Tailors of the unexpected (Financial Times How to Spend it)

The relaunch of the Mugler menswear label this year was a typically excitable Major Fashion Event. The autumn/winter show in Paris mixed dark pantomime with self consciously edgy high-shine glamour. Male models’ faces appeared to be dipped in black, Satanic, glossy tar and – with Lady Gaga’s stylist on board as new creative director – there was an avalanche of fashion blog hyperbole and frantic trending on Twitter. For anyone disinterested in such things, it represented a parallel universe that will never have a sense of its own ridiculousness. Eyes rolled… And yet, while there were bald-headed men with sinister full facial and cranial skull tattoos stalking the runway, there were also, quietly strolling behind them, some of the sharpest, most appealing suits that you can buy right now.

Mugler A/W 2011

For all of high fashion’s most outré theatrics, many of the world’s directional designers – many of them better known for their paparazzi-baiting womenswear – also have some of the very best, most luxurious and smartest men’s tailoring. While showtime is intended to grab the attention of the most jaded of the world’s fashion editors with a nosebleed soundtrack, when it comes to what the buyers order, the edit is credible and commonsensical. What these designers bring to the cutting table – and what makes them worth considering as an alternative to Jermyn Street and Savile Row – is a touch of irreverence and a strong sense of body consciousness that can inject the business wardrobe with individuality and power.

Some directional designers have developed entirely separate lines to hone their men’s tailoring, like Comme des Garçons’ Homme Deux range, which designer Rei Kawakubo describes as ‘suits for the handsome mind – where casual becomes smart and smart doesn’t have to mean stiff.’ The Homme Deux range represents a mix and match collection of jackets and trousers that would be the perfect capsule wardrobe for a less formal business trip.

Maison Margiela’s 14 label is focused on relaxed, classic tailoring. If anything, it looks more reassuringly ‘old fashioned’ than what many brands are striving for at the moment with their kooky truncated lengths – kickstarted by New York’s Thom Browne – or painfully narrow cuts (a hangover from a decade of super-skinny Dior Homme). When even the high street wants to be breathlessly avant-garde, it’s bolder to go back to the classics. ‘We recently introduced Margiela 14, alongside the more fashion forward 10 line,’ says Browns menswear buyer Mei Chung. ‘It has luxurious tailored pieces in handsome fabrics, and the silhouette is cut in a very defined way that falls beautifully.’ Within the 14 line this autumn is the most classic, meticulously constructed grey double breasted suit (trousers £1274, jacket £1352) with peaked lapels. It’s a suit that will never date, and will take you from office to evening engagements for years to come.

When Alexander McQueen launched his menswear line in autumn 1996, it was shown as part of his groundbreaking Dante collection at Hawksmoor’s iconic Christ Church in Spitalfields, London. ‘Classic with a twist, that’s the only way you can do menswear,’ McQueen said some weeks before the show – and he was, as ever, right. While still enjoying a meteoric rise to fame with an aesthetic defined by psychotic-looking models storming down catwalks with their eyes blacked-out by contact lenses, his developing menswear was a sober nod to his Savile Row roots. A year after his death, the menswear continues in the same vein: jacket lengths are longer than the current norm (76cm rather than 72cm), eschewing the aforementioned trendiness of Thom Browne et al. The McQueen man’s trousers break on his shoes, not above the ankle. Yes, elsewhere in the collection there are flamboyant prints and a sharp ‘McQueen shoulder’, but at the core there is simple, fully canvassed, precisely structured tailoring. Stand-out pieces for autumn include double breasted blazers in exclusively woven plaid English-milled wools (from £1215) and a one-button single breasted suit in a soft two-colour check (trousers £495, jacket £1215) with sharp peaked lapels.

McQueen’s tailoring is distinctly British, playing on notions of the gentry and the gentleman’s outfitter. So are the suits in the MAN range by the grand dame of showmanship, Vivienne Westwood. For some years now Westwood has been a very reliable place to go for suits with a subtle but seductive twist. This autumn there’s an elegant charcoal three piece with amber buttons (£779) and a chic, black, single-breasted suit with a double pocket detail on the right of the jacket (£885). Fashion insiders will clock them immediately as Westwood, but everyone else will read them as straightforwardly smart and luxurious. Many men find that the strong shape and broader lapel is just the thing for them, and go on to buy nothing but Westwood suits. ‘We work a lot with small details,’ says Westwood menswear designer Francis Lowe. ‘We may have higher placement of notches on the lapels. We also develop a lot of our own fabrics, and play with traditional patterns, like Prince of Wales checks and pin stripes, changing the colours and scale of the design, remaining true to our British roots, but with a slight twist.’

For those who like a little more edge (and we’re not talking about the dressing-up box here), there is tailoring at Westwood with a slightly lower than usual crotch and asymmetric fastenings. It’s offbeat, but far from ridiculous. There is also the aforementioned ‘McQueen shoulder’ at Alexander McQueen. Shoulder shapes can define a period in fashion: as David Bowie once remarked, ‘The shoulder pad is the flared trouser of the 80s.’ Contemporary high fashion menswear isn’t defined by one single shape, but as Roland Mouret, celebrated for his glamorous red-carpet womenswear says of Mr., his nascent menswear line, ‘I like a jacket with a bit of a shoulder pad because while a woman’s strength is in her waist, men’s is in their shoulders.’

Rick Owens A/W 2011 from http://www.luisaviaroma.com

Certainly the shoulders at the reborn Mugler label are strong, as indeed they were when the house’s originator Thierry Mugler first launched at the end of the 1970s. ‘The Mugler way of tailoring is sharp, with no compromise,’ says its current designer Romain Kremer. ‘It’s about masculine shapes, more of a shell than a second skin. It’s powerful.’ There are the fiercely angular, collarless, single button jackets that defined a lot of men’s dressing in the 80s, but within the autumn collection there is also a sleek, midnight blue single button double breasted suit (trousers £175, jacket £750) that, taken off the catwalk, makes for a simple, but killer, outfit.

Roland Mouret’s tailoring for men is deeply elegant and, for autumn, focuses heavily on texture. He is designing for himself rather than for the catwalk, and there are few men who wouldn’t want to look like Mouret, oozing mature, confident, Gallic chic. ‘I am about to turn 50,’ says Mouret. ‘With my menswear I asked myself what I wanted to wear now. I want clothes that define a man without being in your face or outrageous. They shouldn’t create a new experience for you, because you have the experience already.’ The men’s department of his Mayfair boutique (trousers from £325, jackets from £765) contains what may be the perfect modern wardrobe for the ‘real man’. His autumn menswear collection is as sophisticated as his celebrated Galaxy dress, taking in elements of the softer, tweedier, more luxurious side of the 1980s. Softness and texture is something that he thinks men should explore, and exploit much more than they do. ‘I wear cashmere to my more annoying meetings because the hardness of the meeting is balanced by the softness of what I’m wearing. It’s very important for men to use their clothes as a language.’

Mouret is developing his tailoring because, as all designers know, a suit in some shape or form is key to every professional man’s wardrobe. ‘A suit for a man is like armour,’ says Maria Cornejo, known for the intellectual, asymmetric, architectural womenswear of her Zero + Maria Cornejo label, based in New York City. One of the strongest menswear pieces in her autumn collection is the Paco blazer ($1,495) with matching trousers ($550), in dark herringbone. For Cornejo, the new season suit represents a ‘counter point to fluidity’. Her tailoring is fresh, relaxed and modern.

Rick Owens is, like Cornejo, a designer known for his unstructured, loose, but extreme style. Owens has fashioned for himself a rough, gothic, colourless aesthetic that’s so arch and all encompassing that there are even grey M&Ms in a bowl on the counter of his Paris store. His work is immediately identifiable, and has a cult following. Within his racks of drapes and folds and washed and skewed leather, there are comparatively conservative, pared down pieces of beautiful black and grey tailoring (jackets from €1785, coats from €1900), still very much informed by Owens’ thoughtful approach to proportion. ‘I’m trying to get the armhole as high as possible and the sleeve length as long as tolerable,’ he says. ‘I want a long slim line without getting too gimmicky. I use interior pockets as opposed to welt pockets for one less layer of fabric and a reductive smoothness.’ Practicality has not been sacrificed for style: ‘Every man’s jacket I make comes with zippered interior patch pockets big enough for your phone charger, a magazine, a ChapStick and your passport.’

The misperception of many of the world’s more progressive designers is that they don’t offer credible clothes for the modern, working man. The reality is that they are laboratories for proportion and textiles that also produce garments that just might flatter and suit you more than your tailor can or is prepared to. They could be infinitely more ‘you’. Go forth and experiment.

 

 

STOCKISTS

 

Alexander McQueen, 4-5 Old Bond Street, London W1 (020-7355 0088; http://www.alexandermcqueen.com) and stockists.

 

Browns, 23 South Molton Street, London W1 (020-7514 0038; http://www.brownsfashion.com).

 

Comme des Garçons Homme Deux at Dover Street Market, 17-18 Dover Street, London W1 (020-7518 0680; www.doverstreetmarket.com).

 

Mugler at Dover Street Market, as above and Harvey Nichols, 109-125 Knightsbridge, London SW1 (020-7235 5000; http://www.harveynichols.com).

 

Maison Martin Margiela, 22 Bruton Street, London W1 (020-7629 2682; www.maisonmartinmargiela.com) and branches/stockists.

 

Rick Owens, 64 South Audley Street, London W1 (020-7493 7145; www.rickowens.eu) and branches/stockists.

 

Roland Mouret, 8 Carlos Place, London W1 (020-7518 0700; http://www.rolandmouret.com).

 

Vivienne Westwood MAN, 18 Conduit Street, London W1 (020-7478 2060; http://www.viviennewestwood.co.uk).

 

Zero + Maria Cornejo, 807 Greenwich Street, New York (+1 (212) 620 0460; http://www.zeromariacornejo.com).

 

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