“I wouldn’t call this a book about fashion. Some men talk about fashion, many simply talk about clothes; there’s a distinction,” explains Eliot Haworth, on the new release from the makers of Fantastic Man: What Men Wear. An anthology of Fantastic Man’s online feature Questionnaire which instigates conversations from one question – “What garment is key to your personal style?” – the publication brings together a selection of insightful figures to create an oral history of male dressing in the 21st Century.
It was in the early autumn of 2018 that Eliot, assistant editor, editor-in-chief Gert Jonkers, creative director Jop van Bennekom, and the Fantastic Man team realised they had reached over 50 Questionnaires, and decided to produce the book. “We liked the idea of taking something digital and turning it into a physical object, as increasingly the route is the other way around,” recalls Eliot. “We mentioned the idea to Browns, the London boutique, they loved the idea and kindly collaborated with us on the project to help make it a reality.”
The result is a clean, type-led publication which follows the visual style of Fantastic Man but which, notably, features a distinct lack of imagery. Mirroring the design of the online feature, the book is entirely typographic – a decision made almost three years ago when first launching Questionnaires. “We did contemplate including imagery but decided that seeing the garment being spoken about loses some of the magic,” Eliot explains. “Fashion and clothing can be such a visual medium, particularly in the digital space, so we find it refreshing to make something entirely text.”
The decision is one which forces readers to read, to consider the content, rather than flicking through the book to gawp at famous faces — which, by the way, Grayson Perry, Novelist and John Pawson, not to mention three extended interviews with Paul Smith, Charles Jeffrey and Stefano Pilati. What Men Wear doesn’t use this fact to draw attention to absence, however, instead relying on the strength of the conversations contained. “All this uninterrupted text, it’s quite a powerful and exciting thing to look at,” Eliot adds.
The strength of What Men Wear lies in the revelations weaved through this wall of uninterrupted text. Although fashion is clearly present throughout, the overwhelming bulk of the stories that crop up are that of personal insight which, when read en masse, make for a collection of observations on larger trends. “I think the book, without forcing it, places garments in a wider societal context,” Eliot remarks, “In many instances when we talk about clothing what we are really talking about is how we see ourselves, how we would like to be seen, what we feel comfortable in, what we feel attractive in, what we feel we are expected to wear, what we feel scared of wearing, angry about wearing, excited about wearing. It touches upon upbringing, societal pressures, sex, desires, memory, hope, regret, good old fun, consumerism, everything really.”
Although a topic which of often seen as “frivolous or banal”, in What Men Wear clothing becomes a conversation starter, a medium through which people can “let their guard down, relax, talk about something they don’t talk about so often”. Without them realising it, it allows interviewees to start talking about their favourite T-shirt and wind up sharing childhood memories, or “tales of love and lust”. “It’s not so much duping people, it’s just allowing them the space to feel comfortable and talk about whatever has been lurking in their mind and maybe hadn’t articulated yet,” Eliot explains, “It’s important to note that we never set out to interview people with any lofty aims. We just found that men open up when they talk about clothes.”
To grab yourself a copy, head to Browns’ website.
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