Bobbing and Weaving

A Boozy Trade Show in Chelsea

"Well, actually, it says, 'Fuck shit up,' " Garth Cabral explains when he's asked about the faded Gothic lettering on a pair of soft cotton pants in the Cabral booth at TBC, a streetwear trade show in Chelsea that describes itself as being "like no other." It certainly is unique in one respect—there's an open bar starting at 10 a.m., so by the time the action really heats up, in early afternoon, a lot of the exhibitors are more than pleasantly soused.

According to Jono, one of the event's publicists, "It's a very egalitarian show! We didn't want the biggest bucks to overtake the new kids on the block, who, let's face it, tend to be the coolest ones. There are no maps; you're forced to weave in and out." So we weave, ignoring the installations set up by Adidas and other big-buck brands, seeking out instead companies with names like Chunk and Gsus.

At Outdoor Terrier, which is offering red-and-black checked wool jackets, the proprietor says the line is "very heavily themed. For spring, it's pirates and tropical paradise; for next winter it'll be cowboys and Indians."

Outdoor Terrier isn't the only business with a story line. The frustrated screenwriters at Trovata have whole scenarios behind their clothes. "Spring is blue-collar Caribbean—a blue-collar Tortola kid working in the cane fields. Then he scores a job on a yacht as a deckhand and gets luxury hand-me-downs!" explains the rep, a quintessential surfer boy who Jono is in love with. Fall is even more elaborate: "It's about a guy called Fenton Parrish, a Dickensian character who works as a blacksmith outside London until an anonymous benefactor gets him a job as a tailor's apprentice. It's all about roguish prankery." That, and blue cord trousers that have been artfully decorated with jacquard squares taken from an old sofa (their label says, "Exclusively for Fenton Parrish").

At Uru, the rep stage-whispers that he's not allowed to reveal exactly who designs the line, a brilliantly deconstructed group of patched shirts and charmingly ratty trousers. "It's a British gentleman and an Italian gentleman." Why do so many of the clothes feature overblown, cartoonish British pound signs? "When the Italian gentleman came to London, he was blown away by it."

Though much of the stock at TBC claims to be unisex, it tends toward extreme boyishness—humongous tees and stocking caps—so it is a relief to visit Wolves, which the designer describes as "the girliest line here." Our favorite Wolf is a slim checked reefer, with pink shoulder patches and a line of tiny, shiny snaps, that looks like a souped-up thrift shop coat. Asked how much influence mainstream fashion has on Wolves, the young designer says she doesn't pay it much mind, then two seconds later confesses to an affection for Chloe and Marc Jacobs.

When we see a guy hawking cashmere sweaters imprinted with Warhol's famous soup can, we playfully ask the wearer, who is also the seller, if he has the permission of the Warhol estate. Yes, he answers a bit too vociferously, but then again, maybe it's the beer talking. In any case, he's got other cashmeres we like too, especially one that carries the obscure legend "Less passion from less protein."

Though we're trying to avoid better-known brands, we make an exception for Stetson, which has been around since 1865, long before this notion of streetwear really caught on. (In fact, there were hardly any streets in this part of Manhattan in 1865.) Now the famous Stetson hats have been painted ("tattooed," according to the rep) with trailing flowers—"It was a custom ordered by one of the Dixie Chicks!" and superheroes—"Joey Fatone got this one!"

These are not the only celeb names being bandied about: At Teenage Millionaire, where the specialties include T-shirts that read "Jesus is my homeboy" and minis in a silvery chain-link-fence print the company refers to as urban Burberry, the rep trills, "Ashton, Ben, Demi all wear our stuff!"

Desperate for a dose of ennui, we sniff out Morphine Generation, where we're glad to hear that the name refers to "the numb, detached society we live in today." Still, as it turns out, Morphine's rep isn't all that numb and detached. "We started six months ago," he says, gazing fondly at a torn undershirt that reads "Filthy," "and we've already got every major account. We got Barneys! We got Fred Segal!"

 
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