6 June 2012

Olympic London

Spring/Summer 2012

I am pretty sure I am suffering some sort of post-Jubilee fatigue, which is odd considering I did not actually watch any of the Jubilee happenings on the goggle-box.  In case you get the wrong idea, I am not one of those boring anti-monarchist folks, I actually rather liked the idea of celebrating the Jubilee in such a grand manner.  It was a fun time for the country to get together and celebrate something, without the crushing defeat and complaining about biased referees that usually follows otherwise.  We are patriotic about two things in this country - the Queen and football.  We are unfortunately not so good at the latter, but we are thankfully pretty good at the former...well I say we, but the majority of the hard work does admittedly fall on the Queen.  She has to do all that waving and smiling and pretending to be interested in hours and hours of what would make the rest of us want to get up and tell everyone to get lost.  Maybe she has perfected the art of sleeping with your eyes open, or has body doubles who get drafted in to do the more boring events, but regardless, Go Queenie!

The question is now whether all of the plastic bunting and flags will remain in place until the opening of the Olympics, another celebratory event for London, which will no doubt have just as typically British weather.  Bad weather is after all the best icebreaker for a society that is otherwise loathed to talk to each other - we love complaining about the weather, and the more people we can complain to the better.  I would write a post about the Olympic uniforms, but to be honest I am not a fan, so I thought I would approach the subject from another angle.  When it comes to celebrating Britishness through sportswear, there is something far more interesting in looking at the work of an outside observer.  The way the involved parties romanticise their own history and stylistic elements will obviously be different to how the outsider views the matter.  I am fascinated by the outsider view because it will naturally place aesthetics before meanings - what gets exported is the iconography, usually with a new layer of meaning applied by the new setting.  In this case I am interested in two outside observers, that of Yohji Yamamoto and Dirk Schönenberg with the Spring/Summer 2012 collection for Y-3.

I enjoyed how effortlessly references from across a broad history of what have become national stylistic elements, from punk tartans to Victorian morning coats, could be combined to celebrate all things London and British.  I think it is always interesting to see what specific elements are considered representative, especially by those looking in, because it can often be the evolution of those elements outside a host nation that most influence the way the style of that host nation is perceived (rather a long way of explaining, but hopefully you understand what I am trying to say).  This collection wonderfully highlighted the idea of London sportswear, and to a wider extent British sportswear, through the pre-existing lens of the Y-3 style.  What we have is actually layer upon layer of meaning present within the aesthetic long before one even allows for the idea of London.  Y-3 is in itself a combination of styles, with the aesthetic of Yohji Yamamoto meeting that of Adidas.  At its simplest, Japan meets Germany, but in reality the issue is far more complex.

Consider the work of Yohji Yamamoto - a Japanese designer who eschews the very idea of his being a Japanese designer, even though his work most commonly combines Japanese sensibilities with old European tailoring.  Or the giant that is Adidas, a German brand which is hardly definable in any real way as German in terms of aesthetics.  The idea of national style or national aesthetic is hard to pin down, however what we do have are these stylistic elements.  The way in which a city or nation is presented, and any associated iconography relating to their history of style and dress (fabricated or not).  These elements however can never simply be seen in isolation, for they are embedded with a multitude of cultural and social meaning.  Perhaps more important is how those cultural and social meanings translate to other nations and societies.  Fashion becomes ever more global, catering to an ever more geographically, let alone socially and culturally, diverse clientèle.  How can a national style then be presented in such a way as to be easily understood by the individual from whichever background?   

Considering the way in which a nation or a city can be neatly packaged and exported is thus for me a fascinating matter, especially when the reality is that any references will necessarily be translated or adapted by both the user and the viewer.  The meaning is never a static reality, rather it is a fluid bank of potential meanings, which can suggest different meanings according to context and usage.  The manner in which these elements are used therefore opens the idea of a national style to almost infinite interpretations, and therein lies the most interesting fact - the designer may reference, but the reality is that the design exists in a new space and thus a new realm of meaning, regardless of however much it may refer back to pre-existing frameworks of understanding.  In much the same way that time becomes a complex issue where fashion is concerned (indeed one could say that fashion obliterates the very notion of time, in that it can only ever exist in the present moment), the idea of nation is equally problematic.  It is open to exploration and open to interpretation, but maybe the most interesting of interpretations comes from those who view it from the outside.  The outsider presents in such a way as to make it understandable by other outsiders, and therein lies some sense of universality, and thus commonality, in the idea of a national style.



  1. I remember Yohji said he was forgetting he is Japanese,but media wrote down he is Japanese designer,and he noticed he is Japanese in interview.

    I understand his feeling. But he was influenced by Japanese kimono, traditional pattern ,color,etc. And of course , his identity must be Japanese cosmopolitan like I am.

    I don't mind that people never ask me my nationality in here .That is not important unless I want to let the person know about me very much)

    But if somebody talk badly about Japan,I would be very hurt.(never happen so far. People respects my nationality:)That is New Yorker) .

    I don't like sport wear at all.Never be interested in.So I don't have any gore tex Jacket! But these Y-3 are beautiful. Doesn't look like sport wear for me:D

    I enjoyed your essay and photos. This is first time to see Y-3 !

  2. Mari: I think that nationality is one of those weird things, in that you are simply what you think you are. It is so fluid and hard to pin down, which is what makes the idea of fashion based on ideas of 'national' style so interesting. I like the idea that it is open to interpretation by anyone, and personally I love the idea of being able to dress in a way that combines so many different cultures.