2020 has brought unprecedented change to the ways that we all live, work, and consider the future. For Lauren Yates, who has lovingly blended all three aspects in her blog, Ponytail Journal, and brand, W’menswear, these are strange times indeed.
“One thing that I’m thinking about right now is what is the next step. What will the new collection look like, and I hate to use this word, but what is the ‘new normal’ for buying clothes and consuming fashion? What does it mean to be a small brand in this weird and uncertain landscape?”
While her 5 years as leader of the brand W’menswear may not have explicitly prepared her for a global pandemic, Lauren’s latest collection has coincidentally allowed her to consider the current themes of isolation and discovery through a historical lens.
W'menswear SS20 Moodboard
“The 2020 spring-summer collection that is in stores now is based on the Tektite II program, which was the first test program for an all-female scientific team to live under the ocean for 2 weeks in the virgin islands.”
In 1970, a crew of five women, led by Dr. Sylvia Earle, lived for two weeks at a depth of 15 meters beneath the surface of the Great Lameshur Bay in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Their efforts were essential to understanding pollution’s impact on marine life, the development of self-contained underwater breathing apparatus, or SCUBA gear, and a modern scientific understanding of the interaction between the natural environment and the human body and mind.
“It was so much fun to research, and we used that research in a lot of the designs.”
For instance, the sub-aquatic sweat from W’menswear incorporates technology that one would find in a wetsuit. The mesh construction creates pockets of warm air when worn as an undergarment, but allows air to flow freely otherwise.
“I love this whole process because it gives me so much to think about - how we evolved as human beings and how modern history has affected our society.”
Much like the women of the Tektite II program, people observing shelter-in-place and social distancing orders find themselves in unfamiliar confinement. And much like cold-war society, we are torn between fear and hope for what the future may hold. Ever the optimist, Lauren sees a silver lining in the dark cloud that threatens to hover for years in the form of a global depression.
“There is a lot of uncertainty about job security and income for a big portion of the whole planet, but out of this craziness I am seeing a lot of radical change happening, and people wanting change. With the Australian Bushfires, I saw a preview of this epic global situation in the Australian market. [Their economy] got hit really hard by the fires, and I could see such an immediate reaction to the way people came together and changed their consumer behavior. People want transparency, they want to know where their money is going, and they don't want to invest in destroying the planet anymore. So I'm just riding on that positivity and reevaluating, pulling things in, making the collection more condensed and putting more of my activism into the [it] as well.”
This activism takes several forms, though Lauren focuses much of her energy on preserving what she perceives to be the lifeblood of an alienated industry. Rather than draw inspiration from Instagram or trend forecasters, she says “The outside world is so much more inspiring, and that's how you get a unique perspective. By drawing inspiration from your own life, the music that you listen to, in my case, where I dig for vintage, or my activities like surfing, watching birds, and cooking. This is the good energy that keeps my brain ticking.”
*Lauren and mom out for fishing
Lauren’s collections get their eclectic character from a diverse range of inspirations, but maintain a cohesive aesthetic as all of these influences are filtered by the discretion of her taste. In her 2020 warm-weather capsule, she incorporates design cues from all over the globe.
“The Mosquito Dress is based on the traditional Japanese mosquito nets called Kaya. They are made of hemp and I found one at the Yoyogi Park flea in Tokyo a while back. I ended up building a four-poster bed at home using the net to keep bugs out in the summer months. I kept thinking about how beautifully the net draped over the bed and how the smell of the hemp made the room feel. That's kinda the precursor to how the mosquito dress was born. It reminds me of camping out in the humid heat of summer.
Further along the route of her vintage marine tangent, Lauren also arrived at the sealab pants.
“The Sealab pants are based on a French Naval trouser from the turn of the century. Every season I go to the Puces de Clignancourt with my buddy Nigel Cabourn to look at vintage. These pants were so unique... the both of us see a lot of vintage (him a lot more than I) and we had never seen such a style of work-pant. They popped out at me because I felt they fit perfectly with the SS20 concept, as much of the gear worn for scientific fieldwork was adapted from the navy or military. It took a lot of work to adapt the huge, heavy canvas pants into what they are now but they have become a timeless WM shape for the brand.”
Like any good vintage-inspired piece, the sealab pants have a timeless intrigue that is apparent when they are brand new, which will only deepen with wear.
By incorporating real experiences, and pieces of personal narrative into design and fashion, Lauren hopes that people will celebrate the things that they create and buy.
“People think in so many different ways, and places like Mannahatta are like oases of weird creative juju. That’s one thing I actually really want to create more awareness about right now.”
With the help of conscientious consumers, small brands like W’menswear and independent shops like Mannahatta will persist. Regardless, Lauren Yates is not too concerned about contriving a place for her brand in the new world. She has never cared for trends, opting instead to build W’menswear and Ponytail Journal around what interests her on a personal level. Because small brands like hers are driven by authenticity and curiosity, they have an enduring but ephemeral ‘cool’ that large brands who rely on trend forecasting can never seem to catch.
In Lauren's own words, “People are smart, and they can see real and fake. They can feel it in their gut. Forever cool is just being real.”
Words by Dominic Frost
Photo by Eric Kvatek , Weeravit Arunchaochai