Florence, Italy – Perhaps it is a sign of the times that it has taken an artist to tell the fashion world that ideas – as opposed to product – still matter in fashion in general and in menswear in particular. As of late menswear has been suffering for the lack of ideas and the prevalence of product. There are very few menswear designers left who put ideas on the catwalk – people like Jun Takahashi of Undercover, Takahiro Miyashita of the Soloist, and Raf Simons. Yesterday at Pitti Uomo, the men’s trade fair in Florence, Sterling Ruby did the same with the debut of his rather convolutedly named line S.R. STUDIO. LA.CA. The results were mixed, but the daring was there and for a first collection it was more than satisfying. Perhaps it helped that I did not have high hopes for this, and I was pleasantly surprised. Another factor in Ruby’s favor was that the night before Claire Waight Keller of Givenchy threw a bunch of product at us without much conviction behind it and certainly without an overarching idea, regardless of what the show notes said.
Here is the thing that vexes menswear critics today – we have nothing against product. Product is indispensable to menswear. We are the geeks who turn the jackets inside out to examine the seamwork and delight ourselves in the knowledge that our denim is of the selvage kind. But why as of late must product take the center stage on the catwalk, crowding out ideas? Has men’s fashion become that enslaved to corporate interests and the desires of clueless millennial consumers who want nothing more but a dumb hoodie with the right logo on it? Ricardo Tisci, who arguably started the product craze, could masterfully show product on the catwalk, but it would buttress an idea. But even he has dispensed with ideas in favor of product at his new position at Burberry.
But back to Ruby, who put on a show that did have ideas and that did have conviction. And, yes, there was product in it – denim jackets and jeans and huge tote bags, but it wasn’t front and center. Front and center was an idea taken from Ruby’s work practices as an artist – paint splattered artist’s garb that was transformed via bleach and acid-washing and hammered into look after look. We have seen this idea before in Ruby’s collaboration with Raf Simons five years ago, but here it was taken to another degree. The scrubs were turned into oversized jackets for men and ponchos and dresses for women. The silhouettes ranged from slim to wide and the colors from dark to light. There were a bit too many logos for my taste, and that’s one thing that continues to irritate me about fashion in the Instagram age, but again they weren’t overwhelming enough to distract from the clothes themselves. If you aren’t into walking around looking like a fucked up canvas, there is a poncho with SLAYER graphics for you, or a green tartan coat, or a blue denim suit.
Raf Simons, Ruby’s close friend and some time collaborator, was in attendance, and naturally a few people, like the critic Angelo Flaccavento, wondered if he was involved in some capacity. Word on the street is that Ruby is taking the Vetements approach by severely limiting the supply of this collection to key stores like SSENSE and Dover Street Market. Whether these rumors are true we won’t know for some time, since Ruby declined to all interview requests from the fashion press. Whether this gamble will work remains to be seen. Ruby is known to the fashion insiders, but not to the fashion public – he’s not exactly Takahashi Murakami or KAWS. And refusing to give interviews to the very people whose job it is to potentially increase the fanbase for this line seems counterintuitive, even if Ruby is trying to position it as a very exclusive one. And, yes, Vetements proved that you can make hoodies and jeans exclusive. But for how long?
Editor’s note: the previous version of the article stated that Larry Gagosian possibly financed S.R. STUDIO. LA. CA. According to Ruby’s PR representative, the brand is an independent project by Sterling Ruby.