Fashion’s Fondness For Identifying Things

Towards the end of the last decade, fashion proved that we need to know what the things we wear or used are called. Either that, or we’re terribly unintelligent

 

Off-White Quote “TOTE BAG” as seen on an evening commuter

Regular readers of SOTD know that, at the start of the new year (or, now, end of a span of ten years), we do not have the habit of looking back. Not for us, a recall of the “The Top Ten Items that Changed Fashion in the Last Decade” or “The Ten Looks of the Last Ten Years that should not Return in the Next Ten”. To rejoice or regret the past is, to us, a little pointless if you consider the speed at which things move forward, and the pleasure to bear witness to such a sweep. In no time, the Twenties shall not refer to the 1920s, but the 2020s. Today’s current will quickly become tomorrow’s retro. Yet, some things that happened in fashion need a looking back not because of their design value, but because of how they reflect our collective cleverness and, perhaps more importantly, discernment.

One thing that stood out for us rather glaringly (and annoyingly) is the predilection for identifying things as if we know them not. We aren’t referring to the oddly popular Nike T-shirt from a few months back that said “Freak” on the chest—people can describe themselves as whatever aberration they want (even if one “Greek Freak”, Giannis Antetokounmpo, already has). It is something more insidious, starting as a small text on the out-step of the mid-sole of a sneaker and becoming full-blown naming of anything, from tops to totes.

We have no idea why we need to be told or reminded of what we wear or its constituents. We can only surmise that designers are bored with monograms and logos, and clever turn of phrases. To stay with text on garments, accessories, and footwear, they turn to bold identifying without going into full anatomy mode. How unaware, unschooled, unknowing are we? Or, how clever is the instigator?

20-01-03-19-28-47-844_deco.jpgThe “WINDOWS” at Off-White, 268 Orchard Road

It took an architect/engineer/DJ bent on conquering the fashion word to tell us that we do not know our fashion. Virgil Abloh, the designer, likes pointing out to us what should be common knowledge. We aren’t sure when it all started, but when Off-White first opened here in 2016, we remember the window labelled at the top, “WINDOWS”, in his signature font that is bold, all-caps (he isn’t shouting, it has been said), and sans-serif, and captured between double inverted commas. What could that glassed opening be if not one of windows? (That currently appears on top of the door-less entrance, which could be a “WINDOW” into the Off-White world, now offering more than just clothing, shoes, and bags).

We remember that not long after the store opening, we started noticing the “AIR” on the side of the mid-soles of shoes he created in collaboration with Nike (that began with the Air Jordan I, released in October 2017). And the three-letter word continues to appear in subsequent-sneaker collabs. What is the likelihood that an Off-White “SUPERFAN” who is also a Nike die-hard would not know that the Air Jordan I is not fitted with Nike’s air sole technology? Hack, it is even in the name of the shoe!

Off White X Nike Air Presto Black 2018Off-White X Nike Air Presto from 2018

Those partial to Mr Abloh’s work will be quick to point out that the text is an attempt at humour and irony, and is a reflection of street culture, and a clever way of setting his (otherwise ho-hum) designs apart. Forget about show, not tell. Obvious is the new black. Spelled-out is the new loud. Just as you thought “AIR” was a one-off, he gave us “FOAM” and “VULCANIZED”; yes, “VULCANIZED”! A Vibram sole so branded is understandable, but vulcanized? Oh, let’s not discount “SHOELACES” too, just in case you forgot what your mother taught you when she dressed you for play school. And, if that’s the case, Virgil Abloh offers free flash cards with your Nikes and Converses!

Of course, brands were eager to follow. We’ve seen COLLAR (yes, minus the quotation marks. Who’d be that blatant?) and SLEEVE, and COTTON, and even on top of a tear at the knee of jeans that said RIP (we think the creator meant RIPPED, or perhaps Rest In Peace, un-disfigured pants!). Meanwhile, Mr Abloh’s gone on to accessories, telling you that a backpack is a “BACKPACK”, a name card holder is “FOR CARDS” and, in case your’re still uncertain, on the other side, “FOR CARDS”, again. Perhaps more crass is the bi-fold wallet that informs you it’s “FOR MONEY”, outside and inside. And, you probably guessed it, there’s really a bi-fold duly and boldly identified! Even graffiti on a handbag has to say WOMAN (no, inverted commas this time)! Frankly, how much is inane and how much is education?

20-01-03-22-14-34-877_deco.jpgOff-White “FOR CARDS” holder

“I don’t come from where I’m supposed to come from,” Mr Abloh once proudly said to W magazine. Which could mean—and we already know this—his background isn’t in fashion. Did he infer that he could, therefore, flout tasteful convention? It is possible that Mr Abloh had to learn everything about fashion and its many parts from a blank slate, even memorising components so as to understand the whole. But isn’t it presumptuous of him to think many people need to be similarly taught? Or, know not any better?

After a decade of fast fashion and street wear, we thought fashion consumers are better informed now that even Uniqlo gives it products proper descriptions and labeling (Harrington Jackets, for example, not just any jacket. There’s even Smart Shorts for women—nothing tattered or too short!). Or, in the case of sustainable brands, hang tags that announce their socially responsible design and business practices, such as the US label Outerknown’s (which are also dissovable in the wash, eliminating even the need for recycling). Shoppers have no use for useless information, we believed. Yet, there are “TOTE BAGS” that need to be known in indiscreet text—its self-identification strangely not thought of as affront to our intelligence nor casting aspersions to an elevated consumer culture. Perhaps, we’re not so sophisticated after all. And it takes fashion designers to tell us so.

Photos: Zhao Xiangji

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