It’s instantaneous: one stroke of a shoulder or an arm will make you want it. Certain fabrics used for this spring’s men’s collections have such a compelling tactile quality that you can’t keep your hands off them. Suede is one. It may not have been seen as the coolest of materials in recent years, but directional designers, tailors and sports-luxe specialists have reinvented suede jackets, coats and gilets for spring, through new technology, cuts, colours, textures and bantam weights.
In its new incarnation, fine suede feels as luxurious as velvet or fur. Softness and a lightness of weight define the look, which is especially in evidence at Berluti. Stroking the new season calf-suede jacket (£3,345) conjures trite-but-true adjectives such as “buttery soft”.
“Our ‘glove touch’ leathers and ‘cashmere suedes’ have all been treated with a special enzyme coating that enhances softness and durability,” explains Berluti’s artistic director Alessandro Sartori. “It also gives a paper-like thinness.” Similarly, at Matchless, a special waxed suede is used for the new season Johnny Blouson jacket (£899). “It has a more luxurious look than normal leather,” says Michele Malenotti, managing director of the motorcycle-apparel brand.
Such reworking gives the material a hip new edge. “In Milan, you see effortlessly chic guys rocking suede,” says Amber Siegel of design duo Baartmans and Siegel. “We wanted to adapt it for the UK so that it wasn’t associated with corduroy and Sudoku.” The results, hanging in dark greens and navy, are enticing. The green colour palette is particularly interesting – the pair took inspiration from the ferns and camouflage of the 1980s war movie Platoon, and refined them into the kind of strong wearable shades that could convert even the most hardened wearer of head-to-toe black. Once your eye has been caught and you touch the light, perforated suede of the Oliver bomber (£870), it’s a very easy sell as the perfect spring jacket (or, as Siegel points out, “the perfect winter piece for the Asian market”) to wear with jeans and a pair of Tod’s, a brand that has recently expanded its menswear offering from shoes and small leather goods to clothing. Here, soft blues and slick tans are rolled out across a suede gilet (£1,900), bomber (£2,360), shirts (from £360) and safari jacket (£3,350). Similarly, Gucci – once known more for loafers than tailoring – this season has a striking sand-coloured suede trench coat (£3,860).
Also venturing into suede menswear is Bugatti. The decision makes perfect sense for a motoring marque as suede has long been associated with driving – worn, in an ideal world of perpetual sunshine, in an open-top, two-seater sports car on trips along the serpentine roads that hug the Amalfi coast. Its Ettore Bugatti collection debuted in London in November, and this season the standout pieces are a navy suede blazer with peaked lapels, (£1,750) and a blue suede safari jacket (£2,085). Each is a limited edition of 431, a number that references the land-speed record once held by the Bugatti Veyron. “We have combined supersoft suede with the highest Italian craftsmanship and special treatments – such as using ultra-light unstitched goat suede with hand‑painted finishing,” explains Bugatti International’s managing director Massimiliano Ferrari, “and the range includes different shades of Bugatti blue, in line with our brand DNA.”
Other sports-luxe pieces that fit into this motoring aesthetic include two zip-up suede jackets from Lanvin, one pale grey (£2,560) and the other black and embroidered. They are casual, comfortable and slightly insouciant with a 1970s vibe.
Also playing with this late Sixties, early Seventies look is Tom Ford – whose look is forged in the Halston universe of the 1970s and who this season touched on Warhol’s Lonesome Cowboys and Jon Voight’s hustler in Midnight Cowboy for his very Manhattan take on the Wild West. His “cashmere suede”, made from New Zealand calf, is processed and finished to an exceptionally high level. Calf-hair has more nap than lamb, and the result is softer and richer. At the same time, it is “dry washed” with humidity, which is a natural, chemical-free process, and gives a more worn appearance. Standout items include the Western shirt (£3,690), the Western jacket (£4,320) and the Zip Pocket Western jacket (£4,640) – each equal parts macho and opulent.
At Gieves & Hawkes, chief creative officer Jason Basmajian has experimented with form. “We cut a teal suede into a denim-jacket style [£1,795] for spring,” he says. “The colour is quite muted and the fabric renders soft what is usually a stiffer style.” Basmajian also designed a blue suede bomber (£2,495) as part of the collection – a style that continues to define suede’s place in a man’s wardrobe.
This confident use of colour is another element helping to update suede. Just take a look at the vivid yolk-yellow number at Hardy Amies (£1,995) – it may be one of the heavier suedes, but its colour makes it a good choice for cloudless, blue-sky days. “The soft texture and matte finish make it the perfect outerwear for spring,” says creative director Mehmet Ali. “The colour choice was influenced by the work of interior designer William Haines. He loved vibrant shades, and this translates seamlessly to the warmer months.”
Paired with jeans, a suede jacket has real character. “Wearing a light suede jacket can make you look simultaneously suave and a touch rebellious,” says designer Oliver Spencer. “I’ve brought light suede into the spring collection with an unlined, buttery suede buffalo jacket [£550]. It’s luxurious and tactile, but also quite rugged.” Suede certainly comes with its own unique edge. “Leather is Brando,” says David Bradshaw, creative director of the collective Huntergather, which has a classic blue suede bomber (£450) in its spring line, “but suede is James Dean.”