Showstudio's Lou Stoppard On The Allure Of Youth In Menswear
For someone so young, 25-year-old Lou Stoppard has a remarkably incisive outlook on youth culture–and fashion’s preoccupation with it. After graduating Oxford university with a first class degree in history, she went on to complete a fashion MA at Central Saint Martins, after which she landed the coveted position as editor of Nick Knight’s roundly celebrated fashion site SHOWstudio. What sets SHOWstudio apart from other fashion publications, websites, and platforms is its scholarly approach to fashion. In the many interviews she conducts and panel discussions she leads, Lou asks challenging and stimulating questions, and places the designer (or topic at hand) into a much larger context. One particularly significant topic she and Knight explored was portrayals of girlishness in fashion, for a rolling series entitled Girly.
In an essay Lou wrote for the Girly series, entitled “Basic Bitches,” she laments the stunted progress of 20-something women today, or women “born anytime between the mid 80s to early 90s” who have “some memory of making formative identity developments to the soundtrack of B*Witched or ever wore Von Dutch.” After the recession, this demographic, she argues, was “forced into a time warp, cruelly prevented from ever growing up like some sad passive female Peter Pan in American Apparel disco pants.” She rails against the infantile, feeble, and ignorant image that has infiltrated young women today, and mentions Jeremy Scott’s Moschino—particularly his Barbie doll parade—as a prime example.
In light of this unfortunate state of forcibly perpetuated youth, it’s hard not to see Lou’s upcoming exhibit, Mad About The Boy, as a reaction to all of this. Opening at the Fashion Space Gallery (located at the London College of Fashion) on January 8th—and coinciding with the first day of London Collection: Men—Mad About The Boy traverses fashion’s fascination with youth, specifically how the image of the teenage boy has manifested in various collections and designers’ visions. Compare Moschino, for instance, with the menswear designers showcased in this exhibit, and you’ll see how similar fixations with youth, when stitched into the fabric of a collection, can yield such vastly different results. “Something I hope people will consider when looking at the show,” Lou told me, “[is how the] fetishization of male youth can manifest in different ways than the obsession with female youth.”
Lou is not your average fashion journalist. Armed with profound intellect and historical knowledge, she manages to turn every interview into a deep, and often psychological, exploration of a designer’s aesthetic and vision. And it does’t hurt that these interviews are often hour-long, uninterrupted discussions. She’s not like most 25-year olds, who have the attention span of a toad (myself included).
In fact, it’s the hour-long length of SHOWstudio’s “In Fashion” interviews that Lou finds most appealing: “I love it because it’s so not online friendly at all,” she told a crowd at the Royal Geographical Society back in June. You won’t find her traipsing about in front of street style photographers either. “Working in fashion, there can be that kind of pressure where you feel like you have to own the latest thing or present yourself in a certain way,” she told Sunspel. “Whereas I don’t dress up. That performing element of fashion is not something that I really engage with.” Yet if, by some stroke of luck, a photographer does happen to catch her zipping from one show to another, she’ll most likely be cloaked in menswear.
It’s certainly no revelation that both men and women have, in the last couple years, begun to experiment with and embrace androgynous style clothes. More and more women are shopping at Supreme and Palace, swapping their ballet flats for trainers, and getting comfy in trousers. And guys, too, seem to identify less and less with the suit-and-tie, Patrick Bateman type of style that embodies and perpetuates stereotypes of masculinity. But whereas most have only pointed out the androgyny trend, merely scratching the surface, Lou goes a step further.
By displaying different menswear designers’ preoccupations with youth—designers such as Raf Simons, J.W. Anderson, Meadham Kirchhoff, and Gosha Rubchinskiy, among others—Lou, in turn, displays the noticeable traces of femininity in recent menswear collections—and, by dint of that, reveals the disparity between what women are wearing in the real world and what they’re wearing down the runway. “I think many menswear designers have responded to the ways people’s lives have changed…’youthful’ clothing like sweatshirts, tracksuits, or casual wear are now very relevant to all men’s lives. The best menswear designers—Raf, Craig Green, Gosha, and so on—are responding to this,” she told me. “I don’t think womenswear designers have accepted these dress code changes in the same way—we still see so many cocktail frocks. I sit at womenswear shows in jeans and trainers, alongside countless other editors in jeans and sweaters and sneakers and see endless dresses go by. It just doesn’t feel that relevant.” By exploring menswear designers’ captivation with youth, Lou is simply giving credit where credit is due.
“I sit at womenswear shows in jeans and trainers…and see endless dresses go by.”
There’s a difference between an appreciation for the charisma of youth culture—commanding in their unadulterated splendor—and an obsession with being young. And it’s this difference that lies at the heart of Mad About The Boy. What Lou has chosen to showcase are displays of what she calls “the magic of youth” that’s saturated in a heady, blissful energy. This includes Raf Simons pieces from his Spring/Summer 2016 collection, which was inspired by Mark Leckey’s 1999 film Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore—an impeccable and aptly intoxicating depiction of the UK’s underground club scene from the ’70s through the ’90s. Leckey’s film will also be on display, as will Michel Gaubert’s track from Raf Simons’ Spring/Summer 2016 show, which sampled the soundtrack from Leckey’s film.
The exhibit will also pay homage to clusters of kids that comprised the UK’s underground club scene—tribes that Raf captures in his patch-adorned garments that evoke images of self-branding. These tribes elevated ordinary, unremarkable boys by banding them together into a united and invincible front—and, in turn, inspired creatives like Kim Jones and Gosha Rubchinskiy to go into fashion. Tribes which formed the foundation to the ’80s club scene in London and which consisted of kids who, in Kim Jones’ words, “didn’t care what people thought.” It’s a time Jones is certainly nostalgic for, if his extensive collection of vintage Vivienne Westwood, Christopher Nemeth, Stephen Linard, Modern Classics, and Rachel Auburn—”the fruits of legendary London club kids,” according to Lou—are anything to go by.
And you’ll find sartorial portrayals of the Gosha Rubchinskiy boy, who represents a new, more liberal generation in Russia. Gosha is, first and foremost, interested in youth because of their enigmatic connection that transcends race, nationality, and religion. “Young kids, teenagers, they are the same, the same like in London, Tokyo, Madrid,” he told Lou, “That’s why I think my stuff is so popular, because I design in a very international language.” With advances in technology come ever-increasing accessibility, and the gradual demise of that blissful space that has always defined youth. It’s this magic that we must celebrate, and remember if we want to keep it alive.
All images courtesy of the London College of Fashion