Friday, 24 April 2009

The Staple - Sunday Shop

Happy Shopper

Whenever it all gets a bit much, there’s nothing that will give me a temporary buzz like having a look around the shops, and picking up something I probably didn’t need, but quite fancied the look of. Last Sunday, after receiving some bad news, I was perilously close to moping about in my kitchen, so decided to get on my bike and meander into town. Following my favourite route (through Soho to Liberty, Conduit Street to Bstore, then on to Selfridges via South Molton St) by bike was a novelty, but I didn’t let the bike stop me actually buying anything. I’d had my Liberty biannual loyalty voucher through in the post, and promptly spent it on making another Acne tshirt that little but cheaper. Purchase made, I decided to head to the new Marc by Marc Jacobs store on South Audley Street in Mayfair. Having never ventured that far into the heart of old money before, I had no idea where it was, but a few wrong turns away from Berkeley Square and I was there. And what a discovery – the acid-bright tshirts are the same price as American Apparel’s finest (aka a tenner), with a little rodent logo on the front. Graphic tshirts were 25 quid, and there were all manner of accessories from a few pounds upwards; seems like Marc was listening to my post of Luxury during a Recession. Definitely a way to momentary joy. It looks like they’ve got the full MxMJ range, as well as books, CDs and DVDs. I bought a purple tshirt and it was lovingly packed in a stiff paper bag; I’ll definitely be going back for birthday presents and the like – and will continue my exploration of Mayfair as well. Apparently Mount Street is amazing. I ambled up to Selfridges to check out the Uniqlo concession, and promptly bought one of the simple white photographic tshirts from their UT collection. Wuith purchases completed, and hanging fetchingly off the handlebars, I headed off to Regent’s Park to play some Frisbee and have a drink, my Sunday much improved, my wallet only very slightly lighter, but my wardrobe much-enhanced. What a lovely Sunday. Other Staples this week:
Inexpensive but lovely retail pick-me-ups
Gok’s Fashion Fix (he is amazing)
Ultimate Frisbee in the park
The film 'Let The Right One In'
Hot buttered crumpets
Kylie Minogue's 'Wow' (a good start to any day)
Camden Crawl this weekend

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

The Staple - Racing Bike

I Want to Ride my Bicycle

Since the beginning of this blog, I've talked about cycling. In Paris, the fashion, the details and courier culture have been a bit of a theme with me, and it's only natural that I've been cycling quite a bit myself since last year. I borrowed my brilliant mate Ross' spare mountain bike for getting around town. And it really taught me how lovely it it to cycle around. Free exercise, free travel and free from other people getting in the way (mostly). But still, I got serious bike envy: Ross has had some gorgeous racing bikes, both old and new; I've seen beautiful Dutch-style bikes, admired the pared-back fixie simplicity and loved some of the vintage racing bikes I've seen around town. I knew that back at my parents house we had an old Peugeot which would be perfect for whizzing around town, and I was finally able to bring it down last weekend, after spending a day sanding, polishing, oiling and buffing it. And doesn't it look great? It's originally a racing bike, but it's been fitted with chrome mudguards and a rear luggage rack; it's also got gears rather than being fixed or single-speed, which makes the (surprisingly numerous) small hills much more manageable. The tyres are wider road tyres rather than the slimmer racing ones, which provide more grip and absorb the many potholes in the roads better. I'm going to change the saddle and handlebars (any ideas on colours?), and get a basket to fit to the back so I can just chuck my bag into it, rather than lug it about on my back. I freely admit that this is more of a runaround than a style-bike; hopefully, once I get myself into the routine, I'll be cycling to work and avoiding buying an Oyster travelcard at all. But I'm not going to take it too seriously. For now, my bike's taking me on shopping trips to Liberty (the handlebars hold a surprising number of bags!), errands around town, the supermarket and the park. Maybe next week I'll get myself down to work. For now, I'm just loving the ability to get on my bike and get somewhere fast, free and a little out of breath. Other Staples this week:
Cycling around town
Having a bit of a DIY Moment; Cleaning windows, building a greenhouse etc
A refreshing pint of cider on a warm day
Lounge Bohemia's brilliant cocktails
Record Store Day, and Graham Coxon's new prog-esque direction
Climbing Crinkle Crags in the Lake District on a gorgeous day
Leftover Easter chocolate from a long weekend at home

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

The Staple - Summer Bag

Bagging a Bargain

I think it's fair to say that my APC bag of a few years ago has worn well. But it's in need of a bit of mending at the shoulderstrap ends now, and as I've carried it every day (more or less) for the last 2 years could maybe do with a dryclean. Also, it's not the summeriest of bags. So having looked around at several more lightweight ones, I more or less settled on another one from APC, in practically the same design. but, I ummed and ahhed over it (EUR150 seems like so much more now the exchange rate is fucked), so I had a look at more crunch de crédit-friendly sites. Topman threw this into the mix, and after a quick in-and-out to Oxford Circus, it was mine, for the much more friendly sum of £18. And it's good. Much complimented, it's bigger than the APC, and what it lacks in stiffness of material, it makes up for in size, and usefully, waterproof-ish interior. I even managed to use it as a weekend bag for a quick trip out of town last weekend. All was perfect, in fact, until I was given massive bag envy when chatting to a mate online who'd just bought a gorgeous new Mulberry bag. I checked the site, and immediately fell for both this and this, the second of which I believe is the one on the ad campaign. So whilst glad I'd saved £130, I now want to spend more than double that on a satchel. It's like when you're out and you see someone wearing just slightly better versions of what you've got on - slightly better-shaped shoes, a subtly better-cut shirt, a better-patterned scarf. I simultaneously love and hate the 'Version 2.0' man; Inspiring and something to aspire to, but alas will probably break the bank. One day I shall have Mulberry on top of my cake, but today, Topman will have to do. Other Staples of the week:
A new summer bag from Topman
Lovely short weekend spent in Cheltenham; Thanks Olly!
Finally getting a haircut
Glass Candy playing Koko in June
The Counting House pub on Cornhill (but ONLY during the day)
Mon Mome winning the Grand National (= me winning the office sweepstake)
Summer footwear contemplation

Thursday, 2 April 2009

The Staple - Acne Jeans

This Could be Denim for Everyone

Back on track, hopefully. March was an oddly fruitful month for purchases, but best of all, and very much needed, was a new pair of jeans. After posting about these way back in January (I think), I managed to bag a new pair of Acne denims, from the label which is fast becoming one of my Staples, Moc Raw in the delicious indigo denim that you see above. I've worn them pretty incessantly since receiving them a couple of weeks ago, and they are fantastic. Quite stiff, but exceptionally comfortable, and so well-made that they could well be making an appearance at the British Museum (or the Swedish Museum even) in a few thousand years. I bought a pair a little too large for me, to account for shrinkage when, eventually they get washed. Looking at the washing instructions, this may not be for a few months, or ever if I follow the advice over at Oki-Ni. They're also brilliantly long, so I've double turned-them up and the looseness is a nice (dare I say a little more grown-up) antidote to skinny jeans (which I couldn't imagine wearing now),a nd worn with a tailored velvet jacket, or checked harrington, they look pretty damn good. Aside from avoiding 'white clothed people and furniture', these jeans are totally perfect, and a worthwhile replacement to the fake Diesels from Thailand which are now well and truly 'worn-in'. Best of all, they were a bargainous £38.50 from the brilliant Daniel Jenkins, whose online shop is filled with delights from Acne, Peter Jensen, Raf Simons, YMC and other such lovely labels; I urge you to have a look. Other Staples this week:
Acne straight-legged jeans; a more relaxed silhouette
The Field Live@Berghain mix
Friday Night late at the Natural History Museum
Getting back on the bicycle
Thomas Pynchon's novel 'V'
Getting a Bestival ticket; Space-themed this year...
The Social on Little Portland Street

Stapler's Thoughts: Luxury During a Recession

Not quite sure what happened to posting in March - I got a bit obsessed with following Twitter and doing the crossword - but I'd been meaning to reply to StyleSalvage Steve's 'Luxury during a Recession' post, so here it is:
It dawned on me at the Burberry sample sale just how much luxury goods have ingrained themselves into the British consciousness. As I waited in line with my mate to pay for our jumpers and shirts (after queuing for half-an-hour to get in, rummaging through huge baskets of cashmere and flipping trenchcoat after trenchcoat, amid an atmosphere of silent, frantic competitivity), a comparison dawned on me; throngs of people in Communist Russia, lining up for hours to get a loaf of bread. It seems an odd association to have made, given the extreme Capitalist activity in which we were engaging, but it seems that for so many people, what was once a luxury (an expensive handbag, say) has now become an essential. A decade of aspirational, glossy media has demolished the traditional idea of luxury; where once a designer jumper might have been a rare privilege of the wealthy, now everyone’s got a bit of something posh in their wardrobes.
As the recession starts to bite, we see that this appetite is not sated by a lack of disposable income; conversely, it is amplified. We treat ourselves for ‘being good this week’, because it’s reduced by 80%, because it’s Friday, because we’re worth it. From a retail point of view, the massive sample sales and emptiness of stores show that 10 years of building brand loyalty with fairly rampant consumerism mean that most fashion-oriented customers already have full wardrobes, and are ‘shopping in their own closets’ rather than toting stiff paper bags or taking online deliveries. Cult stores and high-end labels will survive the squeeze (even though the Burberry sale’s two enormous floors was fairly alarming, the label itself has not tried to expand too far beyond its remit), as they offer something a little different to the sort of consumer who will go without in order to keep their wardrobes alive and full of quality, unusually-cut items; but the more vulnerable brands could fall.
Take the automotive industry as a model, where most manufacturers are under an umbrella group, less profitable branches are being sold off, effectively nationalised, or closed altogether. Even the bread-and-butter brands are having to modernise and look at a new business model. This has affected the car industry as, after housing, it’s the next most expensive thing you’ll buy. And after that? Consumer goods; food and clothes. Survival is possible for some fashion brands, but this will come one of two ways: democratisation or (more likely) reduction. Smaller brands within the LVMH or Gucci stables like Fendi, Givenchy or Jil Sander will (and in some cases have already) reduce their shows, focus more on high-profit items like accessories, and close stores; reductions ensuring the long-term survival (aka profitability) of the label. Democratisation could come from a focus on more affordable diffusion lines (look at D&G, whose prices are comparable to Reiss), or as is at the moment, massive sample and end-of-season sales, or clearance outlets like Bicester village. Can you recall the last designer item you bought full-price? The bargain-hunter approach appeals to fashion one-upmanship; invite-only sample sales and cardholder events reinforce the label’s exclusivity, and are already widespread and popular – Liberty’s 15%-off events are jam-packed.
The key to future survival is flexibility. Fashion, especially for men, is going through a period of renewed interest. LFW’s Menswear day, an explosion of menswear-specific media (both printed and online) and a resurgence in men taking care and pride in their appearance have all contributed to what amounts to a highly-profitable market as men talking about cut and fit of clothing becomes mainstream. Menswear (outside Hoxton Square) is also much less trend-led, and is primarily based on subtle differences in staple pieces like shirts and jeans. This is why shops like Bstore and Oki-Ni have done so well - catering for a man who appreciates a well-cut or unusual shirt, but isn’t showy about it. It’s the same reason that the Pineal Eye closed so quickly. Rick Owens has just opened a new store. As long as the cult brands continue to innovate whilst focusing on what made them great, they will survive.
While it is clear that something’s got to give at some stage, no-one knows what, or where it will be. No-one wants to have to adapt to a changing economic climate; neither consumerism nor the labels that feed it, but the ones that will survive successfully will be those that innovate within the fields that they already have. Look at Uniqlo, whose template of bright knitwear and simple jeans are universally popular, and with three stores on Ocxord Street alone (4 if you count the newly-opened Selfridges menswear concession). While not a luxury brand, their clothes are luxury products at an affordable price; colourful cashmere and merino are their staples.
As with the economy, the only hope is that the effects won’t be too personal or long-lasting. But fashion’s creativity will certainly be tested in the coming months, on both the design and business sides; if you still have a hankering for luxury during this recession, then get out and get some – it’s never been a better investment.