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Location:
Amsterdam, Netherlands

Liam is the Design Director at DENHAM. in Amsterdam.

The conceptual approach he developed for his experimental Militant Guild of Rural Tailors/Young Meagher Project received some modest international exposure via exhibitions associated with New York Fashion Week and Isetan in Tokyo. This helped establish a creative premise for his current role at Denham. The project also formed the basis for his subsequent relationships with Joe Corre & Simon Armitage of the menswear brand  A Child of the Jago as well as the design team at Ozwald Boateng on Savile Row. Maher assisted both labels with aspects of their respective London Fashion Week debuts. Maher has also consulted for Visvim, Confederate Motorcycles and Legion Los Angeles.  His orientation to quality and craftsmanship come from time spent directing global creative services for Timberland during its heyday in the early 90's. His reverence for individual progression and innovation come from time serving in the same capacity at Burton Snowboards.  A dual US/UK citizen he and his wife Jennifer now live in Amsterdam.

Besides his association with the Keystone Design Union he has also been involved with The View Network and the Fashion Institute of Arnhem (FIA).

 

July 2010 / № 095

David Gensler was kind enough to provide me with this platform.  And, from the beginning, I’ve not been sure the best way to leverage it nor have I been very secure about how best to live-up to the privilege it can represent.

Unlike some of my KDU brethren perhaps, I’m more than spoiled by free access to share my own design work via our website over at Denham.  It would be gratuitous to repost work here that we already post over there.

My sometimes (and currently diminished) involvement in the Militant Guild of Rural Tailors Research Group can also be posted elsewhere.

Embarrassingly for Mr. Gensler this can result in the KDU Network’s demotion to a sort-of “miscellaneous drawer” for musings and observations that don’t fall neatly into the other categories.  On the other hand these things never fall too far outside my main interests since I’m pretty much a one-recipe cook.  The recipe being one for an idiosyncratic soup consisting of ingredients that become more and more predictable as I get older.  Those being:

Utility Tailoring (and the archival research associated with it), Menswear Style (excluding much attention to catwalks), Product Narrative (an unhealthy dependence on storytelling), Yankee Ingenuity (in both form & function), Art School Pretense (you can take the boy out of the art school, but…)

I have nearly no interest in “trends” except those cases where design movements are motivated by the same particular blend of popular culture I was raised in and continue to operate within. My great grandfather was a rural tailor in Ireland and my uncle drew the Xmen comics in the 70’s. So if a mix of those atmospheres is ever on-trend then my attention to it can be taken for granted.  This posting is more about things in the culture than about trend-forcasting.  It’s just some notes on what I’ve been seeing.  I should say also that it was partly triggered by a conversation I had recently with the young Dutch stylist Lara Jans.

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When I was younger the image of a private solider was always presented as a very frightening thing.  The world of the solider-of-fortune or mercenary was still shrouded in sinister secrecy.  I remember the US involvement in Latin America during the Cold War when I was an art student in Boston.  I wasn’t particularly politically inclined but my memory is that, even then, there were no elements of “professional” soldiering that had come out of those shadows. No matter how prevalent they were their mainstream image was a very dark one.

I spend most of my time reflecting on menswear design and that’s the sole lens through which I’m viewing recent changes in that status-quo. The change I feel I’ve seen is the slow sanitization and de-criminalization of the image of the mercenary.  As usual such an undertaking owes something to branding.  In this case it appears to be the oddly neutral sounding acronym “PMC” for Private Military Contractor.  So now we have PMCs replacing mercenaries and soldiers-of-fortune.  Recent articles on Blackwater’s ex-CEO, Eric Prince in Vanity Fair and Fortune Magazine’s cover-story on corporate recruitment of “military elite” place the image of modern military style in some unlikely positions on the magazine-rack.

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Ever reliable Mook Books Japan’s additions to the same media landscape include Tactical Gear and Military Gear Catalogs.  The Japanese Amazon site leads you on to MilSpec, Gunner and Elite Forces magazines.

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Note the direct references to “Military Style” and “PMC” on the covers.  Perusing these resources introduces you to some new brand names (at least to me).  Like TAD Gear, Crye Precision, Mystery Ranch, Tactical Tailor , 511 Tactical, Volk Tactical, Otte Gear, Propper and Vertx.  Brands that reference their “Mission Readiness” or “Operational Athletics” as an explicit feature of their value-set.

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But the exercise also introduces you to some new sides of brand names you already know. Like Helly Hansen, Arc’teryx, CamelBak, Smith, Oakley, Merrell and of course Under Armour.

NEW HIGH-END VS. OLD HIGH-END

One thing you learn about military gear when you research vintage is that the older the piece the higher the quality.  You only have to read History Preservation’s verbose descriptions of Buzz Rickson’s repro product to get a sense of the situation.  Or, discover for yourself by talking with Bob Melet or Graham Cassie in their showrooms in New York or London, or visiting the market dealers at Spitalfields , Clingnancourt, or the Waterlooplein.

I’ve always assumed that this is down to the relationship between governments’ reliance on low-bids, mass production, and the sheer scale of modern armies.  But this older is always better rule-of-thumb relates to “government issue” designs.  The PMC phenomenon represents something different.  The image of the well equipped high-tech private security operator in the PMC isn’t the same as the tattered grimy legionnaire or those biker gang meets Escape from New York guys always getting their asses kicked in old Chuck Norris films .  Perhaps there’s something about this other business model (yikes) that motivates name-brands to innovate higher end product.

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Stylistically the “look” of PMC MilSpec seems to include some new staples.  Black obviously.  But the old reliable OG-107 military green has shifted to a sage green.  The old arrays of Woodland and Desert camouflages have given way to the newer Multi-Camo.  Distinctive esthetics elements like the particular character of contour-lines and signature material-use from brands contributing to this new wardrobe like Under Armour, Arc’teryx and Oakley also seem to be creating a sort of PMC MilSpec look.  All of this results in an impression that differs from straight government-issue military in that it feel much less generic.  –Almost as if military personnel are being visibly sponsored by brands in the manner of modern athletes.

This impression comes through to me not just from the apparel gear itself, but also not surprisingly in the worlds of, toy design, paint-ball, computer-games and films.  The BBC miniseries Occupation among others makes clear references to the idea the PMC organizations provide much better “gear” than the real army. The battle for the Oscar between the former spouses responsible for Avatar and The Hurt Locker ensured that whichever won a PMC vibe would permeate the Academy Awards.

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There are obvious echos of the earlier “Supermodern Wardrobe” movement and labels like CP Company, Final Home, Griffin, Maharishi, Mandarina Duck Apparel, Vexed Generation, WTapsPuma 96  Hours as well as more recent work from some of those same brands (Stone Island Shadow Project) along with projects like Tobie Hatfield’s Nike SFB tactical boot. And this newly claimed midpoint between standardized government-issue colors and camos and the more neutral black and sage realm of the PMC also resonates a bit with newer labels like NAU and Aether Apparel.

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Now.  The odd thing is that the other phenomenon I’ve been noticing includes designs from some of the exact same labels as the PMC/MILspec scene above with very similar functional features. But the impllied politics of this other current couldn’t be more different.  Call it “Hippy Mountain”.  Or Techno-Psychedelic   Or, just Technodelic.

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This feels like the latest avatar of Grunge, except there’s not much grungy about it.  There’s also a bit of what Die Antowoord might call Zef style (modern and trashy and also includes out-of-date, discarded cultural and style elements). Specifically the signature neo-outdoor movement of the mid-nineties with Nike ACG’s bold challenge to conventional brown-shoe world of hiking. -I was acting director of creative services at Timberland in those days and we didn’t know what hit us when they dropped the first ACG Air Mada in purple, bitter chocolate and toxic-green. Also the fluorescents of Oakley Shields and the true blues and yellows of Patagonia fleece of that period.

As with PMC/MILspec you can scan the displays of any Tokyo newstand.

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Besides the shared name-brands and outdoor-technical features common also to PMC/MILspec., the strains running through TECHnodelic share spiritual kinship with some of Grunge’s value-set. The fact that these hippy-ish fascinations couldn’t be further from the ethos of PMC/MILspec isn’t so surprising.  Army surplus subverted with peace-sign patches and worn with tie-dye was a staple of late 60’s early 70’s hippy style. Function just makes for strange brand bedfellows.

Also like Grunge there are streams of influence which seem to emanate from the Pacific Northwest.  Fixed Gear Culture, Native American motifs, Music Festivals…  Not to mention a sort of mecca for performance outdoor design. Mix all of that with a chaotic blitz of new psychodelic color and print and you’re starting to get the picture.

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It goes without saying that anything goes here.  But there are one or two newish fundamentals.  See the ealier rant on Menswear STRATA for some context, but an example is the art of pairing your shorts with your leotards.

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That combined with the impact of technical bags and other non-apparel gear operating in the capacity of styling accessory to some degree sets up a world that reminds me only a little of the bygone days of Teva river sandals, Adidas “Equipment” outdoor, EG Smith slouch-socks, smart-wool and the not-so-bygone days of Birkenstock.  But its particular mix of high and low-brow outdoor style and its mix of high and low-tech (there’s plenty of hemp hanging around here) and its global skim character sets it quite apart from those days.  As it should since that was all before the first Ipod and this all on-time for the first Ipad.  Check-in on Nanamica to get a sense of the freshness.

Another element that sets it apart from prevous decades’ variatons on colorful outdoor is the fashion-show of it all.  At least in the able hands of the Japanese.

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All that remains is for the TECH/nodelics to insert daisies into the nozzles of the PMC:MILspec.’s HK MP5s.  In the meantime, like Swiss watch companies in WW2 selling government contract time pieces to both sides of the conflict, brands like Merrell, Arc’teryx and Helly Hansen have no problem bridging the stylistic and possibly political divide. Function and design transcend.

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And of course the US brandscape has blurped out a conveyer-belt version allowing all the star-bellied Sneetches to get something new stamped on their tummies.  And of course it’s this US entry that bludgeons nearly all of the nuance out of the style reducing it essentially to a logo-carrier proposition and squeezing out most of the room for interpretaion by tweaking the woodstock logo to announce its virtual hippy village without the benefit of metaphor. Yes.  We get it.  It’s like one of those Free City experiments. Yes.  Let’s just leave it at that, -go ahead and call it Free City.

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Finally, since I mentioned it was a conversation about some of these things with the Dutch stylists Lara Jans, I’ll steal an independent image or two of hers that rub up against the technodelic.

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Posted by Liam Maher Categorized: KDU

Over at Denham we’re excited to be retaining our small-team approach to all aspects of design with only 4-5 creatives involved in everything we do.  Brand communication headed-up by Art Director Ali Kirby is conceived by the crew here in-house in order to keep it close to the heart of our overall creative process.  Doing things our way allows us to be more direct, more transparent and more immediate.  -Sometimes the personal approach probably also causes us to be maddeningly arcane and overly circumscribe but we trust in our actual consumers to stick with us ‘cuz our hearts, at least, are usually in the right place.  We’re trying to share our stuff with people, not demographics.

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So when we learned that our recently launched WEBSITE was to be featured in the 2010 CREATIVE REVIEW ANNUAL, we were seriously chuffed.  Particularly when it coincided nearly perfectly with the launch of our E-COM environment as well.  Credit should be rightly shared with Driebit in Amsterdam for their expert technical partnership.

The site is organized like Post-It Notes on a refrigerator door, or like books faced forward on a book-stand.  New books are added all the time.  Visitors can scan the titles, pull one down because they’re attracted to the cover and review the story it reveals.  Some stories are long, some short, some deep, some silly.  They focus on catogories like by the Seasonal Collection, the Denham Garment Library, Studio & Stores, Press Reports & the birth of the Cutter´s Council. Designed in time with no beginning nor end,  it’s a decorated blog. A tailor-made homepage. We hope to fascinate but are equally prepared to frustrate.

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Posted by Liam Maher Categorized: KDU

December 2009 / № 081

(We’ve been simmering this one at the Denham studio for a while.  We’re excited that Wix, Gee and Edson are so close to unleashing their new concept so I’ll double-up on the postings by sharing it here as well as on our own site.)

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The official introduction of the EnPlus/Denham Collusion Series marks the project coming out of months of secret meetings and into the winter light of Amsterdam in December. The series includes the 495 Japanese Dry Selvedge, the 459 American Standard and the Revised Staple White Tee. Each of the three represents a meeting of the minds of EnPlus and Denham.

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Malvin Wix, Gee Schmidt and Edson Sabajao AKA Patta have a proven track-record of identifying, participating-in, filtering and combining style influences with a level of distinction and individuality that can only be born from lifetimes fully submersed in the unpredictable but ultimately harmonious mix of expressive cultures which have been capturing their imaginations since they were kids.

The combined vision they’ve manifested within their existing Patta concept has received international respect deriving as much from the trio’s personal integrity as it does from the carefully curated rare sneaker assortment for which the store is world renowned. Patta’s selection has a reputation for flair, taste, cool, authenticity and fun and the service culture the team have nurtured in the shop has always reflected these exact same values.

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STYLE & CULTURE DETECTION AT PRECINCT 5

But that’s Patta. There new shop Precinct 5 which opens next week on December 10th sits within a retired Amsterdam police station (the former 5th precinct) and represents a completely new step in their entrepreneurial evolution and their new product design platform.

WHAT IS ENPLUS [&PLUS]?

EnPlus is now emerging as the product-based expression of this next evolutionary stage. The crew approached Denham to collude on an inaugural program of co-branded items in honor of the birth of their new shop and the emergence of their new brand.

The concept includes two equally pure approaches to the iconic 5-pocket along with the kind of fresh white tee shirt we used to scoop-up in double packs, crack open and wear right off the card, fold lines and all.

495 JAPANESE DRY SELVEDGE

Named for the address of the Denham store in Amsterdam, the premium edition is crafted in 22-dip Japanese narrow-loom selvedge and features anodized trumpet-shank buttons on the fly. Other details like the full waistband embroidery; “Honorable Men Go With Honorable Men,”, the high gloss black leather waistband label with EnPlus emboss, black twill interior fly taping and interior pocketbag imprint are all common to both denim styles.

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459 AMERICAN STANDARD

Named for the address of the new Precinct Five store, the core edition is made from classic 8-dip American denim and features a traditional button fly. The other details like the full waistband embroidery; “Honorable Men Go With Honorable Men,”, the high gloss black leather waistband label with EnPlus emboss, black twill interior fly taping and interior pocketbag imprint are all present here too.

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CUFF WIDTH AS THE NEW GOLDEN RATIO

The project has been characterized by an positivistic realness embodied by Wix, Gee and Edson. Jean culture attracts purism like knees attract grass-stains but there are endless types of purism when it comes to denim. In the case of the EnPlus crew one core element of the blue jean design dogma is the all-important cuff with. The discussion surrounding the ideal cuff width was long, rigerous and exacting. For those of us on the Denham team it was an unexpected chance to witness a spin on jean oriented passion that was entirely new. Even Jason with decades of denim experience hadn’t been exposed to this particular orientation before.

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WHYCUFF?

The cuff matters because the kicks matter. Stupid. Why else? Jeans need to look good with your kicks, or the other way around. High top, low top, mid, padded leather, unlined canvas… Getting that key measurement to work with ‘em all is no mean trick.

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2PACK TEE

Reaching back to the days when we would crack open a 2-pack of white tee shirts with the broad self-satisfied grin of guys that can put off the laundry for another weekend, the Collusion tee shirts are offered two-at-a-time in a subtle slub-jersey and feature articulated lower hem-drop creating shirt tails that are part of Denham’s own tee signature launching within their Spring 2010 assortment.

THEIR PLACE OR OURS

The three styles in the Collusion series are offered only at the new PRECINCT FIVE shop opening December 10th, and starting at the same time they will also be presented in our own Amsterdam store on the Pinsengracht.

Posted by Liam Maher Categorized: Fashion KDU

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Posted by Liam Maher Categorized: KDU

November 2009 / № 072

All you need to do to accept the fact that it is possible to inherit qualities from generations beneath you as well as those above you is to embrace the idea that time itself can be pretty loopy.  And we should all know that by now.  If I’ve exhibited any convictions about creativity and craftsmanship many of them have been inherited not just downstream but also sidestream and upstream from folks like my brother Niall and my nephew, Kieran Ionescu.

Kieran’s recent efforts speak for themselves.  As good as he can be with the spoken word, he’s always been even more compelling through his actions.  Since his current actions help underscore much of what I sometimes rant about I’ll follow in the footsteps of Agenda Inc as well as reveal more than a little family pride here.

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Posted by Liam Maher Categorized: KDU

October 2009 / № 058

The Iyaric dialect was developed to shine a light on how hegemonic vocabularies can insidiously create and reinforce negativity and cultural oppression. Dedication becomes Livication to remove the hidden reference to death. Everliving replaces Everlasting to neutralize the implication of something being “last” and final. Rastafarians keep their eye (or ear) tuned to protect their values from quiet abuse and manipulation.

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But there’s nothing inherently negative in the construction or phonetic of the word “Shoddy”. There was no reason for anybody, even a militant Rastafarian, to identify it as needing special protection. So how did Shoddy come to mean something bad when it started out meaning something good, -something nearly miraculous?

Renew, Reuse and Recyle the Cloth. Recapture, Resurrect and Reclaim the Meaning

The mainstream mechanism of contemporary fashion depends on a black magic capable of conjuring culture-wide forgetfulness. Like Obi-Wan, “these are not the droids you’re looking for…”. Like George Orwell, “we are at war with Eurasia and have always been at war with Eurasia….”. We celebrate Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin in 1793 and Sanford Lockwood Cluett’s development of Sanforization.  We honor Charles Mackintosh’s creation of rubberized cloth and are still impressed by John Barbour’s refinement of waxed canvas.  But untill last weekend I, at least, had never been told of Benjamin Law’s invention of Shoddy in 1813 (a mere 20 years after the cotton gin) nor his nephew’s development of its close relative, Mungo.

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Benjamin Law was the first to organise, on a larger scale, the activity of taking old clothes and grinding them back down into a fibrous state that could be re-spun into yarn. The importance of the industry can be gauged by the fact that even in 1860 over 7000 tons of shoddy were being produced in the town of Bately with 80 firms employing a total of 550 people sorting the raw material.  But I’m not expert enough to give a history lesson.  Just check Wiki or Maggie Blanck to learn what most of us forgot.

Essentially Law created a means of grinding down used wool garments and blankets to fibers which could be respun and woven into Shoddy cloth.  This allowed for the production of wool from an entirely new source in the midst of a national wool shortage and gave rise to the rag & bone trade as more widespread means of gathering these raw materials.  His nephew figures out how to compliment the Shoddy offer with a more premium fabric recycled from the clippings of unused wool scaps leftover form the tailoring and garment-making trades.  This recycled but also unworn material was called Mungo.

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So it turns out shoddy doesn’t mean shoddy at all.  Shoddy doesn’t mean slapped together, substandard or poor.  Or, at least it shouldn’t.  It should mean ingenious, resourcefull, renewable and loaded with character, texture and history.  Nothing shoddy about that.  Still, Nike called this self-same process “Nike Regrind” but we can forgive them for not using its right name.

It seems to me Shoddy could refer to the search for character, texture and history among today’s rag-piles as well. It’s the endeavor of market pickers and vintage purveyors all-over the world.  Shoddy is the gorgeous output of the searchers and sellers from The Rose Bowl to Spitalfields, to Clignancourt to Waterlooplien to Brimfield and so on.  Today’s rag & bone elite.

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Like the folks documented in MKT.  One of A-Life’s annual Cone Denim volumes dedicated to vintage pickers in the denim/workwear circuit.  Like Kerry Johnston, Larry McKaungha from Heller’s Cafe, Bobby Garnett of Bobby from Boston and Takeshi Ohfuci of Post Overalls shown above.

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Jennifer discovered this shoddy bit of lost history recently and couldn’t wait to fill me in.  I always feel a little stupider than usual when something like this emerges.  I feel stupid and a bit like I’ve been tricked.  Is there some self-serving entity out there who intentionally corrupted and undermined the true meaning of Shoddy only to return a century later heralding the dawn of the new Greening and admonishing us all for being so late to cause?  Yes, there is such an entity.  It’s our industry with all of its narcissistic artifice and ritual forgetting.  We know and we forgive it for the most part.  After all, we love the field we’re all tilling in, turnips and all.  We’ve also got the humility to realize that not everyone has forgotten. A simple internet query reveals companies like Remstar in Romania, Trans Americas Trading Co in the USA and the Eros Group in India (and countless others of course) actively marketing their reground wool product under the Shoddy name today.  While they continue this far-from-shoddy tradition, we also fumble to find words for something that already has a name.  Along with our sourcing and production partners, we work very hard at DENHAM on our own shoddy projects, re-cutting japanese boro cloth and re-using military gore-tex for recent designs. We’re not the only ones and we admire the efforts of our contemporaries occasionally involved the same pursuit.  But neither us nor them ever called our work shoddy.

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But now we want our word back.  Give us back our brilliant inspiring goddamn Shoddy, and while we’re at it we’ll take it with a shot of Mungo for good measure.

Posted by Liam Maher Categorized: KDU

October 2009 / № 020

Something Funny Happened to Me on the Way to Utopia.

A certain set of stylistic trends have been in a tangle. One feels compelled to find substantial identifiable links between them. I attempted to find one myself connecting Otaku with Steampunk but there’s something about looking for links that seems naive. I am starting to realize that the best way to convert the tangle into a synthesis at least in my own mind is partly by treating the matter of explicit connections as a sort of Buddhist Koan. The question is the answer. Or at least the tangle is starting to seem more like a mandala as long as I clear my mind of rational connections. I realized this (or the real possibilities of this new Style Koan began to reveal itself to me) while under the wing of Simon “Barnzley” Armitage in his neighborhood in East London.  But before we get to that, let’s inventory the various throbs of a gestalt.

Heritage Workwear
1. We’ve been fortunate enough to have acquired some fantastic pieces from the past century as we’ve built the Denham Garment Library.
2. We’ve been inspired by the focus on quality manifested by labels unabashedly copying heritage designs like Nigel Cabourn, RRL, Hellers Cafe, Stevenson Overall Co., Sugar Cane, Buzz Rickson’s, Real McCoy, Corona, Post O’Alls, Atelier la Durance, etc.
3. We’ve been inspired by at least the intentions of designers willing to add their own twist to this common basis like Kapital, Engineered Garments, Rogan, Mr. Freedom and General Research

Newstalgia Texture
1. We’ve had plenty of time to internalize the textural potential of rich traditional fabrications especially experienced in combination as from the likes of Paul Harnden, Form d’Expression, Casey Vidalenc, Dries van Noten,  Vivienne Westwood and many others.

Again on the Archive
The folks I work with and I have our regular say about the importance of developing a archive. I worked with a woodcarver once. He had the most astounding array of chisels and often pontifiated on how profound an effect his unique assortment of tools had on the character of his work and on his personal reputation as an artist and craftsman. His own work was modern but his reverence for both the quality and the history of his chisels connected his day-to-day pursuit of contemporary expression to the pursuits of those who went before -some of whom had worked with the self-same tools he now used. Maybe the shape of a chisel also taught the shape of the cut it could make. -Just by examining it, understanding its potential and working with it in trail and error. We’re all consumed by our garment archives for similar reasons; Connecting our current work with the tradition its part of and teaching us the potential of each detail hidden in each piece we explore. The distinct make-up of our archives can predetermine the unique look and feel of our work like the hard won chisel sets would for an expert woodcarver.  And it’s not necessarily about dogmatic purism sticking only to certain eras and certain countries-of-origin.  In fact, that can operate more like something covetous than something creative.  It’s about each of our idiosyncratic mixes that allow for the unique wiring together of our particular originality.

But I’ve ranted about all this already. -Shoulder to shoulder with the team at DENHAM as we continue to build our Denham Garment Library. And in other contexts like the recently launched View Network. It is also a belief we share with Barnzley and Joseph Corre whose unique garment archive occupies the basement of their A Child of the Jago shop.

Hello Utopia
Sichi who does graphics and art-direction for A Child of the Jago was kind enough to invite a couple of us to his art opening in Brick Lane. He had titled the exhibition Hello Utopia. I flew over to join him and the Jago crew. Sichi’s event was excellent. His illustrative handiwork informs the Daily Terror publications done by A.C.O.T.J.. When I describe it as a blend of satyrical british political cartoons from the Punch era, urgent jutting jetting spitting ink work by Ralph Steadman and a bit of nervous anti-heroism ala Egon Schiele I’m hopefully not diminishing it by reference.

Prior to the show the day had already proved to be a revelation.

Cross Pollination, Conceptual Fermentation and Tangible New Energy

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I met Barnzley and his crew in a converted tube-car sitting on the roof of the building that houses The Child of the Jago store.  How this train got to the roof I can’t say but it would’ve needed to be a very big speed bump to launch it that high from the ground.  The train doesn’t hum on its tracks anymore, but it was humming with activity.  Japanese fashion graduates recruited for their tailoring acumen working with Sichi and Barnzley on styles for their upcoming bid during London Fashion Week. After delivering his pair of honorary and long overdue Guildsman’s Tailor Shears he took me in tow and packed in the following events prior to Sichi’s opening:

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1. Spitalfields Market

It was Thursday which is the designated antiques day at Spitalfields but it was late so we needed to make a b-line over the stand Barnzley considers the best of the lot.  Run by Richard Dandler and his son Cosmo let’s call it “Dandler and Son” for want of official branding.  Both Richard and Cosmo manifest superlative vintage workwear style with a wide stripe of both dandyism and boro raggedness.  Think Peter O’Toole meets Peter Beard.  Hanging out a bit with them I realized that this thing I sometimes talk about, a possible “Rural Tailor” aesthetic, is a living-breathing reality and it’s much cooler than I’d been picturing up to now.  Mostly because it’s real and ambles along without copywriting or art-direction.  When I asked Richard if he’s been feeling a gestalt in his own cash-register he said he had, but he also said people still don’t understand that; “you gotta pay extra for darning….”. Fantastic.

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Richard’s focus is vintage workwear and tailored military from the European continent.  After spending time with dealers in Tokyo, Paris, New York, Berlin and Hong Kong it was exciting to see a thoughtful departure from the US military and workwear obsession. No discounting those areas, on the contrary they’re also an inspiration, but that ground is more than well covered.

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2. Cresent Trading London Ltd.

Next stop it was to harass Philip Pittack at his Crescent Trading space.  Specializing in end-runs of  British made menswear fabrics leftover from the ongoing tailoring trade on today’s Savile Row.  The harassment came in the form of my intentionally mispronouncing the word “Guanaco”.  I kept saying “Geurnica” and insisting that there was no such thing as Guernica wool.  Under the pressure of my obvious ignorance Philip sputtered and grabbed a ladder and climbed up his stockpile to pull down a bolt of Guanaco.  800.00 sterling a yard. “Makes cashmere feel like shit…” he confided.  Again.  Fantastic.


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At this point I should mention that Joe Corre and Barnzley sell some of Dandler & Sons vintage in the basement of their shop, and they use ultra-rare New Old Stock from Crescent to produce their own collection.

3. The Golden Horn Cigarette Company

After expressing an interest getting the lowdown on the new Duffer store, Barnzley jumped on the phone, called Eddie Pendergast and organized a preview since the store wasn’t to open until the following day.  When we arrived Mr. Pendergrast was saying goodbye to Barry K Sharpe of Sharpeye fame.  I knew both their reputations but hadn’t met the before so I was a little star-struck.  Apparently Pendergast uncovered the original storefront signage reading “The Golden Horn Cigarette Company” while renovating the space’s facade and decided to it intact despite his new concept being called; “Present”.

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4. Pied-a-Terre d’Maharishi

Finally to Sichi’s opening. As if this half-day submersed in the emerging new London menswear scene couldn’t any more get symbolic, on the way to Brick Lane Barnzley insisted I cancel my hotel reservations to crash at his place.  Barnz currently resides at the apartment that had been outfitted by Hardy Blechman as part pied-a-terre  part hospitality suite for friends of Maharishi, or at least that’s how I understand it.

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Sichi’s Hello Utopia show was the anchoring event holding me in place as the waves of East London’s menswear movement rolled up against me and it performed that roll admirably.  The sinuous style, ernest attitude and overall sense of Bon Ami proved just the ticket, epitomized by Sichi’s work itself of course.

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My respect for Barnzley and Corre’s work should be evident from the small assistance I’ve tried to provide them in their current endeavor.  I have been an unabashed fan of Maharishi, Sharpeye and Duffer and my tastes are such that I’d been waiting to meet Richard, Cosmo and Philip without realizing they existed.  Witenessing them in their element and seeing the particular passion and specific finesse manifested by Barnzley, Joe and their team of consiprators at A Child of the Jago actually tangibly increased my heart-rate.  A renaissance mixing streetwear, sartorial flair, utility vintage and tough contemporary practicality can certainly be felt as you stumble about those East London streets.  These are are topics on which I’ve recently postured and prattled but the thin substance of my affectations were clarified by the degree to which I was genuinely surprised to see these things in their dynamic physical form.  With or without my attention, it turns out it’s all very real.

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While still on the high of that very brief dip into Barnzley’s pool I happened upon a reference to something called Newgate Fiction. Newgate is an infamous London prison.  An all but forgotten component of the literary apparatus helping to indoctrinate the moral hegemony of the Victorian Age, a sort of almanac called the Newgate Calendar was published and was the second most popular book (after the bible) to be found in the average household of the time.  The Newgate Calendar chronicled the lives and inevitable punishments and sufferings of Newgate Prison’s most notorious inmates.  This rogues gallery provided writers of the time with a cast of colorful characters in their own works.  Some which were presented as full biographical treatments of particular criminals, and some which were adaptations.  Dickens’ character Fagin from Oliver Twist based on a famous fencer of stolen property, Ikey Solomon, being an example.  But the list may as well include Jack the Ripper and Sweeney Todd.

Anyway, these characters had no shortage of dangerous street edge and the charisma at the heart of their popularity certainly had more to do with their individual style than any desire for the public to sign-up for the moral I-told-you-so of the period’s class system.  Their stories may have been published as cautionary tales in an attempt to create broad piety, but I’m guessing that intention was subverted by the irresistible appeal of their punk personalities and the extravagance of their sartorial idiosyncrasy.

East London obviously still throbs with this history so maybe it’s always been more Newgate Fact than Newgate Fiction after all.


Posted by Liam Maher Categorized: KDU

October 2009 / № 021

John Chauvin, Stephen Visser, and union-man Joe Schiavone all worked on the 20+ member strong Visual Merchandising team at Filene’s downtown flagship store in the 80’s. I joined the men’s styling squad there while still in art school. Those guys taught me to rig a men’s bust-form. Pull the suit first, select the shirt to compliment the suit, and choose the tie (the item available in the widest variety) to link the two previous items together through color as well texture and luster.

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I used to love the last moment of a rig. Sliding the tie-knot up under the collar spread. To get to that point you had to select the combination, spot-clean the bust-form, steam the suit three floors down in the alterations department, starch-iron the shirt and pin it to the form back in the studio. Joe Schiavone used over 30 pin positions on the shirt, but then again he was getting paid by the hour. That effort was only paid off at that last tie-sliding moment.

Years later at Timberland we obsessed about the idea of layering. When they team at Polo put a leather jacket under a wool duffle we were jealous of their inspiration. Within the extremely limited range of expressive motion in the world of rugged casual menswear, a move like that makes all the difference. I understand the concept of layering differently now. A mix of my rugged casual Timberland days, years in the men’s suit department at Filene’s and decades of unpaid people-watching which began when I was about 12.

For me now great expressive men’s style is about setting up the strata.

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Strata isn’t a fashion term obviously. It comes from geology. Contrasting layers of color and/or textured material.

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For me this way of looking at it clarifies layering’s real pay-off. These are the extremely compact zones of expression and styling attitude that are born of layering decisions but which deliver nearly limitless impact despite the restricted space in which they actually occur.

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This way of looking at it also clarifies the legacy of Beau Brummel whose understanding of how to maximize the dramatic effect of an individual outfit’s strata zones always struck me as self-evident. For me it also explains how dandyism can be at once minimal as well as flamboyant. Flamboyance being compressed and enhanced by the pressure of menswear’s overriding minimalism and stylistic restraint such that it bursts through these small areas with even greater force. Like increasing the water pressure of a garden hose by holding your thumb over the nozzle, or pressurizing a lump of coal into a diamond.

A simple image-Google of the sartorial legend makes the point pretty clearly.

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So today we continue to accept and even embrace the practical restraint of menswear silhouette as well as it’s more limited overall use of intense color, print, translucency, shine, movement and float. Attempts to break out of these restraints remain historical novelties while the traditional restrictions represent the immutable mens style norm.

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And on the street you can see, or at least I fancy that I can see, the manipulation of mens strata yield endlessly diverse style attitudes. For the Beau it was a shirt, a brocade vest, a silk cravat, a jacket and frock coat. Today it might be Polo’s cleaver use of leather as a mid-layer or some kid’s impulse to layer three tee shirts over each other. Headphones replace neckwear and untucked undershirts and boxer-short waistbands replace waistcoats and watch-chains.

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It really doesn’t matter what end of the menswear spectrum I’m looking at, when the strata’s been well managed it makes all the difference.

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From the pages of Alice Cicolini’s The New English Dandy or the pages of August Sander’s Homme du XXe Siecle or the pages of any of Schiffer Publishing’s Military Uniform tomes, the effect can be easily researched. The dandy, the worker, the solider, and an infinite number of style tribes in-between set up the strata in their own way because the possibilities for utterly individual style are limitless despite its seemingly very limited physical parameters.

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Considering the creation of personal style on these terms also reinforces for me what the wisest arbiters of individual taste have always said. It has absolutely nothing to to with money. Those ” …contrasting layers of color and/or textured material,” from the geology book gain even greater expressive momentum when their contrasts are spontaneous and eclectic and feature the hallmarks of both personal finesse and lighthearted experimentation. Menswear vintage, military surplus, heritage workwear, second-hand designer, and any other source are all within the rulebook. And it’s a sincere kick to try and break down how guys with great style are managing their strata and what highly nuanced cultural and sub-cultural signifiers they employ to pull their look together.

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And it consider some of it’s historical DNA.

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Posted by Liam Maher Categorized: KDU

September 2009 / № 017

We’re crazy about vintage. Decades ago it was in order to access an opportunity to experiment with sartorial nuance. As a one-time Bostonian, for me it was Dollar-a-Pound and The Garment District, both vintage destinations in Cambridge. That was the second half of the eighties. Vintage allowed for styling that was unpolluted by overtly marketed elements of trend and which was free of any associations that didn’t derive solely from someplace between the unique physical garment and our own utterly individual perceptions.

If I was learning about garment construction from this activity, I was doing it by osmosis.

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But enough time has passed that my orientation to vintage has evolved considerably. I’m that slow a learner that it takes a quarter-century or so. Somewhere along the line I accidently played my cards right enough that it’s now my giggle-every-morning-on-the-way-to-work privilege to be able to incorporate my relationship with vintage garments into my daily routine. The search, acquisition, documentation, examination and translation of archival detailing within contemporary designs represents a critical part of the design process undertaken everyday by myself and the team I work with at DENHAM. This ethic is traceable via the Militant Guild of Rural Tailors reasearch blog as well as our Denham Garment Library.

The stylistic potential which used to dominate my attitudes toward vintage has now been at least matched (if not overtaken) by a blunt awareness that these garments manifest our best opportunity to learn about quality and that understanding them better might allow us a small chance at contributing to the great historical trajectory of menswear design itself. I used to think it was healthy hubris to willfully push aside the work of predecessors in order to assert something youthful and “new” of our own devising. Despite seeming more modest at first blush, I now think it represents an even greater ambition to attempt embracing the work of those same predecessors and endeavoring to put a shoulder against the fuller weight of this shared tradition in order to push it forward… if only by inches.

At any rate, these musings resonate along some unexpected avenues inline with current trends. Our awakening to the wastefulness of built-in-obsolescence as contrived in the form of the idea of “the New” in fashion. A new hunger for both tangible and narrative substance among all generations. Call it a new value construct, steampunk (God forbid), the Americana grandpa style, Labels of Common Kin (as rallied by Bread & Butter), Otaku authenticity,… Whatever it is the creators of View Magazine (View on Textile, View on Color, Bloom, and View 2) have allowed a little grandstanding on the subject via their new View Network website. It’s subscriber service but it is out there and certainly the View franchise has always represented unrivaled quality. Maybe worth a look.

Posted by Liam Maher Categorized: Fashion KDU

During the period I had the great-good fortune to work with (and learn from) the Visvim crew there was a guy there named Naoki Ei.  Together with Nakamura-San, Naoki developed Visvim’s unbelievably refined packaging and branding elements including the first several iterations of their now famous seasonal collection Dissertations.

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My experience collaborating with Naoki included the opportunity for my wife and I to host him at our studio in Amsterdam. The impression he had already begun to make during my Tokyo visits solidified completely while he was here with us.  A unique mix of quiet modestly combined with very particular standards of taste and quality. A slow burn.  Taste and quality being subjects about which he was slightly less quiet.  He revealed himself as a character who was reluctant to compromise look, touch or feel.

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But it turns out look, touch and feel weren’t even his first love.  It had been sound all along.  It’s been a few years but I finally heard from Naoki again last week.  I knew he had been pursuing his audio passion. He was excited about the launch of his Audio Arts Recordings and seeking to confirm my address so he could share his current activity in a more tangible way.  I’m out of the loop with respect to music packaging.  Between Spotify and I-Tunes I haven’t handled music’s physical dimension since I bought Tool’s last boxed CD (3d glasses and a book of corresponding artwork, like the golden age of Alice Cooper novelty albums).  So it was a treat to see what Naoki has been up to since I know him as somebody committed to these sorts of details.

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But we’re talking about music. After coveting the velvet flocked packaging and the pair of integrated lapel pins I put the CDs in the player. Enough to say they’ve been in rotation all day today but I won’t attempt to describe the tracks themselves here except to say we’re liking the sound a whole lot.  Look for more from  Naoki Ei here.

Posted by Liam Maher Categorized: KDU

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