Back in 1989, when I was at college, acid house was still raging strong. Long hair, overtly baggy clothes and androgyny were de rigueur (if a trifle unruly for my tastes). But a niche – and to me more appealing – style culture was emerging: dubbed “jazzual”, it flourished in a specific area of London’s Soho. Its musical heritage was rare groove and acid jazz; its visual one, what rude boys of the 1960s and ’70s wore. A significant amount of its inspiration came out of Black Market Records and the legendary Duffer of St George, both on D’Arblay Street, with Duffer specialising in the knitwear, patched or panelled with suede or leather, that was so popular with the rude boys. Other key elements of the jazzual style included razor-cropped hair and loafers (preferably Gucci snaffles – a fetish purloined from Sloanes and ticket touts), teamed with jeans or cords with kick flares. But it was that cool mix of knit and hide – a marriage of conventional casualwear and attitude – that was so definitive then, and still works so well today.
D’Arblay Street back then would have flipped for this season’s menswear – a strong blend of luxury style and edge – and I’d personally have blown my entire student loan to get my hands on one of the new knits from Bottega Veneta. Its royal-blue cardigan (£1,835) with soft calfskin yoke (which features a touch of the house’s signature intrecciato plait trim) and leather pocket flaps is a splendid piece, whose vintage flavour plays out not just in the cut but also the retro trimming. Likewise, a gunmetal-grey “needle punch” blouson knit jacket (£1,730) – which looks particularly smart matched with neutral cords and a neat Jodhpur boot – and a cotton sweater (£1,730) with suede appliqué.
Fendi’s light reversible cotton number (£3,470, in white) has the DNA of a baseball topper – another great knockabout American classic – with stud fastenings, leather patch pockets and trim placket, and reverses to an all‑leather look. At Spanish house Loewe, ornately embossed tanned nappa leather patches adorn a cream waffle-knitted biker jacket hybrid (£1,395). Paired with jeans or chinos, it’s an easy look enhanced, via the leather detailing, with discreet cachet.
Barrie Sharpe co-founded Duffer in the mid-1980s, long before it began selling hoodies with the giant chest logo, worn by the likes of Jamie Oliver and Ed Sheeran, for which they later became known; as such, he is a suede cardigan connoisseur, who eventually went on to start his own solo label, Sharpeye. This season’s Sharpeye knits are paradigms of what I coveted back in 1989: a navy and tan suede diamond-fronted cardigan (£300) with suede buttons and pocket detail captures the look, as does the all-navy version (£300). “These are fully fashioned knitwear,” Sharpe explains, with collar pieces linked with specialist machines. Sharpe sells online, but he also pitches a stall on Spitalfields Old Market, on Saturday and Sunday – so he doesn’t “miss the interaction of the street”.
Other knit-jacket hybrids this season draw on more collegiate styles; take Berluti’s nifty zip cardigan (£2,860) with sleeves and back in Italian ochre tanned suede and a ribbed cotton/cashmere knit front, or Canali’s perforated lambskin version (£1,580) with knit sleeves. Kiton’s contribution (£4,700) has fine jersey sleeves and a remarkably light, ultra-thin lambskin – the thinnest the house has ever used.
A more understated approach to the trend is at Officine Generale, a Parisian brand I’m increasingly impressed with. Its Vince jacket (£500) in Loro Piana wool has a bomber-style knitted collar, but is straight cut, with patch leather pockets. This kind of leather detailing works on more sporty knits too, such as Ermenegildo Zegna’s navy cardie-bomber (£1,750) in high-performance wool, with a calfskin placket and ton sur ton leather lining. And Maison Margiela, which has been in the leather elbow patch game for years, has a new half-zip style (£390) in chocolate and moss-green lambswool; there’s also a cardigan version (£370) in a mushroom cotton-wool mix.
At Givenchy, an oversized wool sweater with leather elbow patches (£995) has gold zamac studs and ribbed trimmed edges. Adding further texture, and exoticism, to the mix is Stefano Ricci, with a panelled two-tone pure silk jacket (£2,875) with croc-skin shoulder trim; and the Swiss knitwear team at Philipp Plein, whose armour-like black merino wool knit (£500) reinforced with multiple arm patches suggests some hybrid of Milk Tray man and special-forces assault gear.
If that all sounds like a shade too much attitude, visit Connolly, where there is a beautifully refined charcoal-grey cashmere Driving gilet (£540) with a suede insert placket and mother-of-pearl buttons. It’s a special weekend layering piece, and wears well with narrow tailored jersey joggers and nicely worn-in driving shoes, or trainers – a look that will take you effortlessly from Kensington boutiques to brunch at Quo Vadis, in the (still thankfully slightly edgy) environs of Soho, where it all started.