11 October 2011

The Game & How Not To Play It

Perry Ellis uniform: "Blue oxford shirt, beltless khakis and Top Siders"

...and make me very rich.

Ruff Hewn: Still around (here) but a shadow of what it once was

What am I supposed to be buying here?


Peak lapel Seersucker from S/S 1985

S/S 1985
Fall 1991

Fall 1991

Fall 1991

People in fashion are always telling me they have to, "play a game." When I was in the Army, I had a 1st Sergeant who told me, "I don't play games. I quit school because of fucking recess. Play games with me, Tinseth and you'll wind up with the bat up your ass." Anyway, "What game?" I ask. "That it's all bullshit." they whisper. "How so?" I ask, thinking this person would look funny with a Louisville Slugger up their ass.

They get serious, look around, breathe deep and sigh, "You know, at the end of the day it's the consumer who gets screwed." They launch into a description of how this arm of fashion needs to create hype, so this arm of fashion can design, so the other arm of fashion can magazine report, as long as the selling arm of fashion will advertise in the magazine, so you'll go out and buy, which will line all their pockets and we ain't talking with rabbit fur... something like that. I may be missing some arms and pockets.

The other thing I hear from people working in fashion is that Perry Ellis was the last great American designer. Newspaper editors, designers, photographers, garmentos, retailers, manufacturers, reporters...they all agree... Perry Ellis was the real deal. I first heard of Ellis in late 1984. I was coming off Alexander Julian shirts. They were colorful but they didn't take kindly to my washing habits, which to be fair, consisted of hot water and a 40 minute dry on high.

Ruff Hewn knew the way but they were limited to sportswear. Over exposed Pierre Cardin was a bad idea along with Daniel Hechter, Christian Dior, Armani, Henry Grethel, Cerruti, Ron Chereskin, Robert Stock...These were all heavily advertised companies and all were being gushed over by menswear media, one of those arms (usually bent) we discussed.

Perry Ellis was different. Logo-less, clean, classic American clothes. Unlike Ralph and Calvin, Ellis was never vulgar enough to appear in his own advertising. He also didn't steal his 'inspiration' from the English countryside. Instead, he designed what he knew and what he was. A southern middle class kid from Portsmouth, VA who would later dress for work everyday in a blue oxford shirt, beltless khakis and Top Siders.

Ellis advertised to be sure, and the media reciprocated, but there was an understated level of good taste in his clothing. He tweaked American classics with respect and restraint. The lack of pretension is striking. Especially during a time, the late '70s to mid '80s, where over-hyped menswear started to crowd out the quiet classics like Brooks Brothers, Chipp, J. Press and Tripler. You rarely saw these maker's clothes in Esquire and you never saw them in GQ. I guess they were missing some arms.

Had he lived, Ellis could have been for men what Bill Blass was to women. Fashionable enough for the trade but wearable enough for my 1st Sergeant. Perry Ellis died of AIDS in May of 1986. His company continues but it really hasn't since the early '90s. In a time when every retailer out there is banging a drum about their heritage or inventing a heritage, Perry Ellis seems blind to what they have. Maybe they're just on recess.


Yankee-Whisky-Papa said...

Something I loved about Perry Ellis was that the ads all seemed to only sell clothing, and never tried to force a "lifestyle". RL fluctuates between trying to decide if he's a cowboy rancher or an English Lord. Maybe it's the expressions on the models' faces in the PE ads... not pretentious.

tintin said...

YWP- It seems the more insipid menswear is - the better it sells. I think that's part of the game as well.

NCJack said...

Cricketeer, Lord Jeff, Corbin, others I can't recall: just pretty good clothes for a pretty good price. Some still around, but submerged in a sea of crap. I had some PE stuff, and felt like I was rather well dressed, AND got my money's worth.

Oyster Guy said...

This is a very elegantly composed post and a significant Trad mission statement. I was going to offer some comments on the nature of menswear marketing but decided against it: you nailed it, you truly hit it out of the park...

Patsy said...

Perry Ellis stole that uniform from my husband's partner. He's worn it every day of his life, for probably 50 years. Winter - long sleeved oxford, summer, short sleeved. In the fall he changes out his topsiders for Bean Boots. For dress-up he adds a tie and blazer.

He owns nothing else.

Felicia Shelton said...

Perry Ellis made me proud to be from Portsmouth, VA.
HIs style was more than classic, it was perfect for the life he lived and reflected the honest and presentable clothing that I grew up with. Now everybody wants to look as if they're rehearsing to be "shot" by the Sartorialist. Not throwing any shade, but Mr. Ellis dressed for himself and his life, not for a lifestyle.

Jovan said...

Have to admit, despite the giant shoulders paired with a tiny little tie that everyone was doing then, it seems a lot more tasteful.

Andrew said...

Perry Ellis was the reason I got into the fashion industry. My mother used to go to a fabric shop in Banksville, New York when I was in high school. I would tag along and found myself gravitating to his Italian linens for their amazing colors and patterns. One thing lead to another and I wound up going to school at Parsons across from what was then his design office on 7th Ave. He passed away just as I was starting school, but I met up with his menswear design director, Brian Bubb, who took me as an intern and taught me about designing. To make a long story short, the company changed dramatically from that point forward and I moved on after school, but I still have those great memories of the company being as you described in your article.

tintin said...

Sorry for the comment delay. I'm happy to see so many folks with such wonderful recollections.

NC Jack- I was surprised at how often Perry Ellis kept coming up in conversations and interviews I've done over the last couple years. And always with respect and fondness for the clothes and the man. I tried to find some vintage PE in eBay but there's just too much current stuff to dig through.

Oyster- Thanks. I appreciate your words. Although, I would love to hear your comments on marketing -- so I can steal them for my upcoming post on why Double Monks are marketed to men who never learned how to tie their shoes. Which explains why the same men don't wear a neck tie with a suit.

Patsy - I could easily get thru the rest of my life in Bill's Kahakis and Mercer button downs -- It's the shoes that'll do me in.

Felicia- Wise words from someone so young. Thanks for commenting and best of luck with your photo pursuits.

Jovan- Not so sure the shoulders are wide as the lapels are. And those are some big mama-jamma lapels ... but you're right, they work.

Andrew- Thank you for your comment. It's great to hear these stories from the people who were there. It seems to me 'fashion' is quick to forget designers despite the inherent stealing. You'd think the folks at PE would blow the dust off some look books at F.I.T. and get cracking on this.

Andrew said...

I was young back then too and Perry Ellis was the designer whose clothing was the most transformative- because it was a step into textures and minimalism and a tweaked kind of preppy that was exemplified by his spread collar oxford without logo.

Margaret Howell in England is the designer today who seems to be the inheritor of Ellis' style.

tintin said...

Andrew- Usually a bd collar. Not sure I see connect'n to Howell.

Bob said...

Been craving the Perry Ellis years for a few weeks now after buying the new coffee table book, "Perry Ellis: An American Original." I distinctly remember the first time I saw a Perry Ellis collection in Marshall Fields in Chicago. I'd never connected with clothes like that before. Even stood in line to meet him at Marshall Fields when he came through on a promotion for his new line of cologne. It was like meeting a rock star. My girl friend who lived in Philadelphia at the time was jealous. I got an autograph for her as well. This has probably been mentioned before but I'm sure Perry is spinning somewhere after what they've done to his brand. What a disgrace. If ever there was anyone who didn't deserve badly designed, poorly executed mid-level clothes, it's Perry Ellis.