September 17 2010
Preposterous as this may sound, I have a commitment game that I only ever play with the more fashion-focused of my friends. It involves answering the following question: if you could only wear one designer’s clothes for the rest of your life, whose would they be? It may seem a straightforward enough query. But bear in mind that within the rules of my game you will still be committed to this sartorial decision when you are at a riper age.
I’ve never been able to come up with an answer that I feel 100 per cent happy with. I love the effortless elegance of Savile Row tailoring, the loucheness of Rick Owens’ conceptual drapery and the sexiness of Gucci’s super-soft leather jackets. In fact, I’ve never truly believed any single designer could fully satisfy my multifarious, contradictory and ever-changing yearnings until I came across the new menswear collection by Roland Mouret. Finally, here are clothes I can imagine wearing exclusively, and which will look just as good on me now as they will when I am 70.
Renowned as a womenswear designer who creates what his many devotees – Keira Knightley, Cameron Diaz, Naomi Watts and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy among them – claim are physically transformative dresses, Mouret has recently shifted his attention to menswear. This was driven in no small part by necessity and his inability to find anything out there that he wanted to wear himself. “The real lesson for me was to learn how to remain objective about a collection that could have become entirely subjective,” says Mouret. “I started with a name, Mr. It’s my initials reversed, which is totally personal yet entirely universal. There are two different silhouettes and everything is available in both. An athletic one to reflect younger bodies with broad shoulders and a narrower waist. The other is straight up and down, and more like what my body has become.
“It has been incredibly inspiring to start working for men and to think about what men might really want to wear,” says Mouret. “I realised that these days I just throw on a pair of jeans and a sweater, or sometimes a suit, and I don’t really think about it very much more than that. In the end, I wanted a men’s collection that felt the same.”
The first Mr collection is a capsule of 15 looks, all of which work with each other. It’s what Mouret refers to as “unconscious co-ordination”. Everything either matches or complements everything else in both colour and texture, so you can practically get dressed in the dark. “The colour palette is monochrome,” says Mouret. “I started with the concept of drawing and the way you can build up shade and texture with just a pencil.” Shades of grey predominate, inspired by the male film stars in black-and-white movies and film noir.
Then he added in the technical details that are fundamental to his craft. “My approach to detail in menswear has been a distillation of the folding techniques that I am known for in my women’s collection,” he explains. However, where many of Mouret’s dresses are as complex as origami, his menswear features a far more subtle interpretation of his signature techniques. At the opening of the sleeve of a stretched-felt tailored jacket (£750) there are no buttons; he sees them as an all-too-easy way of making it look snazzy, and their absence allows him to focus his attention entirely on the volume and the drape of the sleeve itself. The clothes have a sculptural approach and the feeling of being built around the shape of the body rather than on top of it. Sleeves are slim without being skinny and they follow the natural hang and curve of the arm.
Mr shirts (from £220) have collars that are draped and folded rather than stitched into place. Across the back, the fabric is strategically darted to create a soft volume rather than panelled into a flat shape. The epaulettes of a military-inspired coat (£1,250) are formed by cleverly folding the fabric of the sleeve, which in turn allows the sleeves to drape gently across the shoulder rather than form a hard angle. There is a line of stitching running horizontally from the top line of the coat’s flying pockets to subtly define the waistline.
On the front of his flat-fronted trousers (£380) there are darts that run horizontally from the pocket rather than vertically from the waistband – a detail that allows the pockets to sit flatter and create a far more appealing line. More darts, set into the seat, work to square the shape of the posterior. Conversely, the same feature on his women’s trousers works to create a curvier shape. It is not necessarily the use of such detail that sets Mouret’s collection apart, but how he applies it in a practical way to make clothes that are both functional and comfortable.
Mouret balances this sense of practicality with an equal sense of passion, love and romance. He was particularly inspired by an old sweater of his father’s that his mother gave him after his father passed away two years ago (Mouret talks about it in the video accompanying this article, A Clothes Encounter). It was as if the memory of his father lived on in the tactile nature of this garment, and it became Mouret’s quest to recreate it, not just in how it looked but how it felt to touch. The result is a complex blend of woven and specially treated fibres that capture the emotional connection to this heirloom.
Mouret associates such texture with intimacy, which he sees as the greatest luxury of our time, whether that be the feeling of the texture of a sweater that becomes embedded in a child’s consciousness when cuddled by his father, or a woman slipping her hand into the pocket of her husband’s coat looking for both warmth and a connection. “My female customer tends to be a woman who already has a partner,” he says. “She is not dressing to get the attention of the entire room but to look the best she can for the man who is in her life. My clothes are about giving that person in your life a reason to fall in love with you over and over again.”
It’s a conviction Mouret has used as the foundation for his menswear collection too. These clothes are neither flashy nor attention-grabbing.
Memories from Mouret’s childhood inhabit the entire collection. The colour of a pale lavender grey shirt is inspired by the freshness stamps on meat at the abattoir he visited with his butcher father in his youth. “I started to realise how the unconscious symbols of my father’s life influenced me. The silhouette of my collection is from pre- and post-war times. I remember a picture of him wearing high-waisted trousers and a jacket where the shoulders were supported in order to make a subtle V-shape. I create clothes that similarly help to define the body,” he says. “For a woman, it’s the waist and hips, and it’s the shoulders for a man.”
Mouret’s collection is not for a flamboyant fashion customer who has a great body. “It’s not my aim to target easy customers. My collection has a Savile Row ethos with clothes that make you feel supported, that define your body shape without overpowering it.” His is the first men’s collection to feature single-inch size differentials, from 38in to 44in. He uses what he sees as authentic fabrics sourced from the countries of original provenance. The worsted twills are English, cashmere is from Italy and shirting poplin is from Switzerland.
“Men are not only linear in body shape but also in their thought processes and how they experience life,” claims Mouret. “I am the same myself. When I find something I like and that fits me well I tend to buy three or four of them, and I hope they never stop making them in case I need to come back for more. That’s what I aim to do with my men’s collection – to make products that are perfect for the customer and that work in his everyday life. It’s a service that I am providing rather than an art form that I am indulging in.” It’s an old-fashioned sentiment, redolent of a time when every town had a local tailor, but in today’s demanding market it is a sentiment that feels right up to date.
Mouret has gone for a slow-build approach in the distribution of his menswear, with a low-key presentation rather than a catwalk show at the Paris menswear shows. He plans to pass out look-books through his female customers (particularly as they were involved in persuading him to embark on menswear in the first place). Mouret’s female customers are loyal and long-standing, so he knows they will understand what he has created for the men in their lives. “Apart from that, my aim is to have 10 or 12 carefully selected stores around the world. In some countries we will have no presence because I didn’t feel there was a suitable store. Whereas in London we have three stores: Harrods, Browns and Selfridges.
“My existing customer is ageing with me – she ranges from 30 to 70 years, and from size 6 to 18,” says Mouret. And he hopes to attract a similar range with his menswear: “My clothes are designed for getting old together. You don’t want two peacocks in a relationship. The woman should shine like a piece of fine jewellery and the man should be like the box she is displayed in. I want longevity. I want to leave a legacy that will last for decades.” Much like the sweater his mother bequeathed him two years ago, Mouret wants to weave life and love into the texture of his garments and to create something that can be handed down the generations.