We spoke with three brands — S.N.S. Herning, Engineered Garments and Naked & Famous — on their own brand history, and thoughts on the heritage and future direction of menswear.
There are few movements within men’s fashion that have changed its landscape so irrevocably than what was the heritage trend. Roughly spanning between 2008 and 2012, #menswear, heritage, Americana –whatever you want to call it – reshaped our collective consciousness when it came to our wardrobes, placing a greater value in craftsmanship and provenance than ever before.
Such a shift in menswear consumer attitudes were symptomatic of something much greater as, in light of the global financial crisis, many began to look for greater value for money. For fashion, this shift also led many to seek a sense of timelessness, opting for classic pieces that would last well beyond a couple of seasons. In many respects, the tenets of that era still exist: once you’ve started to care about how, where and even by whom your clothes were made, it’s hard to retreat back to your prior state of blissful ignorance.
Today, thankfully, men’s fashion looks vastly different from the fleeting era that preceded it. When even the catwalks of Paris had become imbued with an almost-mawkish form of sartorial nostalgia – as high-end cowboys and railroad workers traipsed down the runway with varying hues of tweed patched to their elbows – it was time to move on.
But what of the brands that helped shape that era of menswear? Some, like Barbour and Filson, have such a rich past and quality product that they’ll always have an appeal to some, long after many had reached for a razor and traded in their Red Wings for Reeboks. Others, who either sprang up out of nowhere or completely reinvented their whole brand identity to gain a piece of the pie, have since faded into obscurity. But there are also brands that gained prominence in that era and have since shrugged off the limiting nature of that heritage tag and forged ahead. Even if the consumer they’re selling to is now more enamored with Gore-Tex than waxed cotton, their ability to offer something special has ensured they remain relevant.
S.N.S. Herning was one such brand seemingly made for the heritage epoch, with its history of family ownership spanning back nearly a century. Founded in 1931 by Soren Nielsen Skyt in the town of Herning (hence the name, S.N.S. Herning), the brand had been producing knitwear for fishermen – and practically half of Denmark – for decades. Now owned by the founder’s grandson and namesake, everything from the hand-signed swing tags by whoever knitted your sweater, to the fact that it was still produced in the same Herning factory as when they started, is perfect.
Yet, as Skyt admits, the storied past that many brands present is often only part of the truth: “You always have to look for some criteria to build your story around,” he says. “So when I was doing the re-launch, I was looking for stuff I wore myself growing up. But if I were to look back to the ’70s, for example, we were mainly a womenswear label. So if I was a girl, I might have completely different connotations about S.N.S. Herning.”
After re-launching the brand in 2006, a collaboration with Comme des Garcons SHIRT soon followed. This endorsement by the Japanese powerhouse, renowned for its creativity and constantly being ahead of the curve, caused many to sit up and take note. It was, in equal parts, a blessing and a curse. Soren says: “Of course it brought us exposure, but I felt we were also pigeonholed into this fisherman niche.”
“The next season I got quite acquainted with the guy looking after Comme des Garcons Homme Plus at the time,” he continues. CdG Homme Plus is brand’s highest tiered and most avant-garde menswear sub-brand. “He asked me to send him some fabrics to show to Rei Kawakubo, and I made the fatal mistake of packing our traditional garments at the top of the box and the more experimental stuff below. So, when he presented it to Rei, she saw the stuff on top and said, “Ok, I know this already, stop the presentation.” When Rei said that, I became very aware that it was an indication that something might be changing quite fast,” he says.
Today, S.N.S. continues to produce its traditional staple, but collections have become increasingly eclectic, with the Fisherman Sweater no longer even making the top 10 of its most popular garments. Skyt says that still being based and producing in Herning is what has allowed him to evolve the brand’s collection, continually testing new ideas for textures and weaves. “The close proximity between the idea and its realization is pretty unique, because typically you’d spread out production,” he explains. “Even now, I’m still working on the spring collections – and Paris Fashion Week is in just two weeks.”
NAKED AND FAMOUS
Since the gold rush, there had perhaps never been a better time to start a denim brand than in 2008. As consumers began to look for unwashed denim accented by the now-ubiquitous selvedge finished on the seam, Naked and Famous emerged around focusing on high-quality Japanese denim at affordable prices, striking gold in the process. Today, the brand offers over 70 styles of denim, as well as a burgeoning collection of shirts, jackets and a comprehensive denim line for the female market.
“In 2008, the markets crashed, people were financially strapped; it was a tough time for everybody,” says Bahzad Trinos, one of the brand’s co-founders. “We came out with a product that really shook up the industry. People knew what Japanese selvedge denim was, but nobody ever offered it at the prices we did. We offered value to consumers, high-end product at affordable prices. Perhaps the market crash made it the ideal time for us to launch a product-value brand.”
While Trinos admits that the heritage wave which would follow saw Naked and Famous grow exponentially, they continued to do so even after consumer desires shifted. “Because of the nature of our product, and the range of different products that we offer, we seem to fit into a lot of different categories, but high quality basics fit into everybody’s wardrobe,” he says.
Despite the brand’s focus on crafting the perfect pair of jeans for everyone, Naked and Famous has retained a playful edge that helps it stand out in an overcrowded denim market. From scratch-and-sniff to denim to making the world’s heaviest pair of jeans, an inherent curiosity and desire to push the boundaries of what can be achieved with denim courses through the brand’s DNA. “We’re not afraid to put something out that’s different. We like to have fun and joke around,” Bahzad explains. “My favorite upcoming item is the world’s first Coffee Dyed Japanese Selvedge Denim. The idea for this actually came from an accident. During a meeting with one of our fabric mills, I accidently spilled my coffee all over a bunch of fabric swatches. I laughed it off and said, “‘Don’t worry, it’s coffee dyed denim.’ For us, almost nothing is out of the question — if we can imagine it, it can be done.”
Founded in 1999, Engineered Garments reflects Daiki Suzuki’s mixture of American sportswear influences, coupled with the designer’s own Japanese sensibilities. Yet, to simply place the brand in the bracket of Americana-inspired reproductions would be to do Suzuki a disservice. While military greens and chambrays were hallmarks of the Engineered Garments aesthetic throughout the heritage era, the brand has always maintained a vast collection that marries more challenging silhouettes with what would be considered workwear.
“I felt that people were catching up to where Japan [is] as far as that particular style of fashion goes,” says Suzuki. “But that has only ever been one facet of what we do. I think now, people are looking to us for more than what you’re referring to as heritage.” This assessment certainly seems to be reflected in how stores are buying the brand, with the likes of fellow New Yorkers like Gentry offering a mixture of sportswear, along with some more avant-garde shirt silhouettes from Engineered Garments.
“With EG, there is a lot of flexibility,” says Suzuki. “We were not really Americana per se, more so American sportswear. I’ve moved away from that feel to show off how multifaceted Engineered Garments can be. But ultimately, it’s up to the consumer’s imagination.”
The extremely popular workwear elements of Engineered Garment’s collection remain, but it would seem that the brand is not content with sticking to a tried and tested formula. Through bold fabric choices – such as rich, tapestry-like Paisley prints – and collarless shirts that extend to knee-length, Suzuki has exhibited a versatility that many of his former peers have failed to match.
Words: Callum Gordon/Selectism.com