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Beams+: A question of credibility and cultural worth

The other day I read a piece about Congolese sapeurs on The Guardian. I’ve read about them a number of times over the years. But it reminded me that for these remarkable dandies, Pierre Cardin remains a label of desirability and prestige. So I visited the Pierre Cardin page — a sad digital window into a once vital brand. I looked at the current Pierre Cardin offerings over at House of Frazer and discovered you can get two branded Pierre Cardin sweaters in 100% acrylic for £20. I remembered that my first ‘designer’ fragrance was a prized and vaguely phallic bottle of Pierre Cardin, bought in the early 80s from Boots. I couldn’t afford Armani. I can still recall the smell.

It made me think about the collapse of credibility and cultural worth. Either through over expansion and dilution of the brand (as was the case with Cardin) or through the loss of an eponymous designer — Helmut Lang, Martin Margiela, Alexander McQueen, Jil Sander.

I considered how all these thoughts stemmed from seeing some beautiful pictures of African sartorialists. And how the mind is this remarkable muddle of half-remembered facts, sensations and emotions, lying dormant. Just waiting to be threaded together, to be patchworked into a whole.

It won’t have escaped your notice that this Beams+ jacket is (metaphor alert) a patchwork. Four greens and a blue. All corduroy. All different. All connected.

It’s a handsome piece. Perfect for a contemporary reimagining of the Robin Hood fable perhaps. But equally at home on the back of anyone with sufficient front. Five different cords on one jacket —  in some quarters that’s surely still quite a statement.

For all its apparent complexity, it’s actually pretty simple. Drawcord hood, drawcord hem, big pouch up the front — pop it over your head and you’re good to go. For me the interest is actually in the brand rather than the piece.

Thinking again about brand credibility, it’s always fascinated me that the view on Beams+ in the UK is quite different from that of its native Japan. Here the brand is reasonably desirable, yet its omnipotence in the east renders it relatively unexceptional. It’s seen by many in Japan as an upscale Uniqlo. This isn’t an issue of aesthetic sensibility, just one of distribution. A brand can mean two quite different things in two different continents. A must-have here, generic there. Rather like the continued prestige of Pierre Cardin to our Congolese friends.

I find it satisfying when things come full circle. When I feel I’ve made some sense of the patchwork, even if I don’t have all the answers. It makes a change from my usual boggle-minded thinking. Like does it make me less woke if I don’t want to kiss a women with a moustache? And why don’t we put carrots on pizzas?

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