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A(LeFrude)E:
One part Lanvin, two parts LL Bean, and a dash of Issey Miyake for flavor

The best part of a show like Pitti Uomo are the complete surprises: brands one sees for the first time that give a refreshing take on something classic, or a unique vision assembling familiar materials in a new way. One such surprise for me was A(LeFrude)E (pronounced “ah-le-froo-duh”), a Japanese brand designed in Tokyo by Daisuke Sano. Looking at his FW13 collection, I saw influences ranging from Viktor&Rolf to Lanvin to LL Bean to Issey Miyake to Japanese Ojiichan/grandpa chic, a mixture so eclectic that it just may be original.

What I like: Unlike many of the Japanese designers, who sometimes sacrifice wearability in favor of a unique aesthetic, material, or color pattern, all of A(LeFrude)E’s garments shown at Pitti were subtle, unique, and yet well within a recognizable context that most any buyer could understand. Small twists on classic items created a refreshing sense of familiarity: small leather accents on a tweed baseball jacket, fur-collar contrasting with wool and nylon in a parka, a muted putty-gray gave a pair of button boots a very contemporary feel. These small details kept the garments within an established fashion history, while pushing them slightly in a new direction. As well, the pricing of the brand was fairly accessible, compared to Yohji, Junya, or Miyake, with excellent MIJ (made in Japan) quality and slightly, though not egregiously, slim silhouettes.

What I don’t: “Refreshing” nevertheless doesn’t mean that one can or would buy such garments for one’s self. For example, while I respect Yohji, I can’t wear him. Same with Miyake. While overall A(LeFrude)E’s items were more consistently wearable than these other two, some of the garments are stylistically interesting, yet border on a specificity that overly narrows potential uses: a leather-and-shearling fishing jacket with multiple pockets looks interesting, but aside from keeping one warm while on the banks of the Colorado river sporting trout, I’m not sure exactly where or how I might style the garment. It was in this way that I noticed the Viktor&Rolf influence; playful takes on established classics that, sometimes, veer off into territory better left uncharted. Likewise with some of the shoes; button boots or leopard-skin loafers look great on a shelf, but how many occasions might one actually wear them in real life? For me, fashion is ultimately four-parts usability and one-part art, and my only complaint is that some of the garments might not get much use in a regular wardrobe.

Overall assessment: Japanese designers have long been known for their unique, sometimes irreverent, approach to fashion classics. They’ve also been known for pushing fashion into wearable art. A(LeFrude)E certainly keeps with the trend of unique Japanese fashion, while nevertheless staying closer to the DNA of the original target garments with subtler, more personal twists. Ribbon loafers contrasted with baseball jackets, button boots with fishing vests, synthetic nylon next to natural fur, all give an interesting sense of contrast that doesn’t clash or become too costumey. I look forward to the future direction of the brand and following Daisuke Sano’s tweaks through the next few seasons.

More pictures, lookbooks, and information at their website:
www.alefrudee.jp