By Jamie Waters
We are living through dark days. The political climate in the US and the UK generates unease, terror attacks continue and Kim Jong-un threatens Armageddon. In such moments, culture, design and fashion either succumb to the gloom or stick two fingers up to it. Fashion brands are favouring the latter: they are embracing an escapist joyfulness and learning how to sell us happiness.
Colourful clothes adorned with joyous prints or rendered in fluffy fabrics have waltzed into our wardrobes. The king of this movement is Gucci. Its creative director Alessandro Michele (who has described himself as a “happy child”) has ushered in a wave of wonderfully eccentric dressing. The results have been breathtaking: in the first six months of 2017 the brand recorded a 43 per cent increase in sales on the same period in the previous year. How? Rainbow-hued frocks splashed with paintings of faces and festooned with bows, plus jumpers decorated with spaceships.
Gucci is not the only one making a killing from selling fun. Fendi, with its strawberry key-chains and flower-power slides, is one of lvmh’s top-performing brands this year. “Ugly” sandals have been championed by the likes of Christopher Kane, who dreamt up (or nightmared up?) some bejewelled Crocs. At the recent Paris shows, Phoebe Philo built Céline’s collection around “joy”, culminating in a dress coated in dozens of tiny feathers that waved to the audience as the model strode by.
“If you look broadly, when things aren’t going so well, people look for levity in their shopping,” says Bruce Pask, men’s fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman. “For the forthcoming season we are seeing pink everywhere in menswear, from Tom Ford to John Elliott. I think it’s because there is a really whimsical sense to that colour.” Others tell a similar tale. Brigitte Chartrand, womenswear buying director at Ssense, the trailblazing online retailer, says that “for aw17 [currently on sale] we felt it was the right moment to get into colour”. If a yellow sweater splashed with a UFO can put a smile on a person’s face, that’s not to be sneezed at. “Buying something colourful can impact our endorphins and make us happier, like eating a piece of cake,” says Dr Dimitrios Tsivrikos, a consumer and business psychologist at University College London. “There is evidence supporting the fact that in economic downtimes people are not leading pluralistic lives so they seek to buy small bits of fun.”
Buying a cheery item is an act that pays us back in drip-fed hits of joy. The initial purchasing makes us feel better (buying any item – colourful or not – lifts our mood says Dr Carolyn Mair, a psychologist and lecturer at the London College of Fashion). Then when you pull that silly jumper out of your wardrobe and over your head, you get a spurt of endorphins. “Then you get a resurgence of the effect each time someone comments on it,” says Mair.
There’s a caveat though: when we are depressed we also crave the familiar. “People want nostalgic brands that they can trust,” says Tsivrikos. The world Michele has conjured feels fresh but he has mined Gucci’s archives for inspiration. It is far more nuanced than slapping a dinosaur on a T-shirt; shoppers need to feel authenticity. “Italian labels are doing playfulness better than others because they have this history of goofiness,” says Tsivrikos, pointing to Fendi and Miu Miu as other standouts.
Putting a smile on someone’s face may be lucrative – and is an example of the small role fashion can play in temporarily spiriting us away from our troubles. But it’s not something that brands can fake: we can all spot a forced smile a mile away.
A trip to Thomas Hauser’s Viennese workshop involves a tour of the leafy garden and the art nouveau-style studio, where the silver-haired goldsmith handcrafts bespoke jewellery. “It’s important to show clients where and how I work. Tucked behind facades and storefronts, you wouldn’t guess we’re in central Vienna,” says Hauser, who set up Atelier Allure in 1989. He’s since worked with individual clients and luxury brands, including Cartier and Calvin Klein, on pieces such as earrings, men’s rings and cufflinks. Hauser’s use of materials is as unique as his workspace: his designs are sculpted from metals such as gold or platinum combined with a special type of concrete or black “niellium” (a platinum, palladium and silver alloy he developed for his signature chunky rings). A visit to this Viennese gem is an ideal Christmas shopping sortie.
Giuliva Heritage Collection
This new label comes from husband and wife Gerardo Cavaliere and Margherita Cardelli. Designed in Rome and made in Naples, Giuliva specialises in women’s outerwear inspired by men’s cuts.
Gosia Piatek’s womenswear label, now 11 years old, turns fabrics designed by its team into minimalist apparel. At the end of this year the brand will open its first shop in Piatek’s hometown of Wellington.
These festive Cashball puffers are the stars of Noah’s latest collection. The brainchild of Supreme alum Brendon Babenzien, the label offers cool-boy downtown Manhattan vibes mixed with classic menswear style. Pick them up at the brand’s shops in New York or Tokyo.
“It’s a modern track jacket with a bomber-inspired silhouette,” says Olivers founder David Wolfe. The Gate jacket is the first foray into outerwear for the athletics label, which makes its wares in LA and is stocked in shops such as Austin’s Weathered Coalition.
When it comes to drawers, Druthers co-founder Adam Gianotti likes to keep things close to home. His Brooklyn-based underwear company manufactures its cheery boxers in New York’s garment district, using organic and recycled cotton. Four years in the label’s designs are sold in shops such as Opening Ceremony and Pilgrim Surf Supply.
Q&A – Konrad Olsson
Founder and editor in chief, ‘Scandinavian Man’Sweden
Journalist Konrad Olsson left his job at the helm of Sweden’s Plaza Magazine earlier this year to launch Scandinavian Man, a magazine and events platform for Nordic fashion and lifestyle brands. The English-language title, which he created with business partner Jonas Bergström, looks at Scandinavian style and values. The launch issue is on sale now.
Why did you launch ‘Scandinavian Man’?
The company was born out of our realisation that there’s no platform for men’s fashion brands in Scandinavia. We started talking about this a year ago when we saw how fast the menswear industry was – and still is – growing: 5.5 per cent per year globally. It started as an idea to launch a Scandinavian men’s fashion week but we decided to do the magazine first.
Is the fashion week still happening?
Yes, it is scheduled to take place in Gothenburg from 25 to 26 June, just after Paris fashion week. The timing is important: previously Scandinavian fashion brands have shown their products in August, which is too late as most buyers have already made their orders at that point.
You also want to advocate Scandinavian values – but what are they?
The Scandinavian man is the most modern man in the world. He is the most equal [in terms of gender relations], the most present as a dad and is aware of sustainability issues and innovation. Scandinavia stands for a kind of healthy humanism, which is a much-needed contrast to the aggressive rightwing turn we’ve been seeing lately around the world.
After working in fashion for years, Alison Cosson felt that designers and manufacturers were drifting apart. Frol was born in 2014 in a bid to combine these skills. “Frol sits in the space between designer clothing and traditional tailoring, that’s why I call myself a ‘clothesmaker’,” says Cosson, who designs and makes everything herself in Stockholm.
We’ll have Rototo socks on our wish lists this Christmas. The one-year-old label designs and makes its wares in Nara prefecture, Japan’s sock-making capital. Its collection runs the gamut. There are socks in yellows, blues, pinks and greens, ribbed socks, socks with spots and waffle socks. Many are made from organic cotton or linen blends; all are seriously comfy.
Margaret Howell x Mizuno
Mizuno and Margaret Howell team up for M-Line, a natty running trainer made in Mizuno’s Japan factory.