Pyrex Vision and the rise of Concept Consumerism

pyrexI remember getting up bright and early on a Thursday morning a few years ago and getting ready to get the train up to London and then across to Green Park in time for the Supreme Spring/Summer 2010 release at DSM. I was 17 at the time and my Dad was somewhat bewildered to see someone my age regimenting their life without supervision. Needless to say, he had to intervene.

‘Where the hell are you going then?’
‘Dover Street Market, opposite the Ritz hotel bas-‘
‘Dover Street Market?! I know all about Dover Street Market.’

Afflicting as ‘haute-couture’ an accent as possible – in reality somewhere between Kenny Everett’s Marcel Wave and Inspector Clouseau – he then relayed back that sketch by Harry Enfield of the Notting Hill salesman furiously whacking the price of his wares up and up to his customers, all seeking the latest ‘cool’ thing:

‘This is nice’
‘That cost me five pounds.’
‘What’s its history?’
‘Car boot sale’
‘Wow, how much is it?’
‘Well, like I said it cost me nearly bugger all, but I saw you coming, so to you, two-thousand.’

Like any teenager, I resented him for deriding my tastes in such a nonchalant manner. The notion always stuck in my head, however, and would bring an accepting smile to my face on the occasions that I’d walk into DSM and REALLY see one of those pretentious-beyond-belief projects in store with a price tag so big the extra zeros are lying on the floor around the display cabinet. There’s always been a conflict between the ‘typical consumer’ attitude, regarding high fashion as over-designed, over-priced, impractical and self-indulgent, and the ‘high fashion’ justification of aforementioned criticisms in terms of quality, craftsmanship, heritage and countless other technical aspects and buzzwords that go into ‘couture’.

Such is life. If you don’t get it, then you’ll probably spend your time talking about how you don’t get it. I’ll put my neck on the line and say that anybody who’s ever bought an OriginalFake t-shirt or a pair of Visvim FBTs will be familiar with the ‘justifying your purchase’ conversation. Someone compliments an item of clothing, asks how much it was, you tell them, and so proceeds a half-hour conversation involving everybody within earshot about why somebody would pay so much for an item and who in their right mind would really pay that. Apart from silly old you, of course.

There are genuine justifications as well, remember. When you buy a t-shirt that’s made in Japan for £80 over one made in Vietnam for £5, you know that a lot of that money is going to the people making the clothing – providing a fair wage, healthcare and a decent standard of living. Furthermore, the design and work ethos of the Japanese has contributed to a different output of clothing, especially for men, with greater attention to the micro-details of pieces as well as the macro – you buy a ‘military jacket’ from Topman and it’ll be a coat in olive drab. Buy one of the Buzz Rickson reproduction M65s and you’ll learn the definition of ‘military jacket’.

Aside from everything, also, is the fact that the ‘concept’ plays a huge role in our behaviour as consumers, this being the case even more-so in Japan. Increasingly consumers are becoming more involved in the products that they purchase – more young men are feeling the fabrics of shirts as they browse the shops, while social media has seen brands interacting directly with their customers and vice versa. The rise of Carhartt Work In Progress and the workwear/heritage concept in general is a brilliant example – their twitter account is buzzing with messages from devoted customers, and the WIP fashion-end of the Carhartt business goes to great lengths to reinforce its workwear roots, right down to its use of trademark duck-canvas fabrics and the coverall-orange lining of garments in their F/W2012 collection.

Concepts are powerful things. Whether it’s Eric Clapton flying to Tres Bien Shop to get his fix of Visvim or the Rock’n’Roll aesthetics of Mastermind JAPAN and Roen that see customers splashing out $900 on a t-shirt, a brand can benefit greatly if it can attract the right niche with the right sensibilities.

Pyrex Vision is a fascinating, bewildering, confusing and frustrating concept. Brainchild of Virgil Abloh, the stylist (or lack-of-stylist haw haw haw) of Kanye West, the brand’s ‘Youth Always Wins‘ collection was released several weeks back and made huge waves in all tiers of the fashion world.

The concept? Youth. Abloh’s collection reflects upon his own youth, his use of Champion garments intended as a subtle nod to his ‘uniform’ as a teenager. The repeated motif of Caravaggio’s ‘The Entombment of Christ‘ (combined with references to Kurt Cobain) is perhaps a play on the ‘better to burn out than to fade away’ philosophy. A simple and streamlined collection, it’s hard to see what somebody would find out of place about this mix of champion hoodies, t-shirts, shorts and snapbacks in the streetwear world.

The problem? The price. Well, no, see, that’s the thing. Bitching about price is so pathetic, because it’s a fact of life that we live on a ladder, not a plateau. Some people can afford things you can’t, deal with it. If Virgil Abloh can sell Champion hoodies (that retail for anywhere between $10 and $20 usually) for $250 then good for him. The issue for me lies in the concept.

People have waxed lyrical about Pyrex Vision and I can understand why, there are a lot of points to be discussed. In my opinion, however, the concept really isn’t that complicated. Modelled by A$AP Mob (feat. the ‘Pretty Muthafucka’) and sold in places like Abloh’s own RSVP Gallery and Union in LA, there’s obviously a lot to say about the juxtaposition of high fashion and street fashion – A$AP Rocky receives praise from the fashion community for his ability to mix high-end labels with street clothing like snapbacks and Jordans.

There’s also an under-current of the superiority of the youth and the streets for creating and perfecting new styles, and the idea of looking to the underground for things to bring to the forefront. Conversely, taking one of the most famous pieces of classical art of all time and screenprinting it onto a $30 hoodie obviously raises questions about medium, means and meaning of texts.

But something, in my opinion, just doesn’t add up. I feel like Abloh has taken everything a little too literally here. Taking a concept such as the underground/ high fashion mix, he’s made it literal by presenting high fashion on a ‘street-level’ garment, but there’s no substance. Whereas Visvim’s ethos of ‘sourcing the best, making the best’ or WTaps’ committed attention to creating sartorial military clothing results in an end product where the various stimuli are clear, the Pyrex Vision is a bit like the Emperor’s New Clothes, except the tailors are standing there telling the emperor that he’s naked. More so than that, they’re telling him that he’s naked, and that’s ‘like… the point‘.

Even the $500 button-up shirts that Abloh managed to sell through were found to have been printed on old-season Ralph Lauren Rugby shirts that Ralph himself couldn’t shift at $35. Sure, you can laugh at the Fight Club-esque notion of taking the wealthy and ‘selling their fat asses back to them’, but Abloh forgets that his consumers aren’t the ones going out onto the world stage claiming to be sartorial visionaries. They’re victims of stupid hype, and conceptual-consumer culture which half-baked brands like this perpetuate.

I guess my problem comes from some perception of arrogance in the brand. There seems to be this attitude that nobody has done what Abloh has done before, and that therefore makes it edgy or cool. I’d like to propose the alternate theory that nobody has done what Abloh has done before because the concept, however artistically inspiring and thought-provoking, is not one that genuinely works in the fashion sphere. The collection sold out, good for him, but this isn’t fashion and it isn’t a vision. It’s just a load of Emperors hoping that somebody will compliment their cloak.

Concepts play a huge role in fashion and streetwear and it’s concepts that create dedicated followings season in and season out, but you can’t launder a concept. When your $500 Ralph Lauren shirt goes through the wash a few times it will wash the same as everybody else’s $35 Ralph Lauren shirt, and as for your $150 Champion t-shirt… oh boy. Have fun.

‘This is nice’
‘That cost me ten dollars.’
‘What’s its history?’
‘Champion t-shirt by Pyrex, single-colour screen print.’
‘Wow, how much is it?’
‘Well, like I said it cost me nearly bugger all, but I saw you coming, so to you, one hundred and twenty five dollars.’

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