Farah SS16 collection
Farah was once a bit of a victim of its own success. Another of those American brands built on the democratised promise of affordable work clothing at low prices, Farah went from strength to strength after its birth in the 1920. Its cheap-but-durable ethic saw it safely through the Great Depression and in 1945 it was awarded the prestigious Army-Navy E Award, a special honour for companies in recognition of their excellence in the manufacture of wartime equipment, in Farah’s case, uniforms.
In the early 1960’s William Farah, one of the controlling family shareholders, was so obsessed with maintaining the quality of the brand that he insisted that it was entirely manufactured in the USA and even went to the paranoid lengths of only employing US citizens to produce it and only allowing Farah – at least the 50% of its production that hadn’t already been bought by J. C. Penney in the 1950’s- to be sold on US soil.
No wonder it became an object of desire to the hip counter-cultures of the 1960’s at home and abroad. Nope, kids, you weren’t the first to come up with the idea that highly controlled, “heritage” brands are cool…
In 1970, Farah opened a UK shop in the unlikely location of London’s Baron Street, near to Chapel Street Market and the Angel. Before Islington’s gentrification in the late 1970’s, it was still a pretty rough area. All the more reason for it to become a place of pilgrimage for Mods and, later, the Casuals.
Then that difficult thing that happens with popular and successful brands happened. By the late 1970’s, Farah’s appeal was so widespread that no longer could Casuals or Mods claim it as their own: their dads were wearing it too. Farah sort of descended into one of those brands more likely to be stocked in a suburban department store than in a secret supplier accessible only to those in the know. You could bet your bottom dollar that the guy with a comb-over chucking his car keys into the bowl on the coffee table at a suburban swingers’ party was going to be wearing stretch Farah’s to show that he was a cool cat worth of a night of bridled passion with his neighbour’s wife.
Eventually, the 1990’s rescued Farah’s image. The petulant and effete personalities of Brit Pop took it to their hearts, rekindling a younger public’s love for the brand based on a combination of genuine nostalgia and a penchant for anti-fashion learned from their big brothers’ 1980’s poseur antics. It was, undoubtedly one of the most successful cultural associations for the brand in a long time.
So, perhaps it’s not that weird that Farah’s SS16 collection and campaign once again looks to the early 1990’s. This time, it’s taking its inspiration from the self-made heroes of the art world. No doubt Farah is hoping to do with Brit Art what they previously pulled off with Brit Pop.
But fear not, it’s not really like the Brit Art scene of the 1990’s. Apart from the odd shirt that appears to be decorated with Damien’s dots, you won’t have to deal with anyone freaking out in the toilets at the Groucho Club at two in the morning or rinse the detritus of a badly managed kebab that that one, drunkenly whinging about how Jay Jopling hates him and that’s why he can’t get a gallery, dropped in your lap shortly before passing out at a bus stop in Shoreditch. Nah! It’s not really like Brit Art in the early 1990’s at all.
Rather, it’s a streamlined and practical collection, infinitely wearable. Apart from the odd nod to Damien Hirst’s dot paintings, there are almost no textile patterns involved with solid fields of colour, both primary bolds and muted pastels, dominating. Fuss and unnecessary detail have been completely removed. Instead, simplicity abounds. For example, in the slick longer jackets that are something of a hybrid between a traditional men’s raincoat and a machinist’s workshop jacket – even more so if you get it in ‘mechanic’ blue. Bermudas that are neither too baggy nor too tight promise to make summer comfortable. Bomber jackets, the incoming season’s tipped craze, are also in evidence, but with a less puffy (and basically, therefore less “figure fascist”) silhouette. And, of course, there are those Farah shirts in washed-out colours that look and feel even better the more you wash them.
In the 1990’s Farah was retro-hip. Now Farah is channelling the nineties to reassert its mojo. It all feels very circular. But it’s all good.