What about Digital Watches

“Go digital”, “The world’s going digital”, “Are you ready for digital?” There is so much talk of digitalisation these days. Everyone is scrambling for a share of ‘the digital age’. Knowledgeable pals tell me of new digital advertising, of the digital newspapers of the future; my television barks at me of ‘the push for digital’, my news channel instructs me as a ‘digital viewer’ to ‘get interactive’.

It’s all very promising and progressive and much of this digitalisation is a vast improvement on the old analogue services we have been receiving. Digital radio is not only crisp and clear, but it offers more variety; anyone yearning nostalgically for crackly sets and four wavelengths is being irrationally romantic. The same goes for digital television; on-screen TV guides, pausing live television, digital sound and interactive services are a far cry from thumping a fist on an ugly and irresponsive box. However, one shouldn’t get carried away. After all, some of the pleasure in the analogue world is not just in form but in function too.

The mechanical wristwatch remains a delight; an icon of design that I hesitate to mark, for fear of jocund interpretation, as ‘timeless’. Though I may buy Smart phones and Ipods and HDTV’s, when it comes to my daily, nay hourly friend, the wristwatch, I prefer to choose out-of-date technology. For it’s all about the little things. The tiny clicking of the wheels, the second-hand sweeping majestically around the face and especially the imperfect timekeeping. Oh indeed. I can gibber ad nauseum about the benefits of finer radio, crisper television and the wonders of the digital age but I am strangely content with the inferior timekeeping abilities of my mechanical watch.

If I was consistent in my embracement of this new age, I would purchase a quartz watch and, better still, a watch that tells me the time not through roman numerals but through a seven-segment display. However, I am not consistent. I am fickle and I choose things on the unsteady basis of aesthetics and whim. To me, seven-segment display watches remind me of childhood; when my classmates attempted to trump others with on-board calculators and infra-red controls that changed television channels. There can be as much frivolity in a plastic and perfectly on-time digital watch as there is in the antiquated mechanical timepiece. It’s all a matter of personality. For some people, their desire is a watch to reflect their personality; a Breuget for a Napoleonite, a Franck Muller for a Hitchcock fan. However, for fans of productions like Star Wars and Star Trek, the watch of choice might be something rather futuristic.

Admittedly, digital watch design has come a long way since the faddish days of King Casio’s calculator wristwatches. Seven-segmentism is so old that it is now seen as retro. However, as with all things, very few designs are worthy of the man of style. If you feel, on your more modish days, like strapping on something other than your ticking Patek, keep in mind that digital watches are produced inexpensively and therefore purchasing a well-designed one does not have to break the bank.

Imagine a gadget from a 1960s spy film and you have the perfect aesthetic for digital watches; matt stainless steel, primitive LCD display and the fewer functions the better. We are already armed with phones that seem capable of commanding submarines, so further gadgetry on watches would be futile and it seems we are now content that our wrists are the place for mere time and datekeeping.

Tom Ford Influence

Every five to ten years, a designer comes along who completely changes the aesthetic and direction of men’s fashion. Be it Hedi Slimane at Dior single-handedly reviving 60’s rocker-chic and a wave of slim via the trickle-down effect or the creation of the modern suit by Giorgio Armani, they are integral in the forward movement of fashion.

The current most revolutionary designer in menswear is without question, Tom Ford. During his tenure at Gucci, it is well known and acknowledged that he transformed the brand into what it presently represents today. With his new eponymous label, he is influencing formalwear in a way that has not been seen since Calvin Klein revolutionized the modern suit with clean lines and chic simplicity.

Rather, Ford’s impact and talent has been in bringing back a masculine sophistication to the suit and in a larger sense, reinventing the man along the way. Whereas androgyny has been, and continues to be popular with many men’s designers (Prada sent out male models wearing tutu skirts and ‘manties’ during their most recent collection), Ford strongly reaffirms traditional male gender identity.

Ford seems to bring back a glamorous masculine ideal of the roaring 20’s where monopolistic tycoons enjoyed the vast pleasures of the newly industrial world. The clothes are manifestly meant to convey a boldness and power, be it from loud pinstripes to double-breasted, peak lapel suits; the image of an oligarch is omnipresent. And it likely takes an oligarch to afford a Tom Ford suit, where off-the-rack begins at $3,500 and custom-made at $5,000.

According to the man himself, “The Tom Ford menswear collection is a new world of menswear built on a vision of deeply personalized luxury. The collection offers the finest quality products, made in Italy by artisan craftsmen.”

Sex is clearly central both to Ford’s collections as well as the spirit of his brand. From the provocative, explicit ads for his new fragrance to the subtle undercurrent in all his clothes, sex is obviously the main inspiration.

What Tom Ford does best are timeless, classic looks with a bit of modern reinvention and rejuvenation. He is largely responsible for the return of the three-piece and double breasted suit. The line is altogether the antithesis of the casual, street wear movement; everything exudes elegance and refinement. Despite the designer’s own penchant of wearing unbuttoned shirts to reveal a tanned chest, the collection is less blatant in its approach.

The Tom Ford store on Madison Avenue in New York is a Mecca for men’s classic fashion and jet set sophistication, and is also currently the only place where the full line is available. It is definitely not a place to go unless you intent to seriously buy something because the staff is higher pressure than your boss before a deadline.

Spring Trends

When you move to New York, your wardrobe slowly but surely morphs into gradations of black and gray. Something about the city and its business orientation dictates that everyone looks like they’ve just come back from a funeral. This spring, however, is all about bright colors.

At Mercedez-Benz fashion week in New York, designers showed their Fall 2008 collections and the message was unmistakable: color and lightness is back in style. As it always seems to go, women’s trends end up seeping into men’s fashion and the two are never truly far apart. In a similar vein, the fact that fashion is always two seasons ahead has at least a subconscious impact on what we end up wearing now. Though we are still technically in Fall/Winter 2007, the trends of Fall/Winter 2008 are already going to begin changing the paradigm of what we think is stylish and current.

One of my favorite looks for this spring that is both young and ironic is wearing a bright, almost neon anorak under a blazer with the sleeves pushed up. It is reminiscent of Prada spring/summer 2007, indicating that it might have taken until now to catch on.

Another great trend this spring is tech-fabric, light puffer vests over shirts or even contemporary sweaters. Vests in general are versatile items, perfect for the fifty to sixty degrees “in-between” weather, but this season really amps up the style with bold and bright monochromatic tones that add vivacity to a drab wardrobe.

Other ways of bringing back color into the wardrobe are as simple as going out and buying a few pairs of inexpensive oxford shirts. Uniqlo, as always, has stylish shirts that fit the bill without leaving you unable to pay yours at the end of the month. Also if you are in New York, the highly reputed shirt retailer Seize sur Vingt is having a sample sale this week with great markdowns. Like it or not, button-down colors are back in style and don’t even look bad when combined with other colorful elements. They provide a Hamptons-style preppyness that is always popular during the summer.

Also still trendy this spring is white jeans, which can go from sophisticated with a pair of black dress boots and shirt to beach casual with a pair of flip-flops and t-shirt.

If at last though you are absolutely beholden to the old black and gray, it appears that stripes are in for spring and so injecting a little irony into your outfit might just do you good.

City Boy Style Rocks

It’s happened again. Rogue trading has hit the headlines. Only this time, instead of sultry Singapore, patrician Paris is the financial crime scene and there is something curiously apropos about that. Just when people had started, once more, to write off city boys as boring, avaricious creeps, up pops one of the bad-boy ‘rock stars’ in one of the world’s most stylish capitals having bled his employing investment bank SocGen of a whopping $7 billion. Forget high-stakes poker, forget trashing hotel rooms and mind-bending narcotic experimentation. Taking thousands of millions, squandering them and then elegantly covering the trail is the way to rock and roll and it has put the city boys back in the spotlight.

With a nervy start to the financial year, people were already beginning to turn their lenses on the unassuming bean-counters in the towers of glass and steel but this news has really set the pulses going. No one romanticises or fantasises about the striped-shirt brigade who spend their days with screens and phones; they are the antithesis of romantic figures, merely slaves to King Midas who occasionally flash their inner vulgarity with ostentatious consumption and tasteless over-tipping. Their working lives are chronicled anonymously in the salmon-print of the Financial Times consistently referred to in herd-like terms, avoiding reference to any individuality, and we are led to believe they are merely miserable souls whose Damoclean mistake was to follow the road to riches rather than honest worth.

A lot of this is, of course, drivel. Yes, these chaps are driven by money, but find me one Hollywood egotist willing to accept the minimum wage for their work. They aren’t exactly long-haired poets or suffering artists of great talent, but they take huge risks and not merely to double-line their own pockets. They also work, for better or worse, pretty damn hard to make money and they are necessary in this zero-sum world. Lastly, their salaries, often criticised for being simply too large by point-scoring neo-liberal politicians, are in fact proportionate to their performances and are taxed like every other sum of legitimate money.

One other thing, which is likely to be scoffed at, is an observation of mine that in fact, a lot of city boys have the style nous that other professionals lack. The lawyer is smart, but lacking in chutzpah. The doctor is generally over-casual and unremarkable. The city boy is a Wall Street tiger: he has stripes and he will bally well show them.

However, the hard, mathematical types who hoard pictures of their families on their desk, next to their novelty chess-boards, resent this city boy tag, so I isolate them from my spoons of praise. They are the dry, tee totalling mail-order catalogue side of the city to whom style is about as important as moon exploration to a budgerigar. The true city boy sweeps in wearing pinstripes leaning towards the muted sartorial classicism of Jermyn Street in contrast to the advertising titan in Soho, clothed in Duchamp and Richard James. He wears shirts and ties with ease and pride, and even bothers to seek advice in Thomas Pink from the style consultants for counsel on combinations. At his side swings a magnificent Malacca umbrella from James Smith.

Though dressing down has been the recent form for vast swathes of city folk, the indication is that some of the British are standing firm. A stockbroking friend of mine is a strong believer in the city uniform and refers to the attire of the relaxed New Yorkers, quite abruptly as ‘that casual crap’. Whereas casual financial-scientists from Wall Street see themselves as belonging to the distinctly un-yuppy Pixar generation, the stalwarts of the Square Mile stand proud with the dignified and unapologetic air of George W. Banks. The markets can go where they like; sartorial stoicism is to be saluted.

Fall/Winter 2008 Milan and Paris Highlights

As the curtain for the men’s shows in Paris and Milan has fallen once again, there is left in its wake hundreds of outfits that compared against the backdrop of current fashion, will play a large role in the determination of new trends.  This year’s collections were in some cases an about-face on current trends and an elaboration in other instances.  Though only time can tell which fashions will make the transition from runway to everyday, there were clearly some standout pieces in a sea of seemingly endless fabric.

Designers hit the brakes on the ‘slim’ trend and reversed direction in creating a bigger, wider silhouette.  Baggy and flowing pants in the style of 30’s ‘zoot suits’ were present in nearly every show, even at Dior Homme, which would have been an anathema only a few years earlier under the reign of Hedi Slimane.  While these ‘Aladdin’ inspired pants will not likely achieve any popularity outside of the Euro-hipster and Face hunter demographic, it is an important indicator that the fashion world has tired of narrow cuts for the moment and it may also be a sign of the impending return of pleated pants to stylishness.

In more manageable proportions, flowing pants can actually be quite stylish, such as this pair from Emanuel Ungaro, though they are ultimately unlikely to gain wide acceptance. To wear roomier pants and not look like Jim Carry from “The Mask,” it is best to wear a modern, fitted jacket rather than something equally bulbous.  Because of their high fashion status, pants of this style are likely to draw raised-eyebrows in the street.

Interestingly, or party due to baggy pants’ dependence on them, tops did not follow the super-sizing trend, instead many were cropped and revamped in this manner.  Suit jackets were both shorter and more fitted than had been seen in previous years.  This was similarly the case with the classic tuxedo, which was transformed from its traditional form to a more avant-garde appearance.

One trend that I predict will be particularly successful was a certain ‘wild west’ look at Paul Smith, evoked by earthy colors and a distinctly classic cut.  A higher lapel will likely be increasingly desired after a seemingly long period of fashion hibernation.  While plaids were still ruefully popular with many designers, they seemed toned down to a degree, making them more palatable.  Such was the effect of this Rykiel Homme suit (top right), which flawlessly combined an edgy fabric with a rakishly modern cut to create a Rock ’n’ roll look.

Possibly my favorite look of the season was from Raf Simons.  This pairing of a turtleneck and trousers is so sophisticated and chic in its simplicity that it exudes a timelessness that I look for in dressing. The fit of the pants is perfect and they serve well to visually emphasize the difference between fashion and style.  While zoot pants may be fashionable today, they are the kind of dated tem that will have you asking yourself what you were thinking when looking back on it ten years into the future.