Brooks Bros. Brushes Up

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The other day I was flipping through the mail, and was shocked when I stumbled upon the new Brooks Brothers catalog for Fall. It wasn’t getting the catalog that shocked me (I get more clothing-related mail than any sane human being should), but rather what I found on the cover and inside. Everything looks so….modern.

The best thing about this revelation was when I realized that they had essentially changed nothing. Lets take a look at the cover image above – argyle sweater with a wide v-neck, dark rugby shirt, navy cardigan and blue OCBD with a club tie, and sweatervest paired with chunky-soled mocs. It might as well be a page from Take Ivy, or, and here’s the kicker for me, a Brooks Brothers catalog from 40 years ago.

I’ll admit that at first glance I got worried that things were turning into RL Rugby, but when you open the pages, ties are still carrying herds of sheep rather than a mausoleum and the pastime of choice is chess, not spin the bottle. It probably didn’t help that some of the models on the cover model for Rugby as well, but the similarities really do stop there.

By updating their cuts, making them slim but not skinny, Brooks Brothers has taken the basic wardrobe staples of the American man, cozy sweaters, casual trousers, and the ever-wonderful OCBD and made them just modern enough that you notice. Now I’m no fashion cognoscenti, but if you ask me, these clothes seems very “Fall 2010.” Unlike some other on-trend offerings though, to continue my clairvoyant charade, I think these will continue to look very “Fall 2011,” “Fall 2012,” and so on, for years to come. And by the time they look fuddy-duddy, you’ll have sufficiently shredded and stained everything, making you the real-vintage envy of every fashionista out there.

Summer White-Out

Before departing London for another semester of university back in the States, I had a day or two to do those things I spent all summer saying would get done tomorrow. Pretty close to the top of the list was checking out the Maison Martin Margiela retrospective at Somerset House.

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Looking at videos of runway shows and agonizing over which hand-constructed conceptual garment is most impressive is taxing work, and a bit of pre-game fuel was in order. Luckily, Tom Aikens stepped in and saved me from typical museum fare with a lovely slice of banana bread and a properly made macchiato (harder to find than you think) at the eco-friendly Tom’s Cafe. After filling my stomach I followed the Tabi boot footprints down to the basement, out the back door, possibly into another postcode, and into the special exhibition wing – maybe I should have saved the snack for after the trek.

Gastronomic adventure aside, the exhibition was interesting to say the least, and spectacular would not be too generous an adjective either. As the seasons go on I typically find myself less and less interesting in what designers are showing, but you can bet next fashion week I’ll be paying more attention. The exhibition, in addition to showcasing the miraculous array of unique garments Maison Martin Margiela have produced over the last 20 years, readily displays what can be done when making a statement and creating a work of art takes priority over sales at Selfridges. Not to knock any other designers or brands, but what Margiela is doing felt more like Couture to me than anything else; from sculpted shoulders to garments covered in paint that devolve and change with wear, there was an intense focus on changing the aesthetic base of the human form that I found really engaging.

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After spending the summer continuing my exploration of all that is Savile Row and it’s cadre of lifestyle companions, the white hall-of-mirrors that was Maison Martin Margiela’s retrospective was a wake-up call to always keep my eyes open and looking for new inspiration and excitement in all aesthetic realms. Oh yeah, and it also reminded me that I really want that peacoat they made a few years ago – proportional perfection. Which lesson is a better one I’m not quite sure of yet.

Maison Martin Margiela ’20’ Continues at Somerset House until 5 September.

Lasting Luxury

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We all known how flooded the market is with supposed “luxury goods” and “quality bespoke such-and-such,” but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what sorts of things set apart the proverbial wheat from the chaff. To be honest, a lot of what I’ve been able to identify falls pretty simply into two categories: intensive craftsmanship and true creativity/individuality. The brands and products that combine a love of craft and quality with a unique aesthetic that sets them apart from the pack (even if these differences are subtle or just markers of the aforementioned craft) are the brands I find myself continuously gravitating towards time and time again.

A perfect example of this combination for me is the Shoe of the Month program over at Lodger Footwear on Clifford Street, London. Their standard offerings are mouthwatering, don’t get me wrong, but I find the creativity present in each new month’s offering exciting and engaging in a totally different way. To step back for a moment, the shoe of the month program is just what it sounds like – Lodger releases a limited edition shoe each month that is only available for order during that month, and is then never offered again.

While this month’s shoe is a loafer in two special colors, both beautiful in their own right, some months have been really unique and amazing. The combination suede and leather Jodphur boot offered this past February was definitely one of the highlights for me, taking a traditional Jodphur off the polo pitch and into the city – while it would also look great in the country, I’m sure, this boot just screams “Brown in Town” to me. Maybe it’s the sleek lines and crossed strap…or maybe just the fact that I wish I had a pair and don’t spend much time in the country.

Another vintage-inspired favorite was the tennis shoe offered last summer, which might be the best summer shoe I have ever laid eyes on. And the best (or quite possibly the worst) part of it all is that I can’t have either of these offerings; after their month is up, no wad of cash can get them reproduced. This idea of luxury that is somewhat impulsive, if a month can be considered impulsive, intrigues me and makes me smile as I think about it.

The list of unique offerings goes on, striped canvas, two-tone desert boots, blue suede brogues, and paprika slip-ons all represented. The foundation for all of this though is ultimately quality and craft. This isn’t about plunking down 100 pounds for the month’s hottest fast fashion, but rather investing in something that will age with you and become more rare and unique over time – almost like a fine wine or something similar. Hand clicking, hand painting, beveled waists, and beautifully polished soles are just the basics. So next time a brand says they are producing “luxury bespoke super duper extra rare quality life-time assured” goods, give it a good think.

A Man Of Style / A Man Of Fashion

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“In the classical European humanistic tradition, fashion was always thought to be antithetical to good taste. A person blindly following the whims of fashion was without style, whereas a man of style – or a gentleman – used his own power of judgment… fashion in a societal formation always combining two opposite forces. It is a socially acceptable and safe way to distinguish oneself from others and, at the same time, it satisfies the individual’s need for a social adaptation and imitation…in modern society, both style and fashion are functional equivalents to ‘good taste.’”

-Jukka Gronow, Department of Sociology, University of Helsinki (1993)

I stumbled upon this quote in an otherwise dense, but intelligent, article on Kantian and Simmelian notions of fashion as a reactionary socializing force, but thought this quote was perfect to share and discuss here.

Writers here on Men’s Flair, myself included, often like to note the separation between what is classic style and what is fashion, with the later term usually being washed aside as some sort of trite and fleeting version of the former. The assertion here that they both essentially represent a notion of good taste shocked me at first, but the more I thought about it and looked at what Gronow was saying, the more it seemed to make sense in a certain way.

While I, and presumably most people reading this, find the idea that “skirts and slashed leggings are really ‘in’ for men this season” to be utter hogwash, it is amongst a certain set a call to wallets and closets. This drive towards adaptation and imitation is the primary drive here, with individual decision making and ‘style’ taking the back seat, whereas what is discussed here usually orders these drives the reverse way – in modern society, wearing a correctly fitted suit and tie outside of an office of Michelin 3 Star restaurant is usually asking to stand out, not fit in.

But then again, the so-called “fashion-set” is a select group and may stand out through a sense of collective individuality rather than truly individual individuality, however ridiculous that clause may sound. And we, again I am generalizing here, seek to find our collective identity in the company of like-minded, well-turned out rebels, and a projected return to an imaginary glory-days filled with properly rolled lapels and well-waisted boots.

So rather than continue to ramble on, I’ll just ask: What do you think of the above quotation? What do you think of the roles played by fashion and style in our society, past and present? While I would love to think I have all the answers, I don’t, so lets discuss.

Put Your Stunner Shades On

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Sunglasses have got to be one of the quintessential masculine accessories. This may sound like a bold statement, but it’s one that I think is justified. Also, unlike many other articles, even “fashionable” sunglasses tend to be more classic. While women’s sunglasses walk more on the wild side, men’s frames even at their trendiest are usually classically inspired.

For my money, there are really only a handful of shapes and sizes a man needs to consider when picking out a pair of bins. Shapes that have stood the test of time, but still look relevant and have a slightly modern edge are usually my pick, and I’ll admit I do have a bias towards rounded frames. For the most part I find that rectangular frames often get too close to the sport-shades category, although there are some really amazing pairs out there.

For everyday, get-up-and-go glasses I can’t imagine a better shape than a variation on the basic aviator. Whether you prefer a classic metal frame, a larger plastic frame, or as I do, a combination of the two, you simply can’t go wrong. Because of the rounded tops and tapered bottoms, as long as you buy them the right size, they flatter most face shapes. Maybe if you have an especially heart-shaped face you should steer clear, but even then I would think you could find some that work. The biggest mistake most people make though is getting the scale all wrong – you should neither look like you are wearing doll glasses, nor have the bottoms touching your upper lip. The Tom Ford model above is my personal favorite, since the combination of metal and plastic keeps them light, modern looking, and a dash more sporty than the rest of what I typically wear.

Now if you’re not into the aviator thing, my next favorite everyday glasses are either the Ray-Ban Clubmaster or Wayfarer. Co-opted by hipsters, I’m seeing both of them everywhere these days. Although this is making them a bit ubiquitous, it’s really hard to go wrong with something this time-tested. I particularly like the way the Clubmaster’s top-heavy frames make a bold statement, but with a more jazz-age than rock n’ roll sensibility when compared to the Wayfarer.

If you are looking for something more rectangular (and haven’t stopped reading yet), Persol makes some really great examples – my first proper sunglasses were a rectangular pair of Persols that I still wear from time to time. But for me, the coolest thing Persol does, and has been doing for a very long time, is their 714 foldable sunglasses. Made famous by Steve McQueen (as many things were) wearing a special blue-lensed pair, the 714 has rounded lenses and foldable arms and bridge. You can get out of your car after a long drive in the country-side or down the coast (when I think they look best), and fold them up right into your shirt pocket.

Since it’s summer, I can’t not mention my favorite summer shades. If you’re lucky enough to be heading for the beach, nothing to my eye is cooler than a perfectly round frame that looks one part 60s French movie star, one part Bond villain. Put on a pair of Ralph Lauren’s aptly named “Round Sunglasses,” get yourself some henchman, soak up the sun, and conquer the world. Not bad plans for a weekend holiday if you ask me.