The Cult Brands You Need To Know
Meet fashion’s new trailblazers: Vetements, TAKAHIROMIYASHITA TheSoloist and Isabel Benenato
The latest trio of designers to hit MR PORTER draw inspiration from youth culture, subculture, counter-culture: basically anything but the mainstream. They challenge our preconceived notions of what menswear can, and indeed should be. They break the rules, upend establishment thinking and rail against the status quo. That’s not the only thing we like about them, though.
“What Isabel Benenato, Vetements and TAKAHIROMIYASHITA TheSoloist offer is something for the more fashion-forward consumer to really get their teeth into,” explains MR PORTER’s Buying Manager, Mr Sam Lobban, the man who helped to bring the three brands to the site. “They definitely add a youthful edge. Beyond that, though, what drew us to them is the simple fact that they just make really good clothes.”
We photographed the new collections at the Rom, a famous Grade-II listed skatepark in east London. As one of the best, and indeed most completely preserved relics of the early days of British skateboarding, it stands as an enduring monument to youth culture and everything that it represents: individuality, irreverence, creative self-expression. The same set of values, then, that we can see in this selection of new brands.
What’s in a name? In the case of the much-hyped Parisian brand Vetements – that’s French for “clothing”, by the way – quite a lot. Born out a disillusionment with the fashion industry, this 18-strong design collective came together with the simple goal of, you guessed it, just making clothes. Nothing more, nothing less. While it hardly sounds like the most revolutionary of ideas on which to build a clothing brand, there’s something wilfully subversive about the way that Vetements has gone about it.
Take its fashion shows. In October of last year, while Chanel, Louis Vuitton and other prestigious designers were holding their presentations in grandiose venues such as the Palais de Tokyo or the Jardin des Tuileries, Vetements took the unusual step of setting up shop in Le Dépôt, a Parisian gay club. For the following season, it summoned magazine editors, retail buyers and even Messrs Kanye West and Jared Leto to an unfashionable area of Paris, where it held a show in a spectacularly unglossy Chinese restaurant.
Then there are the clothes themselves, which humorously reference everything from bland corporate iconography — a T-shirt emblazoned with the DHL logo, which sold out earlier this year, was likened to Mr Marcel Duchamp installing a urinal in an art gallery — to 1990s metal bands. This 1990s influence is echoed in the tagline from 1994’s Interview With The Vampire, “drink from me and live forever”, which is scrawled in a Gothic font along the arm of one of its hoodies; and in “may the bridges I burn light the way”, a line from a 1994 episode of Beverly Hills 90210, which is splashed across the front of an oversized T-shirt.
But there’s more to Vetements than knowing cultural references delivered with tongues firmly in cheeks. The garments’ handcrafted, rough-hewn construction and exaggerated proportions neatly encapsulate the current mood of menswear design, ensuring that Vetements stays true to its simple mission statement of making clothes that people want to wear right now. The phenomenal success that the brand has experienced over the past year – which has led to its chief designer, the 35-year-old Demna Gvasalia, being appointed as the new creative director of Balenciaga – is testament to that.
Ms Isabel Benenato brings a wide range of influences to bear in her eponymous line, from urban architecture to the natural world. “In my mind, everything that surrounds us can be translated into art, and from there into fashion,” explains the Naples-born designer. “In Italy, we are surrounded by so much history and the beauty of nature. I’m very lucky to live in the middle of nature, an inexhaustible source of inspiration. I try to translate that feeling I have when I’m in a forest or when I’m walking through the streets of my city.”
In practical terms, this translates into panelled sweaters of yak, alpaca and hemp, bound together with thick contrast stitching, beautifully soft merino sweaters with rolled edges and external seams, or rugged jackets cut from cracked, textured leather. There’s a rustic, earthy feel to the collection that belies both the strength of its construction and the progressiveness of its design.
“I hope the whole collection reflects the commitment to the search for high-quality fabrics and the study of cuts and volumes,” says Ms Benenato. “I try, in my small way, to make people feel good. It’s a mission I commit myself to every day. I am convinced that in a historically difficult time like this we need more beauty.”
In menswear circles, the name Mr Takahiro Miyashita is treated with the same hushed reverence that film buffs might reserve for Messrs Terrence Malick or Andrei Tarkovsky, or music fans for Messrs Jack Nitzsche or Brian Eno. And while the cult status enjoyed by Mr Miyashita is partly down to the success of his previous brand, Number (N)ine, which ceased production in 2009 and still enjoys a healthy trade on the reseller’s market, it has at least as much to do with what he’s been doing since.
With TheSoloist – or, to give it its full name, TAKAHIROMIYASHITA TheSoloist – Mr Miyashita brings his obsession with music to the fore. Recent collections have taken inspiration from Britpop and Mr David Bowie; in his latest show, he dedicated pieces to Messrs Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain. “My taste in music has no boundaries,” he says. “I’m particularly inspired by rock ‘n’ roll, 1970s New York punk and late 1980s to early 1990s alt rock, but R&B and country music also play a part.”
“The vision was to find something new for myself and my clothing,” explains the designer, who signed off from Number (N)ine with a letter that read, “When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.” On the evidence of TheSoloist, Mr Miyashita is far from done.