Challenging Masculinity – A Nowhere Man
Past the recently closed Dragon Bar on South Great George’s Street and before the lunch time queues of Boojum’s burrito bar leading out and up Camden Street, lies Aungier Street. Up until recently it sat watching and waiting, filling up with churches of old Dublin and South American cafes of new, until Brian Teeling and the Nowhere crew set it’s sights on it. In a 1600s building and replacing a womenswear boutique that lived there previously, Nowhere quietly established itself as one of the more progressive, and most exciting, explorations into menswear Dublin has ever seen.
Long sentenced to a life of Brown Thomas or Arnotts, men in Ireland have been forced to drag their wardrobe through the conservative ideas that oppressed the country since it’s founding. Nowhere stands upright and places a massive question mark at the end of the word ‘masculinity’, with mixed results. ‘I’m glad we haven’t gotten a middle of the road reaction, where people are ambivalent towards us. It’s a nice mix of people really loving the store and a few hating it, not getting it.’ says Nowhere co-founder, Brian Teeling.
While the likes of Irish designer J.W. Anderson controversially questions gender roles and social norms by putting men in dresses and asexual pieces on London’s runways, Brian feels this isn’t the only alternative to menswear. He thinks Anderson is ‘just for the shock factor, ‘oh a man in a dress and a frilly pair of shorts’, I find that a bit boring. I feel there’s a way of chalanging menswear with womenswear ideas in more interesting ways.’
Entering into Nowhere and it’s current collection doesn’t exactly scream ‘change’ and that really wouldn’t be the point. If change is gimmicky or tokenism then it’s hardly real change.
‘Mens fashion has always been slower than womenswear but you can see it catching up. I’ve always found difficulty in that statement because womenswear was always more design-led whereas mens fashion, for hundreds of years, has just been utility based, about covering the body, about keeping that square masculine form. And for new designers to break those rules, like Craig Green, he doesn’t care, he doesn’t want basic pieces in his collection. He has knitwear with a hole in the jumper. The whole in the neck is duplicated in the front and it’s cropped. Then he has a shirt that has an extra long back and padded jacket that’s like samurai armour. People still buy it and he’s one of the most recognised menswear designers in London at the moment.’
Masculinity has seen drastic change in the west recently and it’s even more prevalent here than most other places. ‘I remember back in mid-2000s,’ says Brian, ‘the indie-disco days, guys in like skinny jeans and you just got abused, so abused. Shouted at in the street, ‘why are you wearing girls jeans’ and stuff like that and now skinny jeans are everywhere. We’re almost at a point where we can say skinny jeans is almost like an old look now’. Society keeps trying to define masculinity but can’t quite keep it’s hands around it’s neck for long enough for us to get a good look at it anymore. Manliness is ultimately now as fluid and as fleeting an idea as ‘being cool’.
Helping lead this change are a wealth of young design talent that Nowhere takes particular pride in. ‘It certainly stands out a lot more because we’re stocking young Irish designers like Alan Taylor, or the likes of Craig Green and Matthew Miller, big names in London at the moment. Along with some really interesting brands from Germany, bags by Porter in Japan. Even utility pieces, like our raincoats are from Sweden. When people come into the store and look at like a piece from Craig Green which is a runway piece, design-led let’s say, and then they pick up a raincoat, which is this utility, uniform. People think, ‘what’s the correlation here’. It’s a tiny bit schizophrenic in that way. Normally a store will go for just one of those ideas, a heritage store or a fashion-led store for example and the way we have a mix of them is kind of unique… You can find like a basic white shirt or a simple jumper or a no frills jacket but you can also go in and buy a Kimono from Craig Green or a big sparkly coat by Alan Taylor and a pair of simple Raf Simons Adidas. I don’t think we’re subscribing to just one school of thought.’
Although Nowhere takes pride in being very Dublin, Brian admits that it still has some way to go yet. ‘London is spearheading it at the moment, it’s more progressive I feel but it’s like a mix of that heritage with fussy tailoring, Savile Row is so important to the British fashion industry. Then you have Topman, a highstreet retailer, championing all these designers. So it’s quite a mix, lots of concept driven collections and lots of black and gray suits, it’s strange.’
With the help of Indigo & Cloth and Castle & Drury, Dublin is experiencing a new life of menswear. Simply by providing options.
To quote one of Nowhere’s mantras – ‘Masculinity is a construct that demands to be challenged, reinvented and re-contextualised.’. The sooner we stop demanding men and women dress and act certain ways the sooner we can all be free, the sooner men can admit to caring about how they look without the guidance of the likes of Conor McGregor or the most popular football player of the day. Feminism isn’t just beneficial to women. Nowhere certainly isn’t a blatant bastion of progress but it’s a step in the right direction, and if it’s recent podcast is anything to go by, it won’t simply sit around with ‘Masculinity?’ nicely typesetted in white on a black painted boutique. Nowhere means business.
Words and photos: Azzy O’Connor
a Nowhere Man online site: aNowhereMan