Are Europeans lured to American brands to make American fashion great? Let’s, for now, put aside “again”.
Over at Coach 1941, the English designer Stuart Vevers opened their spring/summer 2018 season with a Western shirt. This isn’t the same as the one that Raf Simons also sent out first at Calvin Klein, but they have a common genesis: American West. Nostalgic Americana is what Mr Vevers built the Coach 1941 aesthetic on from day one, and he’s not, as it appears, letting up. The hip New York crowd, it seems, likes a little bit of Roy Rogers in their wardrobes, minus kippy belts. Or, as crazy as this may sound, making up for the relative rarity of westerns coming out Hollywood? If only this was launched during Madonna’s Music rhinestone cowgirl phase.
Mr Vevers has what the industry, especially in America, looks out for: pedigree. His first job after graduation at the University of Westminster was with Calvin Klein. He has worked with Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton. Just these two American names are possibly quite enough to let his American employer know that he has what it takes to give Americans what they want.
What does he think the Americans desire? What Michael Kors knows all along: nothing that requires figuring out. Coach is not Loewe, where Mr Vevers worked before joining the former. Loewe took the route of Louis Vuitton—which acquired it in 1996—when the latter launched a ready-to-wear line in 1997, designed by Marc Jacobs. Coach, like general stores of the past, retails practical goods that people need—fashion as a selling point only a recent consideration, when it launched its own clothing collection with Mr Vevers just 4 years ago. They’re somehow all connected there. Take some time to join the dots.
So it is articles of clothing that the Americans are familiar with that Mr Vevers is giving “the world’s largest market for personal luxury goods”, according to a June report by Bain and Company. That inevitably means souvenir and trucker jackets, the varsity variety and the biker cousin; sweatshirts; over-sized sweaters/cardigans; sundresses; Hawaiian shirts, and everything in between that New York’s downtown types would love to wear.
As with Raf Simon for Calvin Klein’s salute to Andy Warhol, there was also homage to another still-popular-after-death American pop artist. This time, it’s Keith Harring—even the artist’s face appeared on a T-shirt. Elsewhere, on dresses and denim tops, Mr Harring’s famous graphic, almost naïve shapes of animals and people in motion make their visible appearance. It’ll be fascinating to see if these images will catch on when Uniqlo has already beaten Coach to using them.
Sometimes one wonders if what these non-Americans are really doing is to indulge in the ‘optics’ that to them must be rather exotic: cowboy country. Or is this dalliance with what are considered to be American “icons” to boost America’s—or, perhaps New York’s—fragile self-esteem when it comes to their true contribution to the world of fashion. We sure know that the three letters U, S, and A now do not have the same allure they once had, ironically less when there’s the call by Donald Trump to get things made in the States again. Does American fashion need a makeover, such as business-y belt worn above exposed zips?
Stuart Vevers brings along with him a wealth of experience that covers a rather big swath of the European continent. He has learned the trade at English, (Mulberry), French (Givenchy and Louis Vuitton), Italian (Bottega Venetta), and Spanish (Loewe) houses. Yet, it is American western culture, rather than that of cities of glamour, that has captured Mr Vevers’s (and, hitherto, Raf Simons’s) attention. Does it mean the same for us Asian as it does for them? Picture this: a Coach 1941 cowboy shirt over an Ong Shunmugam cheongsam!
Photos: Edward James/style.com