Under the direction of Sk8thing and Toby Feltwell, with an expansive team of likeminded creatives providing input across the board, C.E has been quietly setting its own standard for modern menswear and design aesthetic. The label has brazenly challenged the value of nostalgic, reminiscent fashion by instead choosing to produce hyper-futuristic pieces of clothing with no added baggage. Even the cryptic name is ambiguous in its rejection of ambiguity – C.E = Caveat Emptor = Buyer Beware = ‘Dude, it’s still just a t-shirt.’
This formula equates to a tasteful balance of old and new. The patterns are amplified and the cuts are distinctly fashion-forward, but the t-shirts all still have two sleeves and a neck-hole. In a time of economic uncertainty and turbulence, consumers have reached out for product with a perceived history, a heritage, something tangible, and the explosion of historic (or historically referential) brands such as Carhartt, Human Made and Boy London demonstrates an apparent shift in what many buyers look for when purchasing these days.
Over in Japan, however, Sk8thing is putting white noise on an MA-1 Jacket and reminding you that “It’s the 21st century, ya fuckin’ dingbat”. It’s a noise worth listening to, and the latest collection shows that C.E has no plans of quieting down.
Stylistically, the lookbook makes clear nods towards 90s UK rave culture and elements of British street style. Pairing many fits with Nike TN trainers, it’s easy to get a vibe of the classic Kappa-Era smart-casual style that football fans and ravers took ownership of. Sweaters are short and boxy, sitting right on the waist, whilst the slim, tapered bottoms and high-collared jackets seem so clearly to hearken back to shell suits and Stone Island.
Familiar visual elements such as text-based graphics and abrasive patterns are as present as ever. Atypically positioned prints such as those that run across the chest and onto the shirt-sleeve create unusual looking garments that play with concepts of simulation and projection.
Likewise, colour palettes give a nod to brands from the original 90s streetwear scene, such as Ralph Lauren’s patriotic red, white and blue or the shades of greys and charcoals that will be familiar to anyone who’s ever walked into a JD Sport.
Influence is taken from a variety of media sources as well. As with the previous season, Jean Baudrillard’s ‘Simulacra & Simulations’ plays a huge role in explaining the underpinning thought process, whilst other pieces make reference to Carlo Lizzani’s ‘House of the Yellow Carpet’, a straight-to-TV horror film that gained notoriety for its realistic depictions of graphic torture and violence.
Quoting from Baudrillard’s work – ‘When the real is no longer what it used to be, nostalgia assumes its full meaning’ – the collection seems once again to challenge our notions of reality and representation, whilst the use of Lizzani’s film could be argued to ask questions about the way we process realistic representations as receptive agents. To put it another way, we will often complain if a film is not ‘realistic’ enough, but a film such as Lizzani’s raised questions of whether a representation can in fact be ‘too realistic’. Somewhere in between this, Baudrillard, C.E et al ask the mind-bending question of what ‘real’ actually is.
This notion is an interesting one, especially in the current climate of menswear. I am instantly reminded of brands such as Carhartt and Penfield, who have experienced a massive revival as part of the ‘heritage clothing’ movement that is running through menswear right now.
As we entered the 2000s, we left behind a century that was signposted by revolutions – cultural, social, political and otherwise – that marked massive changes in our lives. From the civil rights movements to punk, hip hop, gender equality and globalisation, the 1900s was a century of massive, tangible change.
Now that we are in the 21st century, our revolution seems arguably to have been a digital one. The advent of the internet and digital technology is surely the revolution of our time, and for all the change it has brought about, the tangibility of it necessarily cannot compare with previous revolutions – No matter how much it changed our daily lives, you can’t hold the MP3 in the same way those guys walking into fields in rural England felt the bass rumbling through their feet when they went to their first rave.
Where does this take us? Well, as Baudrillard explains, the real has arguably become this abstract, intangible concept that simply is not ‘what it used to be’. Returning to Carhartt, Penfield et al, it could be argued that ‘nostalgia [has assumed] its full meaning’ and these brands have returned to the fore because they necessarily ‘feel’ more ‘real’.
However, we also know that these brands aren’t releasing verbatim reproductions of their original pieces – the fit is adjusted, the trouser legs tapered, colourways stylised etc. We want that real, historic duck-canvas chore jacket, but the ‘real’ that we want is still just a modern simulation. Carhartt’s chore jackets are more ‘real’ than the high street knock-offs, but how close are they to their original templates?
Somewhat academically then, it feels like C.E serves as an antithesis to all of these sentiments by just throwing itself over the edge and doing whatever it can to be definitively ‘futuristic’ and ‘revolutionary’, accepting meanwhile the physical limitations of its medium. Caveat Emptor. It’s just a jacket. Then again, so is your chore jacket, and I don’t exactly see you shovelling coal into a furnace. Choose your revolutions. Choose your meanings. It doesn’t really matter. It’s all just a simulation anyway. Mind blown. Goodnight.