PARIS, France — “Men are the new women,” or so went the refrain of the fashion pack who have travelled from London to Florence to Milan to Paris over the last three weeks, taking in the menswear collections for Spring/Summer 2013.
Indeed, according to a recent report by Bain & Company, a consulting firm, the luxury menswear market is growing at almost 14 percent per year, outpacing growth in womenswear by almost double. And, as male consumers begin to take to style and fashion with the same fervour as their female counterparts, menswear is a growing priority for luxury and fashion brands.
For the first time, London staged its own series of men’s shows, trumpeting the heritage of Savile Row’s bespoke tailors and the creative energy of East London, over three days that began with an unforgettable launch event at St James’ Palace, hosted by the Prince of Wales himself. In Milan, the Italian luxury menswear brand Brioni showed its first collection since being acquired by PPR, the global luxury group, in November of last year. And in Paris, rival luxury group LVMH pulled out all the stops for a striking tableaux vivant presentation and dinner, held in the Jardin du Palais Royal, for Berluti, a brand that is making a big push into ready-to-wear from its bespoke shoes roots.
So what’s driving all this momentum in menswear? The experts I spoke to along the fashion trail this season boiled it down to three factors: colour and print, the return of sharp suiting and the influence and convenience of the internet.
POPPING PRINTS AND COLOURS
In a move that changed the direction of menswear, Raf Simons triggered a colour tsunami, two years ago, when he showed his Spring/Summer 2011 collection for Jil Sander during Pitti Uomo, perhaps the most important bi-annual congregation of menswear fashion press and buyers anywhere in the world.
Just as the show was about to start in the garden of a beautiful Florentine villa, dark clouds rolled in and Mr. Simons' models appeared in a jarring, but incredibly beautiful display of fluoro fuchsias, teals and tangerines. Set against the stormy backdrop, the popping colours were instantly seared into the collective fashion consciousness.
Fast forward two years and the stands at Pitti Uomo were awash in colour and print, as were the runways and front rows of the men’s shows this season. Even typically conservative tailoring brands like Zegna and Ferragamo were betting on the colour story.
And tellingly, even amongst the packs of American frat boys on their rite-of-passage backpacking trips to Europe, there were fashion forward young guys sporting the brightly coloured chinos and jeans that have driven sales spikes on both sides of the Atlantic at Topman, J.Crew and J Brand.
It begs the question. Has the colour trend in menswear jumped the proverbial shark? “Colour continues to perform very well for Mr Porter,” said Jeremy Langmead, editor-in-chief of the menswear etailer, as we walked out of the Rick Owens show in Paris over the weekend.
This helps to explain why so many brands are continuing to push colour for Spring/Summer 2013. But by the time the collections for Autumn/Winter 2013 come around, I suspect the fashion pack may have moved onto something new. This colour brigade can’t last for much longer.
THE RESURGENCE OF TAILORING
Another key driver of menswear growth has been sharp suiting, spurred on by the popularity of the television series Mad Men as well as other programmes that have been quick to jump on the tailoring bandwagon. Mr Porter recently held a slick event in partnership with the American television show Suits that attracted more than 400 guests to New York City’s High Line, despite the stormy summer weather.
“The resurgence of tailored clothing is really starting to drive the men’s business. From a suit and a jacket all the way to sportswear, it has opened up the budgets of retailers,” said Michael Kreiman, co-founder of the Black Dog 8 Showroom in New York.
“It started a couple of years ago in a very small way, but it’s now becoming a bigger, more general trend,” added Mr Kreiman’s business partner, Katie Liu. “It started from the shoe; that traditional brogue; that dress-up shoe. First they wore it with jeans, then they thought, ‘I need something better.’ The latest thing is the jacket,” she added.
For years, the wardrobe of the stereotypical American man was composed of ill-fitting suits, several sizes too big. But now, “the retail customer has figured out that ‘slim’ doesn’t mean ‘tight,’” said Mr Kreiman. “For the retailer who has been trying to sell this slim idea for years, it’s finally begun to work.”
THE INTERNET AND STREET STYLE BLOGS
While having lunch at the Bulgari Hotel in Milan earlier the same day, a local friend whispered to me about how well-turned out the American editors were this season. One hypothesis proferred was that the rise of street style bloggers focused exclusively on men’s style and fashion, and the accompanying online conversation, have forced the American editors to up their game.
Stylish, classically-tailored Italian gentlemen were the first to elicit the attention of Scott ‘the Sartorialist’ Schuman, while the more avant-garde ‘it’ boys of London, Tokyo and Paris found themselves the subjects of Tommy Ton and other sharp-eyed photo-bloggers.
“Men are lazy. They don’t like to go a store to shop,” said Ms. Liu. “But when they can read a blog and say ‘Oh, that’s kind of cool’ or ‘This brand is the new thing’ or ‘I can find this pant on this website,’ it really changes the game.”
To wit, Bonobos, the fast-growing American etailer specializing in men’s chinos, currently features its signature chinos in bright hues on its homepage, with the tagline, “The Best Men’s Pants.”
But while bright colours and tailoring, as well as easy online access, might have the proverbial cash registers ringing (and online baskets overflowing), not everyone is enamoured of the current trends in menswear. Last year, during a fashion roundtable for Bon magazine, the publication’s editor, Madeleine Levy lamented the surfeit of pocket squares and tailoring that’s dominating menswear, making "grown men look as though their mothers dressed them up..like little boys going to a birthday party."
“I don’t understand what’s going on. It’s really boring again! It’s that whole fascination with a gentleman’s wardrobe,” added the fashion writer Jo-Ann Furniss. “It’s incredibly conservative. We can’t go back in time; we’ve got to go forward. And pocket handkerchiefs are holding us back.”
Mr Schuman agrees it’s time for change. “It’s time for a new suit shape,” he said as we walked back from watching the final of the Euro 2012 at the Nike Barber Shop in Paris last night, commenting on the short jacket, cropped trousers silhouette that continues to dominate the catwalks and front rows. “We need something to re-ignite menswear again.”