The seasonal menswear collections are an interesting proposition for designers in that the suit has, for the better part of the past 300 years, formed the cornerstone of the man’s wardrobe. Of course, the workplace has become greatly more relaxed in recent years thanks to the incredible rise of sportswear, and since Alessandro Michele took the reins of Gucci last year, the industry has seen a trend for renewed, more gender-fluid garments. But at the end of the day, the jacket and trousers still make up our daily ensemble.
The challenge for designers in making that age-old combination interesting, then, is to find ways of reinventing it. In doing so, they’re able to attract new customers, those that perhaps don’t associate the suit with everyday wear, while retaining their existing clientele, evolving their tastes in line with trends – all the while, catering to a global audience with great variables in climate, lifestyle and culture. That sort of innovation was on show in the first two days of London Collections Men, the biannual menswear fashion week in the United Kingdom, over the weekend, where designers sought to challenge pre-existing notions of the suit and separates. In doing so, many of them, including E. Tautz, Sibling and Lou Dalton, pushed the technical boundaries of wool as a cloth, rendering it anew for modern wear.
At E. Tautz, the youthful ready-to-wear line originally founded as a military tailoring house in the late 19th century and now owned by Norton & Sons, creative director Patrick Grant mined his own archive (quite literally some of the clothes he wore to parties and roller disco during the 1980s in Edinburgh) and ran it through the filter of a Savile Row cut and cloth. The resultant collection comprised lightweight, oversized coats, high waisted, billowing trousers, scoop-necked wool tees and playfully large ties, all of it rendered in enough shades of grey to make E.L. James jealous and in interesting variations of wool. Norton has long been fond of the fabric, forming as it does the cornerstone of both of his brands, but in this collection he took it further, blending it with mohair for coats, crafting typically casual Merino wool pieces, such as tees and button-down, pocket shirts, from it, and hand-knitting it in sweaters, effectively crafting a collection almost entirely from wool.
At Agi & Sam, this year’s British Isles finalist for the International Woolmark Prize, wool was used just as generously yet so differently. Generously in that many of the garments were exploded to voluminous proportions. Here, the arms of knitted sweatshirts fell down long past the wearers’ hands, thwarting the traditional silhouette, while Merino wool trousers were wide-cut and high-waisted, offering a counterpoint to the slimness that has dominated fashion since the turn of the millennium.
Perhaps, as a female, Lou Dalton designs for how women might like men to dress – understated, classic, masculine, without being overtly so – because every season there’s a certain elegance in her work that’s often missing from the raft of attention-seeking runway shows. That was certainly the case in her autumn/winter 2016 collection, in which Dalton showcased her unique brand of classic garments, each rendered in traditional fabrics (if not finishes) with the most subtle of sartorial updates so as to make them feel fresh. Coats, for example, were slightly oversized, but not comically so. Trousers were slouchy, but definitely not baggy. And her Merino wool polo necks and sweaters – crafted in collaboration with renowned British knitters John Smedley – featured unique geometric patterns that drew the eye in.
Knitwear, of course, is something for which on-the-rise London label Sibling is well known, and that technical virtuosity was on full display in this season’s collection. If you’ve seen a Sibling show before, you know that subtlety isn’t a key ingredient to the designers’ approach to fashion – indeed, this presentation closed with a floor-length robe-like coat comprised of thickly knitted Merino wool yarn in navy blue with golden yellow trim – but this season, they countered show-stopping brilliance with more wearable pieces, too. Some of those robes and blankets were worn over beautifully cut, baggy suiting crafted from Dormeuil wool, one of the world’s finest cloths, said to be inspired by those of 1980s American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, which accompanied knitted wool sweaters in graphic patterns, alongside Merino wool knitted boxing gloves and head-guards to complete their boxing theme.
When it comes to suiting, Hardy Amies is one of the world’s leaders, and having built a global business whilst still maintaining its roots on Savile Row, London’s tailoring institution, it’s one of the most authentic, too. For autumn/winter 2016, Hardy Amies presented a collection by head of design Darren Barrowcliff with a focus on formal dress. Highlights of the autumnal-hued collection included textured wool twill overcoats, grey wool cargo suits and super fine Merino wool knitwear, all in a silhouette that favoured a slim line and slightly shrunken proportions.
That London Collections Men is typically split into two camps – the tailoring of Savile Row institutions and the hip streetwear of the new guard – is something that Astrid Andersen evidently set out to challenge by marrying the two. Here, the designer blended trademark sportswear references with tailoring. The result? A most appealing collection of wool tracksuits, bomber jackets and padded vests, all finished with golden press-studs, alongside chunky but lofty knitwear and languid wool overcoats.
Stay tuned for more coverage of the autumn/winter 2016 menswear shows in London, Milan and Paris with our ongoing reports and guest blogger Dapper Lou.
Global-roaming menswear blogger and photographer Dapper Lou takes time out to speak with Merino.com