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May 27, 2011 10:07 pm
Perhaps because we live in a globalised world, where Dior is Dior from St Petersburg to Seoul and from London to Louisiana, when it comes to basics – the clothes you wear every day – consumers are increasingly patriotic, swearing undying loyalty to their favourite “local” brands. But what are these national allegiances? And how have they managed to hold on to their respective niches in the face of worldwide marketing campaigns? We reveal the favourites in three fashion destinations around the world.
Italy: The undisputed king of Italian basic clothing is Alberto Aspesi. A self-effacing man from Lombardy with an innate sense of colour and style, Aspesi has a following that spans 40 years and well-dressed Italians from media mogul Count Gaddo della Gherardesca to retired footballer Fabio Bellotti and Uberta Zambeletti, owner of Milan’s latest concept store, Wait and See. All swear by Aspesi’s impeccably cut blazers, well-tailored safari jackets, and white shirts retailing at around €150. Aspesi oversees his collection with three designers and describes his label as “typical Milanese taste”. It’s updated only in shape and fabrics, such as Japanese technical materials (for outdoor wear), Irish linen, and Italian cottons and silks.
“Alberto Aspesi is a man of instinct,” says designer Emanuel Ungaro, who wears Aspesi, and whose wife is also a fan. “For me, when it comes to basics, Aspesi is unrivalled worldwide,” says Milanese mother-of-two Alessandra Galtrucco. “Everything is useful and easy on the eye and you’ll wear it forever. I have a pair of shorts that I’ve worn for years every single summer and they’re still intact. I only ever wear Aspesi anoraks. Unlike most other brands, they have no labels and if you want to be chic and look great on a hike, Aspesi is the one to go for.”
Equally popular is Fay, originally an American brand that made only one coat based on a firefighter jacket with conspicuous metal hooks. Tod’s chief executive Diego Della Valle bought the company in the early 1980s and developed a line of high quality coats and jackets for men and women, often using the signature metal fastener. “We use masculine fabrics for very feminine styles,” explains Fay’s general manager Giulio Guasco. This juxtaposition can be seen on a smart, slim-line black nylon motorcycle jacket with zipped pockets which gets slightly modified each season. “I just bought one in Milan during the Salone del Mobile design fair,” says Paola Petrobelli, a glass designer. “They are so useful, easy to pack and super-smart, yet feminine.” Aside from the firefighter and biker influence, seafaring-inspired coats in thick wools with knitted collars are also a big hit for both sexes.
United States: All women know how hard it is to find trousers that fit perfectly (where the crotch is not too low, the thighs not too tight, the legs not too long); hence the success of American brand Theory. Founded in 1997 by Andrew Rosen with the intention of focusing on comfort and style, the collections have consistently offered clean silhouettes and quality craftsmanship. Recently, the buzzy young Belgian designer, Olivier Theyskens (formerly artistic director of Rochas and Nina Ricci) has become artistic director, adding a fashion frisson to the brand. “They do the best trousers and have lovely understated dresses that always have a slight twist. I’ll go in there, say, if I’m going on holiday and need a little white dress,” says model Saffron Aldridge. “They make great everyday clothes that are perfect for a woman from 25 to 65.”
Then there’s J. Crew, beloved of Michelle Obama. “If Audrey Hepburn were alive today she would be wearing J. Crew,” says war reporter Janine di Giovanni. “I love the clean pure lines of American sportswear which J. Crew does so well. I like to mix their things with the more expensive pieces in my wardrobe, like a pair of flat Italian-style, simple J. Crew leather sandals with a Lanvin dress.” Kim Hersov, the American editor-at-large of UK Harper’s Bazaar, wore J. Crew in her early twenties, then stopped buying it, and has recently returned. “I started paying attention to the brand again and sort of fell in love with it when I went home to San Francisco last year,” she says. “I love their striped T-shirts and their shorts.” Marina Mazur, another American in London, agrees: “They are the affordable go-to for basics,” she says. “Ever since Jenna Lyons took over [as president in 2010], the brand has actually moved into the cult arena and out of its preppy vibe. The military jacket I got last year sold out everywhere; I had to search all over the US for it.”
France: Comptoir des Cotonniers is the go-to brand for plain, unstructured clothing. “It’s comfortable and so easy to wear,” says actress Maryam D’Abo, who was raised in France. “I love their soft fabrics and the earth colours of the collections.” Agnès b is another great French classic label, now in its fourth decade, renowned for its sturdy T-shirts made with the same fabric as those worn by rugby players. “I’ve been wearing Agnès b since I was 14,” says French actress and singer, Jeanne Marine. “They have the best basics for the whole family, clothes that are perfect for children as well as for grandmothers.” Then there is Monoprix, a chain of supermarkets, whose in-house brands (Monoprixhommes, for men, Autre Ton for women and CFK for children) are perfect for those on a budget and sold alongside smaller, more exclusive collections by hot French designers that have been a hit with the French public.
“I go to Monoprix regularly when I’m in Paris,” says Marie Moatti, of perfume company By Kilian. “There is always one nearby, so it’s a quick and easy shopping destination for all essentials, from a pint of milk to a T-shirt. I love the quality of their natural fabrics and the fact that the clothes are not fussy. In the last few years they’ve collaborated with designers such as Anne Valérie Hash, producing classic collections with a slight twist. The last time I was there I bought a very classic pair of leather gladiator sandals, a bit like those that were in fashion in St Tropez in the 1960s.”
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