MEASURE OF A MAN

Cameron Carter, AUSTRALIAN FINANCIAL REVIEW LIFE & LEISURE

The global menswear shows of 2015 have sparked increasing interest and spending potential from the luxury consumer.

Men’s fashion is big business. But you’d be forgiven if you hadn’t heard. For the past five years, the men’s market has outpaced its female counterpart at an accelerated rate.

Claudia D’Arpizio, a Bain & Company partner in Milan and leader of the firm’s global luxury goods and fashion practice says, “We are seeing the emergence of a new normal: the global market is maturing, stabilising and consolidating.”

In a social context, there seems to be a progression in the very fabric of manhood, a global shift in the obsessive pursuit for a masculine ideal. The once-independent designers of their eponymous menswear labels have become the hot commodity among the world’s top luxury brands and the holy trinity of luxury – LVMH, Kering and Richemont – have all chalked out their territory to capitalise on the trend. Hedi Slimane for example, has gone from making his own clothes to holding the position of ready-to-wear director of men’s at Yves Saint Laurent, declining the creative directorship at Jil Sander, spending seven years as creative director for menswear at Christian Diorand finally returning as creative director of Yves Saint Laurentturned Saint Laurent.

One of the drivers of this economic up-turn was the launch of Mr Porter, the masculine arm of the Richemont-owned Net-A-Porter Group, in 2011. Mr Porter has become the industry standard in the art of content integration and contextual selling, while luxury brands Hermes, Gucci and Prada, have all opened dedicated men’s boutiques. With Australia being Mr Porter’s third-largest market behind Britain and United States, online rivals ASOS, Matches Fashion and The Iconic all quickly followed suit scaling up their men’s business while premium bricks-and-mortar retailers Harrolds and Henry Bucks underwent multimillion-dollar renovations to capture consumers.

At the beginning of this month, the menswear cycle kicked off in with the London Collections: Men schedule.

The week showcased, among many, Christopher Bailey for Burberry Prorsum, who delivered a charmingly rustic flaneur wearing a plethora of oversized scarves and fringed ponchos on top of brightly printed shirts as the Burberry man, a new-look Dunhill, menswear royalty Sir Paul Smith and the king of luxury, Tom Ford.

Once the measure of British luxury, Alfred Dunhill was a tobacconist-turned-luxury goods brand for gentlemen that has laid dormant for years. Now, owned by Swiss consortium Richemont (Cartier, Montblanc and Van Cleef & Arpels) and under the creative direction of John Ray, Dunhill has revived its ready-to-wear, custom and bespoke menswear offering, to again be considered a heavyweight in the men’s field. Alas, our closest Dunhill store 6302 kilometres away in Singapore, but you can be sure the good people at Richemont already have their eyes firmly set on Australian shores.

It was London engineer-turned-British Fashion Award recipient Patrick Grant, creative director of Norton & Sons tailors in Savile Row, who schooled us all in the art of masculine dressing with his sumptuous collection for E. Tautz – a house now in its fifth year of transformation. Grant returned to a notably larger, voluminous silhouette, one that would make any man look equal parts handsome and rugged.

And, as the proverb suggests, the clothes make the man.

The following week in Milan it was all about one man in particular, Alessandro Michele. After the abrupt departure of outgoing designer Frida Gianniniin December, president and CEO of Gucci, Marco Bizzarri confirmed Michele as Gucci’s new creative director. In an official statement released by Kering’s global press office, Bizzarri said, “Alessandro and I are fully aligned on this new contemporary vision needed by the brand and we will be continuously inspired by that new identity in our respective roles and duties.”

On the runway it was business as usual. Giorgio Armani, the man who single-handedly recast the relationship between fashion and film in American Gigolo (1980), delivered an on-point pessimistic collection of greys and navy blue, occasionally offset by a warmer brown and forest green.

Miuccia Prada’s mostly black-on-black nylon collection, 30 men and 20 women, underscored the masculine versus feminine dynamic that is at the heart of Prada’s dialogue, while Missoni’s muse, the artist, a trans-Siberian railway traveller, prescribed the rich melange you’d expect from a family who’s feet rest firmly in luxury textiles.

Notably, two standouts in Milan were veteran brands Tod’s and Salvatore Ferragamo. Tod’s, because this was a collection of functional and wearable garments and that’s what men really want. And Ferragamo, because designer Massimiliano Giornetti is a master in arousing masculinity: he cleverly expanded the male silhouette by draping confident, oversized scarves and coats on top of meticulous tailoring, all finished-off with the luxurious shoes, belts, gloves and leather goods the house originally won its stripes for in the 1930s.

Last week, the sartorial set descended upon Paris, to witness a schedule which boasts all the big brands such as Valentino, Louis Vuitton Givenchy, Dior Homme, Hermes, and Lanvin, as well as the innovators such as Haider Ackermann, Dries Van Noten and Kris Van Assche.

The most exciting presentation of the week, for me, came in the form of placid Frenchman Christophe Lemaire. This was his first collection since exiting as artistic director of Hermes in October. Lemaire proposed a modernism, true-to-form of his signature style, exquisitely tailored separates shrouded in long, oversized and unstructured coats and jackets in heavy wool. This is clearly a designer at ease with both form and proportion.

Haider Ackermann, along with Raf Simons, Dries Van Noten and Kris Van Assche, are all alumni of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Antwerp. And it shows: Ackermann is a celebrated womenswear designer, known for his unrivalled cuts. During the week, he presented his fourth menswear collection revisiting an irreverent, dark and mood-driven story, masterfully using a tapestry of luxe fabrics –velvets and duchesse satins. Individually, these are supremely luxe garments, perfect for a confident black-tie look at the coming Silver Party.

Conversely, the namesake label from creative director of Christian Dior womens, Raf Simons, takes a far more forensic approach. Revelling in the teen angst of youth culture, Simons constructs new shapes, such as the exaggerated length of the outerwear shown on Wednesday. While brilliantly artistic, it is perhaps not your everyday fare for Castlereagh or Collins Street.

Dries Van Noten is the final word in men’s ready-to-wear. This is a man who so effortlessly pushes colour, pattern, print and texture through each of his collections with such ease, the result is a beautifully tempered bohemian luxury. For his Fall 2015 collection, Van Noten sent out a militant-style prince of Morocco, draped in a kaleidoscope of ivory, camel beige, navy and black and clashing prints, detailed in silver foiling. And, despite being so heavily thematic, Dries pieces will work with any wardrobe, just one of the many talents he brings to designing for men.

The fourth of the Antwerp-collective to show last week was Kris Van Assche, who explored the notion of an urban soldier. (This was his first of two collections in one week, he’s also the creative director of Dior Homme.) Van Assche is a marksman in execution. His menswear line is minimalist, without exception. In an interview backstage he said, “It is a man who is dynamic, it is a man who is confident in his future, it is a man who is moving forward,” and Van Assche is certainly all of those things.

Of course, among the many super talents in Paris are the super brands. The most super being Louis Vuitton. Since 2011, Vuitton’s male perspective has been steered by Central Saint Martinsgraduate Kim Jones. Jones is widely able to do what he wants in the role and this season paid homage to fellow designer, Christopher Nemeth (who died in 2010) by using one of Nemeth’s signature prints through the collection generously: emblazoned across jackets, sweatshirts, coats, a suit and even luggage pieces. As a Londoner, Jones has always been fascinated with the urban dweller, a central motif of his earlier independent collections. And that same urban dweller is undoubtedly who will buy this collection, because as Australian men we’re probably not quite ready for the untwisted rope print jacket and pant look.

Antoine Arnault, the son of LVMH chairman and CEO Bernard Arnault – Arnault snr is worth a staggering $US33.2 billion ($41.9 billion), according to Forbes –was himself in 2011 appointed CEO of Berluti, an Italian stalwart brand of heritage product categories footwear and luggage, and has spent a sizeable $US135 million repurposing the brand to become a fully fledged ready-to-wear label.

On Friday, creative director Alessandro Sartori, working with renowned fashion producer Alexandre de Betak, set a new tone for Berluti. This was Sartori’s seventh ready-to-wear collection for the 120-year-old house and there in the Musee des Arts Decoratifs, located in the West wing of the Palais du Louvre, Berluti had arrived. The individual looks assembled a fluid, elegant wardrobe, of luxurious materials and featherlight constructions. This was the must-have everything collection of the week, a silk-coated trench in bottle green, or, a leather bomber jacket in blood orange.

Another LVMH subsidiary, Christian Dior, is a house that has undergone many changes in recent years. However, its menswear discipline and artistic director Kris Van Assche, has not. And they’re a perfect fit.

The silhouette was much slighter than the season’s recurrent trend for robust shoulders and trousers tapered from pleated volume at the waist, typically Dior Homme. Fiercely manicured formalwear, interlaced with denim and sportswear, a man both dandy and rakish at the same time.

Other highlights included shows by Hermes and Lanvin. Hermes is France’s greatest artisan brand and Veronique Nichanian perhaps France’s greatest menswear designer, this being her 26th year at the luxury stable. Sensible grey and navy pinstripe suiting followed by a muted palette of sportswear, the highlight being a crocodile sweatshirt. As this point in her career, Nichanian is poised in her delivery of vetted luxury.

And Lanvin is headed by Alber Elbaz, who works in tandem with men’s creative director Lucas Ossendrijver. (Ossendrijver, a maverick in the masculine form, has previously worked at Victor and Rolf and under Hedi Slimane during his time at Dior Homme.) Together, the pair is unstoppable. The show began with a myriad of grey (clearly the colour of choice this season) and quickly moved into rich burgundy, accents of beige, navy and military green. However, they too delivered the paper-bag waist first worked with this shape in Spring 2013. The pair somehow steps outside fashion and make luxury relevant.

Finally, it’s been the most controversial business manoeuvre in fashion’s history (second perhaps to John Galliano’s dismissal from Dior): the Saint Laurent, minus the Yves, appointment of Hedi Slimane brand overhaul. And it’s worked. Slimane’s now rock-solid silhouette has become the archetype for the Saint Laurent boy – the skinny jeans look. On viewing the collection you could be forgiven for thinking you’d fallen down the rabbit hole, but this brand has chosen to reinvent itself around music, the greatest commune.

So, what relevance do these brands have to our personal choices?

The men’s market is one of meteoric rise. According to the Bain luxury goods worldwide market study, the expected growth for the Asia-Pacific region alone is at 3 per cent to 5 per cent, second-largest globally to Japan.

Although the collections shown this month won’t be available in stores until September (and even then, a variation of what’s sent down the runway), start researching how you’ll spend your money now, because these clothes are expensive. Mr Porter is a great starting point, but you’ll want to head into store and try these luxury garments on – guaranteed.

And, if all else fails, always buy Lanvin in navy.

afr.com

Submit a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s