I’ll level with you — I’m rushing this one because I want to watch ‘The Devil’s Double’.
Looking around trade shows, everyone’s a bloody king of clobber these days, but it’s all so serious. You can tell the amount of knowledge that’s been Googled as opposed to what’s innate. I don’t know much about clothing, but I’m sure that you couldn’t engage in a conversation about anything beyond surface level, and that’s what’s missing. You can pull in the names, but the fun’s not there. That’s because you need to know what you’re talking about before you can drop the stern face. Clothes and the aura they carry — perceptions of wealth, cultural capital and a lot, lot more that a flattering, costly bit of cotton can convey — are daft, so they deserve to be displayed with a bit of humour. That’s what’s lacking in the homogenized realm of menswear retail. If you can’t see the humour in two men dressed in Norse, slim-fit beige on the bottom half and a Supreme box cap looking down on the All Saints and Superdry clad clones then you’re probably part of the problem.
But I digress.
Clothes are fucking funny but few seem to display them as anything more than something to give it the Aryan blue-steel for a photoshoot over. How can you take shoots that inadvertently look like the Style Council’s ‘Long Hot Summer’ video seriously? Give me Oi Polloi’s Deck Out any day. It’s good to see that Manchester’s city centre mayhem last week didn’t harm this northern retail institution, but they’ve dropped some interesting bits and pieces lately. How many menswear retailers put out not just one, but two fine publications? Incidentally, that’s real-world paper ones made from the flat stuff sourced from pulped trees rather than a mass of pixels.
‘The Rig Out’ just got even better (and when I find Glenn “Laine Kitsu” Kitson in his lair, I’ll crow about how good it is here) and the Deck Out spinoff, ‘Pica~Post’. Issue number two of the latter just dropped, with the title: ‘Ralph’s Motors and Seaside Selvedge’. There’s a Japanese excursion in there, a really fucking good Polo Trekking jacket, another Norse Projects and Oi Polloi project, Ralph’s motors and a Cottonopolis history. I love those write ups (I believe the young upstarts from Proper Mag are involved), the handwritten “asides” and the fact the whole thing just knows its shit to the point where it can be this playful. It costs 2p plus postage and packing, thumbing its nose at our inexplicable acceptance of the £20 twenty minute read.
You can like orange parkas a lot and still be the life and soul of the party. Don’t let the dullards tell you otherwise.
The Cottonopolis range looks good too. Named after the cotton mill empire that Manchester was at the epicentre of in the 19th century, that element of fun balanced with immaculate presentation crops up again with the Whillans Parka in the collection, named after Lancashire legend Don “The Villain” Whillans. I’ve long associated climbing with a certain passive beardiness despite the hardships involved, but Lancashire climbing legend Don was apparently no slouch when it came to fisticuffs. The excellent book ‘Invisible on Everest’ briefly mentions Don’s type — a breed of working class climber who was a stark contrast to the intrepid toffs from earlier in the century — but his achievements were significant, inspiring some technologies, being the first to conquer some Himalayan trails, walloping bus conductors and enjoying a drink or two. But Whillans’s skills as a climber shone through and the pictures of him taking on some Yorkshire grindstone in a shirt with rolled sleeves and a flat cap are astonishing.
Don passed away in 1985, but it’s likely he might have approved of the Whillans Parka. It’s Manchester-made with some style cues from the 1970s – when Don beat his demons with some epic feats — and there’s no messing about with this one. Especially in red. Whillans would doubtless have had no time for fancy types, but this shade of red wouldn’t have left you sprawled on the floor courtesy of a well-weathered fist. You might have seen a lot of outerwear along these lines lately, but bear in mind that Oi Polloi were pissing out parkas while you were still wearing full-zip hoodies festooned with gaudy prints of firearms all over them. Nice coat, great concept and a pleasantly robust antidote to the overly-precious fun vacuum that the industry perpetuates. This is themed gear, shorn of twattery.