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)

Monday, 27 October 2014

Published & Damned: The Decline of the Magazine

I've made no secret over the years of my love for the form of the magazine. Hell, I even worked at one for four years (before it 'went biannual'). And I had a brilliant time: I travelled the world, was showered with gifts, was invited to events as diverse as you can imagine, ate and drank for free...

It sounds ridiculous, and for the most part it was. But please note: this money for travel and gifts and everything else doesn't come from your publication, but from an increasing number of brands with a small to sky-high marketing budget chasing a rapidly-decreasing number of journalists and publications - especially in print.

The current model of fashion media is still doggedly clinging to print publications. Everyone loves to see something in print, is what we're told, but in truth, who does it matter to? Not to the public for starters. Here's a truth that might sting, if you work in print: no-one reads magazines. Your mates don't, your parents don't, people under 25 definitely don't. It's an industry in decline, and that isn't going to change. Print publications as a mass-market means of communication are over. When was the last time you bought a magazine? When was the last time you saw someone with a daily paper that they'd paid money for? Even the Saturday/Sunday papers tradition seems only kept alive by pubs.

I don't think I'm being overly hyperbolic (and in fact, I'm happy to be put right), but the way people consume has changed. It's all about the internet. Obvs. Print magazines won't die, but I've always likened the relationship to MP3s and vinyl records: you wouldn't wander around today with a turntable in your bag would you? Everyone has an MP3 player, or more likely, a phone that plays music. But the people who love a certain band, who cherish the experience of hearing their music, will go out and buy a vinyl record. Same with magazines; but fashion (like music) is a bit of an inward-looking world, and everyone that works in it buys magazines (or rather, has them delivered to their desks), and still likes seeing shoots in glossy format. Interns devour biannuals at a voracious speed.

This decline in popularity has lead to a depressing lack of money in an industry that is supposed to be reasonably desirable: the trickledown effect being that magazines are run by posh girls who love shopping and Daddy's Platinum Amex, and interns. The resulting effect of the lack of money, is a lack of investment in the surrounding media and talent: the second-tiers of print publications are run now by mavericks with a little VC investment (or inheritance); a lack of competition means that advertisers don't spend money further down the tree - I know enormous fashion websites with readerships in seven figures that are run from kitchen tables. Great journalists and writers are following the dollar signs to the Land of Content, overflowing with rollerball pens and heavy gsm writing paper.

Anyway, without going a bit Lexi Featherstone (or moaning relentlessly about the volume of emails one has to sift through) I guess it's just a bit sad to see that the established media hasn't found a way to get around this and jumpstart the industry. The halcyon days of making whatever you want and getting paid top dollar for it are over. Writing a 20-page feature for a glossy magazine and being paid £10k just doesn't happen any more. You're lucky if someone even pays your paltry invoice these days, especially in music journalism.

Some might say that the closure of a magazine is a sad thing, but really, it's an inevitability - they were never meant to last forever. It's the medium that I'll miss; the idea that you could turn a page and have no idea what's coming - a hugely powerful trope in a mass-market product. As my old Editor once memorably put it: "A magazine is a storage space for dynamite; and we want ours to blow your face off."

Don't get me wrong. There are still great opportunities to make content and tell great stories (I'm working in one such place now, in fact). You could start a blog, work with your mates, start a niche's not hard. Build your voice on social media, speak what you believe to be the truth, read (for God's sake READ!), write some words somewhere, and who knows, you could be the next Suroosh Alvi or Shane Smith - seemingly Vice is the last hope for some sort of future to the media, and I can't imagine having typed that a few years ago.

I guess what I'm most sad about is the changing idea of telling a great story, and telling it with words, really well. So many fashion writers are so bad at using a keyboard (not that I'm Proust, but at least my sentences are vaguely grammatically correct), which I find to be a huge shame: there are so many fantastic stories in the fashion industry that are just waiting to be well-told.

But I'm going to end on a positive note (and try to get this one put to bed).

First, remember that as long as those sky-high marketing budgets are there, there's always a way to get your words read.

To conclude (and continuing the musical analogy): all the best music has come from tiny, unknown scenes; repressed people, searching for a way to do things their own way. Look at disco, or acid house, or techno. Perhaps this switch in writing culture, driving the best writers away from established channels, away from the old structures of work and supporting themselves will drive a revolution in people writing great stories, putting great words in unusual sequences and making thrilling narratives, just because they want to.

Monday, 20 October 2014

The Staple: Sugar-Coated Iceberg

Apologies in advance for the Lightning Seeds reference - I'm sure you'll get over it though (aside: CHRIST, that song is nearly 20 years old.) It's a terrible reference to coats, and thank the Lord, one that avoids talking about a change of seasons. #copywriterproblems

Anyway, I seem to have developed an obsession with coats of late; partly because, well, why the fuck not, and partly because of my summer-fuelled eBay addiction. It started off (like all good addictions) with a bit of fun, and has of late turned into a proper compulsion; I'm constantly searching for some really good menswear pieces from brands like Cacharel, Wooyoungmi, Carven, APC (of course) and vintage Helmut Lang and B Store. And there's plenty to be had, at a pretty reasonable price. A month or so ago, I managed to pick up an old B Store raglan-sleeve coat for £15, which was a bit of a steal.

Anyway, I digress. After a late-night booze-fuelled trawl of the Neil Barrett stream on eBay (tip: NEVER do this), I decided that bidding a not inconsiderable, but just about bearable amount on a short, DB camel peacoat was a superb idea. Also, I'm newly employed, so obvs had to treat myself. And I'm SO glad I did - this piece was a runway piece from AW13, and appaz retailed for in excess of $1200 originally, so it was a total bargain. And it is EXQUISITELY made; all stiff wool lapels and beautifully-lined interior. It's also bloody warm which is nice on the freezing overground platforms of east London. There's something rather pleasant about a coat like this: it is clearly beautifully-tailored and constructed, and you feel that every time you put it on. For significantly less the price of a wool & leather-look jacket from Topman, I've got a proper, made in Italy, piece of craftsmanship. Long live my eBay addiction, right (currently bidding on an Aquascutum cashmere parka - OMGZ, right?)

My other coat acquisition comes from Stone Island - the other end of Italian outerwear. This was, I am incredibly lucky to say, a gift for working with the brand and their fab PR agency 4M over many years at Notion (they got their fair share of coverage), and I was invited to pick something out in-store (yes, clearly missing some parts of being a magazine-hack). Cobalt blue has always been one of my favourite colours, and in this classic windbreaker shape, it's a lovely bit of bright on the overground. It's featherweight, beautifully-tailored (with narrow arms) and makes me walk with a weird kind of lad-swagger. I'm obvs such a terrace hooligan IRL, though I'm not sure it sits well with listening to Annie on repeat on my iPhone. I'm actually after a nice pair of Adidas Gazelles to complete the look, after seeing some look fabulous at the Richard Nicoll SS15 show in June (OMG ALERT: 4 days of LCM in Jan!)

Anyway, I have much-digressed. The great thing about these two coats is that they are both fantastically-made, fit brilliantly, and cost about the same as a run-of-the-mill high street winter jacket (OK the Stoney was a gift, but you can pick them up for about that much on eeBs). It just proves that with a little research and a well-timed drink/bid, there's stuff out there that will really elevate your wardrobe from the masses. And make you feel great at the same time. Cos that's one of the most important things about buying great statement pieces, right? Especially when you wrap yourself into a winter coat? You want to feel great.

(With apologies for the photos: I'm a Wordsmith, not a photographer, so these cheesy shots in my hall mirror, nicked from Instagram, will have to do. Plenty more baking, mirror shots and embarrassing moments there if you need a laugh.)

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The Staple: Proper Fashion Telly

So it seemed that the BBC actually made an effort to do some proper fashion TV around this season's LFW. There was a triplet of short docs on BBC4, hosted by Susie Lau, Abbey Clancy and Daisy Lowe, they were variously entertaining (intelligent, fun and pretty pointless, respectively), but it also seemed to catapult someone in the backend of iPlayer- longing for the much-vaunted return of The Clothes Show, perhaps - to dig around in the Beeb's archives and pull out a number of old-school documentaries on fashion.

Entitled the Art of Fashion collection, it's not only a really fascinating selection of programmes, but a window on how documentaries used to be made, before the advent of event telly and overbearing, omniscient, dramatic Big Brother-style narrators. My favourite was an episode of 'Ex-S' (a long-running Scottish documentary series akin to Arena) called Styling the Swan which explored Jasper Conran's attempt to costume design a version of Swan Lake, back in 1995. Presented without knowind comment or celebrity voiceover, the whole thing is a simple set of montages with Conran talking us through what's going on; there's a deliciously simple pace to it. It's not been through several rounds of Director approval; it doesn't have a social media strategy or a hashtag; there's no tacked-on 'mission'; it's not really even all that sensational. It's just a film crew following a creative guy as he wrestles with a creative problem.

And stripping all of this away (or rather before all of this was bolted onto documentaries), it's much more freeing, intimate and intelligent as a result. Maybe that's how telly was before the internet, maybe there was much more of an emphasis on showing without judging, but this simple and clean format is endlessly appealing for telling a story. In keeping the format and filming style as simple as possible, the entire focus is on the story, and crucially, on the costumes themselves; the camera is allowed to linger on details and slot in breaks for the digestion of ideas. It felt at times like a documentary from the future: when attention spans were elongated. I hope someone, somewhere, with commissioning powers watches it, and takes some notes.

The joy of this for me was both the format, and the way it allowed Conran's ideas to breathe. Looking in detail at the costumes, the problems they presented, and the way the designer got around them was hugely interesting. It kind of reminded me of Grand Designs tbh, and that can only be a good thing.

It also reminded me that there's so little good fashion telly, especially on YouTube. A very good friend of mine who is now running a fairly powerful video company was asking me if there were any and I drew a blank. I've sought a number of times a credible, intelligent fashion vlogger (especially in menswear), and they just don't seem to exist. Surely someone (*not me*) is going to take this slot - it seems too good not to, right?

Anyway, there's a few still on iPlayer (apparently for a year!) so if you're looking for a distraction, I can highly recommend. Oooh or the Julien Macdonald one! Back when he was relevant (post his days at Chanel, pre-Strictly), there are some great PTCs of him talking about how he got to where he was and how he put on a show (in Spitalfields! In 1997!), but the best bits are his parents and sisters sitting around on a dralon lounge suite, giggling about "how we knew he was diff-rent".

It's fashion televisual gold. And when was the last time you could say that?

Monday, 6 October 2014

The Staple: Spray It Again, Sam

The thing with grooming products is that, as we all know deep down, they are shameless cash cows. Flavoured waters and scented creams in shiny boxes are the mainstay of most of the big fashion houses now, offering more profit per unit than a custom-detailed jacket could ever hope to. It could be seen as sad, but really it works: you buy into a brand at a fraction of the cost of a dress, you feel great, brand makes money. All good, right?

I'm as guilty as anyone else of spending £25 on a tube of face moisturiser: sometimes you know it's wrong, even at the overly-perfumed duty free desks of doom, but you get involved anyway. There's something of the treat to great grooming products, especially those that work perfectly with your skin.

Thing is though, there are limits. Some time ago, after a fabulously indulgent haircut, I purchased an expensive bottle of salt hair texturing spray, thinking it was some hugely complex concoction. High on hair putty and great beards (as is the norm after a haircut anywhere in a postcode beginning with 'E'), I swished home and had a look at my bottle of magic. Ingredients: water, sea salt, and lavender oil. Price £16.

I'm not normally one to complain about the pricing of luxury goods, but £16 for some salty water was a step too far, and though it was a great product, I decided that, to teach myself a lesson, I'd mix my own. I mean, how hard can it be?

Turns out it's easy as pie, so for the last few years, that's exactly what I've done. And here's how you too can do it at home - it's *really* not rocket science. Get an empty spray bottle from Boots, or use an old one from an expensive bottle of hair product that you were duped into buying. Measure out some hot water from the tap into a jug, add plenty of salt - it's amazing how much will hang in suspension in the liquid - and stir vigourously. Find an old perfume tester, or use some drops of your current fragrance, or mix up some essential oils, or bath oil, or face oil - hell you could even add coconut oil - and put a few drops in to add a bit of fragrance and oil to the mixture. Mix well, et voila. Total cost of hair spray: can't be more than about 10p.

Spray on liberally before styling or blowdrying and Bob is indeed your mother's brother. Think about how much money you've saved, and then splurge it on eBay. Repeat daily.

Rarely has Saxa been chicer.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

What menswear can learn from womenswear (maybe)

So SS15’s fashion shows have finally come to an end, with Paris’ stragglers ending yesterday. Slightly outside of the magazine world, it’s hard to believe that it went on for so long – how can an entire industry take two collective months a year to view new product? It seems like an age since I took my Mum to a few shows at LFW.

Anyway - while the fashion elite are in recovery (and the rest of the industry gears up for the torrent of press days, launches and industry tradeshows), it’s time for observers to pull together overarching ‘think pieces’ on ‘trends’.

I know I said just last week that I wasn’t going to look at broad brushstrokes, but I’m contradicting myself: the joy of being in charge and all that. I’m going to try and look at womenswear from a menswear perspective: what can menswear designers learn (if anything) from the way womenswear was presented?

I’ve often said that menswear and womenswear are totally different industries. Like live telly and on-demand (or DVD and film), they are two separate industries with different consumers, different habits, different approaches, different teams, different marketing campaigns etc etc, united solely by a single medium: in this case, clothes.

Actually. That’s not strictly true. They’re also united in the way in which the clothes are presented: catwalks and presentations. One thing that really stood out about this season’s shows was the sense of spectacle and occasion that the shows – particularly the Paris shows – had.

Karl Lagerfeld ‘s Chanel is the obvious proponent of this here. You don’t need me to tell you how much of a shift in ideas that the Chanel supermarket was for AW14. SS15’s dubiously-motivated ‘feminist’ ‘demonstration’ (‘inspired by May ‘68’, I mean, c'mon!) was all about the sense of occasion – or more cynically, the Instagram moment. Bailey’s Burberry might have had all the digital bells and whistles, but Chanel trended much more successfully by putting on a proper spectacle.

Back in the day designers like Galliano and McQueen used their clothes to evoke a sense of drama. This season though saw a micro-trend of fresh takes on presenting clothes: Opening Ceremony’s Spike Jonze-scripted play at NYFW, for example; or Gareth Pugh’s beautiful balletic drama (in collab with, bizarrely, Lexus); or even Meadham Kirchhoff’s tampon-adorned tree installations.

Though OC’s show was devoid of cameras (and let’s be honest, designers have played with subverting the catwalk format for years), it seems like this reworking of a clothing presentation is mostly about creating a social media ‘moment’: giving a seasonal shove to a more established brand that brings them back to the forefront. Rick Owens did a great job of this with the step-dancers for SS14’s ‘Vicious’ collection.

But would January’s menswear shows benefit from these bells and whistles? Not yet. But I reckon designers would do well to keep the idea in the back of their minds. Creating a moment that defines the brand has worked for someone like Craig Green, and as the world’s Instagram users get used to regular floods of catwalk images (aside: please no more fuzzy finale videos), they need the occasional shot of something different to punctuate those shots.

In the age of Instagram, shows are no longer just for buyers or top press; they are the first way that a designer’s clothes are presented to the world, so you want to make the most noise. Shows cost so much money…etc etc; you get what I’m saying.

The way that fashion weeks work has been revolutionised over the last five years. So why not change the way that designers show their clothes? I expect some designers are already plotting some exciting things for the men’s shows in January.