Menswear: A sign of the times at Fashion Week

Menswear: A sign of the times at Fashion Week

As the menswear shows bounced from London to Florence and Milan before concluding in Paris on Sunday, January 19, the headlines were as chaotic as ever — from rumblings of World War III to US president Trump’s impeachment amidst the global outcry following the devastating bushfires in Australia, the latest in Brexit and Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s abdication of royalty. Closer to home, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar called yesterday’s election.

While the 2020s commenced with a litany of problems, men’s fashion week took place anyway. Designers have to sell clothes, ultimately. They also reflect the times but less chaotic were the collections than the clarity they exuded — men’s fashion is well and truly in flux. Sit back and pay attention to the top five trends.

Wearing Irish

A sustainable proposition: support local. At London Fashion Week Men’s Dublin native, Robyn Lynch, delivered a standout collection of reworked Irish classics. Irish linen, woven in Donegal, is cut into tailored jackets and pants while Aran knits are fused with tracksuits.

Her key innovation is hybridising the Aran knit with sportswear elements — intricate knits are spliced with technical nylons.

“We are trying to celebrate the Irish Aran jumper while introducing it to a new customer that perhaps might not have related to this garment before. It’s a great aspect of Irish culture so it’s just trying to put my twist on that,” said Lynch.

Meanwhile, twists are also intrinsic to Jonathan Anderson’s operations in Paris at his own label JW Anderson and the Spanish luxury giant LOEWE.

Anderson, in contrast to Lynch, proposes something distinctly formal with brushstrokes of womenswear and couture. Take for example his JW Anderson collection — there were tent-like jackets in smart check, sleeveless peplum tops with micro-pleats, robe coats and shirts morphed into tunics. In its experimentation, it looked oh so sophisticated.

Meanwhile, at LOEWE, the Derryman turned his attention to contrasts. Considering ‘notions of motion and tension, with a sense of optimism pushed to an obscure edge’, he presented double-breasted tailoring with a prom dress worn over it as an apron, alongside capes that were actually coats. Nothing is as it seems and it comes from the mind of a genius Irishman.

Toxic masculinity gets a makeover

JW Anderson at fashion week
JW Anderson at fashion week

One of the biggest changes in menswear was the rapid-fire attacks designers launched on fragile masculinity. The Gucci show notes condemned the mien of ‘toxic male’ and the ensuing collection was full of foppish femmes — a time-travelling exercise through the wardrobes of men in the ’70s to the early ’00s. Think ’70s glam rock metallic trousers with respectable tailoring of the ’90s, to baggy ripped jeans of early ’00s celebrities heartthrobs and beyond. This is before you take into account the baby doll dresses.

Men’s fashion is changing — let the art of dressing be your oyster, proclaims the Italian brand.

Elsewhere at Milan Fashion Week, at No 21, the label favoured backless and frontless knits, short shorts for the office. Daring and sexy, daringly sexual — perhaps a bit much for the workplace but that’s only half of your week.

The offering was more tempered at Dries van Noten where the Belgian combined louche, patterned velvets with fox furs and crystal embellishments but it still looked luxurious with dreamily irreverent styling.

The takeaway: traditional notions of what is considered acceptable have been bulldozed; flattened even, making way for new interpretations of what men’s wardrobes can look like. Pick and choose your tribes as you please. There are no limits anymore.

Slick tailoring for today

A model presents a creation for Dior Homme.
A model presents a creation for Dior Homme.

Undoubtedly, one must rely on the inconclusive nature of manhood to truly tell the menswear story. For every abandoning of tradition, there were still arbiters of straightforward, uncomplicated fashion around.

It was at Dior Men where artistic director Kim Jones tasked himself with a relatively strict palette of slate grey, sky blue and beige with the occasional smattering of pattern and embellishment. It was quintessentially modern and luxurious. You walked away wanting those sumptuous leather jackets and slick tailoring. (The opera gloves are optional.) The same could be said for Givenchy. The brand offered high-waisted tailoring in bold shades, buttoned-down shirts, and neatly tailored outerwear, styled with square-toed boots, which was effortlessly contemporary. Subtle twists paid off — it was classic yet subversive.

‘Classic yet subversive’ rang true at Louis Vuitton where tailoring was given an update with cascading ruffles and traditional outerwear was superimposed with images of the Parisian sky. Picked apart its success was in its safety. This one is ready for your wardrobe.

Tom Ford is another — no man could resist one of his ’90s-inspired suits, coming in a bold range of colours from vermilion to dusty rose.

Looking back, moving forward

Gucci’s men’s A/W 2020/21 collection.
Gucci’s men’s A/W 2020/21 collection.

Other designers relied on the past to reinvent the wheel. The Italian label Etro reflected on its history to carry itself forward. The brand’s signature heritage paisley patterns enriched velvet coats and a jacquard sweater, while a punk spirit contrasted with the prim and proper equestrian flair that ran through the collection.

Ralph Lauren and Alexander McQueen honoured an enduring emblem of men’s fashion — rigorous tailoring. While streetwear and sportswear have experienced peaks and troughs, there is a sort of formal resurgence on the runways. Suit up.

At both of these presentations, it was reflected in its strictest and most beautiful form. The polished dinner jackets of Ralph Lauren, in the finest cashmere and velvets, bought into a high society fantasy that cements fashion as a powerful tool.

At McQueen, the couture-like craftsmanship and sleight-of-hand build a feminine spirit into precisely-tailored suiting — see for example richly decorative embellishment and a striking colour palette. Timelessness still has currency. But designers like Sarah Burton at McQueen show that age-old crafts like tailoring can be elevated in the next decade.

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