Future Perfect

At a time when we can count on near-daily weather reports of ice caps melting on the North Pole and rising sea levels swallowing up coastal regions, the rules of seasonal dressing have started to feel less and less relevant. Casting off the severest layers and accessories dictated by climactic extremes—boots combatting sleet and snow, galoshes, down-filled coats, and heavy sweaters—our new conditions leave us as exposed to the elements and impulses of the trade winds as the dear polar bear. Add to this our seemingly relentless and frequent traveling today, whether out of obligation or wanderlust, and it starts to seem that we have a need for a certain type of twenty-first-century armor.

 

London-based designer Christopher Raeburn saw the storm building on the horizon. The Royal College of Art-trained menswear designer, perhaps best known for incorporating repurposed scraps of military uniforms and survival rafts into his own lines of sportswear, has been designing adaptively since his first collection, a small group of reversible garments, appropriately named “Inverted,” was shown during London Design Week in 2008. Taking on collaborations with adventure-anticipating lifestyle brands—designing “Festival Protect,” a collection specifically made for attending British music festivals, ponchos with matching tents as well as a helpful app called Festival Ready (S/S13), and, in a later season, jackets suitable for future space exploration (S/S14) for Victorinox, manufacturer of the original Swiss Army Knife; plush avant- and après-ski looks (F/W12) and crisp hiking gear (S/S13) for the French Moncler; Blank Canvas, a line of polo shirts from punk classic Fred Perry, lifting the nineties American Issue Desert camouflage arrangement, laid out to circumvent early night-vision detection, each one sold stored individually in a parachute bag; collaborating with his brother, Graeme, on protective leather riding gloves and featherweight layers for the city cyclist for the English biking line Rapha; an updated waterproof “Ursula Suit,” sporting brand Barbour’s standard-issue uniform for the English Submarine Service in the thirties (F/W14); and patchworking rich leathers and weather-resistant high-tech fabrics to create Mongolia- and Borneo-inspired boots for English brand Clarks (S/S16).

 

Visualizing the sartorial needs that such scenarios would require has prepared him to take on German travel line MCM, a luggage line revitalized with new creative and production direction in its fortieth year. The company’s inroads into clothing may be relatively new, but you’ve seen their somewhat inconspicuous bags—black initials (MCM stands for Michael Cromer München, the owner and the label’s city of origin) over a simple half-wreath of laurel leaves, stamped on tan leather, cut into sharp-cornered suitcases and trunks, capped with brass brackets, or studded drawstring bucket purses and backpacks. The line’s zenith was during the eighties’ flamboyant stretch, when nouveau-riche flash bred logomania and a devouring lust for instantly recognizable status brands. Cindy Crawford posed nude for Herb Ritts in the company’s ad campaigns and Joan Collins traveled with a tower of MCM suitcases in the nighttime soap Dynasty, a touchstone for lavish lifestyle and excess at the time.

 

Munich has more recently positioned itself as a financial center, a hub for tech or engineering companies and BMW in the past generation, but in the disco decade, it was a jetsetter’s stopover and maintained a pulsing nightlife. The city was a hub for Krautrock, and Italian music producer Giorgio Moroder, architect of Italo disco, established his legendary Musicland Studios in the basement of the Arabella-Hochhaus skyscraper. Queen, Deep Purple, The Rolling Stones, the Electric Light Orchestra, and Amanda Lear all passed through, recording at Musicland and settling in to let loose at clubs such as P1, a decadent lair hidden underneath the Haus der Kunst. Donna Summer came to play Sheila in the city’s production of the musical Hair, and stayed awhile; finding work as a model and backup singer, she eventually learned and began to sing in German. It was while she was recording a session at the studio with American rock band Three Dog Night that her and Moroder’s paths finally crossed, and together they collaborated on hits such as an eventually seventeen-minute-long “Love to Love You Baby,” “Hot Stuff,” and “Bad Girls.” The Queen of Disco was at home in the spotlight in the and ignited electro dance music on the spot with their release of “I Feel Love.”

 

The glittering nighttime celebrities and cellar stages made Munich a most unlikely new capital of pleasure, lending a smoky charisma to the city for a number of years before fortifying its more distinctive sobriety by the nineties. But this small window of time cleared the room for other areas of creativity and fashion to bloom. In 1976, Cromer introduced a small collection of smart matching suitcases and bags for Munich’s glamorous visitors to arrive or leave with. The brand’s message of traveling in style proved to be infectious, and MCM had over two hundred boutiques worldwide. The contagion was fleeting, however, and ownership of the label and its trademarks had exchanged hands and been carved up among several buyers.

 

But the line’s sparkling beginnings hadn’t completely dulled their shine, and by 2006, the Seoul-based Sungjoo Group had bought and revived MCM, opening focused concept stores at a steady yet clipped pace. Sung-Joo Kim, head of the dynamic fashion retail group, wasn’t interested in reveling the brand’s glory days, however—she began to look toward the next population in search of the new and exciting; MCM began to expand to Asian centers in quick succession. The viscous expansion had an optimal host in South Korea, the world’s largest duty-free marketplace, where MCM is second only to Louis Vuitton in annual sales; over half of MCM’s sales are in Asia, with virtually all of the rest in Europe; the line is actively expanding in the US, and is on track to bring in $2 billion in annual worldwide sales before the end of the decade.

 

Though the Asian market now comprises a majority of the company’s business, and Kim, one of Korea’s most high-profile businesswomen as well as the head of the nation’s Red Cross, began to look even further in the distance. A pop-up store surfaced in Berlin-Mitte in 2005 and, the following year, the Papertainer Museum inside Seoul’s Olympic Village hosted an early runway show. Kim needed a creative partner, one who could envision a global re-expansion that would suit the needs and tastes of the contemporary nomad—presenting focused collections of resilient, malleable, and modern essentials. Raeburn presented his first capsule collection for MCM for London Collection Men’s for F/W17, the label’s fortieth-anniversary collection.

 

Raeburn collaborated with several partners to premiere the line at London’s Great Connaught Rooms. Experiential design studio Universal Everything, whose past projects include covering the undulating surfaces of the Sydney Opera House with projections of hand-drawn animations in saturated hues, and building Polyfauna, an interactive app and musical release, with Radiohead, created a three-hundred-sixty degree scrim for Raeburn’s circular runway. The screen was a canvas for Universal Everything’s arrangement of digital projecctions: shooting luminous blue electrocardiogram wave-like lightening bolts, purple vapor, and acid-colored rainstorms—dystopian digital weather systems—bouncing around the raven-hued room, and over and through the screen, all set to an atmospheric soundtrack of minimal techno beats and ambient thunder by London group Raime. A noticeably diverse cast of models took their place in formation, as if entering a room-sized full-body scanner, fencing in the empty circle stage, where Chaelin “CL” Lee, Lucky Blue Smith, Will.i.am, and Winnie Harlow sat front row.

 

Mrs. Kim and MCM’s design team are willfully shaping the line’s future collections for the “global nomad”—minimalist, design-oriented, individual frequently on the go, and with high expectations of sustainability, multiple usage, and flexibility in personalizing their approach to pragmatism in a line of luxury goods. MCM is betting that the global nomad is tech-savvy, eco-conscious, and always ready to go. It’s most visible in this new collection, where the runway show was delivered live on MCM’s social media, and simultaneously on the Korean app V-live as well as its Chinese counterpart, XianDanJia—all showing off the backpacks and travel bags which enable easy transition between trips, with detachable exterior pouches and all-weather unisex sportswear.

 

The gender-neutral line makes use of the brand’s classic Visetos tonal camouflage pattern, quilting sunny yellow-, cement gray-, and sapphire-hued fragments with

sophisticated high-performance materials, including Schoeller four-way stretch, offering UV protection, and Ecoalf nylon, composed of post-consumer plastic bottles, to produce sculptural ponchos; all-seasons lightweight layers signed with manic movements in sonic notation; and graphic, oversized travel bags and backpacks stacked with snapped-in modular appendix pouches. The line anticipates its entire production line being fully sustainable by as early as 2020; MCM has also entered a ten-year-long, $10 million USD commitment to support the work of (RED) and the Global Fund, two organizations dedicated to eradicating AIDS worldwide within the next several years.

 

The London runway show was more than entrée into showing the clothing line in the context of the city’s fashion week’s other designers; it was also an initiation into the city itself. London has long championed modern menswear for everyone, regardless of gender, age, or size. Democratizing design has kept the city’s fashion sphere fidgety, impatient, and future-facing. This unique positioning has emboldened MCM to open a new concept boutique this fall on Conduit Street in Mayfair, the brand’s second outpost in London. The brand has re-expanded its reach past its previous retail presence, and is now carried in over 400 stored worldwide.

 

It’s all about being adaptable and sustainable, and oriented towards a brighter future for all. Forty years have passed and, to paraphrase Donna Summer, we still feel love. MCM anticipates its entire production line being fully sustainable by as early as 2020, and has also entered a ten-year-long, $10 million commitment to support the work of (RED) and the Global Fund, two organisations dedicated to eradicating AIDS worldwide within the next several years. If that’s what Ms Kim and her fashion house has planned for the next decade, just think where they’ll be in another four years.

GQ Style UK, Fall 2016

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