Beyond #Menswear’s Existential Crisis

March 19, 2013 BY CAPSULESNEWS

When Complex editor Jian de Leon posted a piece called “Addressing #Menswear’s Existential Crisis,” on Four Pins last week, he got a whole lot of us in the industry talking about the rise of a subculture, the driving forces behind it, and the future of a movement that seems to be moving ahead at the speed of the Internet, while indulgently keeping one eye on its own reflection at all times.

We spoke to Jian about the piece, and his take on where #menswear needs to focus in this exclusive interview.

We loved your piece on Four Pins. What prompted you to write it?

It was reactionary to people sort of saying that menswear blogging is selling out, losing its original focus, and getting too commercial. There's been a lot of that criticism for blogging as a whole, but primarily, I just wanted to address how it's up to us to find a balance between monetizing content while producing work that can still be good.

In the piece you call for “More voice, less reblogs.” We love that! Who is giving us a lot of voice right now, in your opinion, and why do you think it’s so important?

I'm a big fan of Jon Caramanica's stuff for the Times, I mean Guy Trebay, Tim Blanks, those people have been writing about menswear for like, longer than I've been alive. Glenn O'Brien has also been doing his thing since the '70s, and I think he's a great example of how your voice can be really timeless. This is a guy who can write about Supreme, J.Crew, and Basquiat. There's a versatility to it, but at the same time, you could hide his byline and know it was him. I also love Gary Warnett's blog. If you don't read it you are doing yourself a huge disservice. The guy knows subcultural context like nobody's business, and is a great resource for all things sneakers and streetwear. Amy Odell really stood out with her work at The Cut, and is killing it at Buzzfeed. You've got guys like Rembert Browne at Grantland, and Jon Moy has turned the average hype blog post into something more. He brought a self-awareness to it and a great sense of humor. I think that's why Four Pins resonates so much with people. It's like a wink and a nod to the #menswear tumblr generation but also a middle finger. Jesse Thorn of Put This On has also mastered this, while Derek Guy of Die, Workwear! seems to know just about everything.

Voice is more important than ever in world where images are quickly taking precedence over storytelling. Most people who want to work in fashion have this dream of styling editorials where the only words are the fashion credits. I feel like there are fewer people whose dream is to watch shows and write about peplum and tweed—and there's definitely room for more of those type of writers. Style and fashion is something that's easy to learn, but developing the craft of writing, that takes time. Often I think writing about style and writing about sports are very similar, you often rely on hyperbole to essentially make something that happens over and over again sound completely different.

Slow fashion that’s well-crafted and carefully designed is what #menswear is all about. Yet the same aesthetic is not applied to what we read and write about. Why do you think this is?

I wouldn't say that's entirely true. I think it's just about guys wanting to look good in their clothes. I interviewed Yasiin Bey a while back and he told me something that stuck with me. When he goes out and buys clothes, he's thinking about it sure, but he's also thinking about not having to think about it. That's what happens when you have a wardrobe full of good things you love to wear. And what people love to wear is totally subjective.

Has #menswear plateaued with several influential or heavily read blogs dominating the landscape and jockeying for market share, with no one new on the rise? And is the current editorial order here to stay for a while?

I wouldn't say it's plateaued, it's just evolving. I say in the article that there will always be guys who don't know where to start. And I think the whole #menswear thing has resulted in plenty of easily-digestible resources for beginners. There were forums before, but I've found most guys find them more intimidating than accessible. I think the real question is who will be the first #menswear blogger that really becomes a voice in the industry beyond talking about clothes on the Internet. Who's going to be the first creative director?

There will always be a space for independent voices, I wouldn't say there's no one new on the rise. Some of Four Pins' writers are relatively younger guys—still in school, even. The important part is for these younger voices to take some cues from the older generation. Don't just read the Internet, take part in culture, in life, be a real person and not just someone who's solely informed by an RSS Feed. It's like the speech Robin Williams' character gives to Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting. Actually experiencing things informs you more and shapes your outlook more than any blog post ever will.

You’ve practically defined the relatively recently developed editorial art form known as the list. Having written about #menswear’s existential crisis, will you evolve your writing to make it more meaningful?

I wouldn't say I've defined it, just made it suit my needs. Lists have existed for a while, I mean look at stuff like HighFidelity. Nerd culture—and Internet culture—has embraced the list as a way to rank and quantify taste. Whether that's for better or for worse, that's arguable. But what's true is that it makes things more fun, and a little more accessible. If you wanted to listen to influential rap albums, there's a list for that. It's merely just a medium. It's up to the writers to either flip it and make it tongue-in-cheek—something we see a lot on sites like Complex, Buzzfeed, and Thought Catalog. I think Tao Lin really hit the meta nail on the head when he wrote Top 10 Reasons You Should Read This Article.

Is the #menswear wave done? Can we go back to just menswear?

I mean I don't know if it's done or if it's just evolved. No one really called it #menswear from the start. That's the weird thing about subcultures. Shawn Stussy and James Jebbia weren't like "we're at the forefront of streetwear" in 1991. The same with '80s DC and the punk/post-punk scene. A lot of these movements and trends just run their course, and down the line we get nostalgic, look back, notice the similarities, and group things together.