After all the hyperbole about London being the epicentre of the menswear universe, it might seem ironic that the inspiration for much of this spring’s casualwear hails from across the Atlantic. Previously used to describe such things as the beards, banjos and bluegrass of the alternative country-music scene, Americana – the catch-all term that has come to include everything culturally evocative of the Americas – influences a raft of menswear labels, from Bottega Veneta to Louis Vuitton.
Kim Jones, men’s studio and style director at the latter, has based an entire collection upon his personal road trips across the US. “It is really about the freedom of the road,” says Jones. Enthused by leather jackets, blousons/bombers, American plaids and tie-dyes, he draws on a pool of styles and genres, from bikers to flower power – all infused with a laid-back American attitude. So for the Palm Beach condo there is a loud ’n’ proud reversible zip-up silk blouson (£1,330) with matching shorts (£660), a paisley-print oversize shirt (£680), and two-button overcheck cotton blazers (from £1,730) and coordinating short-sleeve check shirts (£480). There’s also the most sumptuous tan leather Perfecto motorcycle jacket ever, with a tuffetage V logo (£4,950), a classic go-anywhere denim jacket reconfigured in blue suede (£3,350) and, keeping the 1960s West Coast spirit alive, a range of sleeveless tie-dye smocks and cargo shorts (from £560).
While much of Jones’s Americana is rock ’n’ no roll, his eveningwear is pure Vegas. Ideal for the gambler who likes to travel light is a reversible silk evening blouson (£2,010), peak-lapel cocktail jacket (£2,560) and wool/silk trousers (£660) that look as though they’ve come straight out of Dean Martin’s wardrobe. “The collection reflects the changing environment, from city to forest and beyond,” says Jones. “That journey in a single day, from snow-covered mountains to desert, that characterises American road trips.”
Americana casualwear has been coming for a while. The thigh-length double-breasted pea coat, with its US naval past, is Britain’s de facto winter casual jacket, and the waist-length green MA1 flying jacket (which defined Soho’s Hard Times look in the 1980s) is updated as a bomber jacket. Among its apostles are Jonathan Saunders, Oliver Spencer, Christopher Raeburn and Paul Smith, who has unveiled four bombers (from £625), all of them racy dark-leather numbers with statement zips and three with mesh. Smith has also gone to town with Western jean jackets in red, white and blue (from £149), as has rising Shropshire fashion star Lou Dalton, entering the fray with a delicious tan cotton corduroy jacket (£270) that is loose and comfortable in a soft-shouldered 1950s American way. She took as her muse the farmhands she remembers from her youth. Corduroy was jumbo and utilitarian olive, denim was acid-washed and bleached, and zip-up, fleece-style jackets were worn as a layer for warmth under other jackets. The silhouette was an echo of Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain, with their bulky clothes and workwear-store belts. Dalton said she wanted her coats to look as if they had been “grabbed off the back of a chair”. The look is a romanticisation of antifashion, nostalgia for menswear pre-metrosexuality. It is also deeply practical: winter clothing designed to work with the elements, not the mirror.
Demand for Americana has been so brisk that London importer of US fashion John Simons – imagine Fitzgerald-like Ivy League button-down shirts (£89), chinos (£99) and loafers (£260), with a dash of Steinbeck in the Pendleton wool shirts (£149) and Sierra Design parkas (£295) – opened a store in Marylebone in 2010 featuring a range of its own Americana accessories. All of this has nothing to do with pastiche. It’s more about style cues, cultural references and a relaxed, manful casualness.
Etro has referenced clothes worn for the Mexican horseback tradition of charrería and mariachi for a dazzling south-of-the-border range, which is both sculptured and macho. Think Antonio Banderas as Zorro. There are printed Western shirts (from £405), depicting horses and bears, bandanas (from £115) and jodhpurs (from £505) with figure-hugging panels. Every shoulder is padded, and polo shirts (from £205) have suede inserts. My pick of the bunch is a three-piece wool suit the colour of the prairie at sunset (jacket, £1,390; trousers, £2,275; waistcoat, £630), with embroidery detailing in goatskin around the lapels, cuffs and waist.
Both Prada and Bottega Veneta hark back to 1950s bowling alleys and beaches, and the louche lounge panache of the Rat Pack. Prada’s Americana man is vibrant and relaxed, with chinos (£390) and contrasting double-breasted mohair jackets (£1,530) over eye-popping shirts (from £535) and baggy mohair trousers (from £470). There’s nothing skinny or European here, with an emphasis on vivid floral prints that jump out at you like a stroll along Miami Beach’s Ocean Drive, worn beneath short-sleeved polos (£380).
Perhaps the snappiest interpretation is at Bottega Veneta, where Tomas Maier has taken those classic Blue Note jazz album covers of the 1950s as a starting point. Moody and cool black and grey single- and double-breasted suits (from £2,245), sharp enough to slice pastrami, are finished with stitched-notch lapels and flap pockets. Comfort ranks high, too. There are beautiful short-sleeved viscose/linen shirts (£990) in bold monochromatic checks, cut to be worn outside gabardine-cotton trousers (£585), and cashmere Ivy League sweaters (from £620) in stripes and checks, and nubuck blousons (from £3,050) in chestnut, green and purple, with knitted collars, cuffs and waists. And for clean-cut, velvet-voiced Bing Crosby charm, there’s a black-and-cream pinwheel-print lambskin blouson (£2,915) that would seem perfectly at home by an open fire in a log cabin. The Bottega Veneta Americana male is going to look as good, and as carefree, as a leading player in a remake of High Society.
While European advocates of Americana are reinventing the legend, there is one US company, LA’s Mister Freedom, that is studiously recreating historical authenticity, but at the level of high fashion. Born of a vintage-clothing shop on Beverly Boulevard, Mister Freedom has 10 lines of meticulously engineered garments that might have featured in any number of classic films: from High Noon and The Last Detail to The Wild One and The Grapes of Wrath. Again, this gritty gear for the antifashion Americana man is less about imitating the past and more about creating standalone classics. Mixing vintage and modern fabrics, pick of the bunch for me is the Blouson El Americano ($690), in luxuriant indigo corduroy, that looks as muscular today as the 1930s jacket it is based upon. Other Mister Freedom gems, all made in Japan, are an 11oz denim five-button, patch-pocket white Shore jacket ($430) – basically an off-white pea coat – and a range of waistcoats (from $440) and high-waisted trousers (from $500) in corduroy or canvas that cry out to be worn with braces and a cheeky baker’s-boy cap.
Looking to the 1940s, New York’s Michael Bastian, formerly of Ralph Lauren and Bergdorf Goodman, where he worked as men’s fashion director, cites the second world war as a watershed for Americana. Returning GIs mixed military uniforms (jackets, button-down shirts and flannel trousers) with sportswear (windcheaters, rugby shirts and varsity jackets). “American men’s style differs from, say, the English or Italian in that it embraces the undone and imperfect,” says Bastian, whose 2014 collection has that slightly ruffled American/French feel. Think Gene Kelly in An American in Paris: red, blue and grey-check three-button sports jackets (£944), chinos (£215), military parkas (£508), army-style shirts (£194) and more bandanas (£62) than you could shake a pair of Ray-Ban Aviators at.
One way of interpreting this new trend is that menswear has simply caught up with Ralph Lauren, the definitive Americana brand that encapsulates every aspect of the American male psyche within its divergent collections, from Wall Street trader (Purple Label) and preppy New Englander and sportsman (Polo Ralph Lauren) to streetwise vagabond (Denim & Supply) and working-man pioneer (RRL). In fact, if you ask me, there simply is not a better representation of that uncanny American way of dressing casually while appearing impeccably smart than the aviator-navy chino Langley *sports coat (£255) and matching waistcoat (£170), paired with jeans and penny loafers. “I have always been inspired by the dream of America,” says Lauren. “Families in the country; weathered trucks and farmhouses; sailing off the coast of Maine; following dirt roads in an old wood-panelled station wagon; a convertible filled with college kids sporting crew cuts and sweatshirts and frayed sneakers.”
Modern Americana in a nutshell.