Niche brand expert Andrew Blyszak is about to launch his own eyewear range, a high-end affair using matte powder-coated metal and real horn: bringing something genuinely new to the crowded sunglasses market. Here I ask him about his life behind the darkened lens and his plans for the brand. Product images are from the new lookbook, pre-release images are exclusives.
SL: I know you’re Australian by origin, so presumably sunglasses were an early necessity. Can you remember what pair you first bought for yourself?
AB: Not suprisingly the first pair I ever bought for myself were Ray-Ban.
SL: The collection features a very specific shape, how did you arrive at this design?
AB: The shape was derived from a pair I had been wearing for years which I had originally found at a flea market in the South of France for 50 cents. They got a real beating over the years and when I went to replace them I couldn’t find a single pair with that precise shape and so I decided to make my own.
SL: In the pantheon of iconic sunglasses wearers, who deserves a place?
AB: We are arguably all big Andy Warhol fans.
SL: What drove your desire to work with by-product horn, and how did you come across this as a material?
AB: Horn is a special material that doesn’t really have a spotlight in contemporary eyewear. It also requires intricate handling and so I hooked up with London based Edward Gucewicz who had been perfecting the art and manufacture for some time. What’s intersting is that no two horns are ever precisely the same. BLYwear (as my freinds are calling it) is a super-refined product using the highest quality materials. Mixing horn with metal to create something standout that naturally won’t be for everyone but which feels really good.
SL: The collection is unisex, was this a deliberate choice or just a result of the designs looking good on boys and girls?
AB: Personally I prefer to think of all niche product as unisex to some degree. The collection has a genderless mood which I think is reflected in the campaign imagery and true, the style sits well on both boys and girls.
SL: What are your immediate plans for Blyszak eyewear?
AB: There’s a full campaign release taking place in the middle of May 2015 and Blyszakeyewear.com will go live shortly thereafter. We are also teeing up with a few specialty stores to house the collection exclusively. All the details can be found at the website.
Last week Selfridges launched its in-store installation, Agender, introducing the concept of gender-neutral fashion to a largely unsuspecting public and the media response has been really quite remarkable: a feature in Time Out, an insert on Radio 4’s Women’s Hour among others, all seemingly taking the concept at least half-seriously. Even with a declared disinterest in fashion, you’d have to be wilfully unobservant to have missed at least some mention of it this week. While gender “play” and the concept of gender neutral fashion have become common parlance in high fashion circles in the last few years, as ever, what is an accepted part of current fashion debate can be the subject of fierce derision beyond its luminous boundaries (and as an occasional commentator on fashion and gender on the likes of The Guardian, I can vouch for the fierceness of some of those reactions).
In person, the extent that Selfridge’s Oxford Street building has been taken over by a singular concept is really impressive and merits the amount of discussion and media attention it has received, with window displays and key lobby points in the store driving attention towards the initiative – the crossed through “he she me” messaging declaring a potent argument for individualism.
Wanting to experience the thinking behind it all a bit more, I attended the talk on Tuesday led by ShowStudio’s Lou Stoppard with designer Rad Hourani, whose work is available as part of the Agender initiative, albeit at the couture/high end. Having focused on gender neutral fashion for his whole career, (he is the only member of the French Federation of Haute Couture to present unisex designs), Hourani was well-placed to discuss the concept and made a reasonable case for the democratic, idealistic value of clothing designed as a neutral canvas to be worn by either gender. But what I wasn’t so convinced about was whether taking the gender associations out of clothing altogether renders them sexless, devoid of risk or playfulness. What made a greater impression on me was the sheer range of designers that Selfridges has chosen to demonstrate their big idea, presenting some genuinely covetable fashion: ‘80s London legends Bodymap, Yang Li’s intriguing collaboration with pandrogyne icon Genesis P. Orridge, big league designers Dries Van Noten and Rick Owens and the seriously streetstyle-worthy Nazir Mazhar and Astrid Andersen. The range of names on display in the windows left me feeling quite moved to have been part of an ongoing fashion conversation that, for once, has gone mainstream. This is a positive reminder that fashion has a role to play in presenting issues up for discussion, however the mainstream media may decide to respond to them.
It’s been a bit quiet here of late, as I’ve been publishing over at STREETS, the recently-planted digital flag for the new bi-annual print publication we’re preparing for, (in classic print style), a September Issue. More news on THAT soon.
Meanwhile, back on my personal radar, here is the release of Jonathan Saunders’ eyewear collection for SS15. Back when I reviewed the full collection for The Guardian at LC:M, I’d already picked out the eyewear as a highlight, adding to the appeal of the ready-to-wear collection’s soft candy colours and clean, modern lines. The glasses have similarly bold, modern outlines, in solid colours, unique patterns and shiny metals. I find that I wear sunglasses for most of the year, to combat low-lying winter sun as much as full-on summer glare, so I’m perennially on the hunt for cool shades. These tick most of my boxes: I love the strong shapes, the solid, acetate colours and the timeless, mid-century styling.
Available at Liberty.
As I share my highlights from the week, it’s time to wave goodbye to New York, though this time it’s more of a ‘see you later’ as we’ll be right back here again in July for the inaugural menswear week.
I’ve already reviewed Duckie Brown in detail, but here are some details from the other collections I particularly enjoyed this trip. There are some familiar names here, as certain New York talents continue to plough as steady furrow through the dross of mainstream menswear, but as ever, I was interested to discover the newer names around town. With the likes of Astrid Andersen and Bobby Abley showing in the city, it’s also interesting to see if some of the fierce lustre of the street-ier aspects of LC:M will rub off over here.
Bettering last season‘s epic rooftop show was always going to be a tough call, but Daisuke Obana’s collection for AW15 had some gentle highlights like the cable knits and collarless, shearling tunics, the snowflake prints and robust outerwear T-shirt shapes. Obana’s work benefits from the objective take on American style motifs his being based in Japan allows.
Being a fashion darling is a mixed blessing, but the home crowd enthusiasm for Robert Geller’s work only emphasises the desirability of his collection. Earthy, warm colours and graphic masculine outlines have become his signatures, and winter clothing is a great vehicle for both.
Another much loved home talent, Coppens work builds on a steady base of sleek, luxurious sportswear and showing womenswear alongside menswear for the second time this season, the totality of his vision is well represented. I loved the petrol-y tones of his opening pieces and the slick take on defending against the cold which is the exact opposite of rustic, folksy outerwear.
There were more bold, graphical lines in Bumsuk Choi’s collection at General Idea. Having skipped showing in New York last season, he was back and on point, this time the strong lines had a militaristic edge and were defined by shape and form as much as surface detail. The oversized coats, matchy pinstripe separates and bold knitwear were scene stealers.
Hood by Air
Speaking of scenes, Shayne Oliver’s Hood by Air continues to draw on an attention-grabbing, countercultural zeitgeist (as in those stocking-head masks) but there is also a growing maturity to his work, as though the attention that shows in London and Pitti have provided, has helped to reframe what his work is about. Here American streetwear standards from the puffa to the camel coat and track pants, were given a shake up and made less familiar. I loved the pleated wide leg pants, the furs with the HBA uber-branding and his take on camel, which shredded any association with conservatism that colour might have.
In terms of new names, Ryu Hayama’s Fingers Crossed line impressed with the elegant belted overcoats, Breton stripes, leather trimmed tracksuits and in general, his playful take on rainwear. Classic raincoat yellow was given a new spin, hair was styled as after the deluge and streamlined rain hats were cut with the precision of classic skyscraper-era New York architecture.
Other names around town which caught my eye were Thaddeus O’Neil‘s intriguing blend of Walt Whitman hobo poetry and surf culture, this season explored in the guise of Viking sea warriors, complete with face jewellery, and newcomer Vejas, whose presentation blurred gender difference with the kind of subversion with intent that is always a welcome counterpoint to whatever else might be going on in New York.
New York, see you in July.
A new book, launching tonight with an exhibition at Paul Smith‘s gallery on Albermarle Street, celebrates the buoyancy of fashion illustration in menswear. I caught up with Clym Evernden, one of the talents featured in the book to find out more about why menswear illustration is having a moment right now.
1. Tell me about the book project. How did you come to be involved?
Richard Kilroy approached me to be part of the book. I’m thrilled that Richard approached me as I think now is a perfect time to acknowledge menswear illustration in its own right. Fashion illustration has previously occupied a cliche that it portrays almost exclusively womenswear, often in that tired old aesthetic of an elegant woman in the 1950s wearing couture, or walking down Bond street with shopping bags and a small dog. However the book cements the fact that menswear illustration is a fresh and dynamic way of visualising the industry, possibly in tandem with a surge of interest in menswear in the last decade (remember that LC:M is a fairly recent phenomena etc). A lot of the artists featured, myself included are also interested to showing a street level and real representation of clothing rather than imagery which is aspirational or unobtainable. This syncs with the trickle up effect we’ve also seen within the last decade, the interest in street style via sites like the Sartorialist etc.
2. Fashion illustration seems to be having a moment, what with Richard Haines’ Dries Van Noten collaboration et al, what does illustration have to offer in the age of Instagram photos and instant video sharing?
I think people are bored of seeing slick digital imagery. I feel like there was a period when a lot of industries had refined their digital presence so it was almost too digitally smooth and ‘perfect’, so now people are craving to feel a human soul and handwork in imagery. This might relate to the a resurgence of interest in product that is ‘honest’ , organic, and crafted. Also the interest in the ‘self’ as seen in reality tv etc. is often elevated by portraiture… This certainly relates to my live event work.
3. Who were your mentors when you were developing your skills as an illustrator? Is there a canon of great fashion illustrators?
My tutor at Central Saint Martins was Howard Tangye. I was extremely fortunate to have him tutor me as he’s not only wise but is an exceptionally gifted artist himself. He was the one that advised me to explore working with a brush (ink) rather than a rigid line. Also a good friend Camilla Dixon is an extremely accomplished artist and fashion illustrator. Endless conversations with Camilla about art, and the conceptual aspects of art and fashion have provided me with an invaluable source of inspiration and a new way of looking at basically everything.
4. I’ve witnessed the speed of your sketching, when did you discover you had this ability and were you trained to work at such a pace?
I always knew that I could draw very fast (I used to make quick sketches of my pets when I was a child which may have initiated this), and also that people were fascinated to watch me work like this. I finally put two and two together and about 2 years ago came up with the concept of ‘Live event illustration’. Having sketched at many runway shows, I had no other choice but to develop skills at rapid drawing as the models are sometimes only visible for 15 seconds or less. Also skalhing people in observation on the street, on the tube etc, you have to be almost as fast as a camera lens shutting, as even the briefest of lines can accurately describe something if they are on point. So working this fast wasn’t an outcome of training, but the result of necessity.
5 How do you keep your eye fresh? Where do you look for visual inspiration (outside of fashion) in terms of style, technique etc? Which artists do you admire?
My natural inclination in any given situation is to constantly take things in visually. So I think inspiration is constant for me in absolutely every part of life – it doesn’t have to be in an exhibition or something presented on a elevated podium. In fact I’m not very good at visiting art galleries as I spend most of my time watching the other visitors rather than the works of art – sometimes they’re more interesting. Depending on the weather, I might see the sunlight is very crisp and beautiful and decide to take the morning off and go for a walk (like today to the Tate Modern) and the light makes everything: colours, depth of field, architecture look so graphic and beautiful. I end up taking a lot of photos on a walk like that. I don’t really necessarily get inspired by fashion illustrators, but more by artists who project an almost cinematic scape and atmosphere, like photographers and landscape artists. I’m particularly keen on wartime landscape artist Paul Nash at the moment, and photography of areas such as LA and Las Vegas in the 1980s. Also film directors, I’m having a revived interest in Tarantino at the moment. Also in an abstract sense I find music incredibly inspiring and stimulating. Often the rhythm or energy in music I find can be translated into line. I listen to a wide variety, for example at the moment I’m listening to the new Charlie XCX album, dark electronics by Burial, and Wim Mertens (whose music was used at the Craig Green show for the last two seasons).
The exhibition Drawings: Men & Style is at Paul Smith, No.9 Albemarle Street, London and runs from the
16th February – 6th March.
The book, Menswear Illustration, compiled by renowned fashion illustrator Richard Kilroy, brings together the work of 40 illustrators including Kilroy himself, Clym Evernden, Richard Haines and Julie Verhoeven. It is released on 23 February and is published by Thames & Hudson.
New York fashion week is underway, and as ever, the menswear shows will play their part, lightly peppered across the schedule, and often held at smaller, more intimate locations than the media carnival around the major league womenswear shows at the Lincoln Centre. During fashion week, the island of Manhattan is invaded by an army of fashionable women (and some men) from across the U.S., the former generally rivaling the tall buildings in their heels, all seemingly in a constant rush and making as much noise about it as possible. The menswear shows tend to have a more sedate feel, as a select and recognisable crew gathers in warehouse spaces and studios around Chelsea and the Meatpacking District to demonstrate their allegiance to the idea of men’s fashion in New York.
But changes are afoot, with the recent announcement of a specific menswear week in July. For those showing this week there will no doubt be (or have been) consternation about whether to show in July too. Thus far, Public School, Calvin Klein, Robert Geller, Duckie Brown, Patrik Ervell and others have been announced for July. Until now, there have been certain fixtures in the NYFW schedule: Duckie Brown (the Anglo/Canadian design partnership who have been at the vanguard of keeping an adventurous European edge alive in New York men’s fashion) always show on the first Thurday in the week; Sunday has for some time been a semi-official menswear day with presentations being held at Milk Studios that have brought the likes of Public School to their current prominence, and Patrik Ervell generally shows on the Sunday evening too. It will be interesting to see how New York designers adapt to the new fashion calendar and what the rest of the world will make of it.
Internationally, coverage of the menswear shows has been slight, with few European representatives present. Tim Coppens, and CFDA and Woolmark prize-winners Public School have garnered probably the widest press coverage, but appropriately enough for a city famous for providing a foothold for immigrants, there are often designers from further afield showing, such as Korea’s General Idea, Japanese designer Daisuke Obana’s N.Hoolywood and, for the first time this season, London/Swedish talent Astrid Andersen.
In contrast, there has been an increasing attendance at LC: M by the New York fashion press, spearheaded by former New York Times men’s fashion director Bruce Pask (now at Bergdorf Goodman), who have no doubt returned home with tales of London’s burgeoning menswear scene. The bond between London and New York is a strong one, sometimes pitched as rivals, sometimes as like-minded siblings. Whether the new menswear week will help to foster the same kind of renaissance in New York menswear as has happened in London, elevating it above the conservative uniformity that plagues men’s fashion in America, is yet to be seen.