As the European season draws to a close, trends in apparel begin to emerge and collections gain renewed significance through comparison with peers. Always lodestars of the industry, Fashion Weeks across Europe have recently experienced a notable shift in energy.
London is reclaiming its throne as a bastion for cutting-edge tailoring, with Savile Row heritage seeping into high-concept collections well received by critics, despite a two-day overlap with menswear mecca Pitti Uomo.
More important is Milan’s decline in perception by many in the industry – considering it more of a manufacturer’s paradise than an artistic hub. Indeed, doing business in the Italian stronghold has become more difficult for young designers without fiscal backing or multi-year marketing plans. Nonetheless, established Italian houses continue to churn out laser-sharp collections and the success of brands like Brunello Cucinelli S.p.A. and Moncler on the Milanese stock market is an omen for more commercialization in the future.
Paris, on the other hand, is experiencing a renaissance of international creative energy. Pop-ups from New York City, Los Angeles and Tokyo dotted the Gallic metropolis as fresh faces, innovative installations and superstar runway shows overshadowed even a philandering president. The entire city was awash with talent from around the globe less interested in selling product and more focused on networking, collaborating and seeking inspiration from their French hosts.
Overall, it was a sensational month for menswear. Here, I celebrate some of the biggest trends to hit the runways this January.
The street has taken over high fashion. It seems as if every brand has borrowed one streetwear element or another – creating a bubble up effect.
Sneakers – surprise, surprise – remain a high-fashion flagship. Lanvin did them. So did Margiela and Dior and Givenchy. So did everyone else. They’re almost all derivatives of your favorite Nike, adidas or Converse but better…because they’re expensive?
Bottega Veneta re-appropriated the jogger pant in jewel tones and versatile heather gray, imbuing it with an extra-long knitted cuff. They may be unoriginal but they’re the most perfect iteration of the pant yet.
Meanwhile, perhaps various brush-ins with the law have left Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana with a longing for the “good old days” of regal discretion. They took a streetwear aesthetic and made it their own through the lens of Norman grandeur. In Milan, street staples of oversized prints, “look at me” accessories (bejeweled gloves and chain-mail snoods) and metallic outerwear took on new life. Rappers pay attention – Dolce crowns are the new Margiela masks.
Menswear is finally catching up to couture when it comes to experimentation with silhouette.
KTZ churned out its best collection to date – full of hyper-styled combinations that brought signature prints together with expertly cut jackets-over-shorts-over-leggings with hoodies-over-all-of-that. Looking past the face-painted models and occult imagery, each piece is surprisingly wearable.
Saint Laurent brought it back to sleazy 1960s Las Vegas with glittering oversized blazers, drainpipe jeans and razor-cut varsity jackets. Critics compare Slimane’s Saint Laurent to Topshop for the use of in-vogue prints and accessories, but his ability to cut clothing is unparalleled. The voluminous punk rock ballet of Mr. Slimane’s latest is further testament to his talent.
Haider Ackerman displayed perhaps the most sophisticated use of fit by pairing slouchy striped jackets and magnificent ikat-print blazers with overflowing silk scarves, drop-crotch pants and leather trousers. His collection remains a standout - artfully combining historical cues with futuristic styling. It’s de rigueur, attention-grabbing and yet thoroughly masculine.
Finally, wrinkled, glossy leather pants and Storm Trooper duck boots at Alexander Wang cut the perfect contrast, as did the designer’s blacked-out collection for Balenciaga. Mr. Wang’s seasonal suit is one of his most refined exercises in volume yet.
Three labels deserve a gold star for use of pattern this season.
Brioni was a sleeper hit, creating my favorite piece of the year – a patterned suit belted like a kimono. Brendan Mullane was inspired by label co-founder Gaetano Savini’s trip to Japan in 1963, borrowing a color palette from Caravaggio and folding it onto Japanese suiting wools for a unique perspective. The patterns are both exotic and subtle. The tailoring is superb. There are silk bomber jackets with hand-painted crane emblems. Price-available-upon-request.
Paul Smith also killed it, going the Aztec beatnik route. Musical notes are woven into a tapestry pattern on chukka boots, sweaters, square scarves and a belted trench. Jungle Book-style illustrations also show up. Sequins on shoes and dusty-pink flamingo symbols; palm tree shirt-jackets and a gold camel charm necklace. Leather pants and a suede crew neck sweatshirt further prove the influence of street style. It’s all just eccentric enough to work.
Yohji Yamamoto’s embrace of pattern was this season’s biggest surprise. He maintained his usual flow of expertly-layered garments but switched out the customary black monochrome for a dizzying array of motifs – including schemes of camouflage, multiple floral prints, flaming skulls, hallucinogenic illustrations of snakes wrapped around grapevines and even a weathered portrait of himself on the back of a leather jacket. It took a designer in his 70s to reinvent the field he pioneered.
Tone-on-tone is still a trend in full gear. Berluti is doing it with chocolate brown shearling, COMME des GARCONS in black pinstripes, Thom Browne in tweed (and bunny masks), Bottega Veneta in desert camel, and Hermes – flawlessly – in glimmering charcoal sharkskin and supple suede.
Indeed, Hermes continues to set a standard for how to select pristine fabrics and cut them into monochromatic looks that double as poetry. Elegance personified would rock this season’s single-breasted stone/taupe overcoat look. He also might slip on a black croc varsity jacket before sneaking out, unnoticed, for a decadent night out.
Umit Benan used his collection not just to “fight racism” but also to display old-school active Americana on a dirt field runway. Alexander Wang showed leather baseball jerseys and Givenchy’s entire show took place in an MMA ring. The technical and heritage appeal of sporting fabrics cannot be overstated.
There will be more athletic-influenced high fashion in the future.
Despite the hyperbole and Kardashians that waft around Mr. Kanye West – there’s restraint in his latest A.P.C. collection. None of the pieces are groundbreaking but they’re exemplary of sophisticated, low-key, slightly subversive sportswear.
Raf Simons and Sterling Ruby teamed up to create something that looked like Hood by Surface to Air – replete with boxy fits, bold graphics (drawing from Great White Sharks, daddy issues and outer space) and patched-up knitwear. The aesthetic is quirky and packed full of design flourishes. Already established as a Fashion Week favorite, each piece presented served more as an artifact than an item of clothing – draped carefully in Ruby’s trademark spray paint pattern, embroidered elaborately with throwback punk rock patches or emblazoned with iconography harkening to Simons’ teenage years. Layers of references from Google Image searches to experimental filmmaking allowed this collection to walk the line between passive and active as well as art and fashion.
These were two of the most highly anticipated collections of the season, despite both pairing untrained designers with masters of their craft. The formula works. Look for more high-end collaborations in the future – not between mass retailers and niche designers but rather esteemed fashion houses and contemporary artists.
Carven x Christopher Wool anyone? The Show is Overcoat.
Douglas Brundage has written about fashion and marketing for several years, with an emphasis on trends and culture. He currently lives and works in New York City.