November 14th, 2009


A license to look strange, with the blessing of Bless

"The typical Bless shopper," reports Unlike Berlin, "is usually from Japan, subtly dressed in avant-garde from top to bottom and thrilled to spend about 500 Euros for a handbag that can also be turned into a sweater." I've been looking into the Bless store on Berlin's Mulackstrasse for six years and, yes, usually with a Japanese person. I even know Japanese Berliners (like jeweler Naoko Ogawa) who've interned with Desiree Heiss and Ines Kaag's conceptual clothes company.

What I've never done -- not until yesterday, anyway -- is bought an item of clothing at Bless. As the Unlike text suggests, it's absurdly expensive. You tend to go in there as you'd go to an art gallery, to admire the ideas. Bless is a master of eccentricity. Here you'll find outrageous combinations of things: a graph-paper shirt with a hood tucked into a little packet under the collar, another one with a sari-like scarf sewn onto the back, an enormously heavy chunky-knit sweater, a sort of toddler's garment with a huge middle-section that you have to scrunch up, accordion-style, by lacing braces around tabs. They also do decorated USB cables (a big influence on Hisae's Mizutani Cable Knit Company cottage industry, now discontinued because it was taking her a month to produce each cover), stools made of hollowed-out wood, and other curiosities. It's basically all stuff you've never seen anywhere else, though once you glom onto the ideas, you could probably go and do your own knock-off for a fraction of the price.

Yesterday, six years after starting to visit Bless regularly, I actually bought my first garment from them, the... well, the thing you can see in the photo (not the shaggy hood, which would have doubled the price). It's a pair of very wide felt trousers which dangle at the bottom of a tight woolen boob tube thing. Instead of being held up by a belt of some kind, the trousers are kept in place by the boob tube clinging to your chest.

I was only able to purchase this weird garment with the justification that I'll wear it on stage when I play my first-ever gig in Warsaw next weekend at the Song Is You Festival (my gig is on Sunday evening). And because it was in the Bless Workshop sale, where prices are deeply slashed. The sale is held in a different location, up in a wilderness of housing estates at the top end of Ackerstrasse, a place usually used to construct the clothes.

It was lots of fun trying improbable outfits on there yesterday with Emma and Joe and various strangers (we all shared one big dressing room). The thing about Bless clothes is that they're so bloody peculiar that putting them on is also dressing yourself in the permission to look that odd -- Bless' blessing, if you like. It's this legitimation of complete visual eccentricity, this implicit license to deviate, that interests me. It suggests a parallel world in which we're all allowed to look like kindly monsters on the street, like characters from Maurice Sendak.