It’s not easy being a modern dandy. Making sure the cut of the quip measures up to the cut of one’s jib, that the mind is as carefully cultivated as the wardrobe, is hard work. All that reading and endless repartee! It’s tough enough keeping up with the vicissitudes of fashion. And when a typical season offers up extremes, from boardroom-friendly staples to drop-crotch long johns, it’s little wonder that a lot of men feel left out of the high-fashion dialogue.
But the most confounding of industries—how else to account for its often contradictory vernaculars?—appears to be speaking the same language this season. More than ever, fashion’s future is in the past, with prestige labels continuing to mine their heritage-rich archives in order to set the trends going forward. It’s a paradox that is also being played out in the ongoing tension between fabric innovation and sartorial tradition, between self-expression and gentlemanly restraint.
“Guys want everything,” says Michael Williams of A Continuous Lean, an influential menswear blog. “They want traditional but new, soft but sturdy, a really great fabric but something that is going to hold its shape and color.”
If the prognostications are true, men will be more receptive to the vagaries of retro-modern style, and a surprising number of them are going to be in touch with their sensual side come fall. Maybe it speaks to the Rambo/Rimbaud duality in all of us (well, maybe in some of us), or to luxury’s being as sensory as it is eminent, but the fashion gods (Hermès, Ermenegildo Zegna, Kiton, et al) have decreed that the season’s offerings, particularly cleverly constructed outerwear, be as tactile and pleasurable on the skin as they are utilitarian.
This translates to new, soft-to-the-touch fabrics and comfy natural pelts like shearling being used as accents on coats. Fur, which has enjoyed brief moments of general acceptance—most notably in the 1920s and ’30s, when raccoon coats were all the rage at Ivy League football games—is also adding dash to traditional outerwear. Some labels (Louis Vuitton, Dunhill) are wagering that men now possess the self-confidence and effrontery to wear fur—even if only as a Brezhnev-like flourish on a lapel. The faint of heart can always wear their fur on the inside, with some collections containing fur-lined jackets and coats. It’s not only warmer but also less likely to invite an attack by animal-rights activists. But the sumptuous shearling offerings from brands such as Gucci, Hugo Boss and Etro avoid the moral and sartorial dilemmas altogether.
The embrace of the tactile was also evident in the season’s many suede-heavy collections. Designers routinely lasso suede into the mainstream in the form of cowboy-cool threads meant to connote fiercely rugged individualism. But this time around, suede has been used in nonliteral interpretations that avoid clichéd costumery. If anything, designers are doffing their hats not to the anti-urbane West but to ’70s jet-setting sophisticates (Alain Delon, John Derek, Peter Beard) who were habitually photographed in their suede and gossamer-light skins. Durable hides from heritage brands like Brioni and Salvatore Ferragamo will no doubt appeal to those men who view shopping as an investment and are looking to amortize their wardrobe.
Elsewhere—as if further confirmation were needed that opulent fabrics are the order of the day—there was an abundance of rich brocade and velvet on everything from single-breasted suits to lord-of-the-manor moccasins. Mindless, status-conscious dressing may have gone the way of the bubble economy, but it would be foolhardy to assume that men want only their salaryman staples and to eschew all signs of the glamorous life. Even at business-fashion powerhouses like Canali and Zegna, nestled among the august pinstripes and gray suits, there are plenty of decadent options for men who are not afraid to dress up on their downtime.
Also playing limbo with the markers of masculinity and modernity are the hefty knits that muscled their way onto the runways of Bottega Veneta and Missoni, among others. Though knitwear is as much of a perennial in the menswear arena as it is in the womenswear’s, these heavily textured pieces are now decadently plush and the perfect rustic counterpoint to the ultramodern colors and lab-born fabrics that also dominated the season.
Though undeniably nostalgic, these sweaters and cardigans (some with shawl collars, all with a premium on luxurious textures) bring to mind the vim and vigor of Steve McQueen rather than the avuncular, nonthreatening charm of Mister Rogers. And while it may be drawing too long a bow to suggest that these reimagined heavy-gauge knits are harbingers of anything but the coming cold weather, what does it say about the state of contemporary masculine glamour when one of the strongest trends is at once rough-hewn and homespun?
Today’s fashion adventurers are clearly still under Papa Hemingway’s rugged spell, but their hearts belong to Mama. Which is not to say that designers are fashioning men into totally unrecognizable sensualists. For all the myriad references being trotted out this season (a broad church of inspiration that includes everything from the “Brokeback Mormon” looks at Dsquared2 to the Amish hats at Vuitton), many of the standout collections continue to take their cues from masculine outdoor pursuits—namely hunting, fishing and skiing. In fact, there are enough après-ski looks to rival cocktail hour in Gstaad.
At Brunello Cucinelli and Moncler, two European labels with wildly divergent agendas, the Alpine look that director Blake Edwards popularized in his worldly Pink Panther movies of the ’60s and ’70s came in from the cold to take center stage. This time around, though, these ubiquitous puffer jackets, fleece cover-ups and ski sweaters have been created for the street and not the piste. Sure, there are hints of Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean-Claude Killy in the details, but think of these as robust clothes for the great indoors. The log fire and the fur-covered ottoman may be optional these days, but the gentlemanly duty to be as smart as you look never goes out of style.