Can you believe that we’re already into 2019 ? At PG, we are about to celebrate our 10th birthday this month, making us once and for all, one of the founding fathers (if not grandfathers) of the men’s style blogosphere .
Today, I would like to express a thought which took me almost a decade to formulate and which will certainly shake your classic men’s style aficionado’s certainties, irritate a few members of our community, and perhaps set the cat among the pigeons.
But honestly, when you reach the canonical age of 10 years of uninterrupted presence on the web, I believe one may speak without taking any (peccary) gloves, even on potentially controversial subjects.
Before going to the heart of my sartorially-politically-incorrect presumption, I would like to briefly come back to some very peremptory stances I have taken in the past concerning the great debate between fashion and style; or, to be more precise–between “fast fashion” and classic style.
Indeed I’ve been among the most zealous voices to advocate the fact that fashion is a shallow, collective and temporary thing, while style, on the contrary, is authentic, personal and timeless.
Like many colleagues in the field, I recognize that I’ve been using ad nauseam a few quotes from Coco Chanel or Yves Saint Laurent like “Fashion fades, only style remains the same”, ” Fashion you can buy, but style you possess” or even the famous diatribe by Oscar Wilde saying “Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable, that we have to alter it every six months”.
The more I read those quotes, which are now used everywhere and on every men’s style blog, especially by the young generation discovering the mesmerizing sartorial world, the less I agree with them. Maybe I’m reaching an overdose which is starting to feel like rhetoric. Nevertheless I must confess that all these shibboleths about the presumed superiority of style versus fashion, for me, have long lost their vibration. To go further, these quotes have began to smack haughty, arrogant and mostly, erroneous.
Let me explain, before you snarl in revulsion at your screen.
It’s not that the 2000+ articles, reports and editorials on PG, and more precisely the dozens of pieces dedicated to the difference between style and fashion are to be thrown in the rubbish bin. Certainly not!
Yet after a decade of total immersion, 24/7 in this sartorial microcosm, I’d like to declare a sort of epiphany: to write that style is permanent (sorry Simon), or even eternal is an hyperbole, if not to say, a sartorialist’s fantasy.
Be serious. Do any of us dress in the same way men dressed in the 17th century, with wigs, ruffles, frills and high heels ?
Or to close-in more carefully to our current time frame, do you think for a moment that the Jimmy Stewart of the immortal “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946) or the Clark Gable of the multi-awarded “It Happened One Night” (1934), both of whom today we love for their timeless and nonchalant elegance, would have been admired at a party in 1972, hosted by Tommy Nutter and Edward Sexton on Savile Row ? I dare to say that these beloved icons would have probably been looked upon as dressing like Great-Grandpas at such a party.
I admit to using extreme examples to prepare you for the unexpected. Thus, I begin my manifesto declaring in no uncertain terms that style is not eternal.
And no Sir, I’m sorry, but classic style is NOT even timeless. Such a statement is a fairy tale, a myth, a romance.
Why ? Because if style were timeless, it would mean we all possess the supernatural capacity to remain totally immune to the world around us. Are any of us wearing an armor which protects us from the “air du temps” ? Seven fold vainglory ! Neapolitan condescension !
The only real difference between the highly ephemeral nature of fashion and the long-lasting spirit of classic style is the time scale. And so I propose:
The time-scale of fashion is the season, and the time-scale of classic style is (likely) the decade.
Fashion can indeed make a colour, a cut or a fabric obsolete in a few months, while classic style may need years in order to accomplish the same effect. Fashion is about instant revolution, while style is about slow evolution.
Yet this disparity does not mean my first bespoke suit by Cifonelli is obsolete, not at all ! I still wear this suit quite often (even if I’ve had the suit sized up and down a few times, after 10 years of biking the streets of Amsterdam versus periods of indulging in Italian food and French wine).
Yet still, we can admit that since the beginning of the decade, we’ve witnessed the lowering of lapel notches (after almost reaching our shoulders in 2013) ! The oversized lapels from yesteryear, my great passion to say the least, indeed are now on the way to become more reasonable (albeit not slim at all). We also can admit that the excessive amount of shirring on Neapolitan sleeve heads, have had a clear tendency to settle down and have lost the appearance of a shriveled banana skin.
When the rebellion becomes the norm
We live in an age where our beloved Berluti shoe store has morphed into a 2000$+ sneaker retailer, a time where, reversely, Dolce & Gabbana has rediscovered a passion for sartorial art (D&G Alta Sartoria). We live in an age where our favorite magazine (which remains our favourite magazine) endlessly sings the praises of Ralph Lauren, declaring on a recent cover why the world needs Ralph Lauren now more than ever. Am I dreaming ?
We live in an age where almost everyone (and I weigh my words) is going to Pitti Uomo, albeit while not a professional in the menswear industry, hoping to be photographed by the right photographer. This phenomenon reminds me of a time 50 years ago at the Cannes festival, where a myriad of star-wannabes, or “starlettes” in French, did cartwheels to attract the attention of directors and producers (looking for the superstar of tomorrow) through the sex-factor shock of donning close-to-invisible bikinis.
The courage must be mustered to face reality : our sartorial rebellion, once so exciting to live, so pleasantly disruptive, so gently subversive is on its way, slowly but surely, to loose its soul.
It doesn’t mean the battle is over–far from it (look around you and count the numbers of sharply dressed men you see in a day or how many decent shoes you see at work). Indeed, a global improvement of elegance would be miraculous in a world which is ever-lacking in style and propriety.
The problem is that our community is beginning to suffer the same evils as the world of “High Fashion” : arrogance, haughtiness, sentiment of superiority of those “who know” (how to fold a pocket square, how to NOT buckle the second buckle on a monk strap) and are bent to influence the “masses” by appointing themselves as “style icons” or “public figures” while (behind closed doors) buying 200K followers on Instagram or 1,2 millions likes for a few hundred dollars. What a pathetic realisation of Andy Wharol’s prophetic thought!
To cap it all off, some iconic tailoring houses are now trying to step into the “high fashion” world by organizing catwalks during fashion weeks! Between you and me, there’s nothing more boring in the world than to look at young models walking, uncomfortably and most of the time almost laughingly, in single and double-breasted suits. Are we really the only ones to notice this progressive, yet real drift ? We’ve been among the first to speak openly against the impunity of “the almighty fashion houses” who took the habit to invent a fake heritage for themselves. Now we are witnessing the reverse : true artisanal houses who dream of a high-fashion ready-to-wear future.
Whether you are on board or not, I believe the points above (even if probably maladroitly organised) are of capital importance for the future of our community which is growing fast and starting to have a real share of voice in the often-vulgar world in which we abide.
A second sartorial revolution ?
This is my personal wish for the decade to come : a second sartorial revolution.
And even if I’m not able, today, to give it a precise road map, I’d like to share with you a few ideas and reflections in no particular order :
Rule 1: Pitti Uomo is not real life (except for the exhibitors and the buyers of course).
Rule 2: Instagram is not real life.
Rule 3: Don’t let your style be dictated by “professional influencers” or worse, by “GQ-insiders” (what a stupid name–meaning someone took a photo and posted it online) or by self-proclaimed “Style Icons”!
Rule 4: Enough of being harassed and fooled by stories of “artisanal know-how transmitted since five, 10 or 20 generations”. These stories are most of the time invented or overemphasized. It’s like six degrees of separation, where any connection can be made to some important personality in the world. Anyone is able, with a little effort, to find in the genealogical tree a great-grand uncle who worked as a delivery boy in a tailoring house in 1895. On top of this, if a distant cousin of your great-grandmother left a photo in the attic (no matter how terrible) of Uncle George, you are all set to go! You now can open an industrial made-to-measure salon “established in 1895”. Forget the lie, as long as you have the date !
Who will bother to challenge the existence of Uncle George ? We even know some so-called “bespoke tailors” who have invented an uncle in Napoli in order to try to gain credibility!
Rule 5: Do not be concerned if your atelier has been created one century ago or yesterday morning. Be interested in quality, quality and quality.
Rule 6: Continue to untiringly track down semantic abuses and call a spade a spade. Let’s fight against the idea, widely taught in journalism colleges, that words are living things and that they must adapt to their environment even if they loose their original meaning. No Sir ! No! It is, in our field, more important than ever to understand the major differences between words like bespoke, made-to-measure or made-to-order and the real meaning of all these words which describe the level of craftsmanship and handiwork put inside a garment, a pair of shoes or an accessory.
Rule 7: Let’s humble ourselves. And most of all, let’s stop pretending we know more than our neighbor who is trying his best to be elegant but does not have your experience–or your wallet. I’ve met so many men who know almost every “rule” and “tip” about men’s style by heart, but who dress like Christmas trees while giving lessons.
Rule 8: Let’s make peace with the fashion world. Fashion and style live on two continents separated by an ocean of differences and this will never change. Keep in mind that even if we can’t stand the arrogance of some fashion designers, fashion itself and “Haute-Couture” remain extraordinary assets for countries like France–in terms of employment and image.
Rule 9: Please continue, my friends, to look for, and to patiently build your own style with the right dose of humility. Accept the fact that you are going to make a lot of mistakes and please be immune to all the lesson-givers, false teachers or professional bashers who proliferate like a virus on the web (including those anonymous Instagram accounts which exist to bully and discredit people who try their best to progress in their sartorial journey). Behind all these accounts, you’ll find wicked people who themselves have a revenge to take on life–we are aware of some of them and their ways are simply pathetic. Ignore these people and dig your own sartorial furrow everyday!
The quest for a personal style (and lifestyle) is, in the end, the only thing which is timeless and which will transcend generations, status in society and cultures.
Happy 2019 my friends !