ROUGH TRADE

(BlackBerry blogging is back: I had to write this on a packed train with a woman and man behind me arguing about a fold-up bicycle)

For all the misery projected on here and Twitter, I actually like my job and the industry I’m in. I’m only salty that I saw it when it was fragmented, less regimented and a goldmine for someone to collate, repackage and regurgitate from a distance before I got involved in it. That’s not so say it wasn’t a cliquey, chummy, second-hand smoke zone in the years prior, but even stale ideas weren’t quite beaten into submission back then. Since coverage and retail have assimilated for me a little more (maybe with more emphasis on retail), so January means tradeshows.

Tradeshows are generally bad—as the name suggests (the word “trade” immediately sucks the joy out of anything), they’re guaranteed to lure a fair cross-section; from ruthless rag trade types to bloggers. A few years back, the Berlin Bread & Butter show seemed to be full of buyers and those who’d been dragged along out of brand obligation. It was a pretty serious affair. Now they seem to be something that people—beyond those exhibiting—seem to anticipate with some excitement. Sometimes people go to tradeshows for the fun of it. I’ll never understand that, You came here off your own back without even a single roll of the eyes? It’s like Randle McMurphy’s realisation that some of his fellow inmates are there of their own accord.

Bread & Butter Berlin is a well-run creation. That it towers over other Euro “street fashion” (sorry, just coughed up some blood there) fairs is a testament to that. On scale alone, you’re destined to blankly saunter into vast swathes of mediocrity, but few can anticipate the nightmarish realm of the Denim Hall, wherein brands you love retain their dignity by perching vaguely out of sight between vast hastily-erected temples of shit…heavily distressed, paneled bootcut creations, franchises you assumed dead revived by Euro entrepeneurs and presided over by bearded men with fanciful, unnecessary belt buckles and V-neck tees swooping so far you can see their belly buttons.

Then there’s a G-Star stand so vast that it would probably be visible from space. It’s at that point that you realise that you’re tunnel-visioned good fight to see authenticity and accuracy in the jeans you wear is an absolute irrelevance. Sometimes you need a wake-up call. For that reason—and that reason alone—I recommend spending time in the denim realm.

As far as streetwear goes, much of a tradeshow based around sneakers, tees and caps is effectively just a walk-in blog. When a boffin turns WordPress into a 3D realm, some of your bookmarks will replicate a streetwear tradeshow experience. Except where seven foot tall Americans once wandered around in tilted New Eras and matching Greedy Genius shoes hip-hop hugging as if they were out to smash a hetrosexual intimacy world record, wringing their hands during conversation like Ted DiBiase, things have smartened up. You’d be forgiven for thinking you were in a theme park themed entirely on moc-toed footwear, or if ‘Jurassic Park’s John Hammond used the amber of prehistoric brands to recreate another kind of monster. Things done changed, but the generic aura remains.

What concerns me is that people seem to be going there to be inspired and gauge future trends, but with a new wave of double-acts like the Nigel Cabourn x Eddie Bauer jacket or whatever Filson footwear double-feature is dropping, it’s all just feasting on its own intestines like the bearded cannibal at the end of ‘Antropophagus.’ There’s no shock-of-the-new in sight and containing it in one zone, you can almost see the same idea bouncing around from wall-to-wall. If the big guns are bland, how on earth will the trickle-down ripoffs manifest themselves over the coming months? The quick meetings and stop-and-chats even feel like hipster speed dating for collaborations, sales or business cards to groom the brand into freebies in the imminent future.

I still can’t quite fathom why anyone would buy a tradeshow sneaker or apparel tie-in—but hey, someone must buy those Hard Rock Café varsity jackets. Maybe it’s as a tradeshow memento of bromance after all those hugs and shoe compliments (‘We’ll always have Capsule”). Still, I can’t deny the social side once the show’s over for the day. And to reinforce that experiential point about visiting the denim hall for a reality check, I recommend seeing every brand you’ve ever enthused about in a factory farmed setting (being milked for free stickers and keyrings) as a form of hype brand aversion therapy.

Un-PC as it might be in current circumstances, I’d love to pay a visit to the Defence & Security Equipment International arms fair or the Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show in Vegas…it looks like they showcase some interesting items right there, and it would make an interesting departure from waxed cotton. If people are dressing like outdoorsmen, weaponry’s surely the only logical next step, right? And as a weary dealer is obliged to go and inspect bullets, pistol grip innovations and laser scopes, I wonder if—given the chance—he’d trade the Glocks for frocks on the tradeshow circuit.