Josh Sims toasts the fashion brands putting unlikely locations on the map
There is life in smart fashion beyond the so-called fashion capitals. Indeed, look to the smaller cities, the backwaters and the quieter corners of the world, and there lies the birth and development of some of the most progressive, vibrant names in style culture. They don’t see not being in London, Paris, New York or Milan as a problem. In fact, they see their attachment to their home town as being (nearly) all advantage. Here are four shaking things up…
Detroit is not the obvious place to launch a lifestyle brand, let alone one specialising in watches. Geneva, yes. Detroit – Motor City, best known for its car production and, latterly, its disastrous lack of it – no. And the founders of Shinola (pronounced ‘Shine-oh-la’, after the old shoe polish company) know it. “The long tradition of Detroit watchmaking has just begun”, as the company’s cheeky ad line put it in 2011. That was just before its entire first production run of watches sold out, sight unseen.
Indeed, far from working against what Detroit has come to represent, Shinola sees itself as working with it, as part of the city’s regeneration as the nation’s new craft hub. “To play just a small part in the city’s revival is amazing,” says Shinola’s creative director Daniel Caudill. “Certainly people come here with a preconception of what Detroit is like, because of the news, but leave with a very different impression.”
Not, he stresses, that the company’s founders set out to do Detroit some favour: they were looking for a place to establish a watch factory and Detroit had the capacity, property and skills base.
Clearly Shinola is stretching that heritage, too. A random assortment of products have followed watches: stationery, leather goods, varsity jackets, pet accessories and even bicycles – with its latest, dubbed the Detroit Arrow to keep it local, developed with Waterford Precision Cycles of Wisconsin. All the products are made in the US, with Detroit firmly at the heart of the company’s efforts. Shinola has recently bought a local leather factory to make its watch straps, for example.
Certainly Shinola, perceived to be at the vanguard of the city’s manufacturing renaissance, seems to have been taken to the heart of Detroit’s population. Much as Mondaine has made capital of dotting its railway clocks around Swiss cities, Shinola has announced that a 4ft diameter city clock is set to be installed in Detroit. Shinola’s Detroit store also outsells its New York one, and factory tours are booked up weeks in advance.
“The city was so helpful in getting us started and I don’t think that was out of desperation,” Caudill adds. “It sounds corny, but people are really nice here. It’s a genuine community – not just in manufacturing but in art, food… It’s a great place.”
When Antonio De Matteis’s uncle set up Kiton in Arzano, near Naples, in 1968, he wasn’t eschewing the national fashion capitals that were Rome or Milan, so much as seeking to reinvigorate one that had been forgotten.
“Unfortunately, our city is located at the end of the world [in fashion terms],” jokes De Matteis, whose family has lived in the city for generations, and been tailors there just as long. Kiton – now a €100m-plus business which has grown to encompass some 45 stores worldwide – helped put Naples back on the map. Its own distinctive style is one that has come to be an influential staple of international, modern menswear. Kiton’s trademark is a lighter weight, in softer fabrics, with a fitted silhouette – one that, De Matteis says, means in Naples the saying goes you wear a size too small to show off your body.
“It’s tailoring you can move in. If you stand in your jacket like a soldier, then you’re not a Kiton customer. If you touch your jacket like you’d touch a beautiful woman, then you’re a Kiton customer,” says De Matteis, putting it as, perhaps, only an Italian might.
Kiton has now purchased the historic Via Pontaccio building as a new international showroom – that’s in Milan, by the way.
“We want to be seen there, but we couldn’t replicate what we do in Naples in Milan,” De Matteis says. “A tradition of master tailoring can’t just be moved overnight.”
Available at harrods.com
Ancient Greek Sandals, Athens
As Christina Martini jokes, “We couldn’t really call it Ancient Greek Sandals and then not make the sandals in Greece.” Indeed, the name of the company she co-founded was registered back in 2006, five years before it launched – designing and selling a more upmarket version of the classic Greek sandals typically sold to tourists around the Acropolis in Athens. “I thought it was a weird name to start with, kind of naive, but at least you know exactly what we’re about.
Martini was born in Greece but studied footwear design in London, although couldn’t conceive of launching Ancient Greek Sandals anywhere but in Athens. In fact, by returning some production to the city, Ancient Greek Sandals was able to save one factory from closure. Not that operating out of Athens hasn’t had its problems.
“We wanted to make everything in Greece but couldn’t find the leather quality we wanted, so had to buy that in,” says Martini. “And then we were launching a company in the middle of a financial crisis. But other companies have been inspired by our success. Now there’s a new Greek fashion movement – young people are going back to their roots. Our idea gets copied a lot in Greece too, but that’s just part of Greek culture. If people see something that works, they do the same.”
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(Photography: Lylle Blackstock)
Maria Erixon thinks the locale is inherent to Nudie Jeans, the brand she co-founded 15 years ago. “What we do well here in Sweden is dark, clean denim, because that suits the dark winter climate,” she says. But her business partner Joakim Levin argues that you can narrow it down further – to Gothenburg, the industrial city where Nudie was launched.
“In one respect, being here has been a problem for us, because the media is centred on Stockholm,” he says. “But in other ways it’s been positive for us. The tempo is slower here and people don’t give a sh*t about things that people care about in Stockholm. That gives you a focus on doing what you do rather than the image of what you do.”
Nudie ended up in Gothenburg more by accident than design. Erixon grew up in a small town before moving to Gothenburg to attend art school, where she studied graphic design. She worked for JC, a Swedish denim brand, before being headhunted to be the European design manager for Lee, which
saw her move to Brussels.
But she was determined to start her own line – so handed in her notice and, together with Levin, registered the Nudie name, created prototypes and had 2,000 pairs of jeans made for the 2001 Copenhagen Fashion Fair. The interest they received convinced both they had to commit to Nudie full time.
“Nudie was very much a DIY project when it started and we needed the connections we had to make it work, so staying in Gothenburg was logical. But just as logical would have been to later move to Stockholm – I don’t know why we didn’t,” laughs Levin. “Gothenburg is a dirty and grey place, and a down-to-earth place, which is what we see Nudie as being. There’s a roughness to them both.”
(Photography: Blanaid Kenny)