Perforated leather menswear that packs a sporty punch

Summer’s predilection for perforated leather and suede captures the spirit of sports-car luxe, says Tom Stubbs

Bottega Veneta calfskin and crocodile briefcase, £6,115
Bottega Veneta calfskin and crocodile briefcase, £6,115

In his book The Language of Things, Deyan Sudjic, director of London’s Design Museum, decodes the hidden messages behind products. Objects are deciphered in terms of evocative, subliminal references: we’re told how the Volkswagen Golf GTI, in its classic black-with-red detail-trim iteration, echoes the sinister-yet-seductive aesthetic of a pistol. So far as I know, he hasn’t taken on the semiotics of perforated leather, but I imagine one link he might make is to the interiors of 1970s and 1980s sports cars. I know I do.

Clockwise from bottom left: Canali calfskin shoes, £300. Connolly calfskin Road Rage driving gloves, £295. Valentino calfskin briefcase, £1,745
Clockwise from bottom left: Canali calfskin shoes, £300. Connolly calfskin Road Rage driving gloves, £295. Valentino calfskin briefcase, £1,745

Zegna is just one of many luxury brands that have gone for perforated hides this season; its Maserati perforated lambskin driving gloves (£360), in rich brown with ruthenium buttons and specially padded grip panels, evoke the notoriously stylish Mille Miglia race of 1920s-’50s Italy. Its loafers (£430) are, by contrast, a thoroughly contemporary weekend style, with their soft sacchetto construction; insole and lining are hand-stitched for supreme flexibility, while the perforated upper panel adds textural flair.

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But it’s bomber jackets that leverage the perforated-leather look in especially new ways this season. The precisely engineered bombers at Kilgour (£1,400) brilliantly channel that sports-car feeling, even down to using Alcantara, a manmade high-performance faux suede. These come in navy, charcoal and off-white; the last in particular is quintessential test-driver garb (though trickier to pull off with jeans in town), while the charcoal is eminently wearable. Zegna does a longer varsity jacket (£3,590) in graphite suede with patch pockets, knitted collar and tab-button fastening, but the nappa-leather bomber (£3,495) in navy is far sportier in shape and texture – and arguably a younger man’s jacket, due to its glossy finish. The lining and jersey trims of Hugo Boss’ appealing perforated dusty navy suede Gorin bomber (£530) lend a snug fit, and the non-textured sleeves an effective, subtle contrast. Armani Collezioni’s bomber (£630) works this contrast further, its all-black sportif stretch-jersey sleeves juxtaposed with very soft perforated embossed-croc lambskin: a tracksuit shape that takes perf leather boldly into the sportswear realm.

Hermès calfskin trousers, £5,980
Hermès calfskin trousers, £5,980

There is another proposition altogether at Versace: a taupe slashed, unlined, cutout motorcycle jacket (about £3,380), which I might characterise as “luxe aggro” for its biker nature and boxy-shoulder silhouette. The unique colour enhances the obvious exclusivity of the insanely soft goatskin.

From left: Jimmy Choo suede Argyle shoes, £495. Versace leather motorcycle jacket, about £3,380
From left: Jimmy Choo suede Argyle shoes, £495. Versace leather motorcycle jacket, about £3,380

The Hermès leather atelier is to surface and treatment innovations as Nasa is to space programme intel. Not as far-fetched an analogy as you’d think, given that this season some marvellous trousers (£5,980) were produced with computer-assisted perforation edge technology used, yes, by Nasa. These remarkable – suitably space-programme-price tagged – calfskin trousers have a openwork micro perf pattern, achieved using a drill instead of lasers (which can singe the skins). Hermès’ deft perforation work on footwear is almost as eye-catching: the elegant Orson loafers (£610) in calfskin suede are cool, with a shape suggesting penny loafer detailing in trompe l’oeil form; even the pitch direction of each lozenge-shaped cutout flows beautifully.

From top: Armani Collezioni suede bomber, £630. Ermenegildo Zegna leather Maserati loafers, £430
From top: Armani Collezioni suede bomber, £630. Ermenegildo Zegna leather Maserati loafers, £430

But then there’s a full grandstand of shoes – especially leather sneakers – showcasing perforation, as it ideally suits the current vogue for scant adornment. But the best of them sneak in pleasing little nuances: witness Common Projects, experts in pared-back desirability, whose Achilles limited edition nubuck sneakers (£315) come in a gorgeous pebble grey with gold printed serial numbers over the fine perf. At Balmain, it’s all about the gold hardware: the white high-tops are smashing, but it’s the black version (£535) with gold eyelets and Balmain logo on the tongue that equates to the season’s prestige sports item.

Kilgour Alcantara bomber, £1,400
Kilgour Alcantara bomber, £1,400

In another era, sturdy leather shoes worn for trudging through bogs in Ireland and Scotland had holes punched in them to let water out; the process – called brogueing – evolved into brogue shoes. These days, perforations are more about creating modern textural effects – such as with Ludwig Reiter’s Badner Locherlschuh Derby (£549), in soft bookbinder calfskin. Reiter, a former supplier to the Austrian army, also has a perforated nappa calf tennis shoe (£298) in pearl white, a low-key basic. Canali’s low-tops (£300), in dark tan or white, are more of a sporty shoe, with uppers handcrafted using traditional hollow-cutter technology.

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There’s a faint metallic glimmer on some of Jimmy Choo’s star perforated “dry suede” footwear; its Argyle high-top (£495) benefits greatly from gunmetal D-rings and eyelets. A simple slip-on (£475) works well, but an intriguing Vasco desert boot/espadrille meld (£395) with rope and rubber sole pushes – in a good way – the envelope of summer casual.

Talking of envelopes… and bags and briefcases… Bottega Veneta has the best perforated versions of these this year. The techniques were evolved alongside its intrecciato designs, using multidirectional triangular perforations and diamond shape stitching to create striking new effects. A three-flap envelope briefcase (£6,115, main picture) in calfskin and crocodile enlists embroidered details, as does a document case (£4,280) in burgundy and green. Also strong on briefcases is Valentino. A double-handle calf briefcase (£1,745) with ruthenium studs is clean and futuristic-looking, while the perforated backpack (£1,645), also in calf, has a more knockabout feel.

And so to Connolly, where it’s back to classic luxury driving kit – something the British house has always excelled in – with the re-release of its Road Rage driving gloves (£295). In black and a gorgeous British racing-green calf with red top stitching, they feature knuckle holes and lines of perforations. The first two fingers are picked out in red leather, should the driver feel the need to conspicuously gesticulate (though I’d stick with the peace sign, unless you want to risk getting your lights punched out).

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