Menswear’s cool new tailoring

A creative change of guard at some of fashion’s top houses is ushering in a new era for menswear – and a fresh emphasis on the suit. Simon Chilvers reports

From left: Dior wool/mohair canvas Tailleur Oblique jacket, £2,200, and matching trousers, £690. Louis Vuitton wool/mohair jacket, £2,150, matching trousers, £835, and cotton poplin shirt, £925. Burberry wool jacket, £1,390, matching trousers, £550, and silk shirt and tie, £590
From left: Dior wool/mohair canvas Tailleur Oblique jacket, £2,200, and matching trousers, £690. Louis Vuitton wool/mohair jacket, £2,150, matching trousers, £835, and cotton poplin shirt, £925. Burberry wool jacket, £1,390, matching trousers, £550, and silk shirt and tie, £590 | Image: Frederique Dumoulin. Kim Weston Arnold

The biggest changes on the male fashion agenda this season aren’t necessarily on the runway, but behind it. As part of a major reshuffle, several key fashion labels – Burberry, Dior and Louis Vuitton in particular – have new creative directors. Riccardo Tisci, previously at Givenchy, has been given the reins at Burberry; Kim Jones, formerly men’s artistic director at Louis Vuitton, is now in charge of menswear at Dior, while founder of streetwear label Off-White, Virgil Abloh, has taken Jones’ role at Vuitton. Each presented their first collection for spring/summer 2019, outlining their ideas and, as it turns out, turning the spotlight on the suit

The past decade or so has seen luxury sportswear loom large on the menswear landscape. Tisci, Jones and Abloh have all played significant roles in this trajectory, which is what makes this emphasis on the suit a fashionable talking point. In their new appointments, all three showed variations of the two-piece, fusing traditional notions of tailoring with more fluid sportswear influences. Combined with fresh iterations from houses that treat the suit as a staple, such as Paul Smith and Dunhill, single- and double-breasted versions are firmly back in fashion’s vernacular.

At Burberry, Tisci’s first look was a seemingly classic navy pinstripe suit (jacket, £1,390; trousers, £550) with a pale-blue chevron-striped shirt and tie (together £590). But on the jacket’s lapel, two small crosses were discreetly stitched, while on the side of the trousers, the pinstripe morphed into a chevron design that echoed the detail on the shirt collar and tie. It was a strong, traditionally masculine statement. 

From left: Dior menswear artistic director Kim Jones. Louis Vuitton men’s artistic director Virgil Abloh. Burberry chief creative officer Riccardo Tisci
From left: Dior menswear artistic director Kim Jones. Louis Vuitton men’s artistic director Virgil Abloh. Burberry chief creative officer Riccardo Tisci | Image: Getty Images. Getty Images/Gamma-Rapho. WireImage

At Vuitton, Abloh’s opening statement was designed as a palette cleanser – he told me this himself during a preview of the collection two days before the show. A white wool/mohair double-breasted jacket (£2,150) with two-pleat trousers (£835) worn with a classic white poplin shirt (£925) and white sneakers (£700) emerged on the runway.

Jones’ first look for Dior was a double-breasted suit in off-white, the jacket (£2,300) of which featured two buttons and two contrast shirting stripes: one in the sleeves, one cut into the main body of the jacket. The trousers (£590) were high-waisted and styled with sneakers (£730), striking a rather elegant line between laidback and romantic. “I started with a tailoring base, then added sportswear elements and a couture finish,” explains Jones of his Dior reboot, which was inspired by both Christian Dior himself and the language and legacy of his couture house. “The collection is actually really chic and elegant because that’s what this maison is like. So it was taking what the house has done, which is couture and tailoring, and using that to make the new collection.” In the show notes, one of the key statements revolved around men’s clothes that are “softer with rounded shoulders and eased shapes”.  

Jones, who studied at London’s Central Saint Martins, showed his first collection at London Fashion Week in 2003 and quickly gained acclaim for his modern interpretation of the male wardrobe with a sportswear twist. In 2008, he closed the label to take the creative director role at Dunhill, where he proved to have a strong eye for fresh tailoring. In 2011, he was appointed as the style director of the men’s collections at Louis Vuitton where he resided until 2018, transforming the brand into one of the most influential men’s fashion labels. He brought spark by collaborating with the likes of artists the Chapman Brothers or streetwear mega-brand Supreme.   

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Central to the Jones-era Dior is a new suit jacket shape dubbed the Tailleur Oblique (£2,200) that wraps around the body, fastening to the side with one discreet button. It appeared several times during the show, minimally styled with sneakers, in soft pink, navy and black. “Suits are, of course, an integral part of our business, and Dior’s is expanding,” explains Jones. “We want to make customers excited about the brand. To this end, we must meet consumers’ need for suits they wear to work. Meanwhile, we must open up more space for more people by offering various fashion options,” he adds. 

Tisci’s tenure at Givenchy began in 2005, though it wasn’t until 2008 that he took full control of menswear. Here, like Jones at Vuitton, he mined the path between tailoring and sportswear. In 2012, a Rottweiler sweatshirt became a huge hit, putting Givenchy menswear at the forefront of sports luxe. Tisci’s understanding of luxury streetwear proved to be financial gold for the house, where sneakers, sweats and sportswear drove large amounts of revenue.  

Backstage after his Burberry debut, Tisci spoke of a need for sophistication. He said: “I know we all talk about street, and I was one of the first, but we forget about sophisticated cut and Savile Row tailoring.” In his show notes, the designer also underscored the notion of “the melting pot of creativity and style traditions, from the punk and rebellious, to the formal and refined, all co-existing together”. This idea was demonstrated by dividing the menswear into two distinct sections, one rather refined, one more relaxed and street-inspired. Both featured suits in single- and double-breasted shapes. There was also a new style of fastening utilised on an otherwise plain two-button suit (jacket £1,490; trousers £590); the top button was replaced with three silver fastenings running across the jacket’s centre. Later, in the show’s more laidback section, looser shapes in shades of peach or pistachio appeared, worn with sneakers and a T-shirt.

From left: Louis Vuitton cotton-silk blazer, £2,150, mohair trousers, £710, and cotton/silk top, £1,300. Dior cashmere jacket, £3,400, and matching trousers, £1,600. Burberry linen/silk jacket, £1,490, matching trousers, £590, and cotton shirt and tie, £590
From left: Louis Vuitton cotton-silk blazer, £2,150, mohair trousers, £710, and cotton/silk top, £1,300. Dior cashmere jacket, £3,400, and matching trousers, £1,600. Burberry linen/silk jacket, £1,490, matching trousers, £590, and cotton shirt and tie, £590 | Image: Frederique Dumoulin

Abloh, who has an MA in architecture and who worked as Kayne West’s creative director before setting up Off-White in 2013, has experimented with tailoring but never to the level of luxury seen at Vuitton. Ahead of the show he talked about his desire to make a new silhouette that was not formal or street. Instead, Abloh presented a collection where the tailoring message was clear but also punchy. Aside from the opening white looks, colour was a key theme of this debut, from the rainbow-painted runway in the Palais-Royal, to a slick black double-breasted blazer (£2,150) featuring cigarette-style trousers (£710) worn with a bright orange cropped top (£1,300), to the overarching theme of The Wizard of Oz, which inspired prints. The main point of newness here was not necessarily the suiting per se but the wearable accessories, intended to become a new kind of layering device.

Other tailoring news this season came via Celine, which introduced its first menswear collection, now under the guidance of Hedi Slimane, formerly of Dior Homme and more recently Saint Laurent. Having popularised a super-lean silhouette, Slimane’s Celine debut showcased almost 50 men’s looks (also available to women) which had a 1980s mood, with tailoring featuring heavily. Longer-line jackets, a neat one-button, single-breasted black jacket (£1,950) and trousers (£750) and a rectangular six-button, double-breasted style (£1,750) featuring a strong shoulder and “new wave” trousers, (£550) with a pleat front, all marched down his Paris runway. Notably, the super-skinniness of his previous work was loosened slightly through trouser legs, though the overall look was still streamlined and fitted.

Elsewhere, double-breasted suits are being reimagined by labels as diverse as Versace (grey pinstripe, boxy); Dunhill (moiré silk, elegant); Dries Van Noten (minimal, slightly roomy); and Paul Smith (long-line‑jackets, 1980s vibe). Van Noten says the suit forms the base of all his collections, and the rest of the clothes follow. This season, the designer worked with prints from Danish interiors designer Verner Panton that were cleverly integrated into suits with a longer line in the jacket (£882) and a roomier drape through the chest. “We used a lot of deconstructed shapes and slightly oversized, sometimes really oversized baggy pants, quite often cropped, to give the line a summer feel,” explains Van Noten from his office in Antwerp. This collection was a strong suiting showcase with both minimalism and more fashion-forward moods covered. “I wanted to give it [the suit] a kind of elegance, and I think short and boxy sometimes can look a little square-ish and so when you make it a slightly more elongated silhouette it gives it a nice proportion, especially when you put it with a slightly wider pair of pants,” he says. “For me it was about giving the right balance of relaxed and elegant.”

Dunhill faille silk jacket, £1,795, and moiré silk trousers, £575. Paul Smith wool blazer, £785, and matching trousers, £440. Dries Van Noten cotton/linen blazer, £882, and matching trousers, £432. Celine wool gabardine jacket, £1,950, and matching trousers, £750
Dunhill faille silk jacket, £1,795, and moiré silk trousers, £575. Paul Smith wool blazer, £785, and matching trousers, £440. Dries Van Noten cotton/linen blazer, £882, and matching trousers, £432. Celine wool gabardine jacket, £1,950, and matching trousers, £750 | Image: Celine by Hedi Slimane. Getty Images for Dunhill

The Belgian designer has often championed the kind of ease in tailoring that we are seeing overall this season and is a great advocate of the double-breasted jacket. “I’ve always been obsessed with it,” he confesses. Worn with a certain loose air, hands casually in pockets, “gives a casual chicness”, he says. 

Paul Smith is also a fan. “After many seasons of single-breasted jackets with various numbers of buttons, it just felt right to revisit double-breasted in a confident way,” he says. On the runway, this was manifested in checks (£785), strong shades such as lavender and also classic black. “The key thing is that the size of the wrap-over is less now than it was in the 1980s. This means there is less fabric across your stomach and gives a more modern look to the jacket,” Smith explains from his London studio. “I’ve taken the boxier [’80s] shapes but made them relevant to today. Not quite as strong on the shoulders, not quite so much padding, but still a big, impactful shape.” 

At Dunhill, creative director Mark Weston, who was formerly at Burberry and Coach, has hit his stride with a certain contemporary twist on the classic idea of suiting. For his second runway show in Paris, Weston, like Smith and Van Noten, championed a longer-line jacket (£1,795), often with invisible fastenings and oversized, but not boxy cuts. “The relaxed, wrapped tailoring infuses a new sinuous elegance to notions of power dressing, while split-hem trousers [£575] nod to an ’80s casual code,” explains Weston. Moiré silk, usually used in eveningwear, is featured throughout the collection in both jackets and trousers instead of technical fabrics. On the runway, Weston’s suits, like other labels including Hermès, Dior and Van Noten, were minimally styled, sometimes with nothing worn under the blazer, a look that might catch on for a younger, experimental red-carpet crowd but is unlikely to translate in real life. However, the effect is rather clever, drawing your eye to focus more on the shape and proportions of the suit. 

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Weston’s mission for the suit is to avoid anything too starchy. “There’s always got to be a sense of ease to it,” he says, when I ask how men should approach the suit now. Which is a pretty winning summation of the current mood in tailoring.  

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