Thursday, October 27, 2005


Some time ago, I wrote about Industrie, the menswear chain that has a similar logic to Sportsgirl (in the women's mass fashion retail market) as a signifier of 'fashionability'. That is, the clothes appeal to young men who don't really know what's in fashion, but want to look as though they do.

But it's not just about 'fashion', but 'style', which I have previously defined as "a more permanent and idiosyncratic dress sense that works aesthetically in a variety of contexts and fashion cycles". Sportsgirl's elaborate boho clothes are designed to generate individual 'looks' through multi-layering and mismatching mass-produced garments and accessories. Likewise, Industrie makes stylistic gestures towards 'individuality' - deconstructed shapes, torn edges, prints and embroidery that are designed to make the garments look customised, even though they are mass-produced.

The company has diversified into womenswear with a line called Her Industrie, which has been out for about a year now. As you can see from these images, Her Industrie carries the same streetwear-influenced logic of 'individuality' as the men's line. Look at the stencils on the cargo pants, and the stencilled version of the black stovepipes that, by now, are everywhere in high street fashion stores. There are also layered t-shirts and singlet tops, and raw-edged, printed hoodies.

(As an aside, it's worthwhile mentioning that these hoodies are called "Harajuku". Since Gwen Stefani introduced this word into mainstream parlance, it's become completely disassociated from the specific geographic, aesthetic and cultural context of the Harajuku district in Tokyo, and now seems to mean something closer to "crazy-hip".)

Industrie seems very unstylish indeed to people who have a strongly defined personal aesthetic. And it seems very uncool to people who thrive on the affect of exclusivity that comes with being a style innovator or early adopter. As Will pointed out in the comments to my 'deconstructed hoodie' post: "Industrie is the kind of stuff where, if you wore it to an extended family barbeque, your family might think you were hip." And the hipster kids over at ThreeThousand are "so over" this style they wish to be woken when its moment is over.

For me, the most fascinating thing about brands like Her Industrie is that they relate only tenuously to the standard 'bubble-up' and 'trickle-down' models of fashion adoption. There was a really stupid and unsophisticated article recently in the Sydney Morning Herald which espoused the 'bubble-up' model:
Sportsgirl and the like may have finally discovered the skirts of India swirling around the ankles of nerdy girls in high schools across the land. Market research is all about youth, hunting for the next big thing. Business pays market research companies big bucks to observe young people and predict which of their angst-ridden outpourings will inspire the next Witchcraft [does the writer mean Witchery?] spin-off or be-labelled beanie.
Using this (unhelpfully crude) logic, whatever styles these trendspotters see subculturally affiliated kids (or, in this example, any kids at all!) will show up, blanded out and priced up for the masses, in chain stores. But this model breaks down when the subcultures and the hipsters don't even like the style to begin with.

So, why develop fashion lines like Her Industrie? Not because they are innovative, and not because they're associated with subcultures, but because they're just versatile and customisable enough to reassure most shoppers that by purchasing and wearing these garments, they're exercising their individuality and staying 'in fashion'.

As mainstream New Zealand women's lifestyle portal NZGirl opines:
The best way to inject a taste of ‘army girl’ into your wardrobe is with a pair of army print pants or shorts. Available from most chain stores, these will be a summer staple which will be worn year after year. We love the pictured Rose Bud combats from her industrie. These funky combat pants mix the masculine army print with girly accents by using print detail and feminine ties. Wear them longer on a cooler day or hitched up over your bikini at the beach – sweet and casual.
I did a bit of Googling to work out who's talking about Her Industrie, and the answer seems to be semi-articulate teenage girls:
went to myer, and omgsh i want these 'her industrie' pants.. but they 100$ and i didnt like the printing on the ass part of it.. hahaa so i derno if i'll get them or not.. may just look arnd first at city or something..
Here's another one:
my mother wont let me buy my Her Industrie three quarter pants thing.. she sed its army and its baggy. i guess it makes me look tom boyish x, x MY MOTHER!
This is a case for real market research - interviewing people to ask them what they like and dislike about the clothes. But from what's written on blogs and forums, it seems that people think about how the pants fit (are they in my size? are they comfortable?), how much they cost (young shoppers rely on allowances, part-time income, and parental permission), and where they can wear them (good for the beach, for going out, etc).

Intriguingly, there seems to be a backlash against the 'sameness' of Industrie clothing, particularly the prominent screen-printed branding. People posting to this bulletin board laugh at men (and women) who wear exclusively Industrie. Rather than making them seem fashionable, it makes them seem like dull-witted fashion followers. Still, I do think this is an exception. It might pain me, and it might pain the ThreeThousand kids, but stencilled army pants probably are going to come back in this summer.


Doug said...

Oh, how demoralising. I used to buy Industrie clothes for that exact reason.

Mel said...

And there's nothing wrong with that. I think most people's dress sense is quite pragmatic, and there is creativity within that pragmatism. Of course, it's not the sort of creativity that subcultural theorists or trendspotters are interested in. But it's the sort that sustains brands that - like Industrie - know how to tread that line between fashionability and style.

Anonymous said...

One comment on Industrie from an expat living overseas. It might feel mass market to you, but Australia is a *tiny* market -- there are more people in California than in Australia -- and Australa's mass market producer is the rest of the world's niche producer. I enjoy the relatively novelty of Industrie and have brought it back with me to the US; mass market stores in the US don't have anything as fun as Industrie.

Mel said...

Interesting. I've also heard people saying that they miss mass-market American chains like Gap and Old Navy here, because they have the sort of good quality, basic clothes you can't buy here for comparable prices. I can see how Industrie would seem fun and quirky by comparison.