Recently I’ve been looking with some interest into a completely different area of fashion – techwear. Don’t worry though, it’s still a more or less classic menswear blog.
Since I read the GQ profile of Errolson Hugh, the designer behind Acronym, a niche techwear brand, I knew I wanted to write a post about it here. I’m not changing the profile of the blog, but I think it’s interesting to sometimes have a look outside the stuffy, small world of classic menswear. Even if it’s just for a few minutes.
For someone who’s used to jackets and ties, the urban techwear style may look a bit… silly. The cyberpunk ninja aesthetic is so far divorced from the respectable image of a man in a suit at it can be. But the more I read about it, the more I can find some common grounds.
Let’s start with the most obvious question – what is techwear? It’s not really a strictly codified term, but in most cases it’s a marriage of high-performance, weather-resistant fabrics and utilitarian design. You probably know this from the outdoor gear – boots and jackets one wears for a trek in the mountains, where your clothes should protect you from the fickle weather, but be light and comfortable as to not weigh you down.
Acronym uses a similar approach to clothes meant for city dwellers. After all, you can still get caught in the rain on the street. You can do sports in the city. You still carry a lot of stuff with you in the city. So the water and windproof, but breathable, fabrics are used to create clothes designed with utility and comfort in mind.
Of course, not every tech brand checks all the boxes. Like with everything, there are good and bad examples. Cheap tech-inspired brands are aplenty, with over the top designs and low quality fabrics. This is not what I want to write about though, and that’s the reason for my focus on Acronym.
It is this utility that I find very impressive. If you look through the photos of their J1A-GT jacket, you’ll see that everything there serves a function. A small magnetic strip to hold your earphones. A pocket in your sleeve that makes your phone magically appear in your hand. A zipper on the side that allows you to slide your bag under the protective layer of high-performance fabric to protect if from the rain. A sling to comfortably carry the jacket with you should you decide to take it off. They’re simple ideas, achieved with clever design rather that futuristic technology, but they work, and that’s enough. It’s innovative in a stale world of fashion design. The discussion about how the pockets are designed in the GQ article I linked above was fascinating read for me.
Here lies the common ground between what is techwear, and what is classic menswear – or at least what classic menswear used to be. I’ve read a lot of articles on utilitarian origins of many aspects of classic clothes. The multitude of easily reachable pockets is what comes to mind. Hell, look at one menswear staple – the trench coat. Originally every part of it was designed with function in mind. Dense gabardine woven from fibres that swell in reaction to moisture to provide water resistance, a flap on the front preventing the water from getting inside, angled and button-closed pockets, and so on. Then there are many military-inspired items like army jackets or safari jackets; or the belting system of gurkha trousers.
With time, however, some of those useful details became strictly decorative – they’re now vestigial organs, if you will. And I see techwear as a kind of revival of that utilitarian thinking about clothing – but eschewing the traditional aesthetics. Which is for the better, because let’s be honest, the weird modifications on a traditional blazer rarely – if ever – look good.
Another thing I find surprisingly familiar is the approach to production. Acronym’s clothes are prohibitively expensive – but since the brand basically doesn’t have a marketing budget, nor do they operate any brick-and-mortar shops, it appears that most of the cost comes from expensive patented fabrics and small scale of production. Things are still cut by hand, for example – something you see in high-end classic menswear brands as well, and which translates to the price of the final product.
There are other things I find interesting and can relate to. Errolson Hugh seems to pay a lot of attention to the state of the fashion industry. The fast-fashion brands flood the market with cheap and disposable crap, which end up on landfills, use up precious resources in the production process, and end up devastating the environment. How to go around it? Just like switching to bespoke instead of H&M, making and wearing the kind of clothes Hugh makes doesn’t provide a satisfying answer. They’re going to remain inaccessible to the vast majority of people, and, as the Acronym’s founder noted on his reddit AMA – “The most sustainable garment is one that already exists”. But it’s nice to see someone is trying to take the problem seriously.
I’m perhaps more receptive than a lot of classic menswear fans to those ideas, because I’ve been trying to distance myself from the things usually associated with suits for quite a while now. I’m in this mostly for the looks – and one is allowed to find multiple things aesthetically interesting. And there’s something undeniably cool about the tech clothes.
It’s not something that’ll appeal to everyone, and I’m very aware of that. But knowing a bit more about things outside of one’s domain always seemed worthwhile to me. There are some great ideas out there. Why not look into them sometimes?