The sport of rowing is dominated by the stereotypes of posh athletic giants called ‘Constantine’ or ‘Toby’. Their arrogance only surpassed by their prowess with a couple of oars and the Lycra in their rowing suits. But, off-duty they stick to tradition and continue to wear their team colours. The blazer was invented to be part of the rowing fraternity's uniform and as part of British culture, and our continual love affair with uniforms, it often takes an outsider to see and appreciate what we have and repackage and present something that has always existed.
Just when we thought ‘preppy’ was dead and wasn’t coming back for a while, we see green shoots appearing, and a new label like ‘Rowing Blazers’, reinventing and adding more fun to this seasonal British style.
Founded by Jack Carlson, a three-time member of the United States national rowing team, Rowing Blazers’ aim is to reintroduce one of the originals in men’s sportswear. The days when ‘sportswear’ still meant you wore a tie. He won a bronze medal for the U.S.A. at the 2015 World Championships and has also won the Head of the Charles Regatta, Henley Royal Regatta, and Royal Canadian Henley Regatta. Jack earned his doctorate in archaeology at the University of Oxford and is the author of the book Rowing Blazers (Thames & Hudson, 2014).
Left - Jack Carlson, founder of the American rowing blazer specialists, Rowing Blazers
Impressed the brand’s website and his passion for reintroducing this loud heritage style, I sent him a few ChicGeek questions to find out more:
CG: Why the fixation on rowing blazers?
JC: I spent a long time in the sport of rowing: nearly two decades, including three years on the US national team, so I've been immersed in this world for a while. But I've also been very interested in heraldry and in the visual and sartorial trappings of status and hierarchy for a long time as well. And I think the blazers that are traditional in the sport of rowing bring together all of those interests: menswear, heraldry, and the sport of rowing.
CG: When did you start? And what was the Eureka moment?
JC: I first competed at Henley Royal Regatta in 2004. My crew was knocked out in the first round, which was pretty disappointing. But it meant I had a great deal of time to spend in the spectator enclosures for the rest of the week, where I began chatting with other current and former rowers about their jackets and the stories and traditions behind them. I thought: someone should study these things, write a book about them. Six or seven years later, I realised I should be the guy to do it. The book came out in 2014, and the company - making blazers by hand, and incorporating a lot of details, traditions and construction techniques I came across while creating the book - launched this year.
CG: How have you found the reception to them?
JC: People from all sorts of different backgrounds love what we're doing. Menswear nerds love the research that has gone into everything we do and the quality of the construction and materials. The rowing community respect the authenticity and pedigree of what we're doing. The Japanese - we have a significant following in Asia - love the fact that our pieces are handmade in America. We've even had a positive response from many streetwear fanatics, who like the irreverent spirit, the cryptic Latin graffiti, and the graphics on our caps and badges.
Right - Rowing Blazers - Croquet Stripe Blazer - $995
CG: What would you say to those people who say that preppy is dead or is out of fashion?
JC: Preppy is dead. Long live preppy. I hate much of what that word has come to signify, and I think much of what it's come to signify is pretty dead for now. I think the consumer - at least the higher end menswear consumer - wants something with authenticity, with a story, a sense of meaning behind it. This consumer wants to know where, how, why, and from a product was made. Our pieces have tremendous depth to them; from the 3-roll-2 silhouette of our blazers, to the small embroidered faucet motif on our ties, there's a story and a reason behind every decision; and our pieces are all handmade in the US. So our collection is very different from much of what is usually considered to be "preppy" nowadays; but blue Oxford cloth button downs; flannel blazers - in navy or more outrageous colours; and webbing belts will never go out of style.
CG: Do you mostly concentrate on rowing teams and clubs or are you targeting a fashion consumer?
JC: We are a menswear brand first and foremost, but we are also proud to make blazers for a wide range of rowing teams and clubs, including Britain's most prestigious rowing club, Leander Club in Henley-on-Thames. We've also created blazers for rowing clubs in China - which is pretty cool considering we make everything in Manhattan; Oxford Brookes; the University of Texas - for whom we made blazer-cowboy jacket hybrids; and many other clubs, schools and universities.
CG: I’ve always loved the British Army blazer that I saw at Henley, would you make one of those?
JC: We might do something in camo, but we are always very careful to be respectful of existing club blazers, and would never "knock off' any institution's blazer.
CG: What’s your favourite style & why?
JC: My favourite piece in our collection is the 8x3 double breasted blazer, which is inspired by a blazer Prince Charles always wears. One never sees an 8x3 double breasted blazer on the market, so we had to make one. With five cuff buttons, an oversized front button from a vintage die, and a perfect fit, it came out brilliantly.
Left - Rowing Blazers - 8X3 Double Breasted Blazer ‘Prince Charlie’ $1095
CG: Do you ship to the UK? Isn't this a bit like taking coals to Newcastle?!
JC: We ship worldwide. Although the UK is the land of the blazer, no one is doing what we are doing: it's our commitment to quality and traditional techniques that's enabled us to become the official blazer supplier to Leander Club, Oxford Brookes University Boat Club and many other British institutions while making everything in New York. We are chatting with several British menswear retailers about going into their stores as well, and they understand that we are a high end brand with a unique product; they wouldn't be looking at us if they viewed us as a school uniform supplier!
CG: What would you say to those people who say rowing is elitist?
JC: Rowing has its roots in Oxbridge, but also the far more blue collar world of professional sculling. It developed not only through public schools and the Putney clubs, but also through many working man's clubs around England. Today many still associate the sport with Oxbridge because of the prominence of the Oxford-Cambridge race, but the truth is the sport is becoming more accessible and more universal all the time. British Rowing has done a great job bringing the sport into many new communities in the UK. I'm part of an organisation in the US, here in New York, called Row New York, which is a highly competitive rowing program for kids from the city's underserved communities. They've just qualified a boat for the national championships for the first time, which is fantastic to see.
CG: What’s the future for Rowing Blazers?
JC: We’ll be expanding into a few other categories and also expanding our retail footprint; we have a lot of pop-ups planned, including at Henley and Goodwood Revival; and we'll be going into a number of stores in Japan, Taiwan and China in the next few months. We have some cool collaborations planned with Merz b. Schwanen, a very cool and historic German knitwear manufacturer, and a few other exciting brands. We are really just getting started.
CG: You don’t just sell blazers? What else do you sell?
JC: We also make shirts in a few different styles. They are pretty unique because they are hand-distressed - here in the US! - and come with or without busted seams. They've been a hit with the more street-oriented customer actually. We also do hats, belts, ties -- many featuring satin-stitch embroidery, or hand-embroidered wire bullion motifs - and a wide range of rare, funky and quirky vintage product.
At the last Paris men’s fashion week, in January, I visited the MAN tradeshow and discovered the Swedish menswear label PRLE. Pronounced par-lay, it’s part of that new experimental and romantic trend in menswear. I thought I’d ask Andreas Danielsson, the mind behind PRLE, a few more questions:
Left & Below - PRLE AW17 - Credits: Photo: Amanda Nilsson, Styling: Alice Lönnblad
CG :What do you do at PRLE?
AD: I’ve been running the brand myself since I started it in 2013. Basically I do everything myself: sourcing materials, pattern construction, design, sales, etc.
CG: Where are you from originally?
AD: I’m born and raised in Malmö, Sweden.
CG: Tell me more about PRLE? What does the name mean?
AD: It doesn’t have a special meaning, but it has been changed a lot.
It started out as PALE, which was picked up from a song I listened to at that time.
Then I changed to PARLE, which I had tattooed just to convince myself that was it, but then I had it tweaked again and removed the "a", so now its PRLE (still pronounced PARLE though).
CG: What is the influence of the AW17 collection?
AD: This season I wanted to aesthetically communicate the brands identity of the "modern hippie”. I always find great inspiration in eccentric people or characters and for the AW17 collection I eyed towards the 1970's hippies and the character "Billy" from the movie ‘Easy Rider’.
It’s their fearlessness that inspires me, and how they challenge what is expected in order to create something new, and something that is their own.
For this collection, I wanted to portray my "modern hippie" in an updated and more sophisticated and decadent way.
CG: Do you think men are being more daring in what they wear today?
AD: I hope so! This is one of the main objectives for PRLE, to provide diversity on the menswear market, and to keep challenging the boundaries for what ”menswear” is and can be.
CG: Where is it available to buy from?
AD: AW17 will be available in June/July at International gallery BEAMS (online and in-store) and also on the PRLE webshop (www.prle.eu)
CG: Will you be in Paris again?
AD: Yes, I’ll be exhibiting at Capsule in Paris in June 24-26.
We need some good news, and with new footwear label, Good News, it’s coming in spades. I first saw Good News at the Designer Showrooms during the last LFWM, where they were previewing their new AW17 collection. What I liked was it was a twist on the classic American baseball shoe, but in material of the season - coloured corduroy.
Left - 80s styling from Good News SS17
Good News is a British contemporary footwear brand founded in 2016 in London by co-Founders Ben Tattersall and Nia Jones with the shared aspiration “to bring the world a little bit of GOOD NEWS”.
Nia was a shoe designer at Topshop and Ben has a background in marketing and sales. The shoes have a unique thick natural rubber sole that gives ultra-comfort for men and ladies looking for a fresh contemporary sneaker at an affordable price. Fresh bold designs and colour is at the essence of the brand’s identity and the styles that are available for the SS17 season.
Each piece is named after a traditional baseball term; ‘Dinger’ and ‘Bagger’ after a homerun, ‘Hurler’ the fast pitch, ‘Babe’ after legendary Babe Ruth and ‘Slugger’ after the ball is hit out of the park.
Hurler is a traditional baseball stripe, which comes in monochrome striped canvas with a natural rubber sole. The Bagger style comes in cotton canvas white, black or navy. The Dinger introduces colour into the collection with primary blue, red, green, off white, 70s burnt orange and black. This striking style has a contrasting white tongue that comes in cotton canvas. Babe is a canvas and nylon mix combining vibrant multi-coloured tones and Slugger is an easily styled black canvas with a noticeable white lace or matching black laces.
The collection ranges from £50 for the low height styles, to £60 for high-tops.
Right - More Good News SS17
Good News look to create a positive change in the world. From ethical product monitoring fairtrade and supply chain, to collaborations with charities and brands that share the Good News values. The aim is to engage target audiences and communities through raising awareness on important issues.
Now, just ask yourself, why buy a pair of Converse when you can get a pair of these?
Instagram @goodnewslondon Facebook @goodnewsldn www.goodnews.london
Below Right - Everything is coming up corduroy for AW17 - Good News Rhubarb Low AW17
Left - Hurler Hi AW17
The fashion business likes a ‘category’. The more categories the more product and the more money, hopefully. If only it was that easy.
Designers and brands like to enter a category, be it jeans, underwear or sunglasses, usually partnering with a manufacturing expert in that field, and expand their businesses one category at a time. Take Tom Ford for example, he is just about to go into underwear after mastering jeans, sunglasses, beauty and trainers, in no particular order.
Left - N/A Necessary Anywhere socks available at Oki-Ni & Harvey Nichols
Underwear is one of the biggest money spinners for brands. People will pay a premium for somebody else’s name on their waistband - not really sure why - and entire brands like Calvin Klein and Versace are built on their underwear categories. They can charge a premium for something that is cheap to make.
And while the underwear category has matured into a reliable cash cow for many, the sock business seems so much trickier. There aren’t many designers or brands who have owned the category. With the exception of Paul Smith, designers produce the odd sock for collections, but don’t fully enter or develop the category. It wasn't that long ago that Burberry pulled out of the category and they make everything.
It’s interesting how people are willing to spend on underwear, but not on socks. We do have quality sock brands such as the German Falke and the British Panterella and Corgi, but there seems to be a ceiling on the pricing. People think socks should be cheap and when brands like Vetements and Gucci do socks at high prices - think nearing three figures - they seem like one of the most frivolouss purchases you can make and are usually a one-off show piece rather than entering the category.
The branded sock market seems to fall into two categories: sports and colourful office-type socks. There’s definitely a gap for something in between. So, it was at the recent CIFF fashion trade show in Copenhagen that I found N/A from New York.
When I searched ’N/A New York’ I got plenty of Narcotics Anonymous meetings, but it actually stands for ‘Necessary Anywhere’ and is influenced by the ‘everyday grind’. To the British that's walking (thought Americans didn't do that anyway!). They believe it’s vital to get up every day with the aspiration to move ourselves forward.
Founded in 2015 by Nick Lewis with six socks, these premium knit socks marry innovative textures with classic colours and patterns. When people pay for socks they usually go for something colourful and playful, N/A seems to have produced a cool sock which marries sports and fashion. They’re about £15, which, while more than your average three pack, aren’t extortionate. They fit somewhere between your smart socks and your sports socks and could, potentially, signal a new category within this difficult category.
Just as everybody seems to be turning veggie or vegan, so too are our accessorises. M.R.K.T. - Mad Rabbit Kicking Tiger - is a Los Angeles-based accessories label established in 2010 by Harvard-trained architect, Tom Pen.
The designs are inspired by modern architecture and produced in materials which are carefully selected with structure, texture, and durability in mind. All of the materials are socially conscious and vegan friendly and feature vegan leather, felt and micro suede.
TheChicGeek featured one in this OOTD - here
Left - Are you a Mad Rabbit or a Kicking Tiger? Carter Backpack
Streetwear is all the rage and it seems as though everyone is trying to create their own clothing line these days. Even so, there are still plenty of streetwear designers that are making some of the most fashionable clothes this side of the catwalk and you'd be amiss not to take advantage of these exciting creators. Here are a few of the brands that you should be paying attention to if you're not already:
It felt as though this British skateboard label came out of nowhere in 2010 to quickly become one of the hottest streetwear brands on the market. Known as much for its irreverent sense of humour as it is for it incredible clothes, Palace has gone from a flash in the pan to a fashion mainstay. Palace will also be doing a new collaboration with Adidas this year, complete with fresh new shoes and a range of other apparel and accessories.
Supreme is one of the most iconic and respected skate brands out there and they continue to kill it today. The legendary box logo is a badge of honor and the company continues to put out incredibly fresh clothes year after year. It was recently revealed that the latest collaboration for Supreme would be with the legendary thrash-metal band Slayer in a collection that will include jackets, sweaters, shirts, and more based around some of the band's classic albums.
Stussy is another classic street brand that has managed to remain hip and relevant throughout the years. The brand was founded back in 1980 and it's hard to believe a 36-year-old label can stay as fashionable and with-the-times as Stussy is today. With a wide range of T-shirts, sweats, jackets, and more the name is one of the most recognised and beloved in street fashion and is a must-have for anyone trying to rock the style.
Mishka has been a hot name in the NYC underground fashion scene for some time now, but their irreverent riffs on pop culture combined with cutting edge street style has made them popular throughout the world as well. The streetwear company and record label was founded in 2003 and continues to be wildly popular in the hip-hop community with its eyeball logo keeping watch over New York's streets.
The 32-year-old Russian designer has taken the fashion world by storm, and if 2015 was when Gosha made a name for himself then 2016 is when he really took off. Rubchinskiy opened the Vetements SS16 show and shot this year's holiday campaign for Topman. His takes on classic American '90s street style is both ironic and original and the designer has established himself as one of the preeminent streewear stylists of today. Even better, Gosha's clothes are remarkably affordable for a label with such a high profile, thanks to his emphasis on being accessible to the youth trying to buy them.
‘Minimal’ men’s watches have continued their rise in popularity over the last few years with many brands offering different styles at price points to suit nearly all budgets. Simplicity and design are the key to the male modernists who fill their Instagram accounts with Brutalist concrete and tiled floors.
It’s difficult to find a perfectly balanced minimal watch, some are either too simple or not elegant enough. I think two young Glaswegian guys, Pete Sunderland and Ross Baynham, who met while studying at Glasgow Caledonian University, have found the perfect solution.
Their company, Instrmnt, make the best minimal watches I’ve seen. They have just the right amount of design, detail and movement. They also have the feel of a good quality watch, that gets better the more you use it, at a price that, while not cheap, is definitely something we can all afford.
You get to assemble the watch yourself - perfect for all those watch geeks - see below. The calf leather straps are crafted in the valleys of the Bavarian Forest, Germany and Instrmnt has their own store located on Glasgow’s Parnie street in the city's Trongate area selling other niche labels alongside their watches.
Left & Below - Instrmnt - 01-C - £180
Left - Instrmnt has their own store located on Glasgow’s Parnie street in the city's Trongate area