Recently old friend Simon Doonan (the fabulash Creative Ambassador-at-Large of Barneys, New York whose latest book The Asylum is definitely worth a flick) drew my attention to this photograph of Kirsten Owen parading in Helmut Lang’s Spring/Summer 1995 show. In an era when instant Instagrammed images of the FROW appear even before they take their seats and models are relentlessly, uniformly photographed front and centre, it is now a little odd to see this kind of picture that combines both performer and audience – including US Harper’s Bazaar editor Glenda Bailey, at the time editor of British Marie Claire (left, silver silk button-through) and myself (navy jacket, white shirt). It is always odd to see oneself in action, documented documenting the designer’s new looks.
In response I fished out the notebook that I can be seen scribbling in (grey hardback cover, Daler, £3.94 purchased at Canonbury Art Shop, London, N1 – 10th August 1994) and found my quick-speed sketches that include Owen and her feather headdress, which also reminded me of a display I co-curated at the Fashion Museum, Bath in April 2010. Lang, who retired from fashion in 2005 and had picked up the mantle of an artist, made the decision to break up his archive and make donations to museums around the world that he considered of worth. He donated over thirty complete outfits to the Fashion Museum, Bath including both women’s and menswear ensembles complete with accessories. To accompany an ivory organza dress that featured in the exhibit I fashioned an approximation of a feather headdress also shown by Lang (and again worn by Owen) in his Spring/Summer 1998 show.
I have long been a fan of Lang and so I have also included here an article that I wrote, which glowingly name-checked Lang, commissioned by Kathryn Flett, editor of Arena Homme Plus, for her debut issue. Lang penned me a nice letter in response. Swoon.
Sketches from notebook, Helmut Lang Spring/Summer 1995
Kirsten Owen wearing Helmut Lang Spring/Summer 1998
Sketch from notebook, Helmut Lang Spring/Summer 1998
Helmut Lang display, Fashion Museum, Bath, April 2004
TREW ROMANCE – Arena Homme Plus Issue 1 – Spring/Summer 1994
Being a man in the fashion business is not easy. Why? Because women get all the good clothes.
Female fashion is fast moving and forever in flux. One moment they might be squeezing themselves into a skimpy Lycra number by Azzedine Alaia, the next they’re losing themselves in metre upon metre of mattress stuffing, whipped into something fabulous with a Comme des Garcons label attached. Read the headlines: one season hemlines are trailing on the floor, only to rise to dizzy heights six months later. One day you can dress as a Grecian goddess (Elle – March 1994), the next a Karen Blixen lookalike on safari (Elle – March 1994).
Women can wear a skirt (be it long or short), they can wear trousers, they can even wrap an old piece of fabric, cleverly swiped from the dining room table, around their hips and call it a sarong. If they want to.
I don’t care what the feminists keep telling us. Women have choices.
What have men got? Oh yeah, we can wear a jacket. No, no, wait, it gets exciting. We get to choose a jacket with…two buttons, or maybe three buttons, or, if we’re feeling really outrageous and we don’t care what the world thinks, four (yes, four, count ‘em!) buttons.
Then, of course, there are the trousers.
When asked to write down my thoughts by ARENA HOMME PLUS’s editor, she proffered a topic: ‘Why trousers are important.’ Well, they’re not. They’re simply all we’ve got.
I hate trousers. Nothing anyone can say will stop me feeling anything but disdain for them. I have yet to find a pair of trousers, which really make me happy. And I’m not talking jeans, because jeans don’t count. Just once I’d like to try on a suit, with real trousers, and feel slightly comfortable with the leg coverage.
So what if I don’t have legs like Lineker? Shouldn’t I still be able to find a pair of trousers which make me feel good? Women can use clothes to disguise their bad bits and enhance their best bits. Trousers, I’m afraid, do neither for men.
Maybe there is such a pair of trousers out there, but I’ve yet to find them. Believe me I’ve tried.
Over the years, working in the fashion business, I’ve pulled on endless pairs of pants hoping against hope that maybe these will be the ones. This will be the one pair I purchase along with a plane ticket to Taiwan, where I’ll get endless copies made in endless fabrics and colours. Maybe, at last, these will be my Technicolour Dreampants?
By the time I button up the fly, and lash a belt through the waistband I know, without even having to look in the mirror, that they are not. They sag at the back, or cling to the knee, and without fail they trail as much fabric again along the fitting-room floor. The helpful assistant, always on hand, suggests I might like to turn them up. I give him a look, which tells him I might also one day marry into money, and…off they come.
And yet, I never learn from experience.
I have always fancied owning a dove-grey slouchy suit by Giorgio Armani. The kind of suit that falls where it touches. A suit, which positively flows down the catwalk when worn by a God-like, square-jawed model who would tower over Babel. Each season I make the effort to try on such a suit, and each season I hang my head in shame, and walk away, my dream shattered upon.
The reality is that if I wore such a suit to the collections, people would stop and stare, and wonder why Babar the Elephant had been allocated a front-row seat.
I suppose the honest thing is just to wear what suits you, and be content with your lot. Find some clothes which please you, and stick with them like glue, no matter what’s ‘in’ or ‘out’. Call it ‘personal style’ when people point and laugh.
Tell yourself you know better when builders shout ‘Nanook!’ at you when you are wearing your Ralph Lauren parka with faux wolf-fur trimming on the hood.
Bite your tongue when someone else gets their name put forward for the Best Dressed List (again) because they feel happy walking around in Cecil Beaton drag (pastel paisley pants teamed with a brocade waistcoat offset by an elegant Pucci print silk cravat), and you don’t.
Try to get over fashion, before it tramples all over you.
Try to get along without it.
Don’t try too hard.
I once interviewed Nick Heyward when he was fronting the group Haircut 100. He was in the charts with a merry little pop tune, ‘Favourite Shirts’. It wasn’t long before we were chatting about clothes, about his wacky style. All of a sudden, Nick looked at me and said, “You’re a jeans and T-shirt kinda guy.” At the time I was hurt. I was devastated. Like he felt I wasn’t trying or something. Yet he was right.
I love fashion. I really do. Clothes can (and do) make me swoon, but I still feel at my best dressed in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. I much prefer to wear a T-shirt with a suit than strangle myself with a shirt and tie. I like the way it looks (on me). I even wore one to dine with a princess once.
And trousers? Well, they may be important, but jeans still fit me better (physically, and, I guess, intellectually). Except now I wear them cut in satin, and women ask me where I got them. I tell them they’re by Helmut Lang. Naturally.