Over the past year and a half I’ve reviewed half a dozen more or less interesting books in the field of menswear, and thought I had a fair overview of what little is available. When visiting the UK recently though, I happened upon “The Fashion Resource Book – Men”, which I’d not seen mention of before. It was published in May 2014, so pretty new as well! A quick browse showed promise, so it was added to the library. It’s not as if we guys are spoilt when it comes to good books about our interest, is it? I’ve a few more books on my want-list, but they tend to be so esoteric and rare that even if you can find them they cost quite unreasonable amounts. So finding a new book that looks good and only costs the price of a regular book is a bit of a score. Previous books I’ve reviewed have covered matters such as vintage menswear, classic menswear, rugged and rare menswear. This book comes at the matter from the fashion perspective, or rather the perspective of the designers and the industry. The author, Robert Leach, has spent 32 years in the industry, from working as a designer, later as a journalist and these days as a senior lecturer at the University of Westminster. In other words, he has wide experience in the field and should know a thing or two about fashion. So, what does this book cover? Quite a lot, in fact, and maybe even too much. It’s only 208 pages, and is quite naturally loaded with images (393 in total). Refreshingly though there is a lot of text as well. I’ve already made my position clear on what I think of expensive picturebooks (see “Denim Style”) and while a picture may be worth a thousand words, a book without words is not a true book, to my mind. The text here though is mostly well written and interesting. The main categories included are:
- The research process
This section covers the research practices of a dozen designers or companies, from Nigel Cabourn to Comme des Garcons and more, with 2 pages for each.
- Research and inspiration
This is the main section, with subsections titled historical research, trends and forecasting, street style, popular culture, heritage, formal wear, uniform, workwear, the language of clothes, sportswear and concept-led and avantgarde. Each subsection has plenty of interesting topics, even if the headings listed might not grab you right away.
- Garment biographies
The garment biographies are basically a similar run-down of classic menswear staples that other books look at: the trench coat, the pea coat, the parka, the motorcycle jacket, the denim jacket, the flying jacket, the duffle jacket and the field jacket.
So, is the content any good? The section I enjoyed most of all was in fact the introduction, where Robert really allows his own voice to be heard. This section actually made me wish I could have attended and enjoyed a few of his lectures first hand. Passages such as what follows are very much the sort of info that is lacking in so much other coverage of menswear:
“Today’s menswear tends to be trans-seasonal, with the male consumer expecting to wear a garment for more than six months. Quality and longevity therefore have to be built in, and men’s fashion cannot be as trend-led as it’s female counterpart. Modern menswear is primarily about the detail, the fit and the cloth. It can be tribal – knowing, cliquey and exclusive. The male consumer is nothing if not a discerning one.”
And we also have this quote from Stephanie Cooper, menswear lecturer at Central Saint Martins, London:
“Contemporary menswear design is driven by obsession to detail, reinvention and subversion of the traditional, and sensitive attention to fabrication, scale and proportion, where in some cases, the width of trouser or a lapel can become a life-changing event. Within this discipline there are endless and inexhaustible possibilities to be explored.”
This had me chuckling while I read it. So very very true. The research and inspiration section has plenty of interesting sections, with relevant companies presented, solid info about various garment types and a fine array of personalities included. Interesting reading, for the most and I learnt quite a bit from reading it. In conclusion, the good bits are indeed very good, and likely worth the value of the book in itself. If I’m allowed to be a bit critical, there are aspects of the book that don’t work well. Partly, I think, this is due to the book being rushed out a bit too quickly.
The research practices are of varied interest, as some of them read a little too much like something the companies have let their PR person write. With a little more time spent on them they could have been more interesting. The selection of companies could also have been more interesting, with RRL and Alexander McQueen (seriously?) dropped in favour of a some Japanese workwear or denim brands perhaps?
The book is sprinkled with case studies, basically student work consisting of research material and “mood-boards” for their projects. Interesting in itself, but I found it intensely frustrating to not see what resulted from their research. For almost every case study I found myself turning the page expecting to see more, and I was equally disappointed every time.
Some oddities in the selection of garments/companies shown, such as Nigel Cabourn having a denim jacket presented, where surely Cabourn would be much more relevantly included with the Cameraman or Mallory jackets, which are both immensely more interesting, and also not something almost everyone is better known than him for doing!
Oh, and of course, massive kudos for including the Aitor Throup and his reworking of the classic Goggle Jacket. The jacket I most desire and have least use for in the entire history of jackets!
In summary though, a good, solid book, and no doubt most of this is down to Robert being both an academic and having a long and varied background in the fashion business. It took me a couple of evenings to get through the book, so it’s actually a pretty comprehensive and decent read, in addition to having plenty of nice photos.
Note: If you buy this book using one of these links, I may at some point receive a small consideration from the vendor in question. This is really appreciated, as it will offset a little of the costs of keeping this blog running and will enable me transform into the Woosterish international style icon that I aspire to that much sooner.