Why the Fuss? SuperDry

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Vigo Street was once one of my favourite thoroughfares; snaking from my favoured shopping boulevard, Regent Street, brushing the southern tip of Savile Row and turning into Burlington Gardens. It is a shortcut from the hushed luxury of Old Bond Street to the buzz of Soho; a walkway that takes in Ede & Ravenscroft, Gieves & Hawkes, Reiss and Austin Reed, as well as a delightfully empty Starbucks that looked down Sackville Street; perfect for a recuperating cupper on a weekend afternoon.

Now the Starbucks is no longer a secret, having been discovered by hordes of Abercrombie & Fitch disciples who crowd the narrow pavements outside, traipse carelessly in the path of beeping taxis and sit on the pavement in large groups at the back entrance to the Royal Academy. The access this street once provided was a soothing relief to the worsening bustle of the capital’s grandest high street; now, it is but a tributary of the same river of humanity.

I was dismayed to learn earlier on this year, not only that Abercrombie & Fitch have decided to prolong their incongruous imposition on Burlington Gardens, but that another brand of questionable value and inestimable hype were taking over Austin Reed’s lease at 103-113 Regent Street.

SuperDry is the most notable brand of the FTSE 250 listed SuperGroup plc, founded in the mid 1980s by entrepreneur Julian Dunkerton. SuperDry itself is a Noughties creation. Once a small, Covent Garden shop, it mushroomed into a wildly popular cult clothing brand when celebrities such as David Beckham were considered fans of the merchandise. Now, it is barging in on one of the ultra-prime spots on Regent Street into a building that has housed smart clothing for gentlemen since 1911; when the Ottoman Sultans were still on the throne and the doomed RMS Titanic was awaiting sea trials.

Like Abercrombie, SuperDry is representative of this new era; an era of cult and television-fuelled celebrity, of relentless ‘brand shopping’ and emblazoned logos; an era when the fashion of youth prevails, turning the age old story of ‘dressing like your father’ on its head.

Though SuperDry affects to connect itself to Japan through the use of the abbreviation JPN and the inclusion of Japanese characters in the logo, it has nothing to do with the country at all, except in ‘design’. In fact, it has even been suggested that the characters themselves are nonsensical; “…a bad attempt at translating ‘Do SuperDry’ into Japanese – presumably achieved with the help of a dictionary rather than by anyone with knowledge of the language…their customer base [didn’t] notice that they were essentially gibberish.”

To be fair, this is no different to the hogwash that is written across a lot of clothing – ‘authentic’ and ‘genuine’ are two of the most common examples – and the offenders are legion; Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, Abercrombie & Fitch to name but a few.

However I am not that certain that with SuperDry, the shopper is necessarily buying into a particular aesthetic; with Ralph Lauren it is luxe Americana and English classics; with Tommy Hilfiger it is American preppy and Abercrombie sell the aesthetic, however unappealing, of collegiate casual. SuperDry are a hotchpotch, as the website states, of “…Japanese design influences and vintage Americana style which has won over fans from all over the world and a growing celebrity following.”

What is SuperDry’s aesthetic? A teenager’s bedroom floor? As far as I can see, this ‘design’ consists of bland windcheaters, nylon rainjackets, hoodies, sweatshirts and jeans; the only product difference between SuperDry and H&M’s Divided brand and, the dreck end of Inditex, ‘Pull and Bear’, is the retail price. SuperDry have managed to retain the glitter and gilt that the patronage of celebrity titans such as Leonardo DiCaprio affords.

People love these brands because they allow them to live their lives vicariously; a little bit of SuperDry is like having a fraction of a celebrity lifestyle. They have the cheap clothing too but they need a little bit of a brand that people fuss about to make themselves feel good. SuperDry is riding this wave and right now, the water is warm and frothy and tastes like The X Factor. But how long will it be before the water turns cold? Before the curtain is lifted and the Red Bull-style brilliance of its branding fails? Austin Reed lasted nearly a century at 103-113; I wonder how long SuperDry will last.

The Velvet Blazer

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One of my friends recently told me that he wanted three things from all garments of clothing he purchased; quality, versatility and style. If one of these ingredients was missing, he rarely considered completing the transaction. I agreed to an extent but warned him, naturally, that men often have different interpretations of the first and last ingredients; quality is relative and style is personal. However, I did agree with him that versatility was likely to be crucial for anyone on the hunt for decent clobber; you don’t buy an overcoat to wear it with only one particular suit.

As the subject progressed on versatility, we discussed the most adaptable garments we could think of – blue blazers, khaki chinos, black loafers – and reflected fondly on our own experiences. It was then that I added the velvet jacket to the growing inventory, to which my friend reacted with derision; “A velvet jacket is not that versatile; I can count on one hand the number of times I have used mine!” However, I asked him to consider that it was possible that his interpretation of the third crucial ingredient – style – was affecting its use; for example, if you only believe velvet jackets should be worn when hosting an in-home black tie dinner party, low use should be unsurprising.

Like the colour purple, velvet is closely associated with royalty. Although well noted for its smooth texture, it is also desired because of its depth of tone; a burgundy cotton jacket has nothing like the tonal complexity of a burgundy velvet jacket, which sets the latter apart. It has gorgeous, lustrous qualities, and when worn with even the most incongruous ensembles is always likely to prompt an approving ‘ooh’ or ‘ahh’ from the welcoming crowd, not to mention the indulgent pat of a palm or two.

I own two velvet jackets, one of which I have ‘converted’ to an evening jacket (by adding black silk buttons), the other of which I currently wear infrequently as it is overdue a few adjustments, but which I plan to wear more and more as the days get colder. A casual velvet jacket sounds like an oxymoron but velvet is an ideal fabric for the chilly winter weekends; in my experience, a cotton velvet jacket is significantly warmer than a mid-weight woollen blazer. It is also splendid as an ‘all dayer’, something a friend informs me that many weekends call for, as they are often frantic affairs of shopping-then-eating-then-visiting-then-dining that do not allow for that most Victorian of dignities; changing for dinner.

A Reader’s Question: Retro or Fashion

“I notice you often wear very different cuts of suit. Some of them seem to be homage to 1920s/30s – the tailored ones with pleated trousers and turn-ups – and some of them are of a more fashion forward cut; slimmer trousers, shorter jackets. I think most of these are from cheaper stores. I was just curious to understand what you think I should go for; a retro look or a current one?”
– Bruce, Chicago

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The above question was sent to my blog recently and instead of returning a simple answer email to the sender alone, I thought I would construct a more formal, discursive response for the column. Apologies to Bruce, but I cannot confine my opinion to a private communication; this is a good question and something which needs airing.

Firstly, I would not say that the ‘homage’ suits I own are particularly that retro; my wool flannel chalk stripe with a wide peak-lapel, double-pleated trousers, turn-ups and virtually no break does, admittedly, have a slight inter-war aesthetic and such thoughts were not absent from my mind when I was choosing it, but I didn’t decide on it because of some desire to affect a period costume, however beautiful.

There are those of considerable confidence who reject the modern fashion of suit. They may purchase vintage suits or have bespoke suits made in a particular style. As the fashionistas laugh at their wide trouser legs and large lapels, they chuckle back at the modern fondness for cheap materials and transient aesthetics, espousing advice about style trumping fashion which, for what it is worth, is not incorrect. After all, style is about self-assurance and identity; when you know what you want to do with clothing, you just do it.

If you are more susceptible to the opinions and concerns of others, fashion may lend a helping hand. If you shop with the tide, a suit of fashion is something that is chosen for you; for ‘fashionable’ is simply another word for ‘popular’. However, it is not only on the high street that fashion dictates. Incorrectly, many people believe that considerations of fashion do not occur in the tailor’s shop. In fact, many tailors are asked for advice on what is popular, what is fashionable; “Can I have a thinner lapel?”, “Can I have slimmer legs on the trousers?” Though admired artisans and arbiters – to a certain degree – of sartorial taste, tailors are not in a fashion-free vacuum.

My initial reaction to the question was that if you have to ask whether you should follow current cuts of suit or adopt a retro style, you should probably choose the former as you probably haven’t got the self-assurance for the latter. However, this is not only about aesthetic preference but also guidance; it says a lot about the growing disillusionment with fashion and the interest in breaking out as an individual, and some people welcome the advice to make the step.

Therefore, my opinion is this: if you are neither a determined fashionista, nor a confident retroista – much like myself – take what you like from both. This doesn’t have to be field warfare; there is no need to enlist to join the ranks of either army. If you are undecided, this probably means you are torn. If so, just ensure you are comfortable with the untidy inconsistency of being a sartorial magpie.

A World Wide Wardrobe

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I’m not an easy traveller and don’t really do holidays except under duress – liberally applied by my girlfriend Westie. One thing that does motivate me to leave the country is the promise of filling certain gaps in the wardrobe.

It’s funny how one associates certain items of apparel or modes of dress with one or other country. For example, I always associate England with suits and business shirts. Conversely, I always associate America with weekend wear. The result being that on past trips, as in future ones, I’ll seek out chinos (Bill’s Khakis), jeans and high performance working footwear, like Red Wing Boots or the much sought after Alden Indie BootGitman shirts, Woollen Mills Pendleton shirts, Nantucket Reds and Bass Weejans all go on the list. But I’d never buy a formal shirt in the US.

Where ever I travel I tend to have a precast list of things which either I can’t readily get in the UK or which would be of a better order and better priced in my chosen country. There are few countries in the World from which I could not conceive of some item or other worth acquiring. Even countries not necessarily known for their sartorial standards like New Zealand or Australia. I highly recommend possum socks for those winter months and Paua shell cufflinks should you find yourself headed to NZ. And of course if you’re going to Oz then RM Williams boots are a must.

So, it should come as no surprise that prior to my recent trip to Italy I drew up a list of items. For reasons that escape me, when I think of Italy I think leather, cashmere and fine gauge wool all.

And in the next instalment I share what I bought, where I bought it and why.

Links: Movember, Sweats, Black Tie…

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• Winston is growing a ‘tache for Movember. (venividivrai.blogspot.com)

• Grown-up way to wear sweats, or is it? (thestyleblogger.com)

• A thought or two on black tie. (thefineyounggentleman.com)

• Check out the check options. (savilerow-style.com)

• Personal style: Paul Weller. (gq-magazine.co.uk)

• On business shirts. (admiralcod.blogspot.com)

• The necktie: brief history. (kingpinchic.com)