One name sadly missing from the New York Fashion Week schedule was one of its most acclaimed and distinctive – Cloak. The six year old menswear label surprised many when its creator, Alexandre Plokhov announced that the S/S 07 collection would be his last, citing "partnership issues" as the reason for its closure.
Born in Narofminsk, Russia to a mother who worked in a parachute silk factory, he spent a spell as a specialist in the Soviet Strategic Missile Command, as unlikely a background for a fashion designer to have, but he says its influence is exaggerated - "I have always loved military uniform, even before I joined the military". After moving to New York, he worked for Marc Jacobs and Chado Ralph Rucci, before forming Cloak in 2000 with Robert Geller (who later left to create his own womenswear label, Harald).
Drawing from a shadowy austere palette, Plokhov conjured a wardrobe, nay a universe of smoky, poetic elegance. Russian aristocracy was lyrically melded to a gothic sensibility and punky underground attitude to create clothes that made the wearer feel heroic and powerful. His philosophy was that "it should take 15 minutes to notice if a gentleman is well-dressed." This translated to subtle poignant touches such as distressed, scrunched down boots or the yarn unraveling from a double breasted cardigan. His deeply personal take on masculinity mixed exquisite tailoring with military details, usually in luxurious fabric such as shearling, merino wool, cashmere and Harris tweed, culminating in the romantic decadence of his AW 06 collection. Fortunately for us, he ended Cloak on a high note with the SS 07 collection being one of his best – sharp New Wave accents of red and silver punctuating his usual sombre repertoire.
Through the seasons, he has taken inspiration from sources as diverse as Arctic explorers, WW1 heroes, William Gibson and tweedy professors. "I've never thought of the concept of a muse. I don't design with someone specific in mind. I start a new collection from the last one. My job is to oscillate. If I keep myself entertained, then my job is done." One constant is how much music fires his imagination - the Leningrad band Kino, inspired his first collection. And the love is reciprocal – bands that trade on the darker side of life such as Franz Ferdinand, Garbage, Elephant and Interpol have all championed him. And then there's that Goth tag that has haunted the label – "it didn't frustrate me. In a way, I'm quite proud. I love Bauhaus, Sisters of Mercy and Joy Division. But it's a bit of ignorance on the part of the journalist. I don't sleep in a coffin!"
Above you can see a selection of pictures from previous Cloak collections.
In its short time, Cloak has racked up some impressive accolades - from the 2005 CFDA Swarovski Perry Ellis Award for Menswear, the Ecco Domani award for menswear to runner-up for the 2004 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Foundation Fund Award. While lesser designers might have buckled under the pressure of the intense scrutiny awards like these could bring, for the seasoned Plokhov, "it gave us the opportunity to put on good shows". And what shows they were. Staged in unusual venues from Soho lofts to subterranean clubs, and bolstered by superb production values and dramatic music that ranged from opera to metal, they became events in their own right, packed to the rafters with fashion editors, rock stars and other hipsters of the downtown scene. "I think it's important to convey something more behind [the clothes]. Presentation is important. It all contributes to the brand." This was also reflected in the flagship store – a veritable treasure trove, done up like a library with herringbone floor and secret dressing rooms; a dandy's idea of heaven.
From starting his career as a tailor with his own atelier, he finally came full circle when he introduced Cloak Bespoke. Along with Thom Browne, he helped reintroduce the old fashioned importance of a good suit. "It becomes to a man what a couture gown is to a woman." Unlike Browne, he doesn't see a shift away from casual to a new formality – "It was just something I loved doing. But I don't see us returning to the 40's. There's not many opportunities to wear a suit in New York."
Of comparisons to that other champion of rock ‘n' roll youth, Hedi Slimane, Plokhov is flattered: "it's a great comparison but also rather silly. I respect what he does but I don't think there's any comparison. Dior is an international conglomerate and our company has never been bigger than five people." Instead, he bulked up the angular, pencil-thin silhouette, proving you didn't have to be an emaciated rocker to wear his clothes. "I wear my own clothes and I'm not a skinny guy. There is no one type. The range of people who buy Cloak is very broad."
Addicts hungry for a hit of Plokhov's style can satiate themselves temporarily when his collection for Japanese brand, Uniqlo hits the shops in July, part of Uniqlo's exciting series of partnerships with other designer auteurs (including Phillip Lim and Lutz and Patmos). It was a collaboration which took him to Japan for a week, which he described as "interesting. Tokyo is a whole different animal, and can be overwhelming. But I did enjoy it." Of what to expect from the fruits of this labour, he describes his capsule collection as "a postcard from New York."
Despite the problems that led to the closure of his label, Plokhov remains optimistic about the state of fashion today. "This says nothing [about the state of fashion]. Fashion is fine. It doesn't mean I'm retiring. I'm just going to be doing something else." Watch this space.