What is authenticity?

Wednesday, July 24th 2019
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I never used to like the word ‘authentic’ as applied to menswear. 

Back in the years following the 2008 financial crisis, when everyone was looking backwards and terms like ‘heritage’ and ‘craft’ were popular, ‘authentic’ was often thrown into the same mix.

But it was too vague. Companies with heritage were easy to define: they didn’t necessarily make better products, but you knew how long they’d been doing so. Equally craft: it might not have been clear how much handwork was required, but mass assembly-line products clearly did not apply. 

What did 'authentic' mean? Something that wasn’t pretending to be something it wasn’t? Fakes and knock-offs? 

Somehow, it seemed to be assumed that a craftsman making things by hand in their shed was more authentic than something larger. But that doesn’t really make sense, logically or linguistically. 

However. In the past couple of years ‘authentic’ has become increasingly important to how I see clothing. 

Partly, this is because the other terms - or values - have become less important. 

Heritage has been overemphasised. Frankly, some old companies make terrible products and are stuck in the past, unable to adapt either to changing consumer expectations or the media that markets them. 

So too has craft. The fact it is done by hand doesn’t necessarily make it better. Some craftsmen set out on their own before they’re ready, and deliver a poor product. And some things are just better made by machine. 

At the same time, authenticity feels increasingly relevant.

As regards heritage, for example, in recent years there have been companies buying old brands and re-using them, in order to claim heritage. That doesn't feel authentic. 

It also feels inauthentic when brands claim different cultures. Like some that put random Japanese or Korean characters all over their products. 

Or brands that start up online shouting about ‘cutting out the middle man’, and are in department stores by the end of the year. The reason they started online was because it’s easier and cheaper, not because of any fundamental business philosophy. They shouldn’t pretend otherwise. 

Into this same basket go companies who dress up discount stores as driven by some higher principle. And, more perniciously, online stores that compete purely on price, yet talk about supporting brands.

In fact, they’re doing the exact opposite, undermining brands’ business models. And they're largely driven by money. 

Probably the worst financial example in recent times, however, is venture capital and private equity. 

There’s nothing wrong generally with taking investment. But when that investment is short-term (aiming to grow fast and exit quickly) it often leads to a disconnect between brand and product. Too many stores, with staff that don’t know that product. Too many categories, with little connection to the founding concept. 

There have been an increasing number of companies like this in the past 20 years, as menswear has grown as a sector.

I'm not sure naming names is necessarily helpful here. First because it’s not the easiest thing to prove, and could easily descend into a slagging match. And second because it is primarily something you feel as a consumer, and therefore judge for yourself. Often one discussion with a sales assistant is enough. 

Some areas are also subjective. A lot of big-brand fashion feels inauthentic to me, having neither the artistic drive of couture nor the product-centric focus of a craft brand. But that won’t apply to everyone. 

Those fashion brands are often clearly inauthentic with particular products, though. I’m thinking of pre-distressed trainers, army shirts with made-up names on them, or varsity jackets decorated with random patches. 

All of them are pretending to be something they’re not, and then grates me more than it used to.

One positive response, I think, is to hold brands and people to account for what they say. Make a fashion brand spell out its supply chain when it makes claims to sustainability. Confront an influencer’s fake presentation of their life. 

This is something many serious companies are already doing, and they should be supported. Providing a QR code on a piece of cloth that spells out where it was made seems boring - but it is the ultimate in authenticity. 

There is a temptation also to broaden the point - to say it is a symptom of modern politics, of modern media. Trump and deep fakes. 

But actually these things have been going on for a long time. They come in and out of fashion, and we should push back against them in the same way - through what we say and what we buy.

I used to think that the best way to describe brands that we covered on Permanent Style was that they were ‘product-driven’ - as opposed to profit, likes, or fitting in with a trend. 

But I now think authenticity should be included. Perhaps authenticity, quality, and a sense of subtle elegance. The perfect trifecta. 

As ever, interested to hear your views. 

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Paul F

a solid piece of journalism. I thank you for calling out the fake authenticity and brands over-relying on their history while producing a seriously doubtful product

Fred

Dear Simon, yes you are right. Authenticity is the key be it in tailoring or workwear, an internal consistency in how a product is made and sold. I suspect authenticity in how we choose and wear our close is also part of style, an internal coherence between the clothes we choose, the context in which we wear them and our own values, something related to the idea of being comfortable in ones clothes and in oneself. Wearing the clothes as they are and not as costume.

Kev Fidler

Nicely provocative article and applicable to all who follow your writings ie not exclusive to bespoke level or the higher end of mens clothing. You are right to pose the question; if you start substituting the word “honesty” for “authenticity” you can start asking some searching questions of a lot of clothing and footwear industries. It’s only when you start digging do you find long established companies with reputations for quality have been taken over by a large, designer label type company for example and that quality of manufacture and design has been compromised. So many times a product becomes popular/fashionable, the company expands and the quality goes down. My main area of experience in this respect is with “outdoor” clothing; a number of what were once high quality producers I wouldn’t now even contemplate looking at. Most people, including me don’t realise this has happened and it’s sites like this, Simon that are so useful in informing the consumer.

Robin

Interesting piece which opens up a whole can of worms.

My biggest big bear is the online “influencers” as you mention.

A fake like Alexander Kraft who keeps wittering on about being a ceo (he’s a posh estate agent) and about how many cars/homes (they all have the same interior!) he has. I grew up understanding that if you were lucky enough to have nice things then be humble about it but these “influencers” are not authentic at all.

In menswear there seems to be a back-slapping clique all pretending to be Gianni Agnelli and they are not.

Chilango Burrito

“back slapping clique” otherwise known as a circle jerk. It works in their favour to big each other up as they feel more relevant and they share “followers” (another term that makes me vom) between them. the current fad seems to be negronis and steak.

I don’t know much about Kraft, but his manicured online presence is more something from a Ralph Lauren look book rather than a real human being. I can’t even think of him as a real person.

Charles

Agree with the sentiment, but you’re wrong about Kraft. Government records you can see online show he is the sole owner of the French franchise of Sotheby’s Real Estate, which has many offices and employees. So he is the CEO.

Robin

Charles, agreed that Alex is a ceo – however, he’s still a posh estate agent. Whereas he is presenting/comparing himself to Agnelli, RL etc. Flogging houses is not creative or special. And showing off about how many assets you own is not authentic. Simon never does this

William M

You show a picture of Asprey in your article. Is this because you consider them authentic or unauthentic? As a brand name which could have reached a world wide market they seem to have almost disappeared chasing a small market of ultra rich customers and only producing themselves the most expensive jewellery and “obect de vertu”. In that sense they are a relic of the past.

Is it because you feel the redesign of the shop, beautiful thought it is especially at Christmas, has turned a cabinet of curiosities into a department store?

Callahan Kingsley

I think a large part of it is pandering to the Chinese consumer. The Chinese are one of the biggest consumers of luxury products in the world, if not the largest. For them, it is simply the price that matters, the higher the better, everything else is secondary. True authenticity is expensive, and takes years to cultivate, especially when you have a financial sponsor thats trying to cash out breathing down your neck, as posited by Simon above. This is why we see so many brands that are no longer authentic.

Simon mentioned the inauthenticity associated with fake labels on items, and fake patches on varsity jackets. These are a favorite of the Chinese consumer, who are by and large very unsophisticated (not unlike the Japanese when the Japanese economy first started flourishing) but flush with cash. Given the cost of developing authentic products and the limits of doing so, it makes sense that brands are taking the easy way out and pandering to a group of customers that are willing and able to spend.

DP Williams

Mr. Kingsley,

Your comment on the Chinese consumer and the Chinese market is extremely inaccurate on my opinion. I will give you my experience living and working in the luxury menswear business in China Mainland for the past 10 years. Chinese clients are extremely skeptic when purchasing products, they take further consideration and research steps into purchasing a luxury product than western clients. Another point, brand and heritage is not enough to drive them to the purchase, quality and exclusivity is what drives their purchase. Take for example Savile Row Tailors, a few houses such as Huntsman and Gieves invest a lot of money and time trying to develop a presence in China, and they all failed hugely on their efforts. The reason behind that is only relying on heritage and on high prices, thinking Chinese clients don’t know the product and only want the label. Many friends who experienced this houses before, complained about the service, the fitting and I must say they are extremely well informed regarding different house styles, about the product itself. Don’t forget the average wealthy Chinese was educated in the UK or America, so they had the opportunity to learn about the luxury world.

Another point I would like to rise and Simon is very familiar with it, is the growing number of Chinese brands producing authentic and quality products. I must admit as some brands offering bespoke or handmade products in China, are a lie, they do cheap MTM and most of their factories use cheap labor from Guangzhou area. But I recommend the reader to have a look at the work of some Chinese brands such as Craftsman Clothing and The Refinery Shanghai, just to mention two.

Sorry for the long comment, just wished to offer my point of view on whole Chinese market thing.

PS: I am not Chinese

Jackson Hart

Simon, if I am not mistaken, am I correct in that you have tried a new bespoke Chinese shoemaker – Mori of Shoemakers? What do you think of them? Maybe you covered it someplace and I missed it.

Also, I agree that PE and VC firms drive quick profits and their own exit and can be responsible for brand destruction faster than anything else. But I think less blame belongs to the product sponsors as they are controlled by their financial partners supplying the operating cash and having no (or few) other avenues for financing, are simply stuck with the conditions of the arrangement.

Finally, I must say I was a little hurt when I saw a once internet famous bespoken only Napoli trouser-maker land on the website pages of a mega US department store. I am guessing that others are sure to follow as the pattern from trunk show bespoke only to MTM to proprietary website and RTW to mega department store is easy to spot. it’s like watching a slow motion train wreck.

Let’s face it, the old charm of bespoken exclusivity driven by low supply is the world we once lived in and the currently existing world is the multi-channel product supplier – thereby offering authenticity with one face and mass production with the other.

James

@DP Williams (I just hope that this response ends up in the right place):

In your response to Callahan Kingsley, you state: “Your comment on the Chinese consumer and the Chinese market is extremely inaccurate on my opinion.”

With respect, I think that you are both incorrect! Both comments make the mistake of treating the Chinese market/consumers as some sort of monolithic block. However, this is naturally not the case. In a sense, you are both correct. There are some Chinese who are very quality-conscious, who are very well-informed, who are seeking authenticity and so on. Then, there are Chinese who just want brand names as, to them (as to a lot of consumers in other countries, too!), a product with a fancy brand name and a high price tag denotes quality.

As China’s middle class expands, there are more and more of the latter. How else to explain the absolute explosion in low-quality, high-price “streetwear” that sells by the container-load in China? It’s rubbish, but it’s got European brand names slapped all over it and it sells for a lot of money so it must mean that it’s good. Alternatively, even if it’s not good, it shows that I’ve got an ostentatious amount of money to burn, which is also something that many people (both in China and elsewhere) want to demonstrate.

Anonymous

You are so right! The Chinese who consume luxury products are only the tip of the iceberg. The rest consumes fakes.

Martin

Possibly both Mr Kingsley and Mr Williams are right. It is a mistake to take luxury consumers from China as a whole, considering their population is 4 times bigger than European . We see some impressive products coming from there, and that means there is a solid base of really demanding and well informed buyers.
However, I can see every day buses of Chinese tourists with horrendous styling and very expensive clothes coming out of high end boutiques with more bags they can handle. They come to Spain (where I’m from) and spend so much that now every boutique has Chinese staff.
As in Europe or US, there’s not just one type of consumer.

DP William

Mr. Martin,

You are absolutely right, based on some market research and my experience in a China so far, much has changed on their consumer habits.

When you see all these Chinese customers doing intense shopping in Europe, they are not specially wealthy Chinese, they are the average citizens. Even with the economic growth of China and the international luxury brands focus in China, high end luxury brands are still extremely expensive in here. And Europe travel packages are extremely cheap in China, so they organise yearly trips to Europe where they use it to shop all the luxury products that are much more expensive in mainland China. But I must agree, Chinese clients never had such access to luxury items, that’s makes them avid for it.

But I Simon focused his article and much of his work on the high end and bespoke luxury market. Then when we talk on this specific market the Chinese client is totally different from the one I mentioned above. As I mentioned on my previous comment, money is no problem, but that doesn’t mean their purchase will be based on high price tags, they demand high levels of quality and exclusivity. I can speak of the Bespoke Tailoring market that is my focus market, my advice to any new tailors wishing to come to China is expect an extremely knowledgeable client and very demanding. On this niche market, clients are like a small luxury club, where they share their purchases and a brand can be lifted or ended within these groups. That’s the case of Huntsman as I mentioned before, prior to their first trunk show here, most clients already had tried and where quite happy with Edward Sexton, Liverano and Musella Dembech but they are always open to new things, but their reputation was rapidly finished on those groups as the service lacked. They still trying to gain on the market, but is a dead end.

Alex

Great journalism as always, Simon.

This made me think about which menswear brands I consider to be authentic. One that came to mind was Berg & Berg, which has developed into a truly wonderful online RTW retailer over the past ten years or so. They’ve grown from just selling accessories (ties mostly) online, to now offering classic RTW tailoring with a modern look. They use high-quality fabric and have a couple of hand-made elements on their jackets. I looked around here on PS to see if you’ve ever mentioned them but couldn’t find anything on them. Just wanted to put them on your radar if you didn’t already know about them. This isn’t a plug or anything – I’m just a satisfied customer! Would be nice to hear your two cents on them sometime.

Kind regards,

Alex

P.S, I noticed that the “Post it”-button disappears behind the comments if I enlarge the comment window. Took me a while to figure out where it had gone. Perhaps something to update if possible?

Jason

For me, the only two words that really matter beyond ‘Permanent Style’ are ‘quality’ and ‘provenance’.
‘Quality’ because that’s what I’m after.
‘Provenance ‘ because in this world where you can’t help everybody , I would prefer to prioritise helping my fellow citizens.
The only use for ‘authentic ‘ is to denote that the item in question is not a fake, Surely not something that any self respecting flaneur would ever be involved with.

Larry

Great article….some brands nowadays lie to consumers, say things which they do not stick with to make a quick buck. Over empathise their “history and heritage” and also their sustainability and pricing promises.

Authenticity needs to run through each and every department of a brand. From the brand’s ethos, product, materials, manufacture, marketing, image…..everything. Far too much dishonesty from some brands nowadays.

Blake M

Great comments about authenticity. On point noting that authenticity is uniquely individualistic, given authentic is being true to one’s self.

Without casting dispersion on brands, but what are some brands that feel authentic to you?

DL

Best post ever (along with I am not a gentleman, but even better). I agree with each word. Thanks Simon

AJ

Good read.

I particularly appreciate, Simon, how you don’t post ‘lifestyle’ stuff. PS is all about the clothes. I find it extremely inauthentic to see photos of menswear writers smoking a cigar or drinking a whisky while looking off into the distance, or in a hip new bar, or driving or sports car or whatever else. I’m surprised really that they still get so many positive comments on Instagram etc when it is all so lacking in taste and humility.

G.

This is similar to something I think about a lot when it comes to restaurants and food. A good restaurant is one which is clear about the price range and type of cooking they’re trying to do, and then make something as good as possible within those constraints. A good restaurant can be cheap street food or fine dining, as long as they are good at doing what they present themselves as doing.

Similarly, I’d imagine that there are cheap as well as expensive clothes makers that can be called authentic, as long as they’re being honest with the type of clothing they’re trying to make, and the item of clothing itself not trying to pass itself off as something fancier, or with a different heritage than it has.

Anonymous

I think that this comes across as pretty narrow – your day job and your passion project are one in the same, and you’re very lucky for that to be the case. Without wishing to put you in a box, you seem to be driven by bespoke, luxury and quality, and very nice too! In most cases you can attach authenticity to these three things with ease, as most of the clothes you purchase, or have made for you either come from high end stores or are made by craftsmen. In both instances these companies/ individuals are clearly passionate about their product/craft, and driven by perfectionism – either in material or construction.

However this is the top 1% of menswear. I would cautiously suggest that most people (me included) are driven principally by two things – desirability and affordability. Do I like/want it, can I afford it? The third thing that I try and consider is whether it’s been produced in a sustainable way, by people paid a fair wage, but if I’m totally honest that’s not as important to me as value – a little more expensive is fine, as long as the quality is commensurate.

When I look at a £1200 ‘distressed’ sweater with holes all over it, I do two things. I laugh, at the person who might spend that kind of money on it, and I have some kind of reluctant admiration for the person who gets away with selling it. It’s a similar feeling when I visit my dry cleaner in Soho and walk past a store which sells headbands, water bottles, socks and t-shirts (no doubt of dubious quality) with a single word written on them, selling for hundreds of pounds – and not only that, a queue of people waiting to be separated from their money.

You are right, the customer service somewhere like Drake’s is superb, but at a guess they pay their staff more, and employ people who are passionate about the product. That can’t work if you have hundreds of outlets globally and whilst it produces a warm fuzzy feeling for a moment, I think that most people are just as happy buying their stuff online.

One of the brands you work with announced about a year/18 months ago that they would no longer be partaking in the bi-annual ‘sales’ frenzy, and instead making limited numbers of sustainable products and charging a ‘fair’ price for them. Maybe at that moment that was authentic to whatever it was that was driving that decision – cynically you might say just another marketing ploy.

Not long down the line you can now buy their products (directly) for a 75% reduction in their non sale, sale. Maybe their business model had to change in order to pay their staff more – that’s fair enough, and it would never stop me from buying their clothes because they were no longer being authentic to what they were previously being authentic to – it just doesn’t matter that much to me.

For me the most authentic brand at the moment is Community Clothing – providing income to people that need it, and producing products that are well made and affordable – I don’t own any of their products because again, it’s not as important as other factors.

If people want to buy inauthentic products from inauthentic companies, but it’s what they want at a price that they’re willing to pay (i.e both sides of the transaction are happy) then so what?

It would be a shame if we started using social labels to either aggrandise certain brands or stigmatise certain others, just because it fitted more with an already established personal preference.

Anonymous

When I referred to the article being narrow it was probably the wrong term, as you correctly said, my point about Community Clothing broadens it – authenticity without the price tag.

I think what I was trying to ask (without actually getting around to it) is why authenticity matters to you? Would you not buy something you liked because you found the store/company inauthentic? I think that’s what I don’t get. Why should we push back against inauthenticity where we see it, if we like the products?

Thinking about it more, I have a Belstaff jacket which I bought about 12 years ago which has had good wear, been re-waxed etc but as far as I recollect has never been near a motorcycle. An inauthentic use of an authentic product from a heritage brand, which I purchased because I liked, it was practical and I had confidence that it would be of high quality, which it is. A cursory check of Google shows that the brand is now owned by Ineos. Does this mean the products are now inauthentic – I’m confused.

All of this reminds me of a joke – a guy goes to therapy and the shrink tells him that they’re going to begin a search for the real him. The man responds, “but what if we find the real me and it turns out that he’s a jerk?!”

I’m not calling you a jerk by the way!

Keith Taylor

Interesting point about the Belstaff. I also own a Trialmaster, which I bought for its quality and also for the rather more nebulous considerations of heritage and so forth, but the closest I’ve ever come to a motorbike was riding a rented two stroke moped on holiday. Meanwhile a good friend of mine rides daily but wears a cheap Chinese made mass produced motorcycle jacket, because he can’t afford Belstaff.

The Belstaff itself has authenticity but I wear it as costume, stripping it of its original purpose. My friend’s cheapo jacket has asphalt scars, and despite its opaque supply chain and non-existent heritage it’s a more authentic piece of clothing than my Belstaff ever could be.

Anonymous

The problem with many of these terms is the lack of a legal definition. Though even if there is then loop holes are found – heel of a shoe made in India attached in Italy and it can be badged “made in Italy”. As such you can get many companies, big and small, jumping onto the next big label but tight definitions can help prevent at least some from misusing them.

To play devils advocate, you mainly defined what isnt authentic rather than what it is which in itself creates problems. The old “Genuine Fake Rolex” advertised proudly… it has the honesty but…

I think there is also a difference between authenticity in the product and the maker. It feels possible for the two not to have the same answer… take your startup selling online to cut out the middlemen – they could be making authentic products from carpincho leather but they themselves arent authentic when they start selling through department stores.

Anonymous

As with all acts of provocation it is well to secure your own foundation first. The lack of true transparency around price reduction or comps. in your commission process is an example. I believe your statement (and always have) that it doesn’t affect your final conclusions on commissions but question the situation when you focus on a brand or product (outside of bespoke). Essentially it leaves a credibility gap, one that you have been reluctant to provide transparency for. The observations around fashion issues such as conglomeration, supply chain, environmental impact are all valid but the ‘solid piece of journalism’ is undermined by a lack of defined examples (your argument is undermined by lack of factual definition) good examples are widespread such as the following re. Rana Plaza brands:
https://cleanclothes.org/ua/2013/rana-plaza.
It’s also not helpful, nor journalistically honest, to talk down brands with ‘Heritage’.
Who do you mean… Barbour? (still manuf. in the UK…). Authenticity in fashion began to die in the 90s as brands (incl. big Italian brands) heavily outsourced manuf. to SE Asia; RL Polo can’t be a bastion of US preppy fashion (itself a function of US democratic capitalism) when manufactured in a foreign factory in a communist, single party dictatorship.

Herrie

The most authentic piece of clothing I’ve ever seen was a shirt in a market in Cambodia covered in logos of big fashion brands. Rolex, Louis Vuitton, Supreme. All patches attached a little crudely by hand. This shirt hid nothing. A friend describes these kinds of bootleg clothes as folk art.

Also, in the US, Costco (a kind of warehouse box store chain) and Tractor Supply Company (a chain of farm supply stores) sell the kinds of clothes that come to mind when I consider authenticity– stuff that people buy and wear without thinking about too much. I think those of us interested in fashion and high-end menswear approach the idea of authenticity from an atypical angle.

John Edmund

A well written and hard to fault piece reinforced by the comments following – thank you. As in all things it’s the exceptions that make choice worthwhile, brands that pursue only fashion have little that’s worthwhile to say (except perhaps that they don’t understand the foundation of the idea of a ‘brand’). Brands that maintain their authenticity (and you have covered many of them) create the products that most of us want to buy.

Ben

I see the appeal of authenticity but never consider it when making a purchase. Doing so means paying any attention at all to how a company markets itself, which I (futilely) prefer to have no influence on my decision-making. My concerns are with the quality and aesthetics of the product, its price, and the human and environmental impact of its manufacturing, the last of which should certainly be placed before “authenticity, quality, and a sense of subtle elegance. ”

The kind of inauthenticity that offends me is one that entails deception in trying to portray oneself in a way that one’s not. Distressed clothes or army prints are not in this sense inauthentic and do not offend me because I never take a brand as anything other than a producer of what makes it money. Most makers of these things don’t explicitly say things like “we only sell vintage goods,” and it’s you the consumer who’s imposing the offensive characterization.

And didn’t you just endorse a Parisian store that sells patches they can put on jackets and highlight the practice in your endorsement?

Ben

Agreed. This is the type of inauthenticity that I more often find distasteful: on the part of the consumer rather than that of the shop. But one must still keep in mind the variety of intentions and manners in which items like band shirts are worn. They can be effective accessories to irony, certain subcultures reinfuse old symbols with new meaning, etc.

Mark

I’d like to ask your opinion then Simon,

On private white vc. They really drove home with advertisement of not going on sale & not believing in it last year & earlier this year. Yet now there is ‘archive sales’ & ‘private sales’ with hefty discounts.

It’s definitely given me a bad taste. I’m not slogging here. Just like to see what you think of the matter in line with authenticity.

Anonymous

I do think the Private White sale was an odd choice. Part of authenticity is honesty and trustworthiness. I thought their pricing manifesto was a good idea and brought helpful transparency. To move to such a large sale so soon after making that commitment feels a bit icky. Should I trust anything else they’re saying? About quality? About pricing?

Eric

Interesting post, and I love thinking about this stuff.

I don’t think “authenticity” generally attaches at the level of the product in any meaningful way. An article of clothing made by a faux heritage brand could still be “authentic” in the context of the wearer if it matches his lifestyle and personal style. Likewise, an “authentic” article of clothing could be inauthentic if worn in a way that is incongruous with the wearer. Poseurs are always inauthentic, no matter how “authentic” their clothing is. Brands can pose and wearers can pose, but in the end, the clothes are just clothes.

Though I suppose heavily pre-distressed clothing might be an exception.

E L

I think most of the things you mention just come down to honesty.

Are sellers being honest with prices relative to cost of manufacturing? Are sellers relying on a heritage/image which belies the quality of their product? Are sellers offering products of consistent quality, or are they using the higher quality of some products to sell products of lesser quality? Are sellers relying on marketing ploys which don’t represent the full picture (e.g. cutting out the middle-man because the brand can’t secure representation in stores)? Are sellers using terms in a misleading manner (e.g. bespoke, or hand-made, or made-in-Italy)? Are sellers misrepresenting the original prices of products so that sales seem more alluring?

A lot of what you call authenticity I think also has to deal with not being deceived. We like to know where things come from. We like sales-people who are as knowledgeable as we are so we feel know that we are getting a quality product and aren’t getting ripped off. We like brands that are consistent from season to season so we feel secure in our purchases.

I am not crazy about the term authenticity and I sense that you perhaps share this sentiment based on some comments in your article. I think the term ‘authenticity’ implies that the thing described as authentic possesses some elusive trait over and above honest, quality, value, etc. I think the problem with this is that there isn’t really any such trait. There is nothing to being authentic over and above being honest, consistent, well-made, etc.

Also, just a demonstrative example (which doubles as a complaint) about one brand you mention as being authentic, namely Drake’s (I say this in the hope that someone from their team sees this and takes note because I do like their product and their sales-team but have troubles buying from them these days). I would have agreed with you that they were authentic a couple of years ago, but now I am not so sure. They artificially raise their prices each season (their shirt-jackets, for instance, were $200 2 years ago and were $435 this year) to drive ridiculous sales (almost everything gets marked off 50% once the sale rolls around). As a result, I don’t feel comfortable buying anything full-price from them anymore–I feel like I will inevitably regret my purchase once I see the sale price. They also mark up certain products ridiculously (e.g. a rugby that was being sold elsewhere for $30 being sold at Drakes for hundreds). This undermines my confidence in buying products from them (especially online where quality is less obvious) as I feel like I may not get something as high of quality as the price implies. They also seem to both change their fits regularly and to change manufacturers of certain product-types somewhat regularly, which undermines my confidence as a consumer. I grant that some changes may be necessary, but too many changes and it makes me feel like I am dealing with a different brand. There is a certain level of honesty and consistency that is not being met and it drives away the consumer (at least me). Authentic sellers don’t behave in these ways.

Sam

Yes, I think Drake’s is a great example of their sales policy somewhat undermining their credibility, and/or the perceived value by the consumer. Great products, but why would anyone who’s not rich buy something at full price when you know it’s likely to still be around at 30–50% off in a few months? And when some items (chukkas made by Astorflex, rugby shirts by I can’t remember who, crunchy silk knit ties by Ascot) are 95% identical to items available at less than half price elsewhere all year round.

I adore Drake’s overshirts but to me £295 doesn’t feel right, intuitively. If they were £200 and they never went on sale, I’d buy them at full price without a grudge. Instead, I wait for the sales.

In a way, Drake’s wants to have their cake (be seen as an authentic, ‘slow’ made-in-London manufacturer) and eat it too (have lots of new styles each season, customize cool products from other manufacturers). I don’t blame them, because stylistically it’s lots of fun and it must make for dynamic business. But they shouldn’t be surprised if some aspects of it grate on the punters.

Ajay

Simon, Good reflections. A quick reaction to one of your closing lines. You said, “Perhaps authenticity, quality, and a sense of subtle elegance (are) the perfect trifecta.” I thought it is noteworthy that the value I most associate your site with — timelessness (i.e. the at least relative permanence of stylishness which your site’s name references) — was not included in your summary list there. Where do you stand on that element these days? That is something I have been curious about for a while.

Ajay

Simon, Thank you for clarifying! And, yes, I for one would definitely would love your fuller and updated thoughts on the “permanent” subject in a dedicated post.

You mentioned in your reply here that “appropriateness” ought to remain an important criterion for evaluating style — a nod to the fact that what is considered stylish is context dependent and that that context is at least partially if not largely a function of the perceptions of those we surround ourselves with.

In passing, in one of your posts I believe you had referred to suspenders as being stylistically “anachronistic”. That caught my attention.

One of the things I have been struggling with is that I believe much of the general public (by whom most of us are de facto surrounded, everyday) believe that many of the features of “classic menswear” — from pleated trousers, to wider lapels, to flight jackets — which we might be inclined to describe as “permanent” or “long-lasting” — are “anachronistic” and therefore often actually un-appropriate for contemporary wear, regardless of the occasion.

It worries me that our “permanent” is probably most people’s “anachronistic”, in many instances.

Would love to hear your further thoughts on the broader topic but on this issue specifically.

Ajay

Thanks, Simon! One would think that there would be a fine line between for example, Permanent and A-Bit-Less-Permanent, but not between Permanent and Anachronistic (which are virtually opposites of one another). Perhaps indicates how easily one can go wrong in this game of classic menswear:) The big question for me is where the average person out there would place that line. I fear that that placement is such that much of what we would call permanent would be over the line.

Look forward to more on the subject from you in the future & thanks for putting together a site where this issue is even a viable topic of discussion, in the first place! Appreciate it!

Michael Smith

Simon
I notice you have dropped your list of “Artisans” from the drop down menu. Have you posted about this change? If not it would be good to hear the rationale behind the change.

The artisans have been absorbed into the “Brands” list. As someone who enjoys the direct relationship which develops with commissions, I find this mildly depressing.

Stephan

Dear Simon,
This was a very interested read indeed. Thank you for the honesty and journalistic excellence to write a piece like this.
I do feel though – please correct me if I’m wrong – that names have largely been avoided not just because it is difficult to prove some of these points (the points that are without doubt clearly recognisable to many of us and we can certainly agree with your assessment and spot the ‘culprits’), but also because some of those you have in mind with your criticism are among the well-known in the menswear world and also perhaps some of your advertisers here.
I’m not at all faulting you for it, but I am sure they will, as whoever reads the article can easily spot them out. And it is right not to spell them out (avoiding bickering as was mentioned by someone) also because your article can be read as a friendly reminded and warning to those who engage in the practices your criticise to help them get off that train of misleading customers with narratives that obscure the true motives (most often profit).
All in all, a very good read, thanks! And I also look forward to sticking around for comments on this article, most of which truly enrich the discussion, as always on Permanent Style.
Best,
Stephan

MatthewV

Another very stimulating article and equally interesting comments.

One of the areas you touched on, venture capital investment, is very relevant to many fields, restaurant groups and clothing in particular. The need to drive sales and expansion to maximise short term value and accelerate an exit strategy, whilst an understood business model, does seem to burn out, even destroy perfectly good businesses, so in the end the consumer loses out.

I see the same thing happening on a limited scale with Central London retail, does Slowear need a store in every smart area? Although I am pleased to see RRL back in London, now in a possibly better suited Soho location.

David G

I think we are over-thinking things here.

If something (anything) is authentic, it means it is real, ie not fake, or copied. There are for example four grades of Rolex; fake, copy, orignal copy and authentic.

It’s an easy way of describing a watch, or piece of art, or furniture. But how can you apply it to describe clothing? You can’t. It’s either real (cashmere, botany wool, Harris tweed etc), or it isn’t.

Now, the words “original”, “traditional”, “vintage” etc can be used accurately to describe something; even a Cornish Pasty can be described in such a way (except perhaps for vintage). But authentic? I think not. A recipe can be both traditional and original, but authentic is pushing it a bit.

Heritage is another word that lends itself; Aston Martin, Bentley, Morgan, for example, all have heritage, but don’t buy a second hand Aston that’s described as authentic……….walk away!!

Genuine also works well; think horn buttons.

Traditional can easily be applied to a method or technique of producing something, eg a Guernsey sweater.

But authentic doesn’t really have a place here. if some item of apparel catches your eye describing itself as authentic, you can be sure of one thing; it probably isn’t.

David

Completely agree with the point above about private equity. The overexpansion of restaurant chains is a cautionary tale.

Simon – in a similar vein, I’d be interested in your thoughts on the role of the big luxury conglomerates. They can have a similar role when they take a small niche brand, jack up prices (either keeping the old quality or not) and massively expand it. On the other hand, they can also develop and sustain an old brand that might not survive alone or that at best would be a tiny niche player. Is a brand like Rimowa still “authentic” in the hands of LVMH? What about Dunhill, which still makes some wonderful leather goods, but also churns out a lot of undistinguished stuff aimed at the Asian market?

Massimiliano

I have to admit I didn’t have time to read all the comments, but it is clear this discussion is involving some key points of our Industry and our Society. What is fake and what is authentic ? I think this is much related to the perception of the final consumer : it is authentic what, based on the information I have, I trust it is. So the problem are the information’s sources. Today everybody can say whatever. Who is telling the true ? I say my product is made in Italy : who can certify ? who are real producers and who are just buying in low cost Countries and sewing only a label ? And, as it was pointed out, it is not true that made in Europe is necessarily better than made in other Countries ? that made by hands is necessarily better than industrial productions. My opinion is that final consumer is King. BUT : he has to decide basing on TRUE information. And true information is coming only trough STRICT controls. Laws are not enough. The most strict law without controls is nothing. My product is made in Italy, we source the yarns from certified Company following all the rules of REACH, we have 12 hands’ made quality production steps etc etc.. Is it enough to certify my quality is good ? No. Final consumer has to decide. But he needs to have the true and right information. Stop fake producers, stop fake labels, stop fake heritage… Long discussion. It will take hours..

Caustic Man

Hi Simon,

Although this is a fascinating subject, and although I can understand not wanting to name names, I was left feeling like this piece was a little more vague than it needed to be. You have your finger on the pulse of the menswear industry and you probably need little prompting to understand exactly who you are talking about when you mention the phenomena you are reporting on. And of course your carefully chosen images speak volumes. But not all of us are so familiar with every aspect of the industry and, at least for me, I was left wondering who and what you were talking about.

Russ

This is an interesting article, but I am not sure you got much closer, Simon, to defining what “authenticity” really means in terms of a menswear product.
The word means different things to different people – perhaps where the product is made or as a good quality example of a particular period or style, or encompassing a particular material or craftsmanship that the buyer of good quality menswear would expect that product to be made of.
The recent failures of various branded chain restaurants lead us perhaps to a better means of defining the word – where the big name of the chef behind those brands promised cooking of a certain style and quality at every branch but failed to deliver. So for clothing, I would point at those brands which have been leveraged onto poor quality garments – in particular I’m thinking of the respected old Austin Reed brands such as Aquascutum and Viyella which were held in esteem for many years but have now been brought out of administration and are now used on poorer quality overseas made clothes.

Anonymous

Simon, thank you, as always, for your thoughtful response. On brands, given the paucity of UK manufacturing – there are only a few to point to – it was slightly unclear to the reader as to the target (given Barbour, Private White etc. are, I think, authentic). More widely, across all major western brands, small and large, few are untouched by de-linked, external supply; it’s therefore hard to identify authenticity outside of the clear recommendations that sites such as PS are able to give. Re. transparency you hit it on the nail with ‘less full scale reviews’ it is therefore difficult to judge the ‘authors position’ – what is the relationship? Are items given gratis for review or discount or is the review done at arms length (without a financial benefit). Just some clarity required that’s all. On links: where appropriate they would be welcome – as thinking on ecology, supply chains etc. advances there grows (thankfully) a wider, more informative base of journalism and data to refer to.

Anonymous

I think the biggest problem with your article is that you don’t give any actual examples of inauthenticity; you only give examples of what is authentic. I don’t doubt the A&S haberdashery feels very authentic, but without naming inauthenticity other than in abstracts and hypotheticals, it is very hard to know what you’re describing, other than leaving the reader to imagine the opposite of the A&S haberdashery.

And what is authenticity? You had a discussion in the comments where you wrote that you find braces and high-waisted, pleated trousers anachronistic. You may be right, and I may be just a few steps away from LARPing by wearing them. But if high-waisted trousers are what I find most comfortable and aesthetically pleasing, then would it really be authentic for me to switch to lower-rise trousers simply because that is what the fashion influencers and popular media think I should do?

To me, authenticity is about being true to yourself. To me, the height of authenticy is the eccentric that wears black lounge and a bowler to business meetings, not because he suffers from delusions of being the reïncarnation of Winston Churchill, but simply because he likes it and enjoys keeping alive the old tradition of wearing black longue for important business. Authenticity is Chittleborough and Morgan continuing to make 70s style suits with the huge lapels, long skirts and squared-off hems, even when modern trends dictate smaller lapels and shorter skirts.

But authenticy can also reveal a darker side to things. You mention Trump as something you could connect to rising inauthenticity, but while he is dishonest, I’ve never thought him inauthentic. So far as I can tell, Trump’s tastelessness, bloviating and borish celebration of his own wealth are as authentic as it comes, and the ‘tasteless billionaire’ archetype is pure Americana (no offence to American readers, but Trump does embody just about every negative stereotype about your country). Someone above mentioned a sigh advertising ‘genuine fake rolexes;’ authenticity has a way of revealing the truth, and it often what was hoped for.

As far as authenticity goes, the person I respect the most is Reviewbrah. He wears oversized, 80s/90s suits he buys from the thrift store and doesn’t pretend to be wealthy or anything he isn’t. He just likes the aesthetic and has brought good taste, gentle humor, self-awareness and a populist focus on fast food to cuisine criticism.

Anonymous

So many good comments and ideas generated by this post! I am all for authenticity and standards. However, we have to agree that fashion is meant to be fun. We buy, we wear clothes that make us feel good, regardless of their origin or the motives of the brand owners. If we had to think too deeply about these things, we just might end up learning to sew our own clothes! — which might not be a bad a idea.

Peter O

Dear Simon,

Authenticity is a term which presumably is at home in philosophy and which you use in aesthetics. Regarding how it appeared I guess OED must know. Owen Barfield unfortunately does not include the word in “History in English Words”, whereas the word authority is treated.

Danny

Very nice article. One time I saw an exact same shirt bearing two different brands, one of which is a casual, youth-oriented line of a very large fashion house, the other is a low cost Chinese brand. The prices were similar, but it made me realize how brands sometimes don’t even bother to design their products.
In my personal opinion, authenticity has to do with what the brand claims and what it actually practices. I think in this age of fast fashion, hyper-marketed goods, authenticity is something that brands have to earn and work hard to keep, rather than lazily depending on “heritage” and dubiuos marketing claims. Independent sources like this website also helps tremendously.

Oliver

Great article! Re: Private White – I do not work in the industry but always thought that the breadth of product on sale was simply the result of supply management. For Private White VC for example I just assumed that they produced too much and were now selling close to or below cost. Over the years I have seen a lot of variance on how “good” the sales were. Sunspel ca 10 years ago appeared to always overproduce so that you could buy pretty much the whole range in any size when the sales started. They appeared to have managed to forecast better in other years when the sales were mainly for quirky product (eg bright yellow instead of plain navy polo shirt). Rapha was always similar – in some years almost everything was still available in the sale (many years ago and then again when they dialled up for production during the Team Sky sponsorship years) when in other years the sale range was small and poor. I simply thought Private White was learning as they went along and were too optimistic in forecasting, like eg potentially Trunk’s own chino and knitwear line. I would assume good intent – maybe these companies simply struggle to forecast and then need to clear their warehouses to make room for better sellers?

Anonymous

Re. ‘is this an ad’…I’ve been reading PS since it started so yes: however, on occasion, I do think a declaration ‘I received the Begg scarf for free (or not)’ might reinforce the position. This is especially the case when covering boutiques or brands. There many be no financial inducements (hence not an ad) but is there a benefit in kind?

Zephan Parker

I am a craftsman. I make custom or bespoke western boots in Texas, USA and I completely agree with you. A wonderful well thought out piece. Connection to something is important. A story is who we are and how we transcend both past, present and into the future-though imagination or foresight. Without this anchor, if you will, the ship will toss amidst the sea of trend, only to leave a ship wreck on the surface. Often presenting itself in the form of clothes or “style”.

I have read many things you write and greatly appreciate your love for what you wear and from whom you wear it. I hear it in your writing. I see I’m in your photography. Indeed authentic. A connection. A bond. An anchor!

Storms of trend will arise. BUT man of Permanent Style will remain! Thanks my friend may God bless!

Anonymous

Your response re. transparency was worryingly opaque. The article you refer to states ‘Given the number of things that are discounted, readers should assume that any product covered is effectively a payment in kind under these rules’. Hence my issue – on bespoke it is crystal clear (though you never outline the discount), on brands, collections and retail there is an assumption. However there have been articles, worryingly free of critique, that can blur the lines. It subtly undermines the proposition of clarity and, by association, authenticity. I always feel that you softly avoid this, as evidenced by your oblique ‘have you read’ responses. Please state openly, even as an addendum, what the position is because when it is not a given product it all gets a bit nebulous.

Anonymous

‘I hope that’s clear‘…I understood this information previously. The implicit message is that, unless stated, assume that all products are discounted or gratis. Fine. What happens when you do a brand feature on say, Hermes. Do we metaphorically assume a few scarves are stuffed into the pockets en situ? When discussing French boutiques do we assume the same? Can you grasp the difficulty around ‘authenticity’? It’s also no use complaining about the business model you have chosen. Let’s assume that I wish the best for PS. That I wish to see PS to grow into a preeminent brand. The reason Hermes retains a standard of its own is that it retains the truth of unsurpassed quality. The issue here is simple: are you only covering brands that will offer you a discount? Does this deliver best quality content? It might be a business model but over the medium to long term it will erode trust in the brand: are we only seeing the review of X because Y wouldn’t discount? I agree that all content media has a problem in gaining a return. I’m grateful you haven’t fallen into the trap of placed pop-ups that a US blog site has (a gazetteer of fashion…). As such I know you’ve probably got the best model on the internet for the reader (I’ve looked at most) but what of the impact on content? Over time, if not addressed, content will invariably skew to your model rather than a superior model being established that provides the broader, unhindered (by model restriction) content required by your readership/market. Nothing personal, just an observation on the direction of travel.

RUSS

Simon, it sounds like you are going to need, some day soon, to hold a pop-up car boot sale with all those surplus clothes you are unable regularly to wear. Perhaps you could attach a “Pre-loved by Simon Crompton” label to each of them given you’re almost a brand yourself. Now that WOULD be authentic!

Rob T

Great article. A recent example of this is the jumping of the shark of my (ex) favourite swimwear brand.

Steven

I think consumers long to discern the link between the price they pay and quality of the product they receive for that price. That’s ultimately why authenticity is important right? It speaks to this connection. Since the dawn of advertising though, those links are blurred. This is why authenticity is desired, we are afraid of being duped.

I’ve found it useful to discuss with clothiers or brands how much of the price of the garment is not directly related to it’s construction.

If for instance I see expensive ad campaigns, photo shoots, if the company has an unnecessarily large staff. Then I might know the markup includes things I don’t need. My price for the garment does not include these things. Good food for thought though, Thanks Simon

D. Marchand M.

Simon,

You really made me think with this article.

As you know, I had the honor and huge responsibility of acquiring SOLITO Sartoria (Sartoria Solito is owned by Luigi and Gennaro Solito and my company was funded by Antonio, Gennaro’s brother).

Antonio was obsessed with details and perfect fit. One of the tailors who still works here told me that Antonio once saw that the collar was not made correctly, he took the suit and the shears, cut the collar in three parts and then hand it over to the master tailor and said: “do it again”.

Nowadays I need to have that same mentality in my head. It must be the best or nothing.

Authenticity is very important and if a brand/tailor has/had the correct vision is essential to protect it at all costs.

Mazhar

Hi Simon. I recently read this article on ‘authenticity’ but if i dont have the link, which category do i find them in? Your whole website is pretty well streamlined into categories and I searched categorywise.

Mazhar

Thanks Simon. I have been reading your website since 2015 and it has sculpted my philosophy about menswear and lifestyle in general. I would love to read more about ‘Philosophy’. I sent the link to my friend, she liked it so much that she was looking for more articles like this – but couldnt find the relevant category.

Much Appreciated Simon,
Mazhar

Mazhar

Thanks a lot Simon! Ever Grateful 😁