Newsletter: FT Weekend
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Sometimes a banana is just a banana. And sometimes a banana is fashion history. Take a look back at Prada’s AW18 men’s clothing show. The collection, in a bid to reinvigorate the brand, saw the return of Prada’s cult sportswear line, Linea Rossa, and various archival prints, including a hugely popular banana print first used by Miuccia Prada in her collection of women’s clothing SS11. Here, the bananas were decked out over a men’s bowling shirt and shorts in a half-confrontation with an equally garish flame print. “It was part of Ms. Prada’s use of fashion as a provocation,” says writer Charlie Porter. “It was a deliberately ugly impression. To wear it now would be to understand the provocation and the meaning of the ridiculous. But also to show the knowledge of the history of Prada. Because this impression is very recognizable. It really is a Prada banana.
Food has long been a hallmark of men’s clothing. Fruits, especially. Chances are, if you’re going to the beach this summer, you’ll put on swim shorts or a Hawaiian shirt with something juicy and edible on it. Orange. A few cherries. Maybe even a pineapple. But as men’s fashion has diversified, so has its use of food. When Paul Smith put plates of spaghetti on shirts in the mid-1990s, inspired by the kitschy plastic displays he discovered in Tokyo, it spoke of his love of Japanese culture in a way that appealed to its design-conscious customers. When Sacai Japanese Founder / Creative Director Chitose Abe included a t-shirt and hoodies in her AW19 menswear collection with the Bar Italia logo on it, she showed affection for an institution. Londoner whom she visited as a student, who also rang with her. urban clientele. Food communicates who we are better than almost anything. Its signifiers are powerful symbols.
Junya Watanabe of Comme des Garçons has always been shrewd at understanding the hipster man who wears his clothes, especially where he eats. Hence the inclusion in its collection of men’s clothing SS20 of a white work jacket bearing the badge of the London restaurant St John. For Trevor Gulliver of St John, there was a “thrill of excitement” seeing their pig logo on the podium. But the restaurant’s “sense of self-confidence and comfort” (or what his partner Fergus Henderson calls “our quiet longevity”) is precisely what made it a good match. Comme des Garçons embodies similar values. St John is now collaborating on a range with Drake’s (released next spring), which includes overalls jackets inspired by those worn by Fergus.
Continuing the trend, Watanabe’s SS21 collection featured t-shirts printed with cookbook covers from sandwich maestro Max Halley and Australian chef Josh Niland. Halley remembers seeing a teenage girl on a train to Cornwall wearing the ‘Max’s Sandwich Book’ t-shirt. “Twenty years ago,” he notes, “it would have been a band T-shirt. Now a North London cafe can occupy the same territory, its imagery being worn as a tribal badge of honor.
The pandemic saw an explosion in restaurant merchandise as owners sought to supplement their income with T-shirts and tote bags. The brands got involved. Carhartt WIP in Shoreditch collaborated on a line of t-shirts with Dom’s Subs, which opened last year, to help give Hackney Cafe exposure as a pandemic success story. “I guess the Carhartt guys liked our sandwiches,” says Greg Boyce, co-owner of Dom’s Subs, whose previous business, Visions Canteen, was around the corner from the Carhartt store. Promoting local talent made sense.
The pandemic has changed our relationship with food – a shift explored by JW Anderson’s AW21 collection, with tops covered in humble radishes, butternut squash and peaches. Anderson says that using vegetables was about “re-proposing the normality around us” and “the beauty that we can find in everyday objects”. I became obsessed with one of the polo shirts. It features a massively enlarged radish on the front, its leaves like supple Dumbo wings. I can’t decide if this is great or absurd. I guess this is the fashion for you. Still, with strawberries rolling out as rave symbols in Anderson’s SS22 menswear collection and all manner of junk food appearing in Moschino’s SS22 runway show, don’t expect edibles to go out of fashion anytime soon.
Fruit and the loom
by ROSANNA DODDS
How do you solve a problem like agricultural waste? Materials science company Pangaia has come up with a good solution. In its mission to reduce global dependence on water-hungry cotton, the brand launched Frutfiber, a sustainable alternative made from banana leaves, bamboo and pineapple. These remains are usually burned or dumped in landfills, harming local ecosystems by reducing the long-term fertility of the soil. Pangaia proposes to reverse this cycle. “The aim is to promote biodiversity and regenerative agricultural systems,” explains Dr Amanda Parkes, head of innovation. The resulting collection (from £ 75) consists of simple sports pieces for men and women: loose t-shirts, easy dresses and light shorts. Unlike rough natural fabrics made from burlap, the Frutfiber collection is super soft and comes in four vibrant colors. And the experimentation doesn’t stop with bananas. “We are working to bring an entirely new material library into commercial reality,” adds Parkes.
More fruity experiences come from Vegea, the Milan-based textile hub that creates faux leather from grapes. Pangaia collaborated with her on a pair of monochrome sneakers (£ 153) in an effort to offset the 6.5 billion liters of waste (skins, seeds and grape stems) produced each year by the wine industry.
For the Swiss manufacturers of Bananatex, the world’s first technical fabric made entirely from banana plants, the use of fruit fibers allows them to give small farming communities a stable income. It is also incredibly durable. Minimalist accessories brand QWSTION uses Bananatex for laptop sleeves (from € 110), backpacks (€ 275) – and now a furniture collection with Lehni, based in Dübendorf. “We believe the future of fashion will be based on a variety of alternatives,” says co-founder / CEO Hannes Schoenegger. “Bananatex can be one of them – and will continue to contribute to a smaller ecological footprint. “