Mordechai Rubinstein (or Mister Mort, as he doesn’t prefer to be called) has spent the last fifteen years capturing what he calls ‘the beauty in the everyday uniform’. Sort of like Bill Cunningham with a smartphone, he documents the real style on the streets of New York (and beyond), from the old men in wide-waled cords to the construction workers in cement-coated hoodies.
This eye for the authentic has led him to do stuff like work as a consultant on the Safdie brothers’ recent stressed-out masterpiece, Uncut Gems—helping to pick out just the right shiny pink shirt for Adam Sandler’s frenetic jeweller—and publish a book on the heavily tie-dyed subculture that surrounds the Grateful Dead.
Thanks to the wonders of modern video-call technology, I had a trans-atlantic sit-down with Mordechai to talk about all these things… and sandals.
Where are you at now? It looks nice.
We’re in southern coastal Maine—a little beach town. We’re in a little cottage that’s got a lot of ants and cob-webs, but it’s across the street from the ocean.
Sounds alright. How come you’re out there? Was it just to get away from New York for a while?
You know, as soon as this shit hit, my wife was like, “Where can we go? What can we do?” And her aunt and uncle have this little place, and they told us we could borrow it—which was really cool of them, because the whole world is crazy.
Definitely. I suppose a lot of people might know you from your photography. When did you start that?
I was working at Kate Spade…
I’ve never heard of her. Was that a shop?
She passed away two years ago, but she was a woman from Kansas—a really cool handbag designer who didn’t give a fuck. She took her boyfriend’s name, Andy Spade, and she started a brand. She was just cool.
I was working at that store in Soho—and Soho was still an outdoor mall back then, but it was still fun—we’d run around on our lunch breaks, smoke weed in the streets and just have lunch on a stoop with no-one bother you.
And I went to a tie factory on a lunch break, and this old Hasidic dude was sleeping in a recliner, and he said, “Look around, tell me what you want, and make an offer.” All the machines had inches of dust on them, they hadn’t made a tie in years. The ties were from the 50s and 60s, dead-stock with no labels—I brought 100 back to the office.
I thought we’d give them away or sell them on eBay or who knows what? And Andy was like, “Let’s make a label, and sell them for Father’s Day.” I called it Mister Mort. Long story short, I never had the nickname Mort, some of my friends now call me that and it drives me crazy. But, there was a 50s label called Mr. Mort which was by this guy Stan Herman. He’s responsible for the Avis rental-car uniform where the women wore pants under the dress… he invented that.
So I took the name Mister Mort and we sold these ties outside the store. We bought a desk, some cheap blinds, a water cooler and a mannequin, and I sat there like it was an office, and people would walk by and I’d offer Father’s Day sartorial advice. It was a joke, but it did really well.
That’s right, he’s the jew from the Bronx, I’m the jew from Brooklyn… I mean I wasn’t born in Brooklyn but yeah, I love Ralph.
But what about the photos? What started you taking your shots of people around New York?
Oh yeah, so they gave me a camera. They said, “You need a camera for inventory purposes.” Inventory? I’d give away product to people everyday—so nothing was really in inventory, but they gave me this camera—a Canon Elf, and I used the shit out of that.
Every lunch break I’d go out—the guys that delivered breakfast and lunch in the area—little chicken cutlet on a roll from the corner deli—one of the guys was wearing a tie with British Knight high-tops. He was an old man who’d talk to himself, and I invited him in to stay a while. Eventually I had so many photos that I didn’t know what to do with them, so I started a Flickr account and then I put it on the blogosphere, and yeah… that was it.
What sort of thing were you looking for? What were you trying to photograph?
Well, nothing has really changed. It’s always different. On the Upper East Side it’s suits and ties, in London or Paris or Milan it’s old people. For me it’s the lining of a Burberry check. If I see that plaid I run after it. Or maybe you see someone in all orange or all one colour. I don’t care much about composition. I don’t consider myself a photographer. I shoot on auto and I use my phone a lot. I really just want to share how people dress.
Maybe what you shoot hasn’t changed… but has New York changed at all since you started?
You know, neighbourhoods used to have real style of their own. But fine, things changed. If you’re away from New York for a couple of months, it’s a different city. Or even if you don’t go to the Lower East Side for a month, it’s a different city. You’re like, “Where am I?” It’s changing so, so much. There’s not a New York style anymore, and I think it’s the internet’s fault, but that’s okay—people travel on the internet now.
It’s not that New Yorkers should be tough, or assholes, or mean, but they did have a lot of different looks. But then there are still things, like the black Air Force One, which are very New York. And then the Birkenstock is in every community. We’re in some interesting times.
But the reason I shoot so many of these old dudes is that when they’re gone, I don’t know what I’m going to shoot. Young dudes are pretty boring. With these old dudes who have maybe worn the same Oxford shirt for 20 years and never changed, there’s something exciting about that. It’s so authentic and so real.
It’s that comfort isn’t it? As people get older they find what they like and aren’t as worried about what others are thinking.
Hopefully. I’m still uncomfortable. I get a hat and think, “This is it, I’m going to wear this everyday because I want it to get trashed and sun-faded.” And then two weeks later I’m getting a new hat. What kind of man does that?
So are you taking the photos of these relaxed older men ‘cos that’s what you want to be, rather than worrying about hats and stuff?
Maybe? With suits it’s like that. Maybe it’s because I don’t go to black tie events and if I actually had to wear a suit everyday I’d be miserable, but if I look at those Wall Street guys, I just think it’s so cool. The fact that casual Friday became such a thing, and then the whole world got so casual… it’s sad.
I went to London for Popeye Magazine to find suits, and people were not wearing them. It’s a casual world. And the ones who were wearing suits looked like they were wearing disposable suits.
It’s like that Take Ivy book in the 1960s. Those guys went from Japan to get the photos of ‘Ivy style’, but then all they found were students lazing around in hippy gear and ripped jeans.
I didn’t know that. I like that.
Apparently it was really edited. It took them ages to find anyone wearing the button-down shirts and ‘classic Ivy’ stuff.
Interesting. I want to see the out-takes. That’d be so cool.
Yeah, it’d be interesting to see the reality of it. Going back to your photos… do you ever get much grief for taking them? Sometimes you’re pretty up-close with people.
Yeah, surprisingly it’s only been a couple of times. I was on Madison Avenue and three finance guys were smoking cigarettes on the corner next to a hot-dog stand, and one of them was wearing Belgian loafers. So I said, “Can I get a photo?” I kind of bent down low to take the photo, getting as close to the shoes as I possibly could, and he punched me almost in the face. They throw the cigarette out and walk into the building. They looked back and went, “Seventh floor, come and get me!” The security guard wouldn’t let me up, but I was so pissed. But nothing really happened. Because I have a kid now, I try to behave, but it hasn’t changed much.
You’ve just released a book about the Grateful Dead and the style of the fans. How did that come about?
I was really into Dead clothing, the Dead uniform, and then years later, GQ had me go and shoot a Dead & Co show. I don’t think I even knew what that was, but I was like, “Bob Weir? He’s a legend, I’ll go.”
So I shot the guests going in and out of the stadium and then a friend gave me a ticket, and—oh my god—it really opened my mind. Not to be all cliched and everything, but it was so good. I don’t go to a lot of live shows, but seeing a band live is so special—it’s really cool. You don’t have to drop acid, you don’t have to be under the stars, it feels like it’s intimate, no matter how many people who are there. So I started going to a bunch of shows.
There’s a chef, Matty Matheson, and he was doing a book with Abrams, and he said that his editor was a Deadhead, and he’d want to see my photos. So we did this quick and easy softcover poolside book. You know—sit by the pool, drop a hit of acid, you don’t need to read, just look at the photos and trip out. And that’s how that came about.
I might be wrong but in England I don’t think the Grateful Dead are really that much of a thing like they are in America. Maybe it’s because they were about that live, touring experience.
I’m sure they’ve played there back in the day, but I don’t know the relationship with American rock-and-roll in the UK. I watched an interview with Bob Weir and he was saying that to play now over social media wouldn’t be the same, because they play for the crowd. And he said that’s why they never made any good albums in the studio.
Because they needed that feedback or participation?
They wanted to play for the crowd, so how the crowd was dancing and get the crowd going. You’re making me wonder about the UK now.
Maybe they’ve got a bit of a following here, but I’ve never heard anyone talk about them or mention them over here, yet in America their fans are their own subculture.
There’s a good saying I saw on the back of a t-shirt. “The Grateful Dead are like licorice. Not everybody likes licorice, but the people who like licorice really like licorice.”
It’s funny, because the uniform hasn’t really changed. Bob Weir wore super-short denim cut-offs with the pocket-bags coming out of the shorts with Birkenstocks, and the young kids might be trying to do that look a little bit with their Chacos or their Tevas and all the outdoor gear. And then the older dudes are still wearing the same t-shirts they wore to all the shows—maybe too small now, with joint holes in them.
It’s like going to a baseball game and seeing someone’s hat decorated with a hundred pins. It’s very authentic. There’s still that ‘lot’ scene—as in a parking lot. People go the whole day of the show and hang out, whether they BBQ, or drink and tailgate and listen to music. And that’s just a show in itself, it’s beautiful whether people are camping out, or it’s in Queens, New York. It hasn’t really changed that much. Maybe the drugs aren’t as good or aren’t as open in the air, but there’s a lot of that free love hippy look. It’s just chill and laid back.
I was reading an article about t-shirts recently. It was written in the mid-90s for a magazine called Might, and the guy who wrote it was saying about how he worked for a screen-printers in the 80s and how the knock-off Grateful Dead merch was maybe some of the earliest logo-rip designs. There was a Nike one which said, “Just Dew It.” A reference to some song.
Oh yeah. They do it so well. From every sports logo to my favourite, which is where they took the L.L. Bean logo and it says ‘L.L. Rain’, from a song called Box of Rain, the Dead bears are sitting in camping gear around a fire toasting marshmallows.
And there’s another one it’s a line drawing of an Eddie Bauer jeep driving into the water, with a bear behind the wheel, and it says ‘Deaddie Bauer.’ And those are lot tees. It’s just some kid in his dorm-room making 20 or maybe 50 tees. With Instagram it’s like, “Yo Sam, meet me at the lot before the show, maybe hold me one of those t-shirts.” Or maybe, “I’m not going to the show, can you ship me one.”
Merch used to be about going to the venue—whether it was a delicatessen or a bar or a bakery or a Dead show, and now, you can almost get any merch. I used to love it when you’d go to a restaurant and you had to buy the hat off a waiter, because they didn’t sell them—that’s merch. You’ve got to go to the hotel gift shop when you’re on your honeymoon, they’re not sending some $30 t-shirt in the mail. And now, you can buy almost anything.
Yeah, the hunt used to add to the appeal. And the ease of getting most things means you’ve only got to hunt out more niche stuff.
Exactly. I’m in Maine, and one of the first things I thought of when I got here is that there’s some local yacht clubs. They don’t have a website, but they might have a plastic bin of t-shirts that they made three years ago for a race that benefitted the local firefighters. I’m excited that the season will be opening soon and I can go in and say, “Hey, I bought one of those shirts two years ago and I got mustard on it, do you have another one?” I really appreciate that. If they had a website and they had product, I probably wouldn’t want it anymore.
It’s the interaction. You’ve gone in there, you’ve talked to someone, it’s a memory. You haven’t just sat on a computer.
It’s a true souvenir.
Definitely. As well as the book you also worked on the wardrobe stuff for Uncut Gems and the film the Safdie brothers directed before that, Good Time. What’s the story there?
They liked the people that I shoot, and the style that I shoot, and they liked to reference them a lot for the characters in their movies. And with that, comes me trying to put actors in either similar clothes, or similar feelings. There’s a Fed-Ex messenger in the movie who delivers the fish at the end, and he’s a real Fed-Ex guy in the Diamond District. I was begging him to bring a certain hat. I’m very particular. I get into these peoples’ closets—it’s so much fun.
What were the hardest pieces to find?
With movies you’re supposed to have two or three of everything, in case something happens. In Uncut Gems they throw Adam Sandler into a fountain, so they needed three of his suit because he’s going to get wet each time and we wouldn’t have enough time to get dry. So getting multiples when you’re on a real cheapo budget is not always easy. And a lot of this stuff was second hand. Sandler was wearing a black leather blazer—good luck trying to find a similar one.
How important was it to get it right? Those outfits were all perfect.
I think the clothing was the best part of those movies.
You would say that!
Yeah, I’m proud. The costume designer I worked with for Uncut Gems, Miyako—one of the reasons we worked so well together is that like me, she’s an untraditional stylist. She loves authentic and real people. We’d get all excited… thinking he has to wear Ferragamo or Cartier glasses—we’d both really agree on an item or a look, and then when we’d show them to the directors they’d be like, “Weeeelllll, you know…” And we’d be back to the drawing board.
A lot of it would be at two or three in the morning, them texting like, “Yo that picture you took, let me get that picture.” And it’s great because they’re friends, but it takes a special working relationship to do that. No one is too big for their britches.
I read about how for Good Time you’d be chasing people down and buying the jacket off their back.
Yep. We did a ton of that. The casting was so great for both of those movies. They had a room full of full-on gangsters, and these guys were coming in from construction jobs with their duffle bags, their knee pads still on and helmets hanging off their belt loops. They looked like they were going to kill somebody—they were enormous, covered in tattoos.
And whether they made it into the movie or not, I’d talk to them like they were superstars. I’d take their picture and I’d say, “honestly, no matter what happens, can we buy the shirt you’re wearing right now?”, because nobody is going to get it real like an actual construction worker on site. So buying stuff off people, that’s one of my specialties.
What’d they go back with?
Well, because we were in wardrobe, we’d have rooms full of clothes, I’d say, “Hold on, I got a pair of pants you’re going to love.” Switcheroo! And they’re happy because they’ve got a new pair of pants.
There was a time, it might have been the jacket you’re talking about, when Josh said, “There’s a guy at this subway stop right now, go and find him. Offer him 50 bucks.”
And it works because the characters look real.
I think so. In Uncut Gems a lot of those guys were real diamond District workers— real industry dudes—not actors. At the same time, they all have such unique looks. They’re such characters that to me, they look normal for 47th Street. When I meet someone for casting and they’re wearing their wildest Versace print shirt, I’d be like, “Dude, you have to wear this for the movie.” A lot of the times the directors would look at the clothes and think we should tone it down, but I’d say, “No, no, no, no, no.”
Have you got more film stuff coming up? It sounds like a nice job.
No. I got nothing on the agenda.
Sounds alright to me. Everyone wants to be ‘busy’ these days.
It’s pathetic. “Every hour I’m in a Zoom.” I just think “Fuck you and your Zoom. What are you so busy with?”
All the rushing around people do rarely amounts to much. I think I’ve pretty much run out of questions now, but I think I was meant to talk to you about Chaco sandals a bit. You were a pretty early instigator of wearing them.
I’ve never met a sandal that I felt so comfortable wearing the city. I loved Birkenstocks, but I didn’t feel totally comfortable barefoot in them. Then I tried Chacos and I couldn’t believe how tough and rugged they were. I was like, “Fuck it, who cares if I’m not in Colorado—I’m wearing them in the big city.” And once I felt comfortable in them, I felt comfortable in Birkenstocks.
The sandal gateway drug. Okay, wrapping this up now, have you got any words of wisdom to pass on?
Go with your gut. I like the word ‘wisdom’, it’s better than advice. I think I often second guess my choices, so I’m going to say go with your gut.
Ralph Lauren is a pretty intriguing character. He’s an 80 year old man from the streets of the Bronx, who spends his time riding majestic palominos around a ranch the size of Manhattan. He buzzes off teddy bears, he’s got a shed full of old cars and he apparently loves nothing more than kicking back in his wigwam and watching Downton Abbey on a Sunday night. Oh yeah, and for over half a century he’s been carving out his own wearable vision of the American Dream™—peddlin’ pony-smattered aspiration to everyone from Ivy League students to New York gangs.
His life would probably make a half-decent film, but until someone sorts us a few million quid and one of those clapperboard things, you’re going to have to settle for this meagre write-up. Saddle up…
The scene begins in the Bronx. It’s 1939 and two Jewish immigrants from Belarus have just welcomed their fourth child, Ralph into the world. Even from an early age, Ralph was into swanky garb, and whilst most young lads were busy smashing baseballs through windows and stealing apples from market-stalls, Ralph was working part time jobs to get his mitts on the sorts of clothes he’d seen on the silver screen. And when he couldn’t find the specific schmutter he was after, he’d have it custom made.
During his teens he was making his own ties and flogging them to his fellow classmates, and by the 60s he was working for Brooks Brothers. This was admittedly only for a pretty short slab of time, but the link from Brooks Brothers to Ralph Lauren is worth mentioning. The American equivalent of a classic British gentleman’s outfitter, Brooks sold a heady mix of button-down shirts, Shetland wool sweaters and tweed jackets, providing a solid blueprint for the all-encompassing lifestyle Ralph would later make his own.
After his stint at Brooks Brothers, Ralph convinced fancy clothes company Beau Brummel to let him design his own range of ties. Going against the trend at the time for narrow neckwear, Ralphy’s ties were big and wide… harking back to what he saw as the glory days of men’s style. Realising he was onto a winner, in 1967 Ralph busted out from Beau to go it alone—Polo was born.
Taking its name from perhaps the classiest sport in existence, Polo saw Ralph go beyond the jugular-shielding domain of the necktie and break into making a full range of clothes, inspired by the kind of comfortable way of life he’d always aspired to. Expanding on what Brooks Brothers were doing, he offered a full uniform for those who wanted to join him in his version of the U.S.A.—a parallel universe where everyone drove vintage Bugattis and had a summer house in Maine.
Rene Lacoste’s classic pique tennis shirt was tweaked to become the Polo Shirt.
This uniform quickly expanded, and rather than just focus on one thing, Ralph looked over the whole expanse of the American dream before serving up choice cuts on one big metaphorical buffet table. Rene Lacoste’s classic pique tennis shirt was tweaked to become the Polo Shirt, cowboy ranch-wear sat side-by-side with pleated slacks and years before Massimo Osti and Daiki Suzuki were traipsing around army surplus shops in search of inventive pocket configurations, Ralph was harvesting details from functional garb to make hard-wearing gear for civilian life. Fishing… sailing… skiing… no bold and wholesome activity was safe from his magpie eye.
Fishing… sailing… skiing… no bold and wholesome activity was safe from his magpie eye.
Perhaps more importantly than all this, Ralph knew there was more to clothes than just clothes. Ralph’s adverts (a lot of which you can see on this Tumblr goldmine) ignored tech-specs and jargon in favour of glossy images of perfect humans living the good life. Not afraid of a bit of camera time, he even got stuck into the mix himself, kicking it as a New York banker or suppin’ suds like a leathery-faced Andy Dufresne.
His shops pushed the boundaries too. Rather than just scruffily shove his wares on shelves and expect them to sell, he created mahogany-panelled wonder-shops that looked more like exclusive country clubs than ’retail outlets’. No secret handshake or membership card was needed for this club… all you had to do was buy a shirt—or in the case of a certain New York gang… steal one.
By the late 80s Polo had finally outgrown its WASPy customer base, and thanks to the brash multicoloured skiing and sailing garb Ralph was crafting, had caught the eye of a gang of working class New York kids looking to stand out on the streets of Brooklyn. Dubbed the Lo Lifes, this lot spent the late 80s and early 90s nabbing the most audacious Polo garb from fancy department stores before competing between themselves to see who could wear it best.
A similar, but slightly more subtle, thing was happening over here in Britain. With the birth of ‘club culture’, dress codes were enforced as a desperate attempt to do away with violence and pesky troublemakers. Sportswear was out the window and countless scallies were sent in search of ‘a smart shirt’. The humble Ralph Lauren button-down soon became the shirt of choice for lads trying to get through the doors. In an era that was big on logos, that embroidered pony only added to the appeal.
Today his fanbase continues to expand, and Levi’s aside, there’s probably not any other clothing company out there which has been involved in so many different cultural movements and worn by so many iconic figures (from Raekwon to… er… Johnny Vaughan). In the same way that VW is the second largest car manufacturer in the world, but still manages to maintain a cult following with obsessives, Ralph creates relatively attainable mass-produced clothing which can still appeal to dozens of niche subcultures, each with their own version of Ralph’s vision.
Denim obsessives hanker for vintage RRL selvedge… modern day Lo Lifes hunt down technicolour sailing jackets… skate brands endlessly rip off his classic low-profile sports cap… and all the while, Ralph is still out there, still heavily involved in his dream-weaving empire and still getting about like some denim-clad, horse-riding Yoda. Some man.
The New Balance running shoe (in all it’s mildly confusing numbered guises) is a true left-field classic. Whilst the sportswear industry has often relied on naff gimmicks and fluro-hued fabrics to make a quick quid, straight forward, no nonsense designs like the 1500, the 991 and the 574 have somehow managed to carve a niche far beyond their original purpose. Here’s a quick potted history of the brand behind them…
Things kicked off for New Balance in Boston back in 1906. The story goes that a man named William J. Riley was spending the afternoon sat in his back yard, casually watching his chickens cluck about, when something dawned on him. Although his feathered friends had round, stocky torsos and spindly legs, they seemed to be able to get around with zero fuss thanks to their three-clawed feet. Due to this slightly bizarre observation, Riley deduced that weight distribution was the key to comfortable walking. He quickly set about designing a flexible arch support with three support areas, and the New Balance Arch Support Company was born.
Writing about the arch support industry is admittedly pretty dull so we’ll now skip forward a bit to 1961. New Balance had changed hands a few times by this point, and was now owned by a couple named Eleanor and Paul Kidd. These two were constantly being approached by local athletes and running teams to make custom footwear, and realising the need for comfortable, well-fitting running shoes, decided to work on their own off-the-shelf design.
The result was the Trackster — a narrow shoe made of red and white leather which looked more like something you’d find at your nearest bowling alley than the trainers you’d associate with New Balance today. These featured two pivotal design points… firstly, they had a rippled sole, which distributed weight more evenly than traditional spikes, whilst still offering plenty of grip, and secondly, they could be bought in different widths to suit different feet.
The Trackster did well with the running groups of Massachusetts, but New Balance was still a tiny cottage industry, with only six employees doing everything from making the shoes to posting them out. It wasn’t until 1972, when a marketing and sales mastermind called Jim Davis (not be confused with the Garfield creator of the same name) bought the company, that things hit the proverbial big leagues. With Jim at the helm, the brand came up with three main ideas which they’ve stuck to to this day.
Firstly, they whacked a big ’N’ on the side of the trainers, making them instantly recognisable. The work of a man named Terry Heckler, the simple New Balance logo was considerably more stripped back than the more complicated graphical flourishes of the Nike ’swoosh’ or the adidas stripes, meaning people instantly knew what they were looking at.
They also did away with fancy names in favour of a number system. There’s various articles on the internet which explain this system in pretty tedious detail, so I won’t write too much about this. Basically, each number defines what the trainers are made for and what its main strengths are, and generally speaking, the higher the number, the swankier the trainers. Perhaps a strange move in the age of bold and aggressive advertising, but Jim and Terry felt that ’New Balance’ was the name people needed to remember, not whatever daft name their individual trainers would be called.
The first glimpse of the new logo (and those numbers) was the 320, a suede running shoe which helped raise the profile of the brand after bagging a Runner’s World award in 1972.
The third ingenious brain-wave was to hoik the prices through the roof. Rather than push to make cheaper and cheaper trainers and sacrifice the quality, New Balance went the other way—investing in better materials and technology, and adding a price tag to match. In 1980 the 620 was the first running shoe to break the $50 mark, and just two years later they smashed past the $100 barrier (which would equate to about $270 in today’s dosh) with the ultimate in wallet-punishing luxury… the 990.
Rather than put customers off, the 990’s hefty price tag only added to its mystique, with running shops across America echoing with the cries of “What makes those grey things so expensive?” The answer was a relatively complex construction technique known as ‘slip lasting’ (which made them fit nice and snug), and a mysterious chunk on the back of the sole known as the ’Motion Control Device’ which reportedly added a bit of ankle support.
Launched only a few months after Time Magazine ran a cover article on ‘The Fitness Craze’ that was working the United States into a sweat-soaked frenzy, the timing for the launch of this high-performance slab of pigskin suede couldn’t have been better. Rich yanks were suddenly bothered about jogging, and whilst a recession had hit America hard in 1982, those who had money had a lot of it. The 990 flew out, and along with German performance automobiles and Japanese hi-fi systems, it soon became a status symbol for the well-heeled elite.
More classics followed. In ’84 there was the 1300, in ’88 there was the 574 and in ’89 there was the 1500. Subtle… comfortable… well-made… their appeal extended far beyond the running track, and by the early 90s the humble New Balance ‘sneaker’ wasn’t just the shoe of choice for President Clinton’s morning jogs, but also a common sight on the heavily-Kärchered patios of American suburbia. Just as madras shirts and khaki slacks symbolised comfortable leisure in the Kennedy era, relaxed conventions meant that the new wave of minted family men spent their Sundays grilling assorted meats in washed-out jeans and a pair of well-worn running shoes.
This was by no means a fixed uniform (and many suburban dads no doubt opted for snide no-name trainers often left out of the history books), but one man who took this comfort-based outfit to the extreme was Apple mastermind Steve Jobs.
Some footwear/cultural figure associations are a little weak—and just because someone happened to be photographed once wearing a certain brand of trainers doesn’t mean they were lifelong fans. That said, the link with Jobs and New Balance is a little different. Like Einstein (and Homer Simpson), Jobs often wore the same outfit every day—in his case, a black Issey Miyake turtle-neck, some Levi’s 501s and a pair of grey 991s (and later, 992s). Not only did this casual uniform save invaluable time, but it helped Steve and Apple stand out in a world of suited-up CEOs.
Strong, simple design lends itself to a thousand different customers, and beyond suburban dads and California tech maestros, the New Balance name was cropping up in hip hop tracks by Biz Markie, A Tribe Called Quest and KRS One.
This fairly safe running shoe brand might not be the first thing you’d expect ODB to mention in the same sentence as a Desert Eagle handgun, but hip hop style has a long history of appropriation. Along with Polo sailing jackets and Timberland boots, New Balance trainers were aspirational items which hinted at a life of comfortable leisure far beyond the mean streets of New York.
These days a simple pair of New Balance trainers still exudes that air of quiet splendour. Often made in America (or the west coast of Cumbria), they’re a well-crafted side-step from the current era of hyped-up trainer madness, built to be worn and not just hidden away in a shoebox (or listed on eBay). They’re pretty comfortable too.
Back in the days when air-travel wasn’t a commonplace novelty, people used to treat flying like an actual event worth getting dressed for.
This lad here is keeping that tradition alive.
Of course, he’s not getting tarted up in a suit or anything daft like that; he’s much to suave for that. Instead, he’s sitting pretty betwixt the invisible line that divides luxury and comfort.
Classy jackets with loads of pockets for his boarding passes, passports, discounted duty-free cigarettes… breathable cardigans all the way from Japan… tastefully wide trousers that are bang-on for first class leg spreading…
And before you say anything about the ever-controversial socks-and-sandals combo, those socks are moisture resistant. Can’t be boarding private jets with stinking feet, can you?
Stüssy Reversible Bucket Hat Berry Size L / XL
East Harbour Surplus Polk Jacket Off White Size L
Nanamica ALPHADRY Stretch Cloth Cardigan Navy Size L
Contrary to what the Oscars (and most other award shows for that matter), film studies classes, general conversation about film and history books will tell you, women have been making proper good movies since cinema’s inception.
In fact, the first ever narrative film was made by a woman, Alice Guy-Blaché, all the way back in 1896. Unfortunately, Alice’s films and achievements were mostly neglected in favour of her male counterparts, and as such, she remains an sadly overlooked part of film history.
I’m not entirely sure where I was intending to go with that, but whatever – here’s some female filmmakers who I rate heavily.
We’ll start this list with probably the most well-known female filmmaker working today – Kathryn Bigelow.
She’s been making movies for donkey’s years at this point, ranging from pulpy, nightmarish vampire/western hybrids (Near Dark) to campy, so-90s-it-hurts action flicks (Point Break), but she arguably came into her own with 2008s The Hurt Locker.
I used to think this film was pretty overrated when I first saw it, but I recently rewatched it, and I can gladly confirm that my 15 year-old self was a complete moron. It’s kinetic, frantic and even daring (there’s few films, much less American films, that are willing to confront the fact that many young men take great pleasure in war), and thanks to Bigelow’s expert use of handheld cameras, there’s a air of authenticity to it as well.
Bigelow rightfully took home the Oscar for Best Director, making her the first (and, at the time of writing this, the only) woman to win the coveted award. Her Hurt Locker follow-up Zero Dark Thirty (2012) is pretty decent as well.
Next up, we’ve got one of cinema’s most widely influential and revered filmmakers, the late-great Agnès Varda.
Originally a photographer by trade, Varda first branched out into filmmaking in 1955 with La Pointe Courte, which was, in many ways, the film that really kick-started the French New Wave, arguably the most iconic and revered film movement in all of cinema history.
Varda was pretty prolific throughout her career, making absolute belter after absolute belter. She was a deft hand in both narrative and documentary, with traits of both often bleeding into to the other. Her films explored everything from civil rights to the pleasures of repurposing other people’s rubbish, and were entirely singular in every sense of the word.
Go check out Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962), Le Bonheur (1965) and Vagabond (1985) if your taste buds are strictly honed for fiction, or if you’re on a documentary tip, try The Gleaners and I (2000), The Beaches of Agnès (2008) and Faces Places (2017).
On the more obscure end of the spectrum, we’ve got Barbara Loden, who’s a bit of an anomaly when it comes to the other directors on the list.
See, Barbara only ever made one film, and throughout her life, she was mainly known for her roles as ditzy sex-pots and being Elia Kazan’s (of On the Waterfront fame) second wife.
But with that one film, Wanda (1970), Loden managed to make one of the richest, rawest, most unapologetically honest films I’ve ever seen.
Written, directed and starring Loden, and made on a shoestring budget, Wanda is the morose tale of… errr… Wanda, who, after granting her husband a divorce and relinquishing the rights to see her children, embarks on an apathetic odyssey through the soot-stained landscapes of eastern Pennsylvania with the emotionally and physically abusive Mr. Dennis, a bank robber who’s really bad at his job.
But with that one film, Loden managed to make one of the richest, rawest, most unapologetically honest films I’ve ever seen.
Depending on who you ask, Wanda can be viewed as an impassioned feminist statement, or as a rebuttal to overly-glamorised crime films, or even as an existential treatise on the emptiness of American life. I won’t make any judgements on it here, as I think it’s one of those films that’s best left open to interpretation, but what I will say is, it’s really, really, really good.
But despite early praise from serious cinema-types in Europe, Wanda sadly slipped through the cracks upon its US release, and was quickly written-off (partly by her weirdo husband Kazan, who purported that he actually wrote Wanda “to give [Barabara] something to do”, a claim that has since been debunked) as pointless dirge after her death at the age for 48.
Thankfully, the film’s stature has grown in recent years, and is now being rightfully championed as one of the greatest independent films ever made… which it is. Seek it out right now or else.
No hastily cobbled together list of female filmmakers would be complete without the inclusion of Lucrecia Martel, who is (in the humble opinion of this writer) one of the best directors working today.
Born and raised in Salta, Argentina, Martel first exploded into the film world with her extraordinary debut feature La Ciénaga (2001), a woozy, sweaty drama about a stagnant and indulgent bourgeois family who whittle away their days by drinking bucket-loads of wine, abusing the help and generally being a bunch of nasty bastards.
Laced with caustic humour and filled with festering dread, La Ciénaga unfolds like a sort-of drunken, nightmarish recollection of the most unbearable family reunion you’ve ever had the misfortune to be a part of. It’s hard to follow at times (I’ve seen this film four or five times and I’m still unsure of which characters are related or not), but it’s this narrative ambiguity that makes the film’s central theme of social malaise and decay so potent.
Put simply, it’s probably one of my favourite films ever made. Any one who knows me in real life can testify to how unwilling I am to shut up about it.
Martel has only made three other features, The Holy Girl (2004), The Headless Woman (2008) and Zama (2017), since La Ciénaga, but the good news is that they’re all just as good. I highly recommend checking them all out.
We’ll wrap up this list with some home-grown talent who continues to excel with each film she puts out – Andrea Arnold.
Some of you might remember Arnold as one of the presenters of No. 73 (alongside other national treasure Neil Buchanan) all the way back in the 80s. After she retired from acting, Arnold began on honing her voice as filmmaker, making shorts from the late-90s onwards, culminating in Wasp (2003), which one Best Live Action Short Film at the Oscars in 2004.
Features soon followed, starting with magnificently tense and disturbing Red Road (2006). Shot in the Dogme 95 style pioneered by Danish nutter Lars Von Trier, the film was an art-house smash, scooping up the hallowed Jury Prize at Cannes (in fact, all three of her feature films have won the Jury Prize at Cannes).
Arnold imbues her film with barbed wit, hard truths and a sprinkling of light-heartedness, which sets it a part from its gloomy, self-serious peers.
But what remains her best work in my eyes is Fish Tank (2009). The film is a tender and often-brutal depiction of a 15-year-old girl’s coming of age in a economically-deprived council estate in East London. While that sounds like almost every other coming-of-age film that’s come out of England is the last 30 years, Arnold imbues her film with barbed wit, hard truths and a sprinkling of light-heartedness, which sets it a part from its gloomy, self-serious peers.
Arnold followed up Fish Tank with American Honey in 2016, which is definitely worth your time as well.
Right, that should about do it. As always, thanks for taking the time to read my assorted ramblings on all things film. Means a lot. In a bit!
There’s not enough hours in a day. You’ve got to get at least eight hours of sleep, go to work, socialise, spend time with your loved ones, eat three hearty meals and cram at least four minutes of teeth-brushing every single day.
Anyway, what’s there to say about this guy? His coat is a nice shade of blue… those big pockets are good as well… errrmmm… maybe he’s stowing something interesting in them… white jeans… probably some sort of devil-may-care-type character… make sure you call mum this evening… errr… rearrange that dentist appointment as well… and replace the milk, it’s been out of date for over ten days now… no wonder your brews have been tasting so rank…
Hang on, what were we talking about?
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