Tuesday 26 January 2016

Why the Obsession with Pitti Peacocks distracts from the real party

As this season's men's shows close up and the heat comes on to couture, it seems like as good a time as any to reflect on, um, Pitti.

As a journalist and editor, I've been lucky enough to visit tradeshows and catwalk events across the world, from Sao Paolo to Stockholm, Paris to Berlin. In this way, you always see the best of the event - just the good parts and none of the oily gubbins that goes on behind-the-scenes (even backstage is primped, polished and logo'd and ready for its close-up now).

Seeing a tradeshow, in this case Florence's infamous Pitti, from the perspective of the organisers though is a completely different game. In my Oliver Sweeney capacity, I was brought along with our sales team to rep the stand this year, and a few things struck me that never have before about such events.

Firstly, and it perhaps seems obvious, but the amount of effort, care, elbow-grease and money that goes into even a relatively small stand is enormous. Behind every single installation in the Fortenza da Basso (in which over 1000 brands exhibited), there's a huge team of designers, merchandisers, carpenters and installers who make it happen (not to mention the supply chain of the actual products themselves). Stands are either bespoke to each show or made to be transportable - before working at a brand I hadn't realised the scale of international logistics that are required to make it work.

Did you know, for example, that there are hundreds of vans, trucks and lorries from all over the world that queue around the block for 24 hours before Pitti starts? In order to get everything into the fort, they have only 3-4 access points, and everything has to be taken in and out on wheeled trollies. It's the same for fairs and catwalks the world over - in fact if you go down to Brewer St over the next fortnight you'll see a taster of the organisation coming together for LFW.

As a journalist, like I said, you rush around stands glad-handing friends and meeting new brands, marvelling at product but rarely having the time to appreciate the enormous supply chain that's been leveraged in order to put this stand here and now.

It's similar with the infamous Pitti Peacocks. They no doubt have a role to fulfil, but having manned a stand for 4 days, I can tell you that no-one with a caped jacket or with improbable levels of sprezzatura was there to do any actual work - they merely swished by to hang out on the Brunello Cucinelli stand and look achingly cool. As people come by the stand, you start to get an eye for who is who, the hallmarks of old-school international buyers (usually a business case and a young, pretty interpreter), or younger buyers (all-white kicks and all-navy outfits), or press (horrified facial expressions of how much stuff they have to cover, and a big bag full of press releases they don't really want). The peacocks are to Pitti what catwalk fashion is to the British fashion industry: a pleasant bit of theatre and a pretty distraction from the real business.

And I say this as someone who has worn improbable items to fashion week (my mind sticks on a technicolour overcoat that I borrowed some years ago). As with the courtyard at Somerset House, I've always maintained that the peacocks are essential to the fashion world, showing trends, personalities and fresh ways of being creative with fashion. But seeing inside a show like Pitti exposed the process of the industry which I find so fascinating: it's one of the biggest industries in the world, growing all the time and becoming a globally-recognised language.

It'd often difficult in the relentless cycle of seasons, shows and style to remember that. There's so much more to fashion than the glamour. It's why, when looking at shows like the Chanel Haute Couture show in Paris earlier today, I was thinking that's an unbelievable accomplishment. One that's repeated many times a year. It's always good to draw back and reflect - which is my theory (and excuse) for holding back on any AW16 menswear show comments yet. They're coming, promise.

Monday 4 January 2016

White Tee Tales #1: The Colette Rave Shirt

Because I'm a glutton for punishment, I've decided to do my annual revival of the blog. Hopefully (hopefully) it'll last longer that last year's attempt. The plan this time is to work on two separate tranches of stuff: first off general fashion comment and wine-addled bollocks that compresses conversations with people in the industry with various bits of reading. Second, a series on t-shirts (weirdly predicted in the last post). Maybe that sounds dull? But anyone that knows me knows I wear - and own - a helluva lot of white T-shirts. I've had some of them for years, some for mere minutes, but each one has a story behind it. As do most people's clothes really - if you think about what you have, when you bought it, why you did, and where it's been with you since then, there's pretty much guaranteed to be a story there somewhere. (If you still think this is dull btw, feel free to stop reading at any time.)

Anyway, I've just had a root through my t-shirt drawers, and dug out what I think is the oldest T there. I bought this one *looks misty-eyed into the past* in roughly 2006, from Liberty. It might have been a decade ago, but they used to have a dedicated T-shirt table (it'd probably be called a 'bar' or something similarly wanky nowadays) in the basement, in the days when the building was still linked to the store that's now Cos on Regent St. It cost me, I believe, about £35 - expensive in its day, but not beyond the realms of possibility - and it's from a label called '2K by Gingham'. Google reveals this to be 'a Japanese brand with custom shirts made in the Us featuring leading designers', bt I'm sure I didn't know that at the time.

Back in '06, I was working at Foyles, and on paydays would pop out in my lunch break and pick up something to wear to go out in. Liberty was always a favourite haunt (and remains so; my Mum has always been obsessed with the fabric department there, and I've always thought the menswear floor was expertly-curated), and this table in particular was a source of some of my favourite pieces back then.

I was drawn in by its homonym comparison of two Colettes*. One was the ridiculously trendy boutique in Paris that I'd discovered for myself while living there during my year abroad at uni; at the time it was famed for having a 'water bar' with 50 types of bottled water; the other was the 18th Century author whose scandalous, scurrilous stories of semi-fictional Parisian haute socié fascinated me, and formed a large part of my shelf of reserved books in the fiction department of Foyles. This t-shirt also has the distinctive oblong label (now washed to plain) of American Apparel, whose shirts - back in the day - industrious vendors and t-shirt artists would purchase in bulk, screenprint, and then re-sell (the same as my jazzy WoodWood sweatshirt).

I was very proud of this T. I wore it to raves, parties and festivals for years after that; something about the blissed-out faces, French text and specific references (both of which I loved and still appreciate to this day) made it something of a talking point. I don't recall a specific party I wore it to, but I do remember pairing it with the skinniest jeans ever and taking it to many trendy events in Shoreditch, in the days when one of my best mates worked for a then-nascent party machine/'magazine' called Vice. It could have been the first time I ever fell asleep on a night bus, after drinking an unbelievable amount of free black Sambuca, or that might be another night. the specifics are, unsurprisingly, lost to the mists of time. I do recall accidentally ironing over the transfer after the first wash, smudging the coral screenprint, and being mortified - luckily this later washed out.

It's accompanied me to many, many, many events since then, gradually becoming less of a party shirt and more of an everyday, layering piece. It's still in pretty good nick, aside from a small hole on the upper left chest. I'm still loath to part with it because of the Colette reference - the combination of bawdy literature, ridiculous boutiques and Francophile culture is pretty rarely seen - and even now when someone sees it and gets it, I know we'll get on.

Anyway, that's the oldest white T I have in my drawers right now. As ever, apologies for the quality of the photo - I'm a writer, not a photographer. There's plenty more white tee tales to come.

*Translation - Girl 1: "I love Colette so much!"; Girl 2: "The writer or the shop?"

Monday 16 February 2015

The Staple: Russian Not-so-Standard

I began this post wanting to write about designer T-shirts. Something was brewing in my mind about affordable luxury and buying into a brand that you love (in my case things like Matthew Miller, Acne, Wooyoungmi, APC (obvs) and Comme) without going the whole hog for a coat or a specific 'look'.

I felt like there was a connection between crap high-street T-shirt brands and the way that even top-end fashion houses will do a basic T - basic of course is no reflection of the price, but it's an easy buy-in for most, and while around £50 (yes, and upwards) is expensive for these kind of garments in the high street context, but you get into a brand a fall in love with its aesthetic, manufacturing values and general vibe.

Then I realised (after much mucking about with 'arty' lighting [aka me trying to use a £5.99 argos lamp as a lightbox and failing] and a pile of T-shirts) that I really just wanted to write about Gosha Rubchinskiy.

First a little more preface. I am a T-shirt lover. I have waaaay too many (colour-coded, natch) and a drawer just of white ones. Along with jeans/shirts, nice trainers and a crewneck sweater, I live in Ts, and I try to find interesting ones as much as possible.

As with my weird attempts to dress like a football hooligan from the 1980s, I've no idea where my wanting to dress like a skater boy comes from. I'm not very grungy - obvs. But I do like that California style, the whole Kurt Cobain, baggy jumpers and ripped denim, setting out on your board to do tricks and such. I bet it probably has something to do with me being not very sporty as a kid (aren't all these deep-seated desires rooted in our childhood), but tbh I don't really care - and that means you definitely won't either.

But skate style is something that I've always been drawn towards, which is why Rubchinskiy's aesthetic is so appealing. Working in Russia but showing in Paris, the designer is channeling local skate culture through modern streetwear, simply put. Increasingly interesting in his aesthetic development is this desire to explore a subculture in a country that seems to be careering out of control (cheers Putin, you dick), in many ways paralleling the horrors of late '80s American capitalism, but in a weird, very Russian way.

Look, there's a whole lot more to it than that, but here's what I love about Gosha's pieces. In fact, in pictorial form:

This T-shirt is an acrid yellow, reasonably well-made soft cotton T. Aside from the pretty ridiculous colour, it's a raglan-sleeve. But only from the front. From the back, Rubchinskiy has crafted the entire shoulder of the T with two pieces; one seam stretching from armpit-to-armpit, and one directly vertically from the neck down. The construction does two things: it constantly reminds you that you're wearing something unusual; it gives a sensation of difference, of otherness, and of thought. It also creates a different hang to the garment; it moves from the way you move your back, it's slightly awkward, and isn't entirely comfortable.

This sounds perverse (and possibly pretentious, but I've already used talked about 'otherness', so I might as well steam through) but the way this garment makes you feel means that you're constantly thinking about it as you wear it. Not in a 'how do I look?' way, but a 'what does this mean?' way.

In brief, it challenges the wearer. Much more than you'd expect from a humble t-shirt. With the simple space age graphic, PACCBET (meaning sunrise, or dawn - make of that what you will) on the front, it's one of the oddest Ts I own.

There's something challenging about Rubchinskiy's work, which is possibly why he's supported by the Comme des Garcons/DSM stable; it's conceptual, but not in the way you think. Crucially though - and if you have an inquiring mind - it does make you think. And not many garments do that, right?

Monday 9 February 2015

The Staple: Well jell of Gazelles

Anyone that knows me knows I am a creature of habit. From my Sunday evening Countryfile and Antiques Roadshow routine to my pretty much unshakeable current wardrobe of crewneck sweatshirts and jeans, I'm not often knocked out of my comfort zone - part of the reason that the Shirt challenge was a bit, ahem, challenging. (That said, I have actually done a few days of shirt-wearing; I'm saving them up for a proper post, promise).

Anyway, I have been rooted in my Vans, Vortex and Converse for, well, pretty much the last decade now. But I've always had dalliances with other footwear. Part of settling into the 30something vibe for me this year was about getting a bit smarter...and I still have to deal with that on the footwear front, despite owning some lovely smart shoes. But for some reason, and this is what I'd like to examine today, for the last six months I've lusted over '90s trainer classics the Adidas Gazelle.

These desires are odd, but when they happen, I'm more than happy to investigate. It's the kind of thing I've probably subconsciously seen in magazines, on shoots, in the street (in fact I think Lou Dalton sent her models down the LCM catwalk in them for SS15); the kind of trigger that you don't realise is building up in your brain until you're in a shoe shop on a day off in December, trying on a pair of trainers because you've decided you definitely need them in your life.

As you will have gathered from reading the blog for any length of time, my approach to a lot of fashion - particularly the stuff I buy - is very driven by my gut reactions. I don't often set out to buy something specific - especially during the sales - and I guess the last few years of working at a magazine has meant that freebies poured through the door and that's always a nice position to be in.

However, with these Gazelles I'm not quite sure what set off the desire. It might be in part a real masculine, Northern thing - Gazelles are of course a key part of the football terrace uniform (along with Stone Island jackets). Maybe I'm trying to cling to some Northernesque roots as I've been down here in LDN for over twelve years. TWELVE YEARS. Christ.

Anyway, maybe it's partly that. Maybe it's a 90s thing - that whole acid house, rave generation, leading into Britpop...they would all have worn Gazelles. If the music's good - the clothes must be right? Look at disco! I remember slopping round Camden in Puma Romas back in my uni days, and Gazelles are just a better Roma, really.

I think it might also be a bit of a reaction to the universal fashion acceptance of Stan Smiths too. I had a pair briefly, but they were so flat and uncomfortable (not to mention now ubiquitous at fashion week), that I got rid of them. There's something very pleasing about Stans' minimal appearance, but a trainer that isn't comfy might as well not be a trainer.

So I picked up a pair of Gazelles from Mr Porter - plumping for the black classics, and they've become my go-to winter shoes, despite being not that grippy, and not that waterproof. They're super-comfy and give a nice, dressed-down feel to my outfits. Which is good for those days when I wear a shirt...maybe I am getting out of my routine? Who knows. Only 2015 will provide the answers.

In the meantime, Gazelles. They're fab.

Monday 26 January 2015

The Staple: Check, Mate

And so to another coat. Sorry about that - in my defence, it is bloody freezing out there! This one though, I haven't written about before - mostly because I bought it just the other week. 

The middle of January (the 20th to be exact, fact fans) heralds my birthday, which for the past few years has meant a sale treat. Last year it was the Christopher Raeburn bomber, and this year I surpassed myself and actually bought myself 2 coats in the sales.

This particular one though, as with so much sale shopping (right?) was an accident. I've been a bit of a fan of Ben Sherman over the last few years, as their range has matured to become a sort of junior Albam (that occasionally goes to a rave, rather than constant dull art openings). They've expanded their offering to include some really great things, that are chock full of detail and very reasonably priced.

So for the last few months, before the Sales and as they progressed, I had my eye on a black watch Tartan parka, osensibly to replace my student/miner chic one. On their website, it looks bloody fabulous - tailored in the right places, smart and just the right thing to chuck on over anything to keep toasty warm. In store though, it was another matter. The cut was all wrong on me, too tight at the neck, and with a proper trad parka fishtail hemline, as well as a boxy hood, that combined to give it a touch too much of Italian exchange student for me. A valuable lesson learned there - buying online can often prove fatal.

But with the purse strings opened by a previous Liberty bargain (of which more soon) and the shopping lust well and truly out, couple with Ben Sherman's bargainous sale markdowns, I was determined to make a purchase. Just not sweatshirts (anyone that knows me knows that I already have waaaaay too many!) So I checked out their coats and found this beauty. It's a little similar to the B Store one I bought a few months back on eBay, but made from a sturdier wool, and cut impeccably, as was pointed out to me by one of the menswear designers at work. This coat has a half-raglan sleeve; so raglan at the back of the shoulder, and straight at the front. this gives it the comfort and informality of a casual coat, but also the sharper shoulder shape of a smarter piece. 

Unlike the parka, its pockets are in exactly the right place (hand height, durrrr), and the checked wool is clearly not from a 99p shop at the end of Brick Lane. I've taken to wearing it in a kind of Mod-ish way, with the top button done up and the rest free, creating a great a-line shape. It's rapidly become the go-to coat, despite not being as warm as the parka. 

Anyway, a little insight there. I've got a few articles brewing post-LCM (and the rest of the menswear shows; just fired off my Paris report), so I'll try and keep a little more regularly updated. But definitely worth scouring the end of the sale. This jacket was knocked down from £195 to £78. £78! That's the price of a jumper in most places. If you get paid Friday, go and have a scout round those sad-looking sale racks and see what you can turn up; there's plenty left to be found if you look hard enough...

Check, mate indeed.

Monday 5 January 2015

The Staple: Very Good, Parka

As January dawns, the thoughts of people working in the fashions turn to the upcoming 2-3 months of shows, presentations, catwalks, parties and relentless travel. It's a tough job (no, srsly), and I'm sure there'll be all sorts of thrills and spills across social media and various ritzy locations as the next few months unfurl.

However, January signals two things for most people: 1) it gets very cold and 2) everyone is very poor. Sadly I can't offer any tips on fixing the latter, but for me, every year I return to this jacket for some reason. (aside: January is also my birthday)

I've been in London for, well, this is my 13th year here. So some time. And despite gaining and losing more items of clothing, friends, drinks, colleagues and books, this parka seems to have stuck with me. I bought it as a first year student, living in Max Rayne House on Camden Road (typing those words does indeed take me back). On my walk back from the bus from uni, there was a vintage shop, just by Camden Rd station - now long gone - where I spunked most of my student loan on American college Ts, scratchy cardigans and 1970s kipper ties. And this very parka was a January purchase there.

Why a parka? Well dear readers, I have a confession: I was a noughties indie kid. I went to indie discos across Camden, I loved Trash at the End, I partied at student unions, I was obsessed with the Libertines. It was a fun time. And I must've seen it in NME or read about it in the Face or something, but parkas were cool. I bet Graham Coxon had one. Anyway, I picked this up for about £35, and it was pretty knackered at the time. I wore it relentlessly (with self-ripped and patched bootcut jeans, Puma Roma and a vintage BA flight bag *don't judge, it was 2003*), patched it up, and never quite got around to chucking it out.

Partly because it's so damn warm; it's like wearing a duvet, and it's got those hand-warmy pockets on the chest that are uber-toasty. And partly because, well this is real life. Not sure if you've picked this up from the blog along the way, but I don't go around wearing custom-made Valentino couture, or incredibly rare Miyake samples from 1983. Well, not *that* often anyway. 

I've grown to love this parka, there's something refreshingly honest about it - I love the terrible fake fur on the hood, the bobbled hood, the faded orange lining...it's not trying to be ridiculous, and it does its job well. It's the kind of jacket you can pull on over a T to face a cold winter's night, stuff behind a speaker and party til dawn, and then retrieve and wrap yourself up in it, safe in the knowledge that it's done its job. And yes, I have tested that theory - though not enough recently.

Back to January's shows though, and will I wear it to LCM? Probably not. It's practical for cold tube platforms, and like my walking gear at my parents in the Lakes, knows its place. But then, who knows - this parka has been to stranger places before.

(with apologies for the terrible photo - amazingly there is not a photo in existence in the history of Facebook of me actually wearing this. Oh and also, hope some of you get the Thunderbirds ref in the title...)

***UPDATE*** Turns out I've written about this damn parka before. Ah well, enjoy the update and any inconsistencies in the story. The original post is here.

Monday 8 December 2014

The Good, The Bargain, and the Hackney

If you've read this 'blog' for more than 5 seconds you'll know that I love a bargain. And while it's true that pretty much everyone in the world loves a bargain, people in fashion definitely love a bargain (and know how to find one) more than most.

Perhaps it's because you do tend to lose a sense of perspective about the true cost of things. You begin to believe that everyone actually buys multiple pairs of £200 jeans, or thinks nothing of dropping on a £700 coat twice a year, or actually pre-orders items from Bond Street stores. As we know from our own actual friends, this really doesn't apply.

Ergo, in fashion, there are a number of accepted, but on-the-DL routes to obtaining your dream wardrobe. You might know someone who knows someone at a PR agency and manage to get gifted, or a discount. You might rigorously shop the sales in high street shops and know which branch of which store is likely to have the exact piece in your size - normally somewhere unexpected like Canary Wharf or Richmond. You might scour eBay for items and get your bidding strategy sharpened up. Or, you might get into the world of sample sales and buy a combination of statement and staple pieces. A warning though, if you have to queue for a sample sale as I was asked to do today, walk away: a queue means that already too many people know about it, and all the best stuff will have gone to that exchange student who got up at 6am with Daddy's credit card to bag all the best stuff. And also, queuing for clothes is so *desperate* darling.

Or, you might (and here's where we come to the title), educate yourself about factory shops and outlets. Bicester Village is one such place, and indeed is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the UK for Chinese visitors. This weekend, I paid another visit to the burgeoning Hackney Fashion Hub, as it's been dubbed, and I came away with mixed feelings.

There's Aquascutum, Pringle, Bally, Anya Hindmarch, and of course Burberry (which was heaving), as well as a brand new Joseph outlet. We went to have a look for a coat for my Dad, which turned out to be an excellent idea since he's slightly larger than average, and those are the sizes that end up in these kind of places. Joseph was exceptionally well-stocked: Lanvin, Trussardi, McQueen, Comme, Dior...all sorts of top quality merch at somewhere between 60 and 80% off. I kept doing this stupid little fashiony gasp when I looked at the labels, deeply irritating my parents with repeated exclamations about 'how AMARZING the prices were for these pieces'. Sorry, Mum & Dad. Anyway, best thing I found was the Junya for Comme suede patchwork jacket that's at the top of this piece. Down from £2100 to £650 (and my size). Sadly I don't have £650, but that's a pretty good saving for a truly statement trans-seasonal piece that'll last for years and become a future classic.

What made me more uneasy is what this means for Hackney. As we know, the irrepressible march of gentrification has claimed a good part of East London and is the reason that I will probably never be able to afford to buy a house in the Capital. It's the reason that crime is down and some of my friends have made £200k on their houses in 2 years. It's the reason that areas that used to be deprived and stab-ridden are now habitable. Gentrification has so many plus and minus points...I'm not going to go into it here. But the new Hackney Fashion Hub is a case in point: transforming a once-no-go area of East London into a hub for designer shopping. The (already-approved) plan involves reclaiming the arches under the overground from light local industry, and demolishing some old terrace houses and a pub to make way for two glass towers and a huge number of retail units.

Yes, this'll surely bring jobs into the area, and trickledown into the local economy, but it's hardly characterful. Having seen the rapid rise of Broadway market from local street just 20 years ago to the yuppie £13-loaf-of-bread promenade that it is now (and playing my own small part in that too), I...well, I don't know. Is this progress? Is it the future? Is it (without wanting to sound *too* Kevin McCloud) better? A relentless rise of these kind of places, that are so blatantly not for locals that it's basically the rule now that anyone who looks vaguely Chinese in Hackney will either be looking for or coming from the Burberry outlet.

It's an integral part of fashion: the global supply chain, and the way things are made that you at least have to be aware of, whatever your opinion on how the wealth is distributed.

But I'm torn. There's no right answer. And the march of progress is tough to deal with. But the one thing is for sure, there is a price to pay for these kind of bargains, wherever you buy them.

Monday 24 November 2014

The Staple: A Fresh Challenge

I do not wear shirts. Since being forced to iron them for school some years ago, and then forced to wear them while working at a job I despised in the City, I've been off the collar and cuffs look. Aside from weddings, funerals, posh parties, interviews and the occasional fashion week, they hang forlornly in my wardrobe, complementing the colour-coded system, but never used.

Wearing a tie is just not for me (hence my hilarious attempts to be sartorial in the recent Hackett #10Men1City campaign). I loathe ironing shirts. The air tie (or as one friend once commented many years ago "the emperor's new clothes of styling") thing is just not me. Above all, I am not good with authority (if my last post wasn't clear enough), and kowtowing to the shirted authority is something I have, in my own small way, attempted to rebel against.

However, I also realise that this may sound a little childish. I am lucky enough to own quite a few rather nice shirts from posho places like Prada, Miu Miu, Paul & Joe and Liberty. Somehow I even have a custom-made one from Savile Row's Norton & Sons. Strange for an eschewer of the form.

When I rebooted this blog a couple of months ago, I posted the following onto Facebook: "It's been a while but I'm kinda bringing The Staple back! Ish. Still working out what I might do with it... suggestions/ criticism/ LOLZ welcome".

Brilliantly, one of my friends loves this sort of thing. Catherine Sweeney is a woman I have known since I was about nine years old, and she's a part of my awesome group of nine of us that are still fantastic friends since school. Probably, in fact, my most important friends in the world - even though I don't see them that often. Ms Sweeney though, loves an adventure, and a challenge (and is currently in Kenya, sporadically - and BRILLIANTLY - blogging at Twendevso), so she read this as a challenge. Luckily for me, she didn't really set any parameters, so I'm setting them for myself.

So, I'm going take her up on the challenge, and start wearing shirts again. It might not sound like a big thing to anyone that doesn't know me, but to those that do: when was the last time you saw me in a shirt?! Anyway, I've just counted in my wardrobe, and I have 20 - though the spangly Prada one may have to wait. The aim will be to wear a different shirt every week, and see how it goes. Will I become a committed shirt-wearer, or leave them gladly behind? Will anyone aside from Catherine care?

Don't worry btw, this isn't for charity (I'm more of a believer in giving money regularly to charity); there's no participation required. I'm going to do a thing, and then write about it. Hopefully it'll be vaguely interesting...

A disclaimer: Apologies if you find this deathly dull. I'm sure there's plenty happening on Buzzfeed.

Tuesday 18 November 2014

The Staple: Mastering the Dark Arts* (of eBay)

Over the summer, I became a bit of an eBay addict. Nothing too serious, but like most people in fashion, I try and seek out something different to what everyone else is wearing. And like most people in fashion, eBay is my chosen arena for this search.

Now that vintage shops, and even charity shops, are basically the same price as Topman, and the high street's enormous turnover of cheaply-made garments aren't becoming less appealing for anyone looking for interesting clothes, it seems like the forum for buying good quality second-hand clothing at a reasonable price is rather necessary. In the same way that I wouldn't advise anyone buying nice second-hand furniture to buy it at a fancy boutique in any London area with 'Village' in its name, buying top quality vintage fashion in the capital is riddled with issues, namely price and quality.

On the other side, there's a delicious ease to eBay, and a simple naivete to it. Like Twitter, the listings process is a great leveller, equating Balenciaga couture with a pair of old H&M socks, and leaving it to anyone with a bit of nous to truffle out the prizes. And usually it'll be Mr Fury, um furiously, bidding on the couture, so watch out - he's a formidable buyer.

Does it take a bit of time? Well yes. But then so does going to the shops. Also, I can't go to the shops under my duvet, or at 2am. Is there a possibility that you might buy a fake? Well, yes, but like buying a stolen bike on Gumtree, it's pretty obvious once you've looked for more then ten minutes. If you know which labels to look out for then you'll be OK (top tip #1: cult boutiques and smaller labels; if they a massive catwalk show/perfume line/enormous shop on Bond St then you'll be wading through piles of crap). Is it a bit annoying sometimes? Well yes, but that just makes the wins all the sweeter.

But what to buy? It's the same as when that flashing cursor of Google blinks and all of human knowledge is at your fingertips: start with something you know and love. My latest bargain is right there at the top of this post: a pair of Strawberry Thief Liberty print Vans in exactly my size, purchased just the other week, at half the retail price. I tried on the ones they had in Liberty a few weeks ago, but the sizing wasn't quite right, and sixty quid for canvas daps is a bit steep. Cue eBay - these ones are from a few seasons ago, but in this much jollier print, and crucially for me, a UK 10.5. Apparently that's my size, I've been getting it wrong for years.

Anyway, a drunken bid (top tip #2: booze helps all purchases - eBay or not, as we saw from my recent Neil Barrett purchase) secured them for a perfectly reasonable price, and they arrived a few days later. Admittedly the box was knackered, but tbh they've barely been off my feet. Florals for winter - groundbreaking apparently. Just spray them with some sort of protector like the woefully-names but very effective Crep Protect and you'll be AOK.

A warning: like Tinder, eBay is a dangerously addictive way of spending time and money. With an app on your phone, a bit of booze and a few quid in your Paypal account, you can rapidly become obsessed with it. I'm gutted to have missed out on a few items recently (an Aquascutum camel cashmere parka and an Antipodium T back from the days when they did menswear), but this is only fuelling the fire of more purchasing.

There are of course pitfalls to avoid, and ways of scoring that bargain last-minute, but this isn't a blow-by-blow how-to guide. Dive in, make some mistakes and buy something inappropriate, it's *such fun*, I promise.

* why a 'Dark Art', you might ask? Well, eBay is very much the fashion insider's secret, like the Chiswick car boot sale (apparently). Everyone's at it, but no-one talks about it. If someone in fashion tells you they've never used it, eye them suspiciously and quiz them on the names of the staff on the second floor of DSM where that Limited Edition Alaia utility came from, and watch them crumble.

Wednesday 29 October 2014

The Staple: Stighlorgan and the Brilliant Backpack

Over the summer, I was doing a bit of 'brand consulting' and 'content strategy' for a few different places. You know, the kind of things you can't really describe without sounding like a total wanker. The kind of work that you do at 2pm on a smashed macbook while sipping a flat white in a trendy Hackney coffee shop. Before cycling home.

Yes, it was a cliche filler for sure, but it was also a bit of a confidence-booster. Working freelance isn't all that bad, in fact it can be great (when people 'remember' to pay their invoices). The place that I worked at consistently was Irish accessories brand Stighlorgan.

Run by Yvonne and Christian, the brand is all about taking traditional techniques and materials and giving them a unique spin. Not only that, but the way they put collections together is fascinating: they start with a few outline ideas for the season, then fire these over to one of their mates (a fantastically creative writer named Davin Gaffney), and then he sends back a short piece of writing that is then transmogrified into an entire range. It results in a line of products that are more than just bags and hats; they are the embodiment of the people that run the brand and the way they run it.

On to a bit of product. I've had this Driscoll bag for a good few years now, and in that time it gets more comments that pretty much anything else I own. It's a srsly simple design idea, but difficult to pull off without a sharp eye for detail and a strong knowledge of craft. Harking back to drawstring bags from the '90s (JJB Sports anyone?), it's a classic design, reworked in thick bridle leather with rope shoulder straps and some slick zip pocket details both inside and at the bottom, as well as subtle oversize embossed logo on the front. Over the time I've had it, the leather has softened and taken on a gorgeous patina, and since I started my new job, I've worn this every day. Basically, it's bloody awesome.

It's characteristic of the way Stighlorgan works. While these guys have an eye firmly on commerce, they're also very careful about the way they do things: reworking the entire range every season for example, isn't really necessary, but that's the way they want to do it. I find this approach very appealing, and the designs that Christian comes up with every season are SO on point. He's created the kind of brand that is consistently a few seasons ahead of everyone else. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but incredibly I've not seen anywhere else that's managed a copy of the Driscoll.

Anyway, I appeared at Stighlorgan at the start of the summer, and since then, these two have launched a new season, taken on new clients, moved studios and opened their own standalone retail store in Dalston, with all of the rollercoaster ride that this entails. They are some of the most lovely people I know, and not to sound sycophantic, properly inspiring. They also love a drink, which always helps matters, I find.

Anyway, I'm thrilled to say that the SLG Store is opening tomorrow (Thursday 30th) at 1 Stoke Newington High Street, in a space that's been bespoke-designed by Christian, and built with love over the last few months. Stocking a range of brands alongside their backpacks, it's a beautiful place and sure to become a bit of a destination for discerning shoppers, design lovers, and most importantly of all, prospective new friends, in coming months and years.

Proof, if it were needed, that good things come to great people. Now on with the booze!

A quick postscript: While I did love my old Sandqvist, two things. 1) they're now everywhere (ew), and 2) it broke. None of that with these guys...

(With apologies (um, again) for terrible photo, there are much better ones on the site)