Wednesday, 2 June 2010

The suit on Liverpool Street

The apex of urbanity is too oft regarded as universal expedience. All we've wanted since the beginning of the industrial revolution is to have it all, and to have it quickly. As I make my way to central London for evening drinks, I am surrounded by hordes of besuited people. Avoiding eye contact, as all seasoned users of the Underground do, I only understand the travails of an city banker's day when a heavy lapel wafts into my face, or when a damp shirt presses against my hand as I keep a firm grasp on the rail.

Just as high fashion filters down to high street, by the mid-90s, spending like a mid-80's banker was par de course. So we clamoured for logo t-shirts, for name-dropping and the accolades of popularity we'd gain from becoming walking adverts for our favourite brands. In the late 90s into the early 2000s, we turned to minimalism for minimalism's sake. We dressed how old films perceived the post-apocalyptic future. Robotic, dull, wipe-clean man-made fabrics and two-tone, spiky hair, as if the looming Y2K disaster was a mandate to adorn ourselves with celebrations of technological disaster. The boho look was a flirtation; with pathetically loyal Sienna Miller and anorexia-inducing Rachel Zoe credited as pioneers of this look, the gypsy outfits and their ideologies were insincere . The freedom of the draped fabrics
were throwbacks to the liberating late 60's, but discredited women and fashion alike by being exclusively created for the fairer sex, blockading much development of male couture beyond a Hedi Slimane suit.

Now, thankfully, men's couture is just as relevant as women's. We're retching at logos and shiny synthetics, real fur and flares. We're choosing sleek lines, neat and sturdy tailoring, natural fabrics used with increasingly more ecological responsibility. All of this serves to not only recapture classic beauty, but to maintain its timelessness. To be cutting edge now is to pay tribute to everything good that has come before, not to create from a vacuum. We're Dali these days.Each item is perfectly formed, but the combinations are where we break the rules. Summoning the most highbrow of postmodern referencing, we are coming home to ourselves in brogues and trenches, ankle boots and blouses. Short backs and sides and quiffs, shirts fastened and never any factory-made wear and tear.

Fashion flourishes in urbane environments: London, Milan, Paris, New York, because this is where people come together for ideas to accelerate. Compressed, we are saturated with inspiring imagery. But when we are literally pushed underground to make our high-tech conurbation easier to traverse, given less space than the average battery-farm chicken, our preening must be sacrificed. Clothes become hindrances, obstructions in the furious race from A-B. If this commute is a quotidian requirement, it is all too easy to desire practicality over beauty.

This movement towards unrelenting progression isn't to be desired. Not only is the applicable to our cities, but our selves. We are pushed so hard to compete that we forget to take time to look around, to enjoy what our eye beholds. The difference between a street and a road is that the street has its obstacles. Obstacles, in all aspects of life, provide character.

On London's street level, our urbanity is palimpsest; blitzing, fires and boom-time development means that no one street is constituent of one form or aesthetic. And this is reflected in people's sartorial choices. Out of the commuting mindset of unfettered achievement, we can not only breathe, but idle our eyes upon the most silent, yet most beautiful forms of self-expression; clothing. It's not that the suits don't look good, it's just that the context stinks. A suit on a Monday on Liverpool Street reeks of greed. That same suit on the same street on a Saturday is suave.


This piece was commissioned by a London College of Fashion magazine, title TBC

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