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The dilemma of associations

The dilemma of associations

The dilemma of associations

Friday, October 28th 2022

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By André Larnyoh

If you know the photographer Alex Natt (above), you’ll know that he has his own somewhat distinct uniform: a loose oxford shirt, wide jeans or chinos, well-worn cordovan loafers and a baseball cap of some kind. Simple, to the point and he’s made it his own.

He told me of an encounter he had recently in Canada, where a woman asked to borrow his phone. When he said no, she looked him up and down, called him a “trust fund kid” and went on her way. Those that know Alex know that he’s miles away from being one, but he knew it was his clothes that gave the wrong impression. In North America, an oxford shirt and chinos have particular associations with yuppie and preppy culture.

Associations and the context of a piece of clothing have always been tricky things to get away from. Look at what’s been done with military wear over the decades – from being something that was worn by servicemen on the GI Bill, to being adopted by people on the so-called fringes of society as part of sixties counterculture movements, to now being so ubiquitous in fashion that arguably a good 50% of designs take their cues from the military.

If you wear an M65 or a pair of OG107 trousers out and about today, no one is going to assume that you’re ex-army. They’ll just think you like practical, robust clothing.

I have always been conscious of avoiding looking like something I am not. Not always successfully I might add – I’ve been called/heckled a lot of things. In fact it has sometimes been so debilitating that I’ve kept certain items of clothing at arm’s length, or at the very least worn with a huge amount of trepidation. I haven’t gone near an oxford shirt and chinos since someone accused me of wanting to belong to a culture that I had absolutely no interest in being part of.

This is all a roundabout way of saying that clothes carry baggage, not all of which we’re necessarily aware of.

To some extent – and it’s possible I might be diving a little too deep into this, but stay with me – wearing certain things can give you a sense of imposter syndrome. I’ve certainly felt that with particular pieces or outfits. Things that feel alien or clash with my worldview, culture, or even social circles. What you may see as timeless or classic (two arguably very charged words) could strike someone else as formal, preppy or plain old uptight.

An example of this for me was the collaboration last year between Crown Northampton and AWMS, which produced a Belgian loafer with varying animal prints on the apron (above). My interest was piqued by a brown suede pair with cheetah spots, but it was immediately noted in my circle that they were something a Congolese uncle would wear (there’s a reputation there for decking out in head-to-toe animal prints). The cultural stigma was enough to make me um and ah. It couldn’t be unseen.

Still, I do think it’s too easy to get stuck in the safety of the rules of the game. Not that there’s something bad about the structure of things, but my admiration is for those I see who, consciously or not, break form and association.

The people who keep an eye on the rules, traditions and contexts that influence what we wear and don’t only ignore them, but often break them entirely. They bring themselves and their background to the clothes, creating something that is more personal – because at the end of the day we are all individuals.

Of course there will be those that argue you just need to grow a spine, ignore the haters, and wear whatever you like. The truth though, is that it’s not that simple. You need a supreme sense of self to do this, and I’ll be honest in saying that I am only halfway there.

There are various people I personally know that I could highlight, but Moteen Iqbal (above and below) is one I’d pick out. One of the kindest people I’ve met, many will recognise him as the former manager at Drake’s and from his days at Timothy Everest – but it’s when he’s off-duty that the magic happens.

His collection is eclectic – spanning streetwear, technical fabrics and more classic tailoring and shoes – and every piece is treated equally, for all occasions and settings. You can easily find Moteen in wide Needles sweatpants, a loose untucked oxford shirt, Horatio horsebit loafers or Adidas Spezials and one of his many voluminous Stone Island coats. He has that rare ability to make them all work together in ways they shouldn’t. It’s nothing short of uncanny.

When I said to him that I wanted to mention him for this piece, Moteen laughed it off. “I have no rules when it comes to wearing stuff,” he said, and that is exactly why, in my eyes, he is a master. You can tell by looking at him that this is someone who has had a long personal journey with clothing and also, as time passed, has both accumulated more and while narrowing down what works for them and what they like, uncompromisingly.

Rachel Tashjian recently wrote a piece examining the meaning of the word ‘chic’ while breaking down this year’s Bottega Venetta show. It’s worth reading in full, but to make a long story short her argument is that the truly chic individual is one who knows themselves so well that they say something about style in the way they dress and carry themselves.

It is something that comes with time – when insecurities have lessened, when you’ve been through enough of life that the opinions of others don’t phase you in the way they did you were younger. It’s this idea that has slowly helped me gain the courage to start wearing gold-button blazers, for example – something I’ve avoided for years because they remind me of Carlton Banks (below, left).

Today the question I ask myself with those blazers is how can I make them work for me, and with what I wear? Always trying to avoid looking like I’ve studied photos of either King Charles III or Carlton. So I’ll add work shirts, knitwear without shirts, or pieces from more fashion-forward brands. Maybe one of those flowy wrap shirts from King & Tuckfield or a pair of pleated trousers from Homme Plisse, all in an effort to develop something that’s more personal, playful and honest.

In fact I think breaking with the story that comes with a piece of clothing is what can separate individuals who wear their clothes, from those whose clothes wear them.

Why follow the rules of a piece of clothing, or even a subculture? We’re at a point in history where anything goes, certainly outside a work environment, and it’s exciting to see people embrace the chaos, to create something that’s personal and interesting.

Most will take baby steps, but that’s better than nothing. Maybe I’ll end up with some animal print Belgians after all.

Image below taken from the PS piece on André and his style

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