Friends of FMF: Arun Subramaniam
Occasionally in the fashion community, you encounter an individual whose depth of knowledge genuinely beggars belief: Michael Kardamakis of ENDYMA is one such person, though many reading this will by now be rather familiar with his encyclopaedic knowledge of Helmut Lang, amongst other designers. And though Michael's work and knowledge is both staggering and admirable, there are others of his ilk lurking in the recesses of fashion groups and forums across the Internet, one of whom I was lucky enough to speak to recently. Read on for an exclusive interview with none other than the Undercover don, Arun Subramaniam.
For those who don't know you, can you give us a brief introduction?
"I'm Arun, a 20-year-old Computer Science student from North London and I like Undercover a lot."
You're pretty well known in fashion circles for your unrivaled knowledge of Undercover, can you tell us where it all started?
"So I remember very clearly the first ever Undercover piece I saw. It was a SS10 'Less But Better' windbreaker with the peep window on the chest. The way Jun took inspiration from Dieter Rams and made it so obvious fascinated me. Then I remember finding all the other pieces from the same collection and I was hooked on Undercover in general.
Every season was a dive into something I either already knew the reference to or wanted to learn and understand the reference because if it was worth making a collection of it, it was definitely worth understanding."
How long ago was that?
"When I found the brand I remember the most recent season being SS14, and AW14 hadn't been announced yet, so it must've been late 2013 early 2014."
What do you think of the varied nature of Jun's references, and do you have any favorites?
"I love how wide his references spread. It's great how he can find something really cool in real life and just turn it into a collection. But I think my favorite references would have to the ones he actually made up himself. SS11 'Underman' where he made the hero Underman and the villain Pirandoido, who was trying to kill the Grace Angels back from SS09.
The fact he was able to think up this whole universe with fictional creatures and villains and then bring them to life is just crazy to me. He can put so much detail into his collections when he tries to."
So was it just a process of constant research for your knowledge to reach the point it has now?
"Yeah, for the first couple years I'd discover a new piece and just try and learn everything I could about it. Then I discovered Jun's old blog on Honeyee and I started from the very beginning, back in 2006, and read through every post there was until he stopped posting which was around 2012 if I recall correctly. After I got all I could from the Internet I moved onto the books and managed to get all of the ones possible from 2000 onwards which helped too."
That's awesome. You mentioned Underman, would that be your favorite season or do you have another?
"Underman isn't my favorite season. My favorite women's collection would be Guru Guru, and men's would be Earmuff Maniac."
What is it you like specifically about those seasons?
"I'd say what I liked about Guru Guru was the styling on the runway, not necessarily the individual pieces. It was so well executed, it was nothing like anything Jun had done before. But what makes me love AW09 (Earmuff Maniac) is the individual pieces. The whole gradient knit collection is amazing - personally, I prefer the grey version as opposed to the red. I also love the use of technical materials like the NASA PCM, which was used within some of the knit jackets."
So what other brands are you interested in outside of Undercover? You seem to have a fairly strong passion for ACRONYM, do you have any thoughts on that and the rise of techwear in general?
"I don't think I'm that big a fan of ACRONYM, it's ridiculously culty, and I'm only really a fan of a few of the super technical, hard to make jackets - they use crazy patterns on some of them, it's the kind of thing you only really see in the avant-garde."
Do you have any other favorite designers?
"I'd say my 5 other favorite designers are Deepti Barth, Carol Christian Poell, Taichi Murakami and Leopold Bossert. Oh, and Rei, of course.
I can't say that I own any CCP or Taichi Murakami currently, but I'm patiently waiting for a Taichi Murakami silver anorak to pop up in the used market in the right size, and I'm waiting for myself to mature enough that I can wear a CCP dead-end suit."
You mention ACRONYM being culty, do you think that is a problem with a lot of designers now? Fashion has always been for a rather niche group of people, but in recent years it seems to have become much more diverse in terms of the fanbase, what is your opinion of that?
"Nah I don't think it's really a problem, you can still enjoy any brand without getting heavily involved in the community. Besides, I'm sure pretty much every big brand has a cult group of fans, it's just we only recognize the ones that we already have access to and that we know exist.
Men's fashion definitely has increased its fan base with the help of social media. I don't really know if it's good or bad. I guess it's good that the designers are getting more recognition for their talents."
And what's your take on the current fashion landscape in general? is there anything happening at the moment that you like, anything you don't?
"I don't really know if what I don't like is something that's necessarily new because I don't really know of the fashion trends before I got into, it but the bunny hop of brands that are hot does irk me. SLP to Gucci to Vetements to Balenciaga to Prada? People just constantly want to be different, the hipster of today is the guy looking for the next meme."
Speaking of those brands, what do you make of the latest direction brands like Gucci and Balenciaga have gone in lately? It feels like people are designing exclusively for the Internet.
"That's a great way of putting it! I don't think it's bad, I mean at the end of the day these massive brands are just businesses Kering and LVMH can just rotate between. When one of their brands dip it's probably just another one of their brands taking over. Design wise I think it's mostly pretty trash, although Gucci does have great runway shows."
That's a very good point regarding which brands are hot or not. Going back to Undercover for a minute, you've obviously got a very impressive collection, are there any particular favorite pieces? anything you're still hunting for?
"The favorite pieces I have in my collection would be my SS09 'Clouds' GoreTex, AW04 arm zipper distressed suede bomber and my SS10 grid short parkas. They're all pieces that have taken a long time to find in the right size. The only piece I still want which I don't own is the AW09 gradient GoreTex in grey."
And what about non-Undercover pieces?
"ACRONYM J1TS-S I wear pretty regularly so I guess that, footwear-wise I wear my Nike CDG Vapormax's the most."
Outside of your current favorite designers, are there any up and comers you are watching?
"Honestly not really, I treat fashion the same way I treat music, I have the same brands and designers that I follow heavily and then everything else I just pretty much ignore. It'll take a couple years of watching a brand or designer come up before I actually consider delving any deeper and by that time they're probably no longer an up and comer."
That's an interesting way of approaching it. What is your attitude to fashion as a whole? You're obviously very knowledgeable, but is it something you're immensely passionate about, or more of a hobby?
"It's more of just a hobby, and I wouldn't say I'm interested in fashion as a whole but merely I'm just invested deeply in certain designers and brands. Not to say I don't think fashion is great, because I do, but I don't like to look too far outside my bubble."
Coming back to Undercover for a second: you mentioned Jun's references, but are there other aspects of his design that you like, or that you feel deserve more appreciation?
"He's pretty good at taking designs from other designers he respects and putting his own twist on them. He's taken inspiration from Celine for his AW12 overcoat which he based off of one that he has himself and loves, Prada for one of his repeating backpack bases, Helmut for AW10 and AW12 Astro hooded parkas, Raf for his AW09 Joy Division and a bunch of others I can't remember off the top of my head.
Another thing he's one of the best at is his use of artwork on pieces, he doesn't just slap it on it's all done very tastefully."
Do you think that perhaps has something to do with being a Japanese designer? a lot of early Japanese fashion was based on imitation, be that Americana, punk, whatever. Do you think he is able to get away with this imitation in a way that a western designer couldn't, or do you think it has more to do with the fact that a big part of his ethos is celebrating things he admires, whether that is music, artwork, toys and the like?
"I think it's a bit of both. If he was anything but a Japanese designer people would think he's a bit of a hack, but the fact he's bringing some of the west to Japan makes it much more appropriate. Also, the fact he has built up such a reputation and been so creative from early on shows it's not just him being lazy or not talented enough to create something himself, but rather him showing admiration for something that he's been moved by in life."