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Trend of the Week: British Suits

June 29, 2013

I typically ignore the New York Times‘ “On the Runway” fashion reporting.  It’s not that I’m not interested in fashion, both personally and as a cultural phenomenon, but rather that articles about fashion shows and other events in the world of haute couture are so abstruse, they might as well be business section news about “On I.P.O, CDW to Fall Short of Boom-Era Valuation” or “S.E.C. to Vote on Proposal to Overhaul Money Funds.”  They might as well be about the N.B.A. draft.  Fashion reporters say things like “there was a bilge of chore jackets” and “Wherever Mr. Jones goes, he never loses sight of Vuitton’s sensibility….What Mr. Jones managed to reserve from the distilled American elements was a casual attitude.”   While conventional trend pieces strain too hard for relevance, high-fashion trend pieces take place in a rarefied world of tastemakers we’ve never heard of and cultural watersheds that have utterly failed to have any effect on us.  But it’s time to get over this aversion.  It’s time to learn what an honest-to-God fashion trend looks like, courtesy of Suzy Menkes’s “In London, All Hail the Suit.”

“Windsor, England — Elton John had the word for members of the Irish boy band who were playing their hearts out during a private dinner at the music star’s Windsor home.”  When your article is about something abstract, like a trend, it’s always best to open in the midst of an exciting event that will grab the reader’s attention and create suspense, like a celebrity having a word.  I’m not sure Elton John should be commenting on the members of Irish boys, laconically or otherwise, but fine…what did he say?

“‘Fantastic’ was the Elton verdict on the Strypes, first scouted on a London street in their Topman suits and Hush Puppies shoes.”  What was a London street doing in their Topman suits and Hush Puppies shoes?   “You might call the rhythm and blues band a reincarnation of the Beatles — except that this Fab Four, which got together in Cavan, Ireland, when they were all 12 years old, are still only just nudging 16.”  And except for the fact that two original members of the Beatles are still alive.  For this band to be a reincarnation of the Beatles, Buddhism would have to be real, and there would have to be a wormhole in the space-time continuum.  They do wear suits kind of like the Beatles (and every other early 60′s band), but they’re only 16, which makes them more like a reincarnation of Herman’s Hermits.  For all the lip service fashion writers pay to the sublime interpenetrating inspiration of rock music and fashion, it is rare to find one who has heard of a British Invasion band other than the Beatles, or a punk band other than the Sex Pistols. I mean, who do you think this woman is, a reincarnation of someone who listens to music?

“The boy band’s clothes would have made an impression at the opening event of London Collections: Men.”   They weren’t there, but thought experiments can be very revealing.  “…just as their music, gleaned without a single lesson by watching bands on YouTube, was so powerful that fashion’s top brass turned the Elton John dining hall into a dance floor.”  Approximately zero percent of musicians in rock ‘n’ roll history have “gleaned their music” (or, for that matter, learned to play their instruments) by taking lessons.  It is, however, a testament to the power of their informally-gleaned music that it inspired fashion’s top brass to turn the Elton John dining room into a dance floor…by dancing on it.  Of all the ways to turn a non-dance floor (such as an Elton John dining room, an Uma Thurman carport, a Peyton Manning billiard room, an Engelbert Humperdinck rotunda or a Jaleel White solarium), that one is the best.

“Like the Beatles, the look of the Strypes is youthful tailoring.”  Tailoring isn’t really so much a “look” as a method of attaching pieces of fabric to one another in such a way as to form articles of clothing. It’s like saying that Momofuku’s style of cuisine is cooking the food, or that Frank Lloyd Wright’s style of architecture is constructing buildings out of wood.  It would be truly remarkable if a bunch of 16-year-olds managed to pull off an “elderly tailoring” look…never mind, no it wouldn’t.  I don’t want to give the Styles section any ideas.  “Fred Mertz, Fashion Icon? Bushwick Embraces Geriatric Chic.”

fred-mertz

Picture this, but on a cheesemonger in Portland.

“All hail a new generation that loves a suit!”  It’s going to be a real game changer, to see suits as a symbol of male power and prestige.  Right now, no one ever wears suits to important business meetings, and they’re only featured on the cover of GQ and Esquire 11 times a year.  The Times heralds the “return of the suit” so often, you’d almost think it never went away, but maybe their understanding of demographics is more sophisticated than mine, and each year brings forth a new micro-generation that harbors diametrically opposing suit emotions to the one before.

“In only their third season, the London men’s wear shows, inspired by Dylan Jones, editor in chief of GQ magazine in Britain, showed the cut and thrust of a digitally savvy generation in clothes for spring/summer 2014.”  I…hmmm.  What is going on here?  This reminds me of the struggles I had with some of Manohla Dargis’s knottier sentences, but I think I can translate it into English.  The generation (the suit-wearing 16-year-olds, presumably) is digitally savvy… their cut and thrust was (were?) shown, not by them, but by the London menswear shows, which are in their third season, and which were inspired by Dylan Jones, who is the editor in chief of British GQ; the manner in which they/it (the cut and thrust [of the digitally savvy generation]) was/were demonstrated was via articles of wearing apparel belonging to the spring/summer 2014 collections, which were modeled at the London menswear shows {see above}.  Well, why didn’t you just say so?

“Kay Kwok is a designer trained at London College of Fashion….  When he decided to juice up his flat tunic shapes, oversize sweaters and gray, black and white palette, it was with prints that spiralled dizzily in vivid colors.”  Why does this start out with “when he decided to juice up his flat tunic shapes,” as if everyone already knew that Dylan Jones had resolved to do this, and were only waiting to hear in what manner he had decided to proceed?  Was there a previous installment of this narrative that ended with a tunic-based cliffhanger?  Anyhow, if you have a shape that simply must be juiced up, I recommend doing so with prints and colors.  If you use other shapes, you haven’t so much juiced up the original shape as created a different shape altogether, and if you use actual juice, your tunics will attract ants.

“They sent a rainbow of pattern across the body, with the curves countering the digitally cut Neoprene.” I usually think of “countering” as something one does in an intense philosophical debate.  I wasn’t aware that curves and digitally cut Neoprene were engaged in some sort of eternal battle for aesthetico-rhetorical dominance.  “Even if there was a touch of the straight shapes of the designer J.W. Anderson, it was a striking show.”  See, this is why I hate runway reviews.  I can’t tell if this is a poorly worded sentence, or some sort of covert zing directed at J.W. Anderson. J.W. Anderson could be tearing his hair out with fury/despair over being dissed, and the rest of the world would never know.

Apparently this is what J.W. Anderson's designs look like, so you tell me if it's striking.

Apparently this is what J.W. Anderson’s designs look like, so you tell me if it’s striking.

These shapes don't look very straight.

These shapes don’t look very straight.

“The light padding of Neoprene or the surface texture of raised dots gave the streamlined clothes more depth.”  Literally, I think, by making them thicker.  Or maybe it’s a metaphor, and the dots made them work aesthetically on more levels.  Maybe both.  I have literally never heard of Neoprene before in my life; why is it suddenly being brought up in every paragraph like it’s the Lena Dunham of textiles?   “And if this sportswear, with a rose exploding across a bomber jacket or different shades bleeding across a zippered top, had not shouted ‘digital,’ Mr. Saunders ran a constant loop of images displaying the colors and shapes that had inspired him.”  Now I’m confused again.  The whole “if this sportswear…had not” phrasing had me expecting this entire sentence to take place in a fictional parallel world where Saunders’ sportswear did not shout ‘digital,’ but instead, it takes place in our ordinary quotidian world of digital shouting, looping images, exploding roses and bleeding shades.

“Are the Strypes going to go for Topman’s ‘Techno Cowboys’?”   I’m starting to wonder if the Strypes are really germane to any of this.  Frankly, we might all be better off if they had never been mentioned.  First Menkes reports on what the people at the London menswear shows might hypothetically have thought of their clothes, then on how they would have hypothetically felt about the London menswear shows.  It’s like haberdashery slash fiction.   “The entire collection was devoted to floral embroideries on ‘down home’ shirts. But the effect was not so much Wild West as floral farmers.”  Is it bad for something to be “floral farmers”?  I didn’t even know “floral farmers” was a thing.  It’s like reverse Neoprene.  Also, I think someone who grows flowers is a botanist…or a horticulturalist?  “So how was the fashion show?” “Oh, I don’t know. I was expecting ‘techno cowboy,’ but the whole thing was a little too ‘rockabilly mycologist.’”

“…even if there was a sinister note of spiders and bugs woven in.”  Was there, or was there not, a sinister note of spiders and bugs?  These ifs are being used with little regard for grammar, logic or anything else.  Also, this metaphor seems needlessly effortful.  Here in the literal world, fabric is woven, then has images printed on it.  In Menkes’s metaphorical world, images of spiders and bugs are transformed into a “note”, then “woven” together with other notes to create a piece of cloth, which is actually a symphony (??), which is actually (on yet another level) a finished piece of fabric, but not the same one as before. I also find it amusing that Menkes considers insects to be “sinister.”  There they are, fluttering about, pollinating plants and aerating the soil...or are they?  What’s really behind their whole racket of “breaking down dead organisms so as to reintroduce nutrients to the ecosystem”?  It has to be some sort of scam.  Answer me this:  If insects out-populate every other taxonomic group on Earth, why are they so small?

butterflies2

The entomological menace.

The entomological menace.

“It was surprising to see Topshop’s male brand riding such a one-trick pony [editor's note:  The entity that does the one trick is supposed to be the one-trick pony, as illustrated in the famous Paul Simon song "One-Trick Pony"; is Topshop a pony riding on another pony?],  but cowgirls (or young city women) might like the look.”  Or young gay men.  Or middle-aged genderqueer people. Or regular old straight guys who don’t object to wearing a shirt with flowers on it.  Considering every high-fashion trend for men since 1972 has been based on the concept “androgyny is cool,” I assume any dude who is paying attention to the London menswear shows isn’t going to be like “heaven forfend, the flower-to-spider ration on this $500 embroidered blouson is far too high!  Screw this, I’m putting back on my XXL ‘Unix Is Sexy’ t-shirt.”

Unix

“Richard Nicoll dressed up his streamlined sportswear in subtly textured fabrics with a grand-slam of photography taking a big computer stretch.”  I like how this begins on a note (!) of subtle incoherence, with clothing itself being dressed up.  It’s like an appetizer for the dadaist slam poetry to come.  Next we’re told that the fabric is “subtly textured,” which, is that even really distinctive?  “A flat surface with a subtle texture” is basically the definition of what fabric is.  Anyway, photographs are on the clothes…which is a grand slam, because taking an interesting photograph is like winning a tennis match against Martina Navrotilova.  I get all that.  But a computer stretch?  Did the limits of what computing technology can achieve have to be stretched in order to reproduce an image on something with a subtle texture?

"Computers generate it!"

“Computers generate it!”

“Ever since Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy showed an enlarged image on the chest, it has become the height of male fashion.”  And also ever since t-shirts have existed.  I can’t tell you how many fashionable men I’ve seen wearing enlarged chest images to pay homage to Riccardo Tisci, but I think it’s somewhere around negative infinity zero.  Normal people don’t base their clothes shopping choices on the aesthetic statements of any designer, unless that designer’s name is “Salvation Army,” “American Apparel” (LOL, what if “American” was someone’s real first name, why did Sarah Palin never think of that), or “JCrew Salesrack.”*

*“Salvation Army” would be kind of a badass name, too.

“The Nicoll images of faces and bodies, blown up to vast sizes and apparently attacked by birds or snakes, were by the Liverpool, England, artist named Linder.”  The Nicoll Images…that sounds so grand, like “the Elton verdict,” “the Elton John living room,” “The Elgin Marbles,” “the Hudsucker Proxy,” or “The DaVinci Code.”  All this stringing together of words in unusual sequences gives one the impression of “the sentence awkwardly translated from Old Norse.”

“Now that 16-year-olds, whose granddads live in jeans, bomber jackets and baseball caps, have turned back to the sartorial, London’s traditional Savile Row brands have become smart about the young generation.”  Sartorial means “of or relating to clothing” so it’s arguably impossible for an article of attire not to be sartorial.  It’s like a day not being diurnal, or the city of Liverpool not being Liverpudlian.

“At the top of the ‘Gherkin,’ the Norman Foster skyscraper in London’s financial district, Hardy Amies showed its smart-casual wardrobe.”  Well you know what they say:  “If the gherkin is jerkin’, don’t come a-smirkin’.”   “Being a British summer, the dizzying view of London was lost in clouds.”  For some reason this dangling participle makes me madder than all the oneiric word soup in the rest of the article.  How dare you imply that a view of London is, itself, a British summer?!  “But the brand seems to see clearly its way ahead: to appeal to the ‘City boys,’ as the young Turks of London’s financial world are called.”  I didn’t even know they were called “young Turks.”  No disrespect to possibly racist 1900′s slang, but if you have to explain a piece of jargon by saying “you know, it’s like a Young Turk,” you’re probably not making yourself clear.

Finally, Menkes turns to a collection by  Craig Green, “whose explosions of tie-dye color…provided a fine example of the divine madness that is creative London.”  Yes, from Mad Men to divine madness, the suit is surely here to stay, and/or continually disappear and reëmerge in an unpredictable cyclical pattern…but that’s fashion!

Overview

Likelihood that trend exists: 5/10 is something really a “trend” if it “shows an inclination or tendency” merely to continue existing?

Importance of trend in grand scheme of things: If, hypothetically, it were true that suits were making a comeback, 4/10

Adherence to trend piece formula5/10 this is not a “pure” trend piece, but the gratuitous references & gender stereotypes are there

Best aspect of author’s writing style: Is in touch with glossolalic ecstasy of preverbal vocalization

Suggestion for improving author’s writing style: Next time get Elton John to say two words to you

Special unironic note to people who think Suzy Menkes is a harmless eccentric who doesn’t deserve to be made fun of:  Please check out this post on Suzy Menkes condoning racism, or this article where she denounces “hooker chic” and “slutty” clothes in favor of “modesty,” “purity” and “decency.”   Suzy Menkes is a bad person who deserves to feel bad.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Katie permalink
    July 17, 2013 4:58 am

    Your awesomeness almost mitigates the existence of the NYT.

  2. A. M. Rosenthal permalink
    August 19, 2013 6:56 am

    I write, edit, and do copy writing for a living and even I won’t touch fashion writing, and neither will anyone I know. Same with music reviews, but for different reasons. If you haven’t read it already, try to get get hold of Diana Vreeland’s DV. It’s still in print. She was daffy and mercurial but serene in a way that 21st-century fashion “arbiters” don’t seem to be. There’s a famous quote from the book that goes something like “I’m thinking pink for this spring; why aren’t more girls wearing pink?”

    Years ago I read somewhere about the travails of a young woman who worked at a fashion magazine. It wasn’t The Devil Wears Prada, it was funnier and shorter, a profile. In her office all the women wore black, no matter what the season. Shortly after arriving there she noticed that a recent issue had done a huge layout about a certain summer pastel, probably whatever Pantone paid/told them to write about, and she found a dress highlighted in the magazine and wore it into the office. Her quote was something like “They looked at me like I was wearing a Halloween costume and at lunch I raced off to [wherever; maybe the closet where all the free "designer samples" are stored] and got some new stuff and tossed my cute summery dress into the trash.”

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