Thursday, June 09, 2011

Stroke. Art Fair 1

That the art fair I visited on the Sunday before last had room for creative expression in the sartorial medium came a something of a surprise. The Swedish-German duo improbably named Ebba and Gepetto have made it their mission to redefine the trouser. Their canvas is cotton and the tailoring is executed in Italy. Their motto is 'big balls need room'. Yes, well...

I might be tempted to dub them pant pioneers but for two reasons I shall not. While the abbreviation is of the French pantalon I do prefer to speak of trousers; it is a world of Celtic origin and in the sixteenth century was written as trouzes. In Scotland the variant trews remains common, but that's another matter.

Anyway as the E&G slogan indicates, perhaps, their re-engineered trouser makes more than a nod to the 'drop crotch' style favoured of late by urban youth. Never mind that the yoof affecting this style remain largely ignorant of the origins of this droopy drawers trend. When belts are taken away from prisoners when they are offered accommodation in prison cells the trousers inevitably head south, boxers are revealed and the crotch is on its way towards the knee.

However E&G were not inspired by the gangsta mystique but, as I understood it, by a baggy pantaloon they encountered in North Africa, similar to that traditionally worn by the Zouave light infantry regiments of the French army of yore. The end result, costing two hundred Euros apiece, is a trouser which is not only roomy but one with features which I suppose must be seen as timely. No tailor will ever again ask whether Sir 'dresses left or right'. Thievery is discouraged by pocket, suggested as the place to stow one’s passport or cell phone, which can be folded inside the waistband, itself a construction allowing all manner of adjustments. Pockets are sufficiently capacious to stow within the obligatory bottle of mineral water, or several cans of energy drink. Or an Uzi sub-machine gun. An ingenious device regulates the distance from the trouser's hem to the ground. And so on.

It is a garment I could imagine being worn by the bright young men with whom my student daughter turns the nights into days in Maastricht; I could see a lad thus attired on a matching Vespa riding into the summer dawn.

On the whole, however, I am absolutely fed up with the current fad for indecisive items of menswear which cannot decide whether they are shorts extending below the knee (and usually in fabrics recalling the cheapest of checked table cloths) or proper trousers which have shrunk radically in the wash.

At the same time I have nothing but respect for the serious and dedicated effort made by E&G. In conversation with E (or was it G?) we agreed that it was remarkable how little attention has been given to the fundamental architecture of the trouser. Bavaria's native son, Levi Strauss, did a pretty good job with his bale of denim and defined an alternative to the conventional trouser. There was, of course, the drop-front style still seen today in the German Lederhosen, in carpenters' work-wear but associated in the minds of most with jolly sea-faring lads and  viewed often as slightly comical if not ineffably camp.

Functionality was of concern to military quarter-masters and the simple cotton trouser which was the summer uniform of the American GI remains almost unchanged in the product range of Dockers or Gap.
The needs of soldiers were also uppermost in the mind when trousers began to have multiple patch pockets in unlikely, and to my mind uncomfortable, places. I see most often such ‘cargo’ breeks* on geeks who would never, ever have passed a military medical inspection! The British army went a step further than the Yanks in terns of summer garb with a comfortable and functional khaki drill short. I wore one for years on my own (un-matching) Vespa and never tired of explaining that the very deep waistband was as it was in order to allow the wearer to sling around his middle a broad webbing belt.

But in general there have been few radical re-thinks of the trouser. While chatting with E (or was it G?) I recalled a pair of trousers I bought in the late sixties which were definitely the result of some original thinking. Heavy black cotton canvas... seaming at the back, a bit like the reinforcement on cyclists shorts, but cut so that the fabric sculpted the bum, I guess. At the front there was a kind of gusset which again was contoured but to give comfortable support. My conviction is that there was a kind of 'engineering' thinking behind the design, in the same way that running shoes are constantly optimized and that over the years such things as push-up bras have been developed. They were, I believe, created by Antony Price who then went on to have a quite spectacular career.

Mark you, all of this in-depth consideration of trouser engineering on the Sunday before last is really quite odd, given that when I visited the art fair I was wearing one of my kilts. On average each of the four kilts in my wardrobe gets a monthly outing and neither in my regular Munich haunts nor in the offices of my clients does this cause a single eye-brow to raise. Shall I continue to explain my advocacy of non-bifurcated male apparel? No! Shall I make in this regard a further closing allusion to the E&G motto? Heaven forfend!

* Breeks, that’s Scots for breeches, or britches, and rhyming with ‘geeks’ pleased me.

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