As a new decade begins, I’ve been thinking about the events of the last one, and the changing world of menswear. If that seems minor in comparison with the chaos and gamesmanship of current affairs, at least it can also be more positive: brands celebrated, and consumers embraced, a broad variety of cultural influences and stories, from Scandinavian tonal minimalism to Indian artisanal weaving. After a decade of slim-fit gingham-shirt conformity, a variety of silhouettes and shapes took hold. And consumers continued to grow more conscious of origin, sustainability, and craft, while celebrating the subtle and transformative powers of getting dressed.
It wasn’t all good news. At the top of the luxury food chain, the big beasts consolidated even further. In the satanic mills of fast fashion, the same relentless music played. The accountants did their thing, and sometimes decided it was more efficient to design, produce, and destroy clothes all by themselves, to save consumers the trouble of throwing them away. Marketing became more simplistically visual, knock-offs became more cynical, but at least some of the time, we glimpsed the truth of the machine. Better still, we responded with ever more interest in the small guys and the risk takers: the brands doing something other than imitation, favoring quality and sustainability over a quick sell or the priorities of venture capital. We took some risks ourselves, and we enjoyed ourselves.
You could write a whole shelf of books on a decade of clothes, but I’ll limit myself to a significant moment or two each year. Here’s my decade in review.
Early in the year, Ben Zimmer observed in the New York Times that “Wellness is here to stay, despite misgivings over the years that it isn’t such a well-formed word.” By 2010 that barbarism had come to mean colorful vegetables (don’t get me started on healthful), alleged cures to stress (other than, you know, not being driven into the ground by work), and absolutely loads of yoga. Wellness sold a lot of yoga gear. It was another great year for Lululemon, whose sales grew 50% a quarter from 2010 until the middle of the decade.
According to the company brochure, the secret was a ‘Deep Rooted Culture Centered on Training and Personal Growth’. It was either that or the buckets of cash lying around after the IPO three years earlier. In any case, leggings were in. The brand found a way to replay the distinctly American magic of selling highly-engineered sportswear as aspirational leisure clothing, as Nike and others did decades earlier. And the 2010s would be the decade of athleisure, another terrible word which would spawn a thousand worried editorials about yoga pants.
In a very different segment of the market, 2010 also saw the beginning of Swedish tailoring brand Saman Amel, one of a number of new tailors from outside of the old powerhouses of England and Italy.
This was the year that Gianluca Migliarotti’s beautiful film O’Mast was released, giving viewers a chance to see the Neapolitan master tailors working, and musing about their tough post-war childhoods, in that vibrant and dangerous Italian port they proudly called home. Menswear afficionados would recognise names like Attolini, Panico, Marinella, Peluso, Ciardi, Formosa, Rubinacci, and Zizzolfi.
The film also signalled a growing mainstream appetite for the craft and romance of Neapolitan tailoring: the colourful cloths and characters, the soft construction and casual charm. The short jackets and tight sleeves made recovering Thom Browne fans feel safe, while the massive lapels tempted others with a touch of 1980s excess.
This was also the year Mr Porter was founded as a menswear arm of the Net-a-Porter empire. In a world of lousy, unreliable online retail, it quickly became a powerhouse, with slick production, packaging, and personalized service. Luxury retail without the retail space. Personal treatment without any personal interaction. It was at once a revolution for those outside the menswear capitals, and a siren song for traditional bricks-and-mortar luxury retailers.
This was the year that Facebook bought Instagram for a billion dollars. Its huge valuation and resulting cash injection signaled beyond any doubt Instagram’s transformation from likeable photo-sharing service (Flickr for the smartphone generation) to internet advertising and marketing titan.
Talk to retailers today about it and they’re ambivalent. On the one hand, the instant and viral distribution of images has helped craftspeople and small brands spread appreciation of their arts in a time when the last few village shirtmakers and small-town tailors were dying out. It’s been the difference between success and destruction for many. At the same time, Instagram has also transformed marketing into nothing but the successful distribution of images (along with, if you’re lucky, a couple of clichéd sentences). If you can look the part, and market hard with the help of a few thousand bots, actual craft and innovation become irrelevant. The ubiquity of direct-to-consumer imitations of classic clothing and high fashion alike didn’t need Instagram, but it certainly pushed them into overdrive.
In 2013 Loro Piana became the latest luxury brand to be swallowed into Bernard Arnault’s empire after LVMH acquired 80% of the company for two billion euros. The only company which managed to resist during the decade was Hermès, who litigated in response to Arnault’s acquisition of shares, won, and by 2015 had compelled LVMH to sell their stake.
Aside from the general concerns about market competitiveness and consolidation, moves such as this only increased the astonishing power that luxury groups wield over retailers and the press, since they hold gigantic brand portfolios and make up the lion’s share of luxury advertising.
In the immediate aftermath of the 2019 Notre Dame fire, the two voices which came forward to pledge support for the rebuilding efforts were those of the chairmen of LVHM and Kering (the 20 billion euro owner of Gucci, YSL, Brioni and Balenciaga, as well as watchmakers Girard-Perregaux and Ulysse Nardin). Many applauded their generosity, and not without reason. But it was hard to avoid the feeling that they had no choice: whether selling champagne in Singapore or Vuitton in New York, the shimmering image of Paris was their ultimate product. In that moment a national monument and symbol for France was itself being remade as a kind of privately-funded luxury good.
Another small brand emerged in 2014 to capture that vital space where craft and modern design meet: Stòffa. Agyesh Madan’s brand offered the quality construction and made-to-measure service typical of classic tailors, applied to knitwear, trousers, and an eye-catching range of outerwear. The asymmetric jacket quickly became a darling of internet menswear commentators. Aside from the modern, tonal palette and restrained but thoughtful designs, Stòffa is worth noting for its superb lookbooks, dispensing with the clichés of the imaginary gentleman in favour of real people and places: a sports club in Bangalore, a squash court in Harlem.
This was a good year for craft-first menswear in France, seeing the founding of Beige Habilleur by Basile Khadiry and Jean-Baptiste-Ménétrier. Similar to specialist multi-brand store No Man Walks Alone in New York, Beige brought together classic brands from Italy, England and the USA (Valstar, Inglese, Drake’s, Mackintosh, Filson) as well as Japanese tailoring (Camoshita, Ring Jacket) and under-appreciated European makers such as Spanish Justo Gimeno.
More importantly, it also championed French menswear, both by promoting brands such as Husbands and François Pinton, and by bringing a whole world of international makers to a French audience. While tailoring afficionados certainly knew the ultra-high-end Parisian tailors, Beige brought together French-made belts (L’Aiglon), shoes (Arpenteur) and shirts (Beige’s own-label OCBDs).
Beige, Husbands and others also presaged the arrival of L’Etiquette magazine in 2018, Gauthier Borsarello’s innovative, optimistic, and generously wide-ranging publication about clothes and culture.
This was the year that Brioni hired—and also replaced—Justin O’Shea as creative director. The Australian was hired from a role at German fashion retailer MyTheresa, and attempted to bring to the brand a street-style inflected, tattooed, rock-and-roll tinged cool. He also hired Metallica.
Was this the kind of hubris only possible when a huge luxury brand portfolio controls a storied tailor but knows none of its history? Was this simply the wrong luxury tailor to try to modernize in such a dramatic fashion? (The problem is not so hard to see: both Huntsman and Gucci will sell you a nice tux, but they’re worlds apart.) In any case, while O’Shea’s collection was not badly received by the fashion press, it was not welcomed by Brioni’s traditional clientele, who were largely conservative and wealthy, or hoping to look it. Brioni lost Metallica but and went back to clothing business executives, mid-tier oligarchs, and James Bond.
This was also the year that Hong Kong tailor Prologue was founded by Jerry Tong, Chris Tang (formerly of storied shirtmaker Ascot Chang) and Maslow So. Their Italian-influenced, Chinese-made, true bespoke offering signaled an important cross-cultural development, comparable to the Naples-trained Japanese tailors who reinvented the Japanese market.
The following year saw another strange marriage: the first Supreme x Louis Vuitton collaboration. Why did Kim Jones and LVMH succeed with a youth-centered reboot for a historic brand where O’Shea and Kering went wrong? Jones had worked for Supreme in a past life, and understood that exclusivity comes in many forms. Vuitton iconography had been appearing in streetwear and fast-fashion contexts for years (albeit in trademark-infringing manners) and this was only an official version of something everyone had seen before. But most simply, Supreme fans were already proven to spend outrageous amounts on exclusive branded fashion. (Metallica fans were not huge consumers of luxury handmade Italian suits, strangely enough.) It’s hard to know what success looked like in terms of balance sheets, but one indicator is that as recently as June 2019 Vuitton hosted a Supreme capsule connection pop-up store in London.
This was also the year that Jake Grantham and Alex Pirounis launched Anglo-Italian, a London-based RTW and MTM shop that combined Neapolitan handmade suits, shirts, and accessories with a British palette of greys, olives and blues, hardy brushed cotton and luxurious Fox brothers flannel for the English weather. The combination of high-grade craft and a subtle, restrained sensibility quickly won them high regard.
John Galliano, disgraced and fired by Dior in 2011 after being filmed (and prosecuted for) an antisemitic tirade in a French bar, spent the next few years out of the spotlight. But at the end of 2013 he joined Maison Margiela, and in 2018 his first menswear collection for Margiela was displayed. Galliano’s collection drew on plenty of Bowie-era extravagance (plenty of vinyl) but was in some ways surprisingly traditional: tweed and satin, cut on the bias (to make the fabric twist and flow rather than draping). In Galliano’s show, tailoring returned to fashion as, in his words, ‘the highest form of dressmaking’.
2018 also marked the launch of another Hong Kong tailor bringing Italian-influenced style to a market traditionally dominated by British-style tailors: Buzz Tang and Andy Chong’s neo-Florentine brand, The Anthology. As well as an accomplished travelling bespoke operation making traditional suits and jackets, the brand is rolling out a versatile ‘lazyman’ jacket, an unstructured piece which has something of the artist’s smock about it.
I’ll wrap up this tour of the decade with a look at movements on that most traditional of menswear addresses, Savile Row. Around the start of the year, the residents at 14 Savile Row, Hardy Amies, sadly announced their insolvency. Throughout its history, the brand mostly sold mid-tier and licensed RTW (originally with department store Hepworth’s, now with British high-street retailer Moss), although a bespoke offering was available. (At time of writing you can still buy Amies-badged industrial suits made in an undisclosed location.)
In happier news, the residents of 1 Savile Row, Gieves and Hawkes, announced a return to profitability after a couple of decidedly rocky years. Better still, they reported that the bespoke business, as well as the more ordinary RTW operation, was out of the red.
Two new residents on the street are worth noting. In the empty space at number 14 you can now find the Hackett ‘townhouse’. The brand promises a true bespoke service as well as the typical MTM and RTW. Hackett has had an interesting relation with British craft, selling clothes on that basis for years (the logo is a bowler hat and umbrellas, for goodness’ sake) while relentlessly outsourcing, and when questioned on that topic the eponymous Jeremy Hackett said some rather negative things about British manufacturing. But according to recent announcements, the MTM is British, the bespoke offering is situated at the heart of British tailoring, and the very serious Britishness on sale is beginning to seem more substantial.
Finally, celebrated tie-maker and now full-look brand Drake’s moved around the corner from Clifford St. into 9 Savile Row, replacing Alexander McQueen. The new store is vast and rectangular, full of art, and in a nod to their now-infamous luxury fleece, the armchairs are festooned with casentino cushions.
Latest posts by Alexander Freeling (see all)
- How to Enjoy Cordovan Leather - July 22, 2022
- From Sketch to Garment: Acre and Row’s Design Process - October 30, 2020
- Enamel Craft and Design - September 18, 2020
- E. Gucewicz Sunglasses: Handcrafted From Home - July 7, 2020
- Lockdown Footwear - April 29, 2020