The Cult Of The White Shirt



I have an obsession with white shirts. It’s not just a case of ‘liking’ white shirts, it’s more that I find them calming, inversely pornographic (considering a white shirt’s inherent purity) and, when done well, an act of near perfect creation.

A lot of people think that a white cotton shirt is just a white cotton shirt. Two arms, cuffs and a collar stitched to a three piece body of aesthetic nothingness. Well, those people should bask in the asymmetrical complexity of a Yohji Yamamoto shirt, or the uniquely long cassock hem of Dries Van Noten’s subtly embellished beauty. The thing is, unless they are initiated into The Cult Of The White Shirt, all they will see is unimaginative Mike From Marketing, or a safely Uniqloed waiter sleepwalking his shift at Cafe Rouge.

In the 90s motoring journalists used to call the new breed of high performance saloon cars ‘Q cars’. It referred to the unassuming exteriors of autobahn leviathans like the BMW M5, the Audi S8 or the Mercedes 560 AMG. The term came from the clandestine British ‘Q Boats’ used to whopping effect in WWII. Unless you were working for the admiralty or similarly a dyed in the wool petrol head, you’d never know the difference between a Q Boat and a fishing vessel, a pant-wetting M5 and a soul destroying diesel 525 (and neither, presumably, would the Germans or the highway patrol).

This needing-to-be-in-the-know is only part of the Q Shirt’s appeal. It’s also a reaction to the overwhelming colour complexity of modern clothing, the lurid oranges and incandescent greens that are selected by the shadowy illuminati who dictate next year’s designer trends. I wear Comme Des Garçons white tunic shirts from 1992, slim fitting Margiela numbers from 2003; no one knows the vintage except the other freaks like me. The white is a whitewash, an act of total secrecy. No one knows my brand allegiances, my bank balance or my origins. It’s armour.

In his wonderfully fruity autobiography ‘My Dear Bomb’, Yohji Yamamoto talks about how his clothing is designed to protect the wearer from unwelcome prying eyes. His designs are the polar opposite of a close cut Dolce & Gabbana cocktail dress, designed to draw the eyes to the waist and bum. Although he was mainly talking about women, I have adopted this philosophy with gusto. 90% of the time I wear white shirts with black Yohji trousers: they render me sexless, neither gay nor straight, and entirely judged on my wits or my witlessness. It leaves me almost invisible, except to TITK (Those In The Know) of course. Add me to a gallery opening or a fashion week party and I’m the belle of the ball. My white shirt is admiringly mauled by Nicotine stained fingers and I feel like I’m attending a fascist rally in ’41, there’s such a notable absence of colour in the room.

All a white shirt possesses in order to prove its worth is it’s fabric, cut and construction, nothing more. In a industry where perceived differentiation is everything and the marketing dollar king, the great white shirt is the ultimate stealth luxury. Devoid of distortion or hyperbole, it’s just there. I’ll never forget that scene in 1986’s ‘9 And A Half Weeks’ when we finally see inside Mickey Rourke’s wardrobe: there’s just piles of immaculately folded white Hugo Boss shirts and identical grey suits. I’m pretty sure I exhaled a thirty second “coooooooollll” in admiration (for those of you under 30, Hugo Boss was once fashionable). In retrospect this was fairly OCD behaviour and supposedly a sign that all was not well with Rourke’s character, but thankfully that went completely over my head at the time.

Finding my first truly great white shirt was a fashion watershed for me. The Jil Sander masterpiece in question bubbled and eventually burst it’s collar from fanatical raw-skinned bleaching, its owner starkly aware that it was going to take a bottle of chloroform and a hostage situation to get his fiancée to allow him to buy another. But of course procure another (a gross understatement if there ever was one) I did.

And what of a white shirt’s purity? I’m a 42 year old man and a fairly battle-scarred one at that. I feel like I’ve seen too much, imbibed too much, thought too many questionable thoughts and acted on too many questionable impulses. However, I don my uniform (for that’s what it is) and I’m temporarily pure again; walking down some metaphorical aisle in some imaginary church in mid 50s New Zealand, unsullied by the Internet, by too many late nights and too much freedom. It’s me putting some aesthetic shackles on myself, reigning myself in and allowing my actions to do the talking, opposed to letting loud mass market fashion shout my entrance into every room. I also love taking it off, looking at the stained cuffs and collar, seeing the city’s filth and squalor absorbed into my armour, leaving me unsullied like the outer layer of a spent cigarette filter. In essence, the white shirt for me is a delicious tonic to the modern malaise, an escape from brand tribalism, and an absolute bastard to keep clean.

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The Young Gentlemen’s Adventure Society/Parada 88 – Adventure Party / You’re Gonna Miss Me


Well, this has been a long, cold and oddly bleak road to finding some new music worth posting on Heads Down. After sending out a disarmingly sad request on Facebook for something fresh to beat my drum over (as it were) the answer was sitting buried in my inbox all along. While not wildly upfront anymore (as it was when the promo was sent, natch), The Young Gentlemen’s Adventure Society/Parada 88 – Adventure Party / You’re Gonna Miss Me is exactly the kind of record that frees the crumbs of long forgotten lost weekends from arterial plaque.

International Feel is a label that seems to have it’s heart in the right place. Some questionable bootlegs aside, the label has brought some wonderful esoterica to the Balearic feast. Who could forget Harvey’s Locussolus project , Gatto Fritto’s killer debut album (how incredible was The Curse?) and Mark Barrott’s sun-soaked 2014 release (the man behind the label in question). I keep thinking International Feel is new jack, but when I looked at  the discography tonight I realised I’m just getting old and forgetful.

Anyway, this is a killer record. A totally and unashamedly peak of the night banger (A side) foiled by a no less up-for-it chuggathon  (B side); this is ecstasy music for openminded floors with epilepsy-inducing lighting rigs. Mark previously put it out in 2011 (I think there were 30 copies pressed- ha!) and it appeared on a CD compilation (another promo I totally slept on) but when’s it’s this hot it would be churlish to not move the crowd with a fresh press and a digital release. Buy it, put it on, and stagger around the lounge with a big dumb grin on your sweaty face.

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Pleats: not just for Vectra-driving carpet salesmen



I am a pleated trousers kind of guy. I do like a bit of motion-fuelled air conditioning down below. The last few years of high crotch, tightly tailored trousers have been a war of attrition for me, despite my initial excitement at the silhouette’s promise of endorphin overload and dapper insouciance.

Coming from 15 years of daily jean wearing (was there anything else for a twenty something male in the 90’s?) the idea of anything other than Japanese denim had a feeling of taboo and hitherto unexplored territory about it. When I rebelled against denim it wasn’t so much disinterest as absolute excommunication. I had a sudden realisation that everyone, irrespective of culture, race or age was starting to look the same. It was like I was starring in my own baggy-jeaned Orwellian nightmare. Accountants dressed as giant babies and vice versa; it was becoming a depressing and awkwardly comical situation. If approached on the street you didn’t know if you were about to be robbed or drafted by the Jesuits.

To be honest, my journey into ‘slim fit’ started with jeans: I had two pairs of Dior selvage jeans that were the objects of much hilarity for my friends in 2005 (my wife actually wears them now, with far more savoir faire than I could ever muster). From this unsteady sartorial adolescence soon began the slide (or squeeze) into a pair of Jil Sander trousers, trousers that made me dress to the left whether I liked it or not. Then there were the Dries Van Noten pants that seemed to make me limp slightly. It was a time when I believed there was a nobility in suffering to look good, akin to the way women suffer physically with high heels and metaphysically with wedding hats.

It was years before I discovered the pleat. It was always something I associated with the kind of 55 year old men you regularly see on the tube: the men who have given up, succeeded to a life of crisps, horrific square-toed shoes and alimony. Then again, try telling that to Rei Kawakubo. Comme Des Garçons have made voluminous pleated trousers a longterm staple of their Homme Plus range and for good reason. Not only are they supremely comfortable, but they drape magnificently. She nearly always uses the perfect weight of gabardine, causing the trousers to shift and float, in turn giving the wearer an almost balletic elegance.

The Japanese in general have a thing with pleats: Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto are both known for their baggy, pleated aesthetic and now the Europeans are in on the act. Balenciaga, Dries Van Noten (finally) and Maison Martin Margiela (with limited success) all free the crown jewels. Realistically, these houses are probably jumping in for trend relevance rather than a philosophy of true comfort. You see that’s where I’ve arrived sartorially- the place where comfort is king. I am the personification of Japanese deconstruction. I billow down the street like an extra in an antipodean TV remake of ‘The Seven Samurai’, worrying about what the hell I’m going to wear if I ever have to get a real job. What would I wear? I have one Jil Sander navy suit that I got married in, and the rest of my wardrobe is left-field Yohji, CDG, Margiela, Damir Doma and Dries Van Noten; not exactly corporate clobber or sufficiently absorbent of spitting burger grease.

In the end pleats are freedom and movement. They’re only good if the fabric’s the right weight and quality, and if the cut’s razor sharp. You have to invest- Topshop will never deliver the true dyed in the wool Yohji, Issey or Comme experience. And I for one, however snobbishly, rather like that fact.

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A big hat for a big head…

hills amend

I was super lucky today to be invited down by Simon Smuts-Kennedy (aka Hat Man) of Hills Hats in Wellington to come up with a bespoke hat. I’ve never had a beautiful head phallus before, let alone one made especially for me. Hills has been around since 1875, but it’s Simon and his team that have turned a venerable local business into a global contender. They now make hats for the Louis Vuitton owned R.M Williams (boom!), while servicing the local and global hat market. Luckily they also do custom commissions for flashy nerds like me (and those lovely  geezers from Fat Freddy’s Drop, who are practically Hills Hats ambassadors). Simon is a marketeer par excellence, but it’s his infectious enthusiasm for what he does that makes you want to OWN.

Hills 1Hills 2Hills 3Hills 4


The joy of bespoke is witnessing the touch and feel process, the hard-earned craft and feeling the anticipation for the emergence of this beautiful thing that only you will own. Once we got over the mutual embarrassment of measuring my freakishly big head (61.5cm if you must know), the morning progressed like some kind of sartorial masturbatory fantasy.

Hills 7Hills 8Hills 9Hills 10

It actually started a few weeks ago with the choosing of my reference. I was channeling a Yohji Yamamoto Pour Homme AW14 number: a turned wide brim fedora with a crested crown. It has a kind of a Hasidic-Jew-meets-1940’s-dandy-who-thinks-he’s-a-cowboy-in-the stairwell-of-Dover-St-Market slash RUN DMC type vibe, if you know what I mean. It’s not like I was going to choose a trilby, right? I believe that if you’re going to do these things, go hard! We spent some time selecting the correct weight and flexibility of felt and then booked in a time to come and get busy. Bruce (the maestro behind the creation of my fedora) pre prepared the basic shape of the hat the night before, so when I arrived it was workably dry and we could get straight to the sweet stuff.

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From the blocking to the steam-forming to the trimming, a real sense of proportion is required to get the result. Watching Bruce hand cut the brim without a chalk guide made me anxious then amazed at his surety. Because I wanted something off-piste (they used a military dress hat block to achieve the high crown on mine) there was a lot of consorting between Simon and Bruce to get it right… Which they did first time. I’m a fervent critic of mass-produced fast fashion, so this has been a wonderful experience. I thoroughly agree with Vivienne Westwood, who says it’s better to save your pennies for something that’s made with love by people who care about the details. Hills Hats are total proponents of that.

final amend

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m already planning my next three (I’m a freak like that). I’m thinking a jet black wide brimmed panama for summer- what would you rock?





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Black Deer ‘Circle Dance’


I can’t stop listening to this. ‘Circle Dance’ is as much a Post-Punk or Krautrock record as it is house music (if we must revert to these tired genre descriptions). That reverbed, echoing guitar is as close to Johnny Marr as to anything from the black foundations of dance music.
William Burnett (Black Deer) has been steadily putting out records that’ve been getting mad ‘spect without having to get all Miami Conference about it. Deep and full of dub aesthetics, ‘The Last Tortuga’ (from whence this came) is taken from the same sessions that yielded the Willie Burns ‘The Overlord’ EP on Trilogy Tapes and Black Deer’s Trail Of Tears EP on Rush Hour.
This is a cracking six track EP, full of ambience, darkness, tempting glimpses of light and uncomfortable abrasion. In entirety it’s not for everyone, but ‘Circle Dance’ is a cross genre beauty that demands your ears. Buy it here.

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DJ Fett Burger & Telephones ‘Tutti Frutti del Mar’


The good thing about not blogging for an inexcusable length of time (the only good thing) is that the platters that matter really rise to the top in your collection, leaving the tunes that perhaps initially dripped with lascivious promise sadly languishing in a hallway pile that my 11 month old will inevitably turn into his frisbee collection. Telephones’ ‘Rytmenarkotisk’ was the track that everyone lost their shit over on this 12″ (and very nicely executed it is too) but the the one for me is the B-side’s ‘Tutti Frutti del Mar’. It’s a weird, heavily swung, tripped out beast, that’s quite well produced (not nearly as cohesively as the A Side however) but makes up for any dynamic deficiencies with serious personality and some brilliantly wonky synth and bass work.

The Sex Tags UFO label is on a bit of a roll at the moment: the new ‘Speckbass’ 12″ sounds good (if a little busy) and the earlier ‘Disco Tre’ 12″ was brilliantly overwrought in a way that I don’t entirely approve of but can’t help shaking my ass to anyway. The best thing about this bunch is their unpredictability: I can read their influences loud and clear (good U.S house, dub disco etc) but they flip the script by releasing these bloody-minded records that are just a wee bit off, a wee bit WRONG. And that, in the rather anodyne world of electronic dance music, can’t be a bad thing.

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Emiliana Torrini ‘Speed Of Dark’ (Andrew Weatherall Remix)


Yes yes, I know- this is by no means new. But instead of the knee-jerk of the shiny, this is a piece of music that has so insinuated itself into my DJ sets this year that I had to finally get my ass into gear and blog it. This record is a utopian blend of 90’s and contemporary Weatherall: a low slung, bluesy and impeccably produced piece of subversive Balearic pop.

The fact that it hasn’t been released on vinyl makes me want to walk into the Rough Trade office with a waistcoat packed with dynamite… Come on pilgrims!

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Eno Louis ‘Hot Love’


My old school friend Justin Atkinson pointed me towards this beauty, newly released on the curatorial purveyor of all things lost, funky and African that is Voodoo Funk. They’re having a bit of a moment right now: their last two disco releases have both been heaters (especially the Tony Grey 12″) and despite being remastered a little heavy handedly (a wee bit too much compression for my taste) they’re providing a run of essential records for DJs who play to the fruitier, more open minded floors.

 The track in question heralds from Benin City, Nigeria, was recorded in the early 80s and manages to sound like Bush Tetras meets Shiva Williams at a Talking Heads’ sex party. It’s heavy, bass driven gear that needs to be heard loud to be fully felt. Not to be missed.

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LX ‘Synchro Swim’


I’m totally off the pace on this one (its pretty much sold out everywhere bar LN-CC, last time I checked), but this Lexx edit of ‘Black Stations/White Stations’ is the splice of the year for me, hands down. Absolutely perfect dancefloor-detonating arrangement, nice mastering… Fire in the hole! When Lexx is going to bestow upon us another long overdue original production is the next question. Come on AS, streets is watching. Buy it here- quickly.

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Maricopa ‘Pastel Love’ (Part One)


In my last post I bemoaned the dogged repetitiveness of le dance, especially the so-called Nu-Balearic genre (*puts finger gun in mouth and pulls air trigger*). If I hear another heavily reverbed guitar I’ll have no choice but to go postal on Golborne Rd. I say this because I know that that sorry, vapid nonsense has about as much to do with the glorious Ibiza of yesteryear as, say, the Blue Marlin bar, or Calvin Harris at Amnesia. Despite being on a label called ‘Back To The Balearics’ (named I presume to assist dangerously hungover record store employees with categorisation) this is subtle, nostalgic and ethereal music that never once feels cliched.

For me, the whole record’s most endearing attribute is it’s sonic lack of ambition. This is a four track record based around a single synth sound, some subtle pads, snapping drums and bass. Almost every track on the 12″ ploughs the same furrow, but each incarnation is absolutely sublime. That alone speaks volumes about the confidence of whomever’s behind this, and ensures that I’ll be fiending for Part Two.

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