as gardening shoes rather than as proper outdoor footwear.

Same as above, but in a wool felt material, which is far more pliable and cosy. The felt stays in good condition for a surprisingly long time, although it is more difficult to clean than the leather clogs, which you can simply wipe with a wet cloth. I do like these for wearing around the house though because they are super snuggly.

Love them or hate them, there is no denying that Crocs are massively comfortable. They have also enjoyed a bit of a fashionable moment the past few seasons with designer collaborations and all manner of charms that you can plug into those vent holes. The heel strap can be swung forward when you want a simple clog, or used to secure the heel when you mean business. Seriously, if you have never tried a pair on before, try them out, you will be amazed. Imagine the first time you tried on a pair of Ultraboost, but in clog form.

These are actually my preferred Crocs, because I find them far more practical. These are designed for working environments, and I do seem to find them less fatiguing on the feet when wearing them all day (that might just be in my head, but hey, placebos work). I prefer the closed upper because it means that they are more practical in the kitchen or garden in case of spills, although they do have vents on the side for air flow. These just look a little more refined than the standard Croc...well, not exactly refined, but a bit less like shoes designed for toddlers. I have worn these to hospital before and seen a number of nurses wearing the same ones, and if it is good enough for them running around for hours on end saving lives, then they suit me perfectly fine.

I should probably add at this point that while I have chosen black and grey models, these all come in a variety of colours, so feel free to find a colorway that suits your tastes!


20 April 2020

Dress For Yourself

Spring/Summer 2019

I took a step back from the blog for a while to focus on my mental health. Then a global pandemic came along, which means that most of the world is now focusing on their mental health. Somehow it feels like the perfect time for me to get back into blogging. I hope you are all safe, your loved ones are healthy, and that you are staying at home. Please do not take any unnecessary risks and please do make sure that you are checking up on vulnerable neighbours and family members, because now is a time for us to come together (albeit not physically) and make sure that nobody suffers unnecessarily. Make sure to follow whatever guidance is in place local to you. But also, can I just say that you do not have to be particularly productive or hardworking right now - go easy on yourself and do whatever you need to do in order to cope, you're doing amazing no matter what.

Many of us are currently working from home (shout out to all the essential workers still going in for work, it would be impossible for us to thank you enough, however hopefully the pressure builds for you to at least receive higher salaries moving forward), but for most it is likely their first time working or studying from home for any extended period of time. Now this understandably comes with its own set of obstacles and challenges, whether it be figuring out how to work undisturbed in a home full of other people, or figuring out how to use Zoom while making sure your microphone is on mute when you are not talking, or just hoping that the WiFi is playing ball and learning where all the signal dead spots in your home are. On the other hand, a lot of people are not currently working or studying, and so have to figure out how to keep themselves occupied at home during quarantine season. You can use the time to catch up on television shows, books, music, video games, workout routines - whatever it is that you find easy and enjoyable to concentrate on.

Given the focus of this blog it is perhaps unsurprising that what I am interested in is how people are choosing to dress. As someone who has battled with agoraphobia and anxiety for years, and is therefore no stranger to social distancing and staying at home, my personal experience has been that the way you choose to dress on a daily basis can absolutely help or hinder your mood and sense of self. To be clear: wear whatever makes you feel comfortable and secure right now. You do not have to dress up, you do not have to dress down, you do not have wear any clothes at all if you feel more comfortable walking around your home nude (just make sure not to flash your neighbours). Dress in a way that makes you feel confident, because that is what is important right now. Dress is a social practice, but right now most of us are not socialising past video calls, so you truly do have the opportunity to dress just for yourself.

Comfort has always been one of the most important considerations for my wardrobe - physical comfort, psychological comfort, and clothes that help me feel like I am prepared and can take on whatever I am doing that day. My quarantine wardrobe is not particularly different to my regular wardrobe, because I tend to spend so much time at home anyway. The only major difference is that my shoes are looking rather lonely, as I wear Birkenstocks and Crocs around the house. Because my physical health has not been the best this past year, I was already working on making my wardrobe comfortable and cosy - my plan over Winter had been to buy enough fleece to turn myself into a human teddy bear. It did not quite plan out like that, but I do have enough soft fabrics to keep myself feeling cosy at home. Tactility has always played a huge role in my dressing process, just because I tend to focus equally between how clothes feel on my body and how they look on my body.

Right now I am prioritising fluidity of movement in my clothes, because I tend to curl up at home. I might sit cross legged on the chair at my desk, or I might squat on the floor while reading, but generally I end up with my limbs stretched or folded or wrapped around each other, so clothing that is too restrictive is obviously not ideal. Softer fabrics go hand in hand with this, whether it be a plush cotton corduroy, a thick cotton jersey, or just a crisp lightweight poplin cotton that glides gently over the skin and feels airy to wear as the warmer weather approaches. The cut of the garments also has to allow for as full a range of movement as possible, because I do not like feeling restricted, past my preference for a secure waist (I enjoy a belted high waist, which I actually attribute to the fact that I have Crohn's disease, and so feeling like my stomach is physically supported is nice for me psychologically). 

Anyhow I decided to post the Spring/Summer 2019 collection from Y-3 because the brand really has been hitting the mark for me the past few years. I make no secret about the fact that Yohji Yamamoto is my favourite designer, and while I could happily wear nothing but Pour Homme if my income allowed, there is something to be said for the practicality of Y-3 (not to mention the comparatively more affordable pricing...ok, the interesting stuff is still not that affordable, but let's ignore the branded basics). Sportswear is comfortable and practical, but I prefer something a touch more elegant than your standard tracksuit, which Yohji always provides with Y-3. The collection was focused around the idea of lightness and freedom of movement, which is obviously appealing to me right now. The result was a thoroughly "Yohji" collection, with cuts and silhouettes that Adidas would likely never have attempted themselves. Swap the sneakers out for some Crocs and I would happily rock any of these looks at home right now.