No more suits? 2021 menswear is all about soft fabrics, comfy silhouettes and uplifting colours
As the fashion weeks in Milan and Paris show, men's clothing has taken on a more casual approach in the Covid-19 era
The coronavirus made 2020 a challenging year for the fashion industry, with supply chains disrupted, lifestyles changing and buying behaviour shifting. The global pandemic still shows no signs of going away until vaccines reach a greater number of people. Even then, the new blend of home and office, with a move away from formality in menswear, may be here to stay.
How we emerge from the chaos and uncertainty of the pandemic has concentrated the minds of menswear designers, who unveiled their collections for autumn / winter 2021 on the digital platforms of Milan and Paris Fashion Week (given that runway shows have been banned) over the past fortnight.
Outdoor and indoor come together, and comfort and style blend to create a new aesthetic
Alessandro Sartori, artistic director, Ermenegildo Zegna
How do designers see our future? How will we adapt sartorially to this reality? Should collections be rooted in the daily routines that have reshaped our lives, or should they offer a measure of escapism from the grim reality? There are many questions the creative teams at fashion labels pondered over in the darkest days of winter at the height of the second or, for some, third wave of Covid-19.
Human life is adaptable, that is how it evolves and progresses, and the pandemic has forced us to press the reset button because it has broken down the barriers that have separated work and home life. It has also reminded us of what we miss – the physical embrace of our families. In this vein, the designers, particularly the Italian brands, have noted the psychological impact of the pandemic.
Comfort comes first
Raf Simons, who presented his first menswear collection designed with Miuccia Prada, said in a post-show Q&A: “The collection connects to the feelings of human beings now and how they are dealing with the emotions of what is happening in the world.”
Simons talks about tactility, contrasts and senses, and his collection focuses strongly on the comforting, soft, unrestricted and tactile – mixing textures of mohair, jersey, wool knit and teddy bear pile fabrics. Clearly a step up from the T-shirts and tracksuits that have become the norm for those stuck at home over the past year.
Prada’s vibrant geometric jacquard-knit long johns are the foundation of its whole collection and an intriguing development – a childish romper suit, a pair of grown-up long johns, perhaps a reference to 1970s glam rock. A challenge for some, but worn with an elongated sweater, a coat or a parka, this has possibilities.
Artistic director Alessandro Sartori, too, responds to the times we live in with his collection for Ermenegildo Zegna, arguably one of the most coveted makers of bespoke suits. “We all are experiencing a new reality concerned with new needs, which lead us to previously unseen lifestyles and attitudes,” he says.
Everything is up for discussion in this reality, and so Zegna looked at the brand’s roots, leveraging its tailoring expertise and textile experimentation for the modern man.
The result is seductive, soft cashmere, wools and jersey, with loose silhouettes such as judo jackets, robe coats, slouch-shouldered jackets, trousers as easy as tracksuit bottoms and zippered shell tops. “Outdoor and indoor come together, and a new way of dressing takes hold, where comfort and style blend to create a new aesthetic,” Sartori says.
This relaxed modern luxury was a theme in Paris as well, at Hermes, where there was a distinct lack of formal dressing, save for a tailored coat or two. Leather Harrington jackets, zippered knitwear and tailored tracksuit bottoms in a co-ordinating palette of colours ticked the boxes of many of the wardrobe staples, but not the formal suit.
Paul Smith and Dries Van Noten did the same: there were some tailored tweed donkey jackets at Paul Smith, but mostly stylish archetypal garments in new fabrics and structures from both designers. Coloured shirts, knitwear, bomber jackets, trench coats all came out, but barely a suit.
Far from envisaging next winter as a return to partying and big social events, designers see home as remaining the focus of our lives. Nevertheless, Silvia Venturini Fendi’s filmed runway show – with dance track, neon lighting and Technicolor collection – did put an optimistic spin on things with colourful, padded cocoon jackets and playful scribble art motifs.
Etro similarly sent a message of hope with its sunny colour palette, Magic Carpet silk prints and jacquard knits to whizz us off on a mystery tour, if only in our imagination.
Uplifting colour chromotherapy was a major trend from both Milan and Paris, with Fendi, Iceberg, MGSM and Kidsuper, referencing the rave scene, a period of joyful abandonment in the 1990s, with a palette of pinks, purple, turquoise and yellow.
Although prohibited, underground parties have sprung up everywhere, and Iceberg’s energetic streetwear generates the excitement of that rave party culture.
It is ironic that before the pandemic, the sporty, streetwear craze appeared on the wane, and sharp suiting, with a tailored shirt and tie, was making a tentative comeback. Well, that’s back on the shelf for the moment (although tailored coats and trousers featured in a few collections, some filmed in bleak, empty cityscapes, a reflection of the current reality, from designers such as Sean Suen).
The exceptions to the wholesale abandonment of tailoring were to be seen at Dior, Louis Vuitton and Yohji Yamamoto. The Japanese designer’s all-black collection featured masked models wearing neoprene coats, draped suits embroidered with words and phrases, and a silhouette of exaggerated proportions.
Louis Vuitton leads the way
Virgil Abloh highlighted another important event of last year in his collection for Louis Vuitton – the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. Both Abloh’s Ghanaian heritage and the fact fashion has been called to action to represent a more diverse image, came across in this collection entitled Tourist vs Purist, a reference perhaps to the insider versus the outsider. The powerful collection mixed African and western cultural references with witty details in a choreographed departure lounge scenario that also tapped into Louis Vuitton’s travel heritage. The collection sent a message of inclusivity and hope, and was a dreamy reminder of those days when we could travel freely.
While Paris and Milan’s menswear collections are a reflection of what has been a painful time, the two fashion weeks also made for a fascinating and historic experience that is shared around the globe.
Defiant in Dior
Kim Jones’s collection for Dior men (this week he will also debut a haute couture collection for Fendi, his first womenswear outing) was full of pomp and luxurious couture embroideries decorating his glorious French military-dress-inspired uniforms.
Layered with tailored coats and bomber jackets, the collection was an antidote to the prevailing mood for casual dressing, with Jones admitting post-show that the look “is the opposite of how we are living at the moment”.
Updated: January 25, 2021 02:48 PM