12 Fashion Experts Look Back at the Menswear Season That Was

BoF speaks to industry insiders about the menswear season that just wrapped.

Raf Simons, Autumn/Winter 2014 | Photo: Sonny Vandevelde

PARIS, France — With the finale of the Saint Laurent show on Sunday night, Paris Fashion Week — and the European leg of the men’s Autumn/Winter 2014 season — officially wrapped. It was a season of clashes: the clash of youthful creativity and Savile Row tradition at London Collections: Men; the clashing dates of LC:M and Pitti Uomo; and the clash between Milan’s ‘big business’ brands and the stylistic innovators who show in Paris.

What were the top collections, key trends and biggest disappointments of the season? And which city — London, Florence, Milan or Paris — is the true capital of menswear? BoF spoke to 12 industry experts to find out.

Tiziana Cardini, fashion director, La Rinascente, Milan

Top collection? Saint Laurent was fabulous. Chic and polished in a super cool way. Hedi Slimane moved away from grunge for a more elegant look, some kind of formalwear reloaded with a Teddy Boy edge, so it is a hard bet between him and Raf Simons. I have always been suspicious of the marriage between art and fashion, of how the two worlds sometimes overlap, or sometimes try to use each other, and I think they have to stay separate. I was very curious to see how the collaboration with Sterling Ruby would have turned out and I was ready to criticize it, to be honest. But I really liked it. I thought it was so honest, so authentic, and very coherent — the collection was super desirable and looked great in the showroom too. It was one of the best collections I’ve seen in many seasons.

Key trend? Formalwear reloaded. The formal way of dressing is coming back, but interpreted in a subtle, softer, relaxed way. It’s formal which is not formal. There are elements of sportswear very subtly incorporated into the tailoring. I think everybody is trying to find a newer definition of menswear, which is really difficult, but we are seeing innovative collections.

Biggest disappointment? How London has overlapped with Pitti. Every city has to collaborate. We have to be able to see everything. I hate this competition, it’s very detrimental for everybody, because the business is a global business — in every sense of-the-world: financial, creative, it’s all one thing.

Menswear capital? Paris, definitely. London is about experimentation and tradition; Milan is about excellence of execution; and Paris is about uniqueness of interpretation. If you value creativity, here you have the best talents, the big format personalities who drive the world forward — Hedi Slimane, Raf Simons, Riccardo Tisci, Dries Van Noten, the guys at Valentino — there’s a spirit in the city, some kind of zeitgeist that really nurtures and inspires creativity.

James Sleaford, fashion director, GQ (France), Paris

Top collection? Definitely Dior Homme. Obviously we’re all about tailoring, and I already had my eye on doing something about pinstripes, so I was extremely delighted to see lots of different pinstripes coming out, not just in the form of tailoring and suits, but combo trousers. I thought it was very fresh the way he put in jeans. I always think it’s a good measure when you look at a collection and say, ‘I’d really like to buy that for myself.’

One key trend? I don’t know whether I like it or don’t like it, but it’s this clutch bag for men. I’ve seen it everywhere. It’s a fold over thing that men are wearing all the time. Whether I like it, I don’t know, but it remains to be seen. It’s out there, anyway.

Biggest disappointment? A lot of people felt Milan was a bit flat. I wouldn’t like to pick out one show that was disappointing but I would like to point out that there were some shows in Milan that weren’t as strong as they were in Summer and I was quite surprised. But I also thought that you could feel this current financial crisis had really hit Milan. So I understand why they did such commercial collections.

Menswear capital? If I had to put my fashion director’s cap on, it would have to be Milan for the investment they put into the magazine, and it has to come through like that. Every show is an investor, and we have to respect that nowadays because it’s a very difficult period we’re in. But let’s put it on a three way tie break: I thought London had a lot of new energy coming there, and I thought it gave the calendar a bit of a kick and I think that’s a good start. Paris is always avant garde and you come here and have many exciting things to see. But it has to be Milan.

Gianluca Cantaro, deputy editor in chief, L’Uomo Vogue, Milan

Top collection? As Hedi Slimane did in the first look at his first Saint Laurent collection, he created a style, a mood and a desire. He put real boys on the catwalk, and real boys want to dress like this. He understands perfectly that today’s sense of fashion is made of a desire for mixing and not of a rigid concept of total looks that can live only on the catwalk. Thom Browne is always a great visionary, and I liked the differences between the first half of his show which was a formal way of dressing, with crazy hats, to teleport to the vision that he had in the second part, moving from animals to the environment where they live — fauna to flora. Thom is so smart, if you look at the styling and you took away some pieces then you can see the product; but show-wise, he is a master.

Key trend? There were two big trends. The first is military, and the other one is a touch of fur. Maybe the full fur coat is too much, but a touch of fur should be a nice approach to the men’s fashion for the next season. In the right way it will be very interesting to me.

Biggest disappointment? This season Milan had a lack of creativity. I didn’t see a bad show, there were beautiful clothes, but not so much creativity compared to Paris. Paris was really incredible — great product but with beautiful styling. That is the trick to making product interesting and inspiring.

Menswear capital? There are to me two capitals in a different way. Milan, because you see the real industry in terms of product and creativity; and maybe there’s less vision than in Paris, but there you see what is the real ‘Made in Italy.’ Paris is more creative. There are crazy collections, but there’s product as well.

Angelo Flaccavento, contributing fashion critic, Il Sole 24 Ore, Milan

Top collection? There were many, but I’d say Rick Owens mostly because I thought it was powerful, and as we in the fashion world are always searching for modernity, which is a big utopia, what he’s proposing is really modern for me. It’s a different way of dressing that is regardless of gender, moments of the day, seasons, everything. It’s very liquid. It can go day to night, old to young, I think it’s very interesting to see there is no specific customer for that.

Key trend? Everything is very tactile. Everything was very flat before, and now everything is woven, it’s treated, it’s scratched, fashion is moving away from the visual to the tactile.

Biggest disappointment? That Milan lost Umit Benan and he showed here in Paris. They were so, so blind. That’s it.

Menswear capital? Right now, Paris. Hands down. It is a very different offering of designers, and they’re all proposing something that is commercially viable. Even if the catwalk message is very strong, it’s what the actual business of selling is about.

Madeline Weeks, fashion director, GQ (US), New York

Top collection? Givenchy — the set, the design, everything about it was perfection; I thought it was witty, it was wearable, it was very modern and American, sporty, cool, I loved the way the guys looked.

Key trend? Coats. From a luxe parka to a tweed overcoat. For the most part the length that’s above the knee is stronger with the slim leg pants, however longer coats still look really good if the proportion is right. It’s all about the proportion.

Biggest disappointment? No disappointment whatsoever. I felt super blown away by both Milan and Paris, they were extremely strong. I think the designers really stepped up this season, from the small designers, it might be their first presentation like Officine Generale, I also liked AMI last night, it was amazing. APC with Kanye… there’s a lot here on every level, same with Milan. We look forward to New York!

Menswear capital? Paris and Milan are both very strong but different. Milan is more casual, more luxe-sporty, Paris is more tailored and dressed up, and in fact I think they’re crossing over each other quite a lot because we’ve noticed a lot of tweeds, a lot of Italian elements that we’ve seen here. In my mind they’re equal.

Hirofumi Kurino, senior advisor for creative direction, United Arrows, Tokyo

Top collection? Raf Simons. It was very creative, very advanced, and this time he collaborated with the contemporary artist Sterling Ruby, so there’s a focus on the art side and creative side, but at the same time it brings him a new way of using colour, so this was a very strong and beautiful collection.

Key trend? Tailoring meets sports.

Biggest disappointment? I’d say to the Italian industry people: I can understand that there’s a crisis in the Italian market, but they complained too much about it and made too many excuses because of it. If the creation is creative enough or if you have the wider vision or stronger perspective, you can face and go beyond this economic crisis wall. But they’re stuck behind the wall. This is the most disappointing part of the season. Too much complaining, too many excuses.

Menswear capital? Still Paris is strong, but London might be very important. Unfortunately Milan is… some people might skip this. Pitti Uomo in Florence is a big fair, so even without any runway show we’ll go there because of the fair itself. London is very good, it’s rising.

Eric Jennings, vice president and fashion director of men’s, home and gifts, Saks Fifth Avenue, New York

Top collection? I still loved the Ermenegildo Zegna show. For me that was just such an amazing presentation. I felt like the visuals enhanced the collection, and that the collection enhanced the visuals and it all told a really compelling story, so that for me was one of those breathtaking moments.

Key trend? The colour has stood out to me in every single city — vibrant colour this season. Then, on the other hand, brown. I’ve been seeing brown at almost all the collections, tailored and sportswear. In terms of colour those would be the two trends that I noticed. Of course the designer sweatshirt, you can’t get away from it, it’s everywhere.

Biggest disappointment? Milan was a little sombre. Things in Italy are not great and I think that’s reflected in some of the collections there, so it didn’t have the exuberance of some of the other cities this season. They can’t afford to be sombre; they’ve got to step it up and they know they have to. I’ve heard some rumours about some big things happening in Italy for next spring, so I think we’ll see a dramatic shift to come. I hope so.

Menswear capital? Right now it’s all about Paris. There’s an energy and excitement and enthusiasm and a youth movement going on in Paris. After being in all four cities you’d think at the end of this trip I’d be petering out, but I’m not, I’m leaving just as excited as I was when I started the trip.

Nick Sullivan, fashion director, Esquire (US), New York

Top collection? I really liked Gucci this time, I thought it was simpler, more luxurious, but I would say the best runway moment was Vuitton. There’s a confidence about the luxury, and it’s sexy and classy and they run the show on young slick guys; it’s a great looking collection.

Key trend? Big coats. Big volume coats. Thick coats, things that stand away from the body, drop-shoulders, that’s the deal. Still suits are kind of slim, but the coats that go over the top are these big enveloping things, it’s great.

Biggest disappointment? Apart from losing my passport? Biggest disappointment was I haven’t had enough croque monsieurs. I usually have about 10 while I’m in Paris, and so far I’ve only had three, which is pretty poor.

Menswear capital? I don’t think any one city is the capital, I think they each offer something different. London is the home of both Savile Row and street style; Florence there’s something about getting to see the clothing up close; Paris is more interesting, and Milan you get business.

Gert Jonkers, editor-in-chief, Fantastic Man, Amsterdam

Top collection? I thought the moment this model at Calvin Klein showed up with an OBSESSION sweater was the highlight of 2014. It’s just such a good idea, it’s so obvious in a way but the best things are always the obvious things that you forget to do. The Calvin Klein show was amazing, I always love Calvin Klein because I think it’s one of the few companies that tries to do something new or maybe they’re just inspired by futurism and futurism is part of their — for lack of a better word — DNA. They do things that really feel modern.

Key trend? I have the feeling that this was quite a bold season, I find things quite exaggerated and quite big and bold and that’s good because the last thing you want is a meek season. If somebody does volume they do real volume, and if they do fur they do a lot of fur — which I don’t like because I don’t think designers should use fur — so that’s the downside of the boldness maybe. But it’s quite an unashamed and bold season.

Biggest disappointment? There’s always a billion things that disappoint you. You want every show to be really ridiculously amazing. Sometimes there are days when you’ll get to the end and think, ‘Did anything stand out?’ There are too many things to mention. The only thing I could think of is collections that have disappointed me and that’s both not so interesting to mention and it doesn’t really make sense to say, ‘Oh I didn’t like the shoes at this or that…’ Of course 60 percent of what you see is awful, but thank God the balance was good.

Menswear capital? I think Paris is the true menswear capital. I guess whatever you could say about London or Milan, but still the most interesting or the most legitimate things happen in Paris.

Tim Blanks, editor-at-large, Style.com, London

Top collection? Raf Simons and Sterling Ruby. It was a big gamble and it paid off so beautifully, probably because they were so compatible to begin with. When Raf was talking about it a few weeks ago it was hard to wrap my head around how it would actually work. More than a collaboration, it was a total integration of two aesthetics. But I thought that Sterling Ruby brought to Raf’s way of doing things another level of visual and psychological interest.

Key trend? The trend I’ve liked the most is those really big coats. I love the volume — apart from the fact they’re generous, they’ve been treated in so many interesting ways.

Biggest disappointment? The biggest disappointment for me was the Prada show. It always sets the tone of the season for me, and I’ve been such an ardent fan for so long. There was a very complex intellectual rationale for this collection, and I think that from past experience I’ve learned that the more complex the rationale is, the less the clothes deliver the emotional punch that I’m so used to from Prada.

Menswear capital? That’s a tricky one. My personal favourite this season would most definitely be Paris because of the incredible range and proficiency. I would say London is also a very versatile city, though it has the most traditional approach to menswear. Maybe the capital city changes. Maybe menswear has become so subject to the whims of fashion that now the cities that shape the way we think about the season change as well.

Tom Kalenderian, executive vice president and general merchandise manager men’s and Chelsea Passage, Barneys, New York

Top collection? What we once referred to as the classic market is proposing the greatest change and innovation; no collections better represent this movement than Zegna and Brioni. These are brands with their strength in luxury and their eye on the future.

Key trend? The tendency towards incorporating sporty clothes within luxury collections is not only novel but timely. Men wear Nike shoes with fashion apparel; why not give them cashmere pullovers lined with neoprene. Clothes such as this are a reflection of the real way we live and utilize fashion.

Biggest disappointment? No disappointment but a general concern that prices are creeping up. Designers should dream to create beauty, but with a conscience to provide a balance and value.

Menswear capital? It’s difficult to appoint one city as the capital of men’s fashion; Paris provides the inspiration to dream, while Milan still has the power of high volume.

Josh Peskowitz, fashion director of men’s, Bloomingdales, New York

Top collection? Louis Vuitton. I’ve known Kim Jones for a while and have always appreciated his aesthetic, and he’s found the perfect match with LV. It’s super sophisticated but with a bit of street edge. His collections keep getting stronger.

Key trend? Deeper, darker colors. An oversized silhouette for outerwear, often with a drop shoulder. There was no song of the season but I heard King Krule at more than one fashion show.

Biggest disappointment? I won’t say it’s a disappointment but my biggest challenge is the overlap between Florence and London. Both cities are important for us and I have yet to figure out how to be in two places at once, no matter how hard I try.

Menswear capital? I’m old(ish) school so when you say menswear I think tailoring. And when I think tailoring I think Italy. Florence and Milan were both strong in that regard, but it was great to see so many of the Savile Row houses (Kent & Curwen, Hardy Amies, Gieves & Hawkes) getting a fresh look in London.