Earlier this week I bought a new box of pins. Nothing fancy - just your standard pearl head pin ... a nice sharp tip and a good size head. Strangely I found myself saving up the pleasure of opening the box. I kept it sitting at home on my table for a little while until I could really indulge in opening it. Now this may sound very odd to any of you who don't know the beauty of a new box of pearl head pins but to those who do I hope you feel me. The outside of the box isn't all that. Green, white, bad font ... generally pretty standardly boring. But on the inside is some beautiful black paper which wraps up a bundle of lovely, pearly, glossy new pins.
It's funny how the simple things can bring such pleasure. Every time I buy the pins the box is exactly the same yet I always look forward to opening it for the first time. It's like your favourite piece of clothing - it doesn't have to be anything special as long as it has one little thing that reminds you of why you love it each time you put it on.
Why can an interesting waistband design on a pair of mens pants deem said pants too be 'too womenswear'. What is it about menswear that is so specific that one tiny design feature can fling the whole piece into the visually uncomfortable grey zone of 'too womenswear' infuriating it's designer beyond belief. Is this grey zone such a bad thing anyway?
I've been toying with some design ideas that may make it slightly difficult for my models to walk. I say slightly because it's not like they wouldn't be able to walk ... just that their stride may need be somewhat shorter than a natural walk. If I were producing womenswear I probably wouldn't question the designs, we wear skirts and dresses that make it difficult for us to bend over, jeans that mean we can't cross our legs, tops that we know not to go out for a big meal wearing, full length dresses that we change the way we walk in - and many more variously impractical garments. Menswear however seems to be a different story. My guess is that it would be pretty hard to get a guy into something that impinged on his movement or general activities in any way.
So I kept thinking about it - how far can I push impracticality in design until it is inappropriate and unjustified? Impractical design in womenswear can often lean toward S&M and fetish influences, rendering the final look rather sexy (in a rather unfeminist way). When menswear begins to become restrictive however, it for some reason can play out in a less sexy manner, representing a loss of power - an idea which has been traditionally sexualised and often empowering in womenswear - but which does not necessarily work in menswear.
So how far can impractical design be pushed in menswear and how can it become sexy and empowering and avoid becoming ridiculous? How far can you push these designs before they lose all commercial meaning and would never actually be seen on a man? I haven't found the answers yet ... but if I do I'll be sure to let you know.
Today I walked past a shop that I have undoubtedly walked past many times. What made the occasion special this time was that I actually noticed the store, stopped, stood at the window for a moment, pondered whether it was worth entering, and finally convinced myself that I probably just should go in since I was already in front of it. The store was Joe Bananas, a simple, unpretentious menswear store in the QVB which sells mainly jackets, suits and some fairly loud printed shirts. The designs themselves weren't anything unexpected of a menswear store - classic, easy to wear styles which most men would have some version of in their wardrobe. What made a huge difference to these designs were the amazing fabrics used in the designs. While not all of them were the most amazingly ingenious fabrics I had seen they were all unique, beautiful and unusual.
I chatted with the designer for a few moments about his label and from memory he said that the brand had been running for 25 (or was it 35?) years. That's a pretty serious deal in the Sydney fashion industry where a brand that makes it past the 5 year mark is doing damn well for itself. Clearly this label has been doing something right. Joe Bananas is proof that good, successful, business-minded design needs a point of difference - found in this case through fabrics.
Now I'm going to admit this right from the start - I don't really understand this film. It doesn't speak loads about YSL as a fashion label, it kinda leans toward some fleeting ideas about YSL as a lifestyle brand, and as far as I can tell it doesn't really tell us a whole lot about the Fall 2010 menswear collection. For what seems to be mainly an inspirational, aspirational, dreamy bundle of semi-naked and naked models, YSL has put a serious amount of effort, time and money into this project directed by Bruce Weber. So there must be a damn good reason behind doing it.
My answer - sex sells.
It's an old story but it seems just as relevant in fashion today as it always has been. What I find most interesting about the concept in this film is that the masculinity is being portrayed in a bizarrely feminine way. The sexuality of the models in this film floats between friendship and far more than friendship in a very delicate, sensual way that would not normally be associated with traditional views of masculinity. And then the baby at the end? That completely throws a spanner in the masculinity works and takes us well past femininity and on into a strange maternal zone.
While we've all seen masculinity and various views of male sexuality being explored mainly in fashion photography for years, it's interesting to see it played out in film. So maybe YSL wasn't even trying to create a film about their label or their collection. Perhaps this film is more to do with getting in touch with the kind of masculinity and sexuality that is influencing and inspiring YSL at the moment. Whatever their reasons - the film is a nice piece of work. Sex definitely still sells, perhaps just in a different way to how it has in the past.
With a lot of talk going on at uni about creating the most amazing, innovative collection that you could possibly think of, there is a fair amount of pressure to be creative - really creative. Sometimes pressure can be a good thing - other times it can just be really, really frustrating and make you sacrifice the fun of taking chances in favour of playing it safe for something that you know will work.
Two things recently have reminded me that it's worth taking a risk, and it's way more exciting.
1. A conversation with a good friend who somehow linked fashion design to aeroplanes, who suggested that the first person to suggest that a flying machine which could carry hundreds of people around the world would probably have been laughed at but look at 'him' now ... so you should just design whatever the hell you believe in.
2. This video from Diesel who's current catch phrase is 'Be Stupid'. Thanks to the lovely Ele who's blog I discovered this little number on. A timely reminder to be a bit stupid and do something challenging and exciting.
Still bamboozled about Henry Bucks being Australia's favourite menswear store, I've been questioning just how far menswear can be pushed. Are we stuck in a menswear cycle of standard fits, basic shirts and functional foundations? Is experimental menswear part of the future of mens fashion or are menswear traditions too dominant for men to adopt a more unique or individual sense of style?
In a lecture this week, a leading designer in a giant Sydney fashion label sent out a warning to any of us designing for men. She recommended that 'at the heart of menswear is the man'. One of the problems of experimental and innovative menswear is that it can occasionally forget about the man that has to wear the clothes. While there is a current trend toward a more feminised male, this is not to say that he has given up his masculinity. He may be more aware of fashion than previous generations, more willing to take fashion risks and certainly more comfortable in adopting a more individual style - but underneath this is still a man who probably wants to be recognised as one. He will still pick function everyday and select garments that reflect, while not necessarily following, menswear traditions.
In the preface to Fashion Now 2, an i-D magazine encyclopedia of designers, editor Glenn Waldron pretty well sums it all up. Menswear focuses "on the substance of 'style' over the transient nature of 'fashion'." A nice approach really in what can sometimes seem a rather frenetic and frivolous industry. Menswear is more about an evolutionary process than the quick turn over of new trends in womenswear. So while the classic black suit will never be 'out', hopefully experimenting with it will become more and more 'in'.
Today I tried a little experiment ... I typed 'menswear' into google wondering where it might take me.
The first link on the list was to 'Henry Bucks Menswear Store', with a short descriptive account that 'Henry Bucks showcases the worlds finest and most wearable mens clothing from top European brands.' Now I don't know exactly how google search results function but my belief is that the most popular links pop up at the top. So my powers of deduction tell me that Henry Bucks is a pretty popular little dig for menswear browsers. Figuring that this store must carry all my menswear needs I decided to spend some time taking a look at what it has to offer and I must admit that I was rather disappointed. All I seemed to be turning out was standard menswear styles, classic suits, standard pants, boring shirts. I have no doubt that all of these garments would have been beautifully made in expensive fabrics but all I could think of was how boring it all seemed. Certainly all of the garments showcased in Henry Bucks have a very clear and stable place in the menswear market but is the most popular menswear link on google really this store? Is 'the fabric of the city' really a black wool suit as advertised in the Henry Bucks Autumn catalogue? Surely not. I like to live in hope that maybe Australian men, or at least the younger generations are becoming more experimental than relying on classic suits and cotton shirts but perhaps I'm mistaken?
What is it that is so appealing about mess? A cluttered room for me has always been a sign of a creative or curious soul. A strange collection of random objects, rather than telling a story about their owner, in some way serves to render them all the more mysterious. What would my muse clutter his surroundings with? Where would he store it all? What would these objects expose or deny about my man?
Jeff Wall, After "Invisible Man" by Ralph Ellison, The Preface, 1999-2000
How refreshing it was, amidst the fashion frenzy, to see Kirrily Johnston once again throw some unique yet wearable menswear at us! Let's face it - everyone loves a male model - and are they not all the more enticing when layered up in something a little out of the ordinary? It's not an easy thing to work mens and womens wear into a cohesive collection but Kirrily seemed to achieve this rather effortlessly through relaxing, wearable shapes that might actually hit the wardrobes of some of the more fashion thinking men out there. While her menswear is a little less fashion forward than some of her womenswear, it is has been designed to be worn, which ideally is what menswear boils down to. Australia is slowly stepping up our menswear and building a rather neat little portfolio of menswear designers. With a bit of luck (and perhaps a little push from the ladies), we might begin to see some well considered mens fashion really take it's place within the market.
I'm a Sydney based fashion student embarking on a final year of fun uni deadlines and creative ventures before trying my hand in the real world. DesignBrainBucket is a nice little hole in which I can empty my thoughts, mix them around, and hopefully come out with some constructive understanding of elements of the design world that I occasionally think about but never really put into words.
If you ever have anything to ask or say please don't hesitate to get into contact with me or post a comment.