“Comfort is fundamental to style and should never be neglected,” Giorgio Armani said to me recently. “It has always influenced my designs for men – light garments that aren’t stiff and follow the body.” The designer’s attitude liberated smart menswear back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, changing the way men could dress, and his approach – fusing smart looks with the kind of comfort more associated with casualwear – is now the focus for other designers too.
The cardigan-jacket is an Armani staple that anchors and defines the smart-comfort look. This season, the brand’s striking and easy-to-wear cashmere/silk cardigan-jackets (£2,225) have broad horizontal bands, while cashmere-jersey jackets (£1,250) have patch pockets. Stretch fabric brings a relaxed feel to a more formal-looking double-breasted waffle cardigan-blazer (£905) and a single-breasted jacket (£1,080). And summer pea coat/blazers in cashmere (£2,280) and cashmere/silk (£2,065) are irresistibly soft and tactile.
Other covetable pieces include Loro Piana’s cashmere/linen sweater jacket (£2,690), which has the mélange appearance of sweatshirt marl, but feels like the softest of blazers and would look great over a plain white T-shirt, Zegna’s Capri jacket (£1,930) in dark mauve, faint-herringbone cashmere, and Massimo Dutti’s neat navy cotton/linen blazer (£225).
“Unstructured cardigan-jackets with soft shoulders couldn’t be more comfortable and are now very sought-after,” says Jason Broderick, fashion director of menswear, sports and fine watches at Harrods. “The minute you put one on, you can’t help asking yourself why you ever wore anything else.” Cracking examples at the Knightsbridge store this season include Lanvin’s zero-structure yet superstylish raw-edged piqué blazer (£750) and double-breasted Milano knit cardigan (£500).
But it is Lanvin’s formal-looking tailored trousers (£399) with an elasticated waistband that are its most striking new take on smart comfort. “Customers’ lifestyles dictate the need for a more relaxed approach to their wardrobe,” says Broderick. “Frequent travel, and running straight from the office to dinners mean the last thing anyone wants to feel is restricted.”
Tops that work well with the look include long-sleeved collared polo knits – top-notch are those are by Z Zegna (£410) and Stefano Ricci (£975) in charcoal or chocolate with a cheeky croc-print collar. Stretch shirts also bring the style up to date. Alongside its handsome cotton one-and-a-half-breasted cardigans (£430) Brunello Cucinelli has shirts in stretchy, deluxe fabrics: slim-fit poplins (£350), cotton chambrays (£390) and button-downs in French jersey (£390) with tailored sleeves and cuffs (which may seem formal but are both comfortable and flattering). The lightly cutaway collar looks sharp when worn with a tie too.
More tailored pieces that look smarter than they feel can be found on Savile Row; I particularly like Kilgour’s streamlined aesthetic. The brand debuted its MPS suit (£2,400) last year in high-quality, tightly woven navy cashmere that feels like jersey. The one-button jacket and flat-front trousers look smart, even though wearing them is like slipping into a tracksuit. The newest additions to the collection are textured crease-free cotton/merino wool trousers (£800) that are great for travelling.
“We’re calling this more loosened-up attitude ‘the new slouch’,” says Matchesfashion.com’s menswear buyer Stacey Smith. “Smart clothes with a relaxed element feel more modern than anything too buttoned up.” She suggests looking at Parisian label Lemaire’s stone gabardine jackets (£720), with squared patch pockets, and matching cuffed trousers (£255), lapel-free boxy denim/cotton overshirts (£245), and pleated denim/cotton trousers (£255). “Christophe Lemaire’s show was one of my absolute favourites of the season – there’s an ease to his clothes that’s incredibly appealing,” Smith says. These pieces remind me of the unstructured, boxy tailoring that was such a strong look in the 1980s – by the likes of Katharine Hamnett. Smith also rates Tomorrowland’s soft double-breasted jackets (£550) and knitted cotton-blend hybrid blazers (£525), as well as Haider Ackermann’s unstructured separates (from £325).
Those in the know like Smith also point to Bottega Veneta and its creative director Tomas Maier as key influencers on this new take on the smart-comfort trend. I’d suggest the brand’s loose-cut open shirts in sage cotton (£440) or sand polyester (£375) with relaxed trousers in cotton/satin (£645) or cotton (£530); or the cotton/satin tailored jacket (£1,565) and matching trousers (£625) that cut close but remain supremely comfortable. These are “more about movement and freedom than any previous collection,” says Maier.
The relaxed, unrestricted nature of this look makes it feel modern and dynamic – the fusion of formal styles with easy cuts and soft fabrics means you can appear smart, feel comfortable and seem cool, calm and collected.