If it hasn’t become readily apparent yet, Fashion, like many other things, reflects the times that it is created in. This current age of social media driven engagement with fashion has done double duty both in inciting heightened popular interest in fashion, and in giving the traditionally snobby upper-crust side of fashion a good shakeup. All in all, resulting in a fashion renaissance of sorts that has seen the rise of a multitude of new designers, styles, reimagined brands and design philosophies that cater to this new generation of fashion enthusiasts and aficionados (myself included). But what’s also become increasingly noticeable with this rise in fashion popularity, is the growing sense of the impermanence of it all. Although there are some styles that have made it into the halls of “Classics”, countless pieces and trends have fallen to the wayside and into physical trash dumps as they are replaced by the “next new thing” that people clamor over. It’s a given of course that not all new styles will be able to stand the test of time, but not to say it can’t be done.
It’s not farfetched to say that there’s now a style for everyone who is looking for it. Want to be goth but not of the Hot-Topic variety? Ann Demeulemeester has something for you. Want to dress like a dystopian sci-fi Amazon delivery carrier who braves the elements to make sure you get your goddam pizza still hot and in one piece? Acronym is the brand for you. And if you like the contemporary and relaxed looks of streetwear but don’t want to walk around looking like a bipedal basic brand billboard that refreshes itself every week or so, these 3 brands might just be what you’re looking for (Among others).
OAMC, Hender Scheme and A-Cold-Wall, hereby shortened to ACW for the rest of the article, are three of the brands that come first to my mind that take a minimalistic, experimental and future-looking approach to contemporary fashion. For OAMC, this is owed greatly to the nature of it’s founding in 2013, with Supreme and Carhartt WIP veterans Luke Meier and Arnaud Faeh taking the reins of the brand and utilizing their connection and understanding of skate and street culture to produce a brand that is both authentic in it’s DNA, and intentional in design philosophy. With how popular streetwear is at the moment, brands from all over the spectrum are rushing to capitalize on the styles and trends that pop up, some more successfully than others (Praise be Kim Jones’ Dior), and what the failures of this streetwear gold-rush often lack, is the authenticity that OAMC seems to have in spades.
Originally an acronym for Over All Master Cloth, OAMC has carved a niche for itself in the world of menswear by reinventing, innovating and manufacturing classic pieces of casual clothing with a modern lens. This can be in the form of redesigned cloth seams that accommodate for wider range of motion, fabric cuts that sit and adapt to the shape of the body more comfortably, fabric choices that incorporate wear resistance, skin-feel and color retention better than traditional fabrics, the list of details goes on and on. This of course leads to a high price for the individual pieces, with shirts averaging within the $400-$500 range, and coats going up as much as $5884.41 , which is a staggeringly high price for any singular piece of clothing.
“The frustrating thing is that you can’t sit down with each customer and say, ‘Okay, here’s why’,” Luke says. “And sometimes they might not even care. But I feel like if you execute many different details the right way in a piece, people may not know why they think a piece feels better, looks better, or lasts longer, but there’s something there that they know makes it better.”Luke Meier for GQ, 2015
Whether the price is something you’d shell out or not for an undoubtedly master-class piece of garment engineering is up to your own self, but whether the price is justified in any sense? I honestly believe so despite me not being the kind of person who would ever actually purchase the product. You see, OAMC is less a consumer-focused fashion machine in the way of Zara and Uniqlo, and more of a fashion spearhead and personal project for designer Luke Meier, who says, “OAMC is for me, an opportunity to fill this desire I have to make things that I want,” he says. “And what I want has a North American slant, because that’s who I am and my style. But to mix that with the high-end stuff you find in Japan and Europe.” I believe that OAMC is radically important for the industry because it brings with it the graceful marriage of two disparate tones of fashion, that of streetwear and high fashion, and does so with characteristic aplomb and boldness that is needed to encourage changes to the fashion world for the better. Less focus on trends and wasteful fast fashion, less stagnation and stubbornness of generic cuts and silhouettes, and more emphasis on authenticity and fostering genuine connections between clothing and the cultures that it invariably draws inspiration from.
Next up is 2010 Japanese brand Hender Scheme, who is best known for it’s reinterpreting of famous sneakers and shoes, rendered in their signature pale beige leather. Taking its name from the company credo of creating products that, “surpasses the gender schema based on society”, Hender Scheme designs are genderless and not suited for any one gender over the other, instead focusing on producing the highest quality hand-crafted pieces that can be worn by anyone.
Leveraging its impeccable leather craftsmanship and reverence of classic designs, Ryo Kashiwazaki’s Hender Scheme plays with concept of time and interaction in a way that most brands do not. While of course some thought is put into the lifespan of a product when it is designed and produced, Hender Scheme takes that to the next level by incorporating the natural by-products of everyday use and wear-and-tear into the design philosophy of Hender Scheme’s products. Coming from a background of shoe making since he was 19 years of age in the small town of Asakusa, Japan, Kashiwazaki’s passion for shoes can clearly be seen in the way he crafts them out of his chosen working material, leather. Leather that turns from pale beige to a golden brown as it acquires a luscious patina from the oils of its owner, the stiffness of said leather softening but never buckling under repeated use, all the while maintaining its silhouette and function due to the high quality care and craft that goes into producing such fine products. While not a brand that produces clothing, Hender Scheme’s shoes and accessories have redefined what it means to own and use a piece of fashion in my opinion, making doing so more deliberate and intentional in terms of how you use it, how you treat it, and what it means to you beyond just hype and design.
It’s a shame then that Hender Scheme is still mostly known only for its reinterpretation of classic sneakers, a line of products known as its “Hommage” line, as they only make up a small fraction of the brands total catalogue, itself filled to the brim with examples of leather craftsmanship that hearkens back to the classic feel and quality of the most prestigious European leather ateliers. The culture of sneaker heads and sneaker hype has become a monstrously powerful driving force in the world of contemporary fashion, and so it’s no surprise that Hender Scheme has seen the bump in popularity that it has, but it is vital to understand that it is represents much more than just another shoe brand. It’s a representation of forward-thinking design vision that seeks to innovate on the honestly slow evolving world of shoe fashion, while at the same time slowing down the rapid turnover relationship most consumers have with their purchased products by introducing products that truly shine most after a few years or so.
What’s important is to wear them with love. We don’t consider our products to be perfect when they are displayed in stores. Our philosophy is that our products can become perfect as people use them. They aren’t perfection when they are made—I want to imagine them after they are used. In order to make it happen, I choose leather that can get better the more its used.Ryo Kashiwazaki for SSENSE
Now that just leaves us with the last brand I’d like to call attention to, UK based brand ACW, a brand that seeks to “rehumanize” the fashion experience. Founded in 2015 by Virgil Abloh protégé Samuel Ross, ACW has made a name for itself in the streetwear and menswear world with it’s humanistic depiction of the UK street experience, drawing inspiration from the people, the architecture and the challenges he experienced growing up around the country.
I think part of the magic is that I’ve had an incredibly normal upbringing in working-class England,” he says, speaking with a little more clarity. “I can relate to the guys in Birmingham who grew up only wearing Nike TNs and shell nylon. I can also relate to my family who grew up next to Brockwell Park in Brixton and the guys who would only wear 400 GSM grey Nike tracksuits. And that all comes into play when capturing a generation’s spirit.Samuel Ross for Mr. Porter, Aug 10, 2020
ACW’s design philosophy can be a bit harder than most to pin down, due to Ross’ eclectic pool of inspiration that surprisingly includes a great number of architects such as Massimo Vignelli and Shusaku Arakawa. I think the Business of Fashion Company puts it best in saying, “ACW* incites a cultural conversation that celebrates the energy of youth. Designs erupt from a complex of circumstances reflecting and dictating final creations. Deeply considered material study compound the ACW* philosophy. Ross’ multidisciplinary and semantic approach to the design process births collections of graphic garments and technically engineered pieces that explore the nuances and disparities of modern systems. Reductive and functional clothing is engineered to serve social modernity through high-tech fabrications, precise executions and elevated finishes.” But is the design all that is “humanist” about ACW? Far from it.
Like I’ve alluded to in previous articles, there’s often a dichotomy between the target markets for fashion brands. There are those who seek to buy clothes to look good in their day-to-day, and those who seek out clothes that align with their personal lifestyle and aesthetic. In a similar vein, ACW divides his consumers into distinct categories in order to produce products that can cater to each category individually. The “Artisans” have clothes made for them that emphasize expressiveness through texture, silhouette, fabric and color, while the “Conscious Professionals” have clothes made for them that emphasize functionality and convenience that works to assist them in their day-to-day, as opposed to being another thing for them to worry about.
The hidden beauty of ACW in my eyes though, is not just that it is wearable, authentic and dependable as a brand, but that it has found a way to do so without being mired in the ever-foreboding reality that is the bottom-line. Where many fashion startups and promising young designers brimming with passion and ideas meet their end is when they have to face the reality that their clothes just aren’t selling enough to support their lofty goals. A harsh truth that hopefuls often overlook in pursuit of “dreams”. However, ACW has flourished to an estimated £12 million valuation after just 5 years of being in existence. Part of it has to do with the aforementioned humanistic design philosophy, but part of it has to do with Samuel Ross’ approach to versatile and well-integrated business operations that has allowed the business to pivot away from the massive financial and operation pitfalls that have reduced brands like J Crew and Brooks Brothers into chapter 11 bankruptcy. With the planned choice to limit stockists to just 6 brands worldwide, and instead choosing to focus on online distribution and instilling robust online sale logistics, ACW has weathered the current COVID-19 pandemic remarkably well, reporting their highest online sales revenue ever where many other brands face loss after loss as the fashion world is rocked by the pandemic.
Sure, these brands may not be the most affordable you’ve ever seen, but each one is an important player in making sure fashion continues to evolve for the better. Whether it be through environmentally sustainable production and supply chains, versatile business operations that focus on reliable growth over rapid expansion, or just through keeping the flames of timeless, classic designs alive through the oxymoronic application of modern innovation.