Menswear is lost. Lost, of course, doesn’t necessarily mean dying or confused, just sort of, you know, floating through its existence blindfolded, searching for ground to plant its feet or a handle to grab onto. In the beginning, it was really fucking easy. We had our heritage and nostalgia and craftsmanship and quality the feeling that by shopping we—ME! YOU!—were helping our crippling economy.
Today, things are less obvious and even less linear. There’s streetwear, of course—equally rich in skateboard culture and the proclivity to be immature and corny—with its founding members/customers extremely caught up in protecting “that OG real shit," resistant to new labels and change. The there’s high fashion, providing a fantastic opportunity for men to experiment with varying silhouettes, fabrics and patterns in an effort to free themselves of the restrictions of classic tailoring and traditional masculine values. But high fashion—with all its prohibitive pricing and fast pacing—is intimidating as shit. And we'd be remiss to leave out the everlasting influence of Italian sprezzatura, exciting and romantic at first glance like a beautiful Italian woman speaking her native tongue. We may not know what the fuck she is saying, but it sounds sexy as hell. Unfortunately, like Americana before it, the Neopoltian aesthetic—or some grossly diluted semblance of it—has corporate America breathing down its neck. But it's where these vastly different worlds collide that menswear is most likely to find its home. And, for the time being, that home is Scandinavia.
We when mention Scandinavian menswear, it's the brands (Norse Projects, Our Legacy, Han Kjobenhavn) and retail destinations (Tres Bien Shop) that excite us. This shouldn't really come as a surprise since the region is known for its cultural focus on well-designed things, even if the rest of world passively digests this knowledge at Ikea. And if Ikea has taught us anything, it’s that America will eat this shit up.
Most of all, this means that 'quality' isn't just stitching technique or thread count, but also the overall branding and packaging.
These Scandinavian brands not only provide a synergy of the aforementioned genres of men's clothing, but stand for Good Design in general, while a store like Tres Bien merchandises and curates it. The qualities that make this all aesthetically pleasing are the very same qualities that have made objects aesthetically pleasing since the Bauhaus: clean lines, simplicity and a constant search for the metaphysical idea of “less is more”. But where Wassily chairs can seem sterile, Scandinavian menswear labels in the year 2013 seem timeless and moderately experimental. And yet, nothing is alienating or ostracizing, with just the right attention to detail and innovation. Take Our Legacy’s S/S 14 zipped popover chambray shirt: a classic silhouette with very little surface details, but the atypical closure is enough to make you ask yourself, “Why hasn’t anyone thought of that before?” Looking closely at Norse Projects’ continued production of T-shirts, crewnecks, denim and chinos produces similar results. To the uneducated eye these basics are ignorantly labeled as just that, basic. We see clothing that makes you question why you've ever bought T-shirts, crewnecks, et al. from anywhere else. The colors, shapes and fabrics may be familiar, but this is execution on as near a perfect level as possible.
If there is an outlier amongst Scandinavia's best, it’s newcomer Han Kjobenhavn, originally an eyewear brand that only for the past 2 years has moved into apparel. In the interest of differentiation, Han Kjobenhavn can be described as the most eccentric of the bunch—the most willing to experiment with surface detailing. Kjobenhavn are especially attentive to branding in the form of highly plot-driven lookbook films, which are beautifully shot and told in an effort to draw the customer in on a level separate from garmenture alone.
What does accept Scandinavia as the current global powerhouse of menswear mean? For starters, American menswear is in trouble (one look at this year’s GQ Best New Menswear Designers In America class backs this). It means that things don’t always have to reference the past to be appealing, and that customers love things they’ve never seen before just as much as they love things they’ve seen in old photographs. And that the hyper trendy (i.e. fleeting) can be cut with the classic to lessen the death blow of unwearability (see: An Our Legacy bomber done up in pony hair, a geriatric model wearing accessible Han Kjobenhoven workwear). Most of all, this means that "quality" isn't just stitching technique or thread count, but also the overall branding and packaging. This notion permeates our lives through almost every other purchase we make and deserves a real chance to influence our menswear buying habits. It's second nature to expect our cars, computers and phones to progress, inch by inch, every day. Why can’t clothing?