On the eve of the menswear shows at London Fashion Week, our Tokyo Associate Contributor W. David Marx considers an inflection point in menswear trends.
TOKYO, Japan — On the streets of Tokyo, the heritage look still rules. The patchwork tweed jackets and rough wool bowties in the windows of “select shop” boutiques like Beams Plus and United Arrows’ Beauty & Youth continued to draw a steady crowd last autumn. But after two solid years of celebrating Anglo-American “neo-trad” style, influential Japanese fashion magazine Brutus and its little brother publication Popeye began to turn towards a darker, more European vision.
Fashion has always been a celebration of perpetual difference. Back in 2004, after years of European luxury looks, Thom Browne sparked a re-evaluation of American trad style with his new take on the charcoal gray sack suit, white oxford shirt and rep tie.
A large part of the industry eventually followed suit, creating more nostalgic, traditional clothing. Soon came classic British suits, tweeds and plaids, followed by rugged workwear like chambray shirts and high lace-up boots. But there are growing signs that the enormously successful heritage boom may finally be peaking.
Heritage saturation has been building for some time. Last September, the Wall Street Journal published an article entitled “L.L. Bean Driving the Runway?!,” while the anonymous Tumblr “Fuck Yeah Menswear” quickly gained notoriety for waxing satirically on the excesses of Alden snobbery and necktie obsession. Indeed, with heritage overload in evidence at Pitti Immagine again this season, the novelty of beards, Barbour coats and Indy boots is quickly wearing off.
Trend saturation is a cue for the fashion industry to move on. “After years of fashion looks that have borrowed from railway sidings, rice paddies, shipyards and law enforcement agencies, it seems that the workwear era has come to an end,” wrote Tyler Brulé in the FT following last month’s menswear shows in Milan. “The future will be well-tailored,” he continued.
Tailored and darker, one might add. Indeed, noting the black-on-black that dominated the Fall mens collections at Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Gucci, Jil Sander, Givenchy, John Varvatos and others, GQ announced: “Brace yourself for a blackout… not since the ’90s have we seen this many pitch black get-ups on the runways.”
“I feel there’s a change coming,” agreed former Cloak and Versace designer Alexandre Plokhov whose debut namesake collection of exquisitely tailored and finished looks was very well received at the Paris men’s shows this season, with influential retailers like Barneys and Atelier in New York, and Joyce in Hong Kong, picking up the line.
“I cannot do preppy anymore. I cannot do this neo-American traditionalism,” Plokhov told BoF. “All those kids in Williamsburg [Brooklyn] wearing Red Wing boots and beards — it’s time to experiment and try something new.” Indeed, Mr. Plokhov’s collection featured the kind of razor-sharp tailoring and angular construction that seemed to target an edgier consumer who is looking for design, not nostalgia.
Evidence of this shift was afoot at the recent New York shows as well, where Simon Spurr presented a mens collection that was “a lot more European” in approach. “It’s definitely a more sinister take on menswear,” he told Style.com.
But for the industry at large, the issue is this: the heritage boom has been incredibly successful at attracting a large new consumer base of young men who otherwise had little interest in fashion, feel comfortable with their American brogued wingtips and Band of Outsiders oxfords, and prefer the idea that style is a stable set of tastes and values. With a potentially seismic shift afoot, the question looms large: will these new consumers follow the industry’s shift towards darker, tailored European looks?
In influential Japanese fashion magazines, the heritage trend of the last few years had a clear and tightly woven story. But based on the same barometer, it seems the return to a sleeker European style still lacks narrative clarity, suggesting a shift that has yet to take root in the broader fashion psyche. Indeed, last week in New York, at Scott Sternberg’s first-ever runway show for Band of Outsiders, there were plenty of work boots, boating shoes and college stripes on display.
W. David Marx is an Associate Contributor at The Business of Fashion.