All images courtesy of Jean-Philippe Woodland
Fraser Laing is an utter tonic. Bright, articulate, a goldmine of arcane fashion knowledge, not to mention politics, class systems, military attire and all manner of detailing connected to the masculine wardrobe – all of which he dispenses freely and in such an engaging way that I changed direction immediately. All my carefully prepared questions went out of the window – instead I decided to enjoy the ride and just see where Mr. Laing would take me. A spectacle-obsessed friend had told me about Arckiv – when she gets excited about a place you know it’s going to be quite something. A collection of spectacles like no other, according to her. And the owner remarkably passionate about the subject. Sounded good, definitely worth a nose although frankly I expected a polite chit-chat about this frame versus that frame, references to a couple of old-school masters of speccy-ness, good old Marcello Mastroianni and dear Michael Caine with the younger Yves Saint Laurent thrown in, couple of pics, bobs your uncle. Job done, time for a quick ice cream at Chin Chin’s and back to Volt Café HQ, no one any the wiser.
However… Fraser is passionate about men’s clothing. He feels the very crux of it is to be found in vintage army apparel. It is almost a philosophy of life with parallels to how we live today. Back then you’d pretty much wear the one coat all your life, just as you’d stay in the same job and with the same partner. Your surroundings would have been sparse, making every single thing you owned stand out all the more. A lock of your beloved’s hair; a letter or a little keepsake would have been unimaginably precious to you. Similarly, your coat would have been mended and cared for, you would have known the provenance of every stitch, every patch, somehow this coat of yours would have taken on an almost exoskeletal importance. Whereas now we chop and change relentlessly, new job, new partner, new things – it never ends and yet it never seem to sate us.
Fraser thinks a return to more individualistic clothing is what is called for. Something that’s not done merely for the sake of profit, not meant to be churned out or mass-produced. Where detailing, fabrics, buttons take on a life of their own. Something you wear, not the other way round. That always looks right, whatever the situation. It is so refreshing hearing someone say that as long as the shop ticks over, he’s happy. No ‘Big I Am’ plans of expansion or a string of outlets – he is much more interested in making just enough to be able to keep pursuing his quest of finding the ultimate stash of mint fresh vintage army wear. Already his collection seem vast, yet each piece appears to be special in its own right. You can tell his enormous fire for the subject.
He is like a truffle hound of vintage, always alert for a tip off. Walking around Arckiv, it feels as if I’ve been given free access to the V&A’s fashion collection. Gorgeous shirts are tied together in stacks of ten, still with the original ribbon. A coat looks immaculate, folded just the way it was delivered 70 or more years ago. Linings are covered in ink stamps showing the names of long-forgotten factories and the owner’s name handwritten next to it. Fraser keeps pointing out the beautiful detailing in the vintage military coats, even in a pair of men’s underpants. It makes you realize how truly shoddy most fashion is. What is the point of going to great pains looking after yourself physically and mentally if you then dress in the equivalent of a McDonald’s burger?
Laing argues that a surfeit of things makes you restless. Our animal selves, who are never that far below the thin veneer of so-called 21st Century sophistication, simply can’t cope.
As a first step towards the emancipation of your inner animal, take yourself to Arckiv, Fraser’s incredible gallery and shop in Camden. It is a place of pure beauty, filled with quirky details and the first few fledgling designs from his menswear label. Although I’m now encouraging you to buy, this is a sustainable, organic purchase. Of an item (or maybe several) of honest allure. Which no one else will have. Oh, and there are some very covetable spectacle frames as well. Might help you see clearer…
The Stables Market,
Chalk Farm Road,
London NW1 8AH
Words by Anna Bang
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