What are the greatest menswear brands of all time?

Discussion in 'Classic Menswear' started by YoungAmerican, Sep 18, 2012.

  1. unbelragazzo

    unbelragazzo Jewfro Dubiously Honored

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    ^to rach's interesting post above, I think that "it looks good to me because it looks good to me" is an entirely valid justification for one's preferences over art or clothing or whatever. If this idea interests you, it's possible you will enjoy this thread:

    http://www.styleforum.net/t/306673/on-the-utility-of-rules-for-dress-and-fit

    I think hoping for rational arguments on clothing is something of a fool's errand. We can look for patterns in things that we like to try and produce more things that we like. But we take as fundamental our preferences, not these rules. An example is the color wheel. We have learned, or some think we have learned, that some pattern of colors from this wheel work well together, no matter how the wheel be rotated. This is a theory, which then must be tested by our preferences over these different color combinations. If we find a combination of colors that "should" work, based on the theory, but that we don't like, it is the theory that is wrong, not our preferences.
     
  2. rach2jlc

    rach2jlc Prof. Fabulous Dubiously Honored

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    It's certainly valid, but my main point has been to illustrate that much of the discussion on this thread is between two largely incompatible categories of poster, each using the same set of terms to different effect (and, if we took the time, different operational definitions). The categories I drew were just for convenience, but I called them a (1) consumer mindset and (2) critical mindset. These two aren't, and won't, see eye to eye... but I think that almost every post on this thread can be put into one of these two categories, also accounting for much of the disagreement.

    In (1), exactly what you said is the main point. The view is of fashion from the perspective of the consumer of that fashion, in the sense of putting one's own self in relation to the garment. How would it look on me, would I wear that, is it worth my time and/or money, does it look "ridiculous" (compared to what I wear or generally see worn in my social set), etc.

    In (2), however, a different set of criteria and ideas are employed. It is viewed as a critic of fashion, in the sense of putting the garment in relation to a larger history and body of fashion, society, history, etc. How did that garment come about, what trends before it allowed it to "make sense" in a certain framework, what is it doing differently, and are those differences simply gimmicks or actual tweaks on our "ideas" about what a man can wear?

    For the purposes of this thread, obviously there can be both, but for a "greatest" list to make sense as an article or blogposting for general readership from which one can learn information, I think (2) is more important and necessary than (1). Indeed, (1) is basically what much of styleforum is about, and while it can be useful in telling me about certain brands, it hardly lends itself to a discussion of superlatives like "greatest" that can be informative beyond just knowing that "member Ernest thinks that brown is for farmer" and such. ;)

    As well, as I said above, given that SF isn't an "industry" site of insiders, very few posters have the requisite background knowledge to do (2) effectively. As I said earlier, how many posters have ever been inside an actual Ferre or gaultier boutique, or have followed a runway season enough to comment on that "history?" Probably few, but almost all have their consumer tastes for fashion well set. It is, therefore, not surprising that many on SF come from the consumer standpoint.

    That's perfectly fine, of course, but it makes for a discussion like the OP requested rather difficult. It also doesn't mean that a man's skirt, or a certain type of leather bag, or a fragrance marketed for a woman, is actually ridiculous for a man in any way... though often (perfectly validly) they are called as such by a certain body of consumers on SF.
     
    Last edited: Sep 24, 2012
  3. unbelragazzo

    unbelragazzo Jewfro Dubiously Honored

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    Is it fair to think of this as creating garments that then become a part of 1)? Creating something that wasn't already a member of the set of things a man can wear in public and putting it in that set? Or is that reducing it too far? Is a garment that "does something differently" a gimmick if and only if it does not enter into broader acceptance?
     
  4. unbelragazzo

    unbelragazzo Jewfro Dubiously Honored

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    I guess it may be worth relating back to other arts too - to me, good music is music that you actually want to listen to, that is expressive, and that you connect with on some level. Performances that exhibit a great deal of technical skill aren't in and of themselves great art to me. Likewise "innovations" aren't really valuable to me unless they further the main goal of music, which is as I described good music above.
     
  5. rach2jlc

    rach2jlc Prof. Fabulous Dubiously Honored

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    It's not reducing it too far; I think definitely this is in line with what I'm thinking and have been outlining on this thread... that much of what makes gaultier or Ferre worthy of inclusion on this list is because of how their garments pushed (1) to include their particular vision.

    No, I think it's more complicated/subtle than that. Overall, though, the difference between a "gimmick" and a "creative innovation" is a tougher nut to crack. Gaultier skirts, Yohji's black oversized jackets, etc. are "creative innovations" to me, while Thom Browne's runway shows are full of gimmicks.

    I think a gimmick is when the item in question's underlying purpose, which may not be overt or intentional on the part of the designer, was NOT to enter into (1), but instead simply to get attention, press, to "push the envelope" to drum up sales, or some other element EXTERNAL to the garment itself. There are a number of ways to test this, in absence of the designer himself/herself saying, "oh yeah, the point of this is just to get some attention." After all, even this purpose sometimes results in an innovation, while likewise sometimes an artist saying, "This is art!" ends up just being a corny gimmick.

    On the other hand, IMHO, it's an innovation when the purpose of the item, regardless of how shocking it appears at the time, is to express a particular, consistent, and unique vision of the designer.

    Thom Browne's runway shows are to drum up press for his small suits. He doesn't expect anybody to go and buy the ridiculous crap he puts on a runway; it's to get attention because otherwise putting out the same small suits in various colors each year causes the press to forget. Yohji, though, doesn't send a black frumpy suit and a stained necktie in order to "shock" you into putting his stuff on the nightly news... he does it because that's how he sees the world, and wants you to see it that way as well.
     
    Last edited: Sep 24, 2012
  6. yywwyy

    yywwyy Senior member

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    Well said.
     
  7. rach2jlc

    rach2jlc Prof. Fabulous Dubiously Honored

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    One difference, though, is that music can be a very personal experience that you don't have to share or be seen doing. Fashion or what you wear is not. As such, this opens it up to a very different set of mental categories and ideas about what is/can be "good" or bad. When one calls a Gaultier skirt "ridiculous," much of that may be because of the ultimate social nature in which he'd have to enjoy it, not because of any inherent technical issues with its "construction" (as opposed to, say, a musical piece in which the particular construction of notes, or its method of recording, renders it to your ears unlistenable)

    In this way, I'd say that a music consumer is MUCH more open and free to what music he listens to than what he considers consumable in fashion.
     
    Last edited: Sep 24, 2012
  8. unbelragazzo

    unbelragazzo Jewfro Dubiously Honored

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    Although it's possible Spotify is changing this. I agree that there's a difference compared to music though, but I think it's a difference of degree, not kind. Most people's enjoyment of art in any form is heightened through social interaction. There are definitely artists that it's "not cool" to like, and people who do like them might be quiet about it, and that might decrease their enjoyment of the music itself. But at the same time, they don't have to wear it on their body all the time, so there's certainly a difference in degree, even compared to art, which if purchased is then displayed prominently in one's home.
     
  9. rach2jlc

    rach2jlc Prof. Fabulous Dubiously Honored

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    Good points. I guess my thinking was that while we all (assuming we are of a certain age) have a few ELO songs hidden somewhere on an Ipod or CD, very few of us own a Gaultier skirt. In this way, the social nature of one over the other thus changes the entire set of categories by which we automatically think of it. As mentioned two or three posts ago, it is this "automaticity" that interests me with fashion, how a certain designer changed what we otherwise would never have considered upon opening our closet.

    Obviously, many musicians have done this as well (read what people thought at the premier of Stravinsky's Firebird or Tchaikovsky's violin concerto), but it is a very big difference given the inherently social nature of clothes.
     
    Last edited: Sep 24, 2012
  10. hendrix

    hendrix Ill-proportioned

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    I know you already know this, but I'd just like to point out to the others in the thread:


    • Tailored clothing did not arise as an architectural means of flattering the body. It arose out of the fabrics, traditions and fashions of the time and the abilities and limits of tailors.
    • There are some elements of tailored clothing that can be said to be flattering, but it would be ridiculous to suggest that departure from the norms of tailoring is necessarily unflattering. Moreover, just because there are abc rules to a flattering silhouette doesn't mean there can't be xyz
    • Not everyone wants to have their bodies flattered in the Darwinian sense - i.e. we don't necessarily care to have a nipped waist and strong shoulder or elongated legs etc etc. This is because humans are intelligent and see past things like a lion's mane and a puffed up puffer fish, but also because some of us like to intellectually flatter ourselves - interestingly sculpted lines and patterns for the point of visual interest can be more attractive than just making yourself look strong.
     
  11. rach2jlc

    rach2jlc Prof. Fabulous Dubiously Honored

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    Interesting! Quick point (as I"ve got to get to work!), but one of the interesting thing about non-western designers, especially Yohji, has been the extent to which they've pushed the bounds on what is "flattering" and questioned that Darwinian mindset, showing that it's more social darwinism than biological.

    I seem to recall reading an interview about how he developed his style, after seeing a lot of the history of traditional menswear and finding that it was basically just a codeword for a quite narrow, western, historical trend... nothing in the "darwinian" sense. Anyway, he basically said, "imagine me wearing an A&S suit... I'd look completely ridiculous and it would hardly be flattering."

    He developed his own style as a response to this, and though he's not an intellectual, I often find his garments to be an interesting commentary on what "flatters" the human body and its shapes. We aren't all the same shape, and won't all look good in the same things, though a certain set of (western, white) men seem to think so.
     
    Last edited: Sep 24, 2012
  12. dieworkwear

    dieworkwear Senior member

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    Excellent posts rach.

    I've been wanting to write a more elaborate post for a couple of years now segmenting men's clothing into consumerist, artisanal, and conceptual categories. By conceptual, I mean the same thing as when you say "critical." Artisanal means the anti- or pre-industrial production processes that we and others tend to fetishize.

    It seems to me than many of the arguments that come up here are a result of people trying to shove one segment's values or paradigm into another. A consumerist generally has very "pragmatic" concerns, such as whether a particular piece will make them look good, get the approval of others, and will last a long time. He'll then criticize designer runways for not according to his values - "that's not something I or anyone I know would wear" he'll say. This seems to completely miss the point, that designers are concerned with conceptual contributions, and how something adds to an already existing conversation about design, form, and concepts. It's about how one sees the world, or a particular aspect of it, not whether someone on the street might want to wear their designs to an office party.

    Similarly, people here often feel the need to justify artisanal production processes with consumerist values, which seems ass-backwards to me. There's no reason to have to justify handwork by the measure of whether it makes something fit better or last longer. Some things exist purely for artisanal reasons, and you either value those things or you don't.

    It would be helpful, I think, if people understood these differences, and instead of trying to read one world's values into another, they could just say "that's not particularly something I care about." Rather than be flippant about things they don't really understand.

    Obviously, in practice, almost every line will have these three elements running through it - consumerist, artisanal, and conceptual. But we can think of brands that lean more heavily towards one than the others. RL = consumerist; GJ Cleverly = artisanal; Comme des Garcon = conceptual.
     
    Last edited: Sep 24, 2012
  13. dieworkwear

    dieworkwear Senior member

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    I've always thought Sun Ra was a clever way to get the redistribution of money going from white people to black people during a time of greater inequality.

    (I admit for one year in college, I liked Sun Ra. The feeling passed, thankfully).
     
    Last edited: Sep 24, 2012
  14. rach2jlc

    rach2jlc Prof. Fabulous Dubiously Honored

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    Great post. I like the third "artisanal" category; I hadn't thought of that. To the bolded, I think that the opposite exists as well (Fok mentioned this earlier, too). In many cases, consumerist production processes are often justified through artisanal production, even when such production is completely unnecessary or doesn't add to real value (whether as utility or even as artistic production).

    I spent $9000 on these shoes because they were sewn by a single old man using a platinum needle and molding the last by pressing it under his armpit for eleven weeks, after which he buried the leather in the ground for twenty years to get the antique color, etc etc.... Look at the handwork on this suit! even when the handwork becomes so egregious as to take away from the actual aesthetic qualities of the suit (and to draw attention to itself screaming, "I'M HANDWORK!")
     
    Last edited: Sep 24, 2012
  15. hendrix

    hendrix Ill-proportioned

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    Absolutely, it was a bad choice of words. I meant Darwinian flattering to categorise what Western tailors argue as the features to flatter - shoulder, nipped waist, elongation etc.

    Basically the argument breaks down at every step; I can't even categorically say which features are actually attractive:
    a) You could nearly say that broad shoulders is a sexually selected trait, but there are plenty of well built men with narrow shoulders who have a silhouette that's quite physically attractive as well (and not in the less-masculine way either, I'll get to that). Possibly a strong brow and a sharp jawline - but tailoring can do little to alter this. What features are indeed attractive and how can clothing actually flatter the body without looking ridiculous? Very hard to say.

    b) Artificial selection in humans is a bit of a joke anyway. The breeding majority are not what they should be. We're not getting stronger or faster or better hunters. We're getting smarter, less aggressive, more social etc etc.

    c) Again it comes down to what individual people find attractive and interesting, and what looks good on individual bodies, and what looks good itself is in the eye of the beholder etc etc.

    This is not to say I disagree with traditional tailoring, I just don't like the argument that a break from tradition is going to be unflattering or even that we should care.
     

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