There’s been a lot of front-row chatter over the past few years about the return of “real” clothes – the kind you can actually wear every day rather than just admire for their style credentials. Yet some designers, like Dries Van Noten, have never stopped producing them. From his earliest offerings in the 1980s to this season’s milestone 100th collection, the Belgian designer has been dedicated to creating fashion that is as wearable as it is covetable – clothes in which women can feel like themselves.
It seems fitting that this season, in a show where the designer brought back many of his favourite models from the past few decades – Cecilia Chancellor, Nadja Auermann, Amber Valletta and Carolyn Murphy, all supremely stylish women now in their 40s and 50s – he would focus intently on ageless, easy-to-wear outfits. The new collection is “more daywear than ever”, he explains. “It’s about women dressing as they like to dress themselves, mixing menswear with womenswear, expressing themselves, being comfortable.” And nothing captures this easy-going allure like his beautiful new trouser suits. A bold orange single-breasted jacket ($1,130) and slouchy trousers ($815) stood out, worn with a simple, roundneck camel cashmere sweater, flat lace-up shoes, and a cognac leather portfolio case ($1,015) tucked under the arm.
This fluid, slightly voluminous trouser suit appeared in many forms in the international collections – all with a new languid elegance. Christophe Lemaire’s inky-blue version (jacket, £755; trousers, £540) for his eponymous line is almost devoid of details – it has no lapels or buttons, just a sleek silhouette styled, like Van Noten’s, with a simple, grey, roundneck silk top (£500). John Galliano’s beige wool trouser suit (jacket, £1,270; trousers, £505) for Maison Margiela is similarly refined, but the designer gave it some bite, pairing it with silver leather Tabi boots (£725). At Nina Ricci, Guillaume Henry also put a surprising twist on a pretty blush wool suit (jacket, €1,450; trousers, €990) with subtle Western styling. Meanwhile, Kym Ellery’s lustrous, ochre wool‑mix double-breasted suit (jacket, €1,420; trousers, €1,040) is as covetable as they come, with its sharp lapels and just four glossy pearl buttons for decoration. In a season with a distinctly “back to business” mood, these refreshingly light – but slick – takes on traditional tailoring make for a beautiful and versatile boardroom wardrobe.
Many designers have ramped up the proportions of their suits, introducing a modishly oversized silhouette. At Jil Sander, strong-shouldered jackets (£1,960) and boyish trousers (£1,020) come in delicious cranberry wool. The Row’s slouchy suits come in a mostly monochrome palette: one example in stretch-wool flannel sees the jacket (£1,925), cut long in the sleeves, paired with full – but slightly tapered – trousers (£1,075). This winning combination was given another spin by Phoebe Philo at Céline in the form of a plush navy wool felt jacket (£1,800), with sloping broad shoulders and exaggerated lapels, languid, tapered trousers (£1,000), and a featherweight white leather shirt (£2,050) worn underneath.
Boyish proportions reign at Joseph, too, where the autumn collection includes a generously cut trouser suit (blazer, £695; trousers, £595) in raspberry hopsack twill, and the softest bubblegum-pink suit (blazer, £595; trousers, £445) in tailoring canvas. “Androgyny never went out of style for me,” says creative director Louise Trotter. “The pale-pink suit is a studied example of a traditional men’s suit. We really focused on the details, the finer proportions, and although outwardly masculine, it has been reproportioned to fit a woman’s body – how it hangs from the shoulder, the pitch of the sleeve, the fusing and interlining of fabrics and structure.”
For Trotter, it’s too simplistic to tie this soft-but-strong tailoring to the recent global resurgence of feminism. “I don’t think it’s as literal as a new power suit,” she says. “It’s about purposeful clothes, a wardrobe you can really inhabit. A woman in oversized tailoring is dressing only for herself: it’s freeing, practical, powerful.”
There’s certainly something liberating about the tropes of men’s tailoring. For Marc Audibet, the man behind the ready-to-wear collection at the newly revived heritage label Connolly – he previously designed for Hermès, Prada and Ferragamo – it gives women a sense of classicism and permanence. “With men’s tailoring there are principles – of cut, of regularity – that give it strength and a feeling of continuity,” he says. “It is the opposite of women’s fashion, where there is so much of everything.” This season he has taken cues from 1930s men’s tailoring, which embraced a more fluid silhouette – and the results are beautiful. Autumn’s collection includes an immaculate double-breasted jacket (£1,050) and sash trousers (£590) cut in Italian stretch flannel and finished with dark-brown horn buttons.
The chic Milanese designer Rossella Jardini, who launched her own label last year after almost two decades at Moschino, is joining Connolly in exploring the boundaries between menswear and womenswear. She is a long-time admirer of the fluid elegance of 1940s shapes, and her current collection includes a beautiful cream and black checked trouser suit with extra-wide-leg trousers (£535) that are perfectly balanced with a shapely double-breasted jacket (£995).
Stella McCartney’s label is built on the timeless appeal of men’s tailoring, so the boyish suit is always on her agenda in some shape or form. For autumn, she is pairing trousers (£620) with nipped-in jackets (£1,075) in a burgundy wool check, with draped-neck blue cotton blouses (£450) underneath. Ralph Lauren, meanwhile, has a boyish double-breasted wool jacket (£1,735) and wide trousers (£1,000) in a neat dogtooth, but contrasts the outsized silhouette with a neatly fitted matching corset top (£1,735). MaxMara softened the effect of a masculine cut by making its oversized suit (blazer, £645; trousers, £305) in plush black velvet, to be worn over a super-fine black cashmere jumper (£380).
These are “strong” suits, no question – but there is a subtlety too. As Louise Trotter at Joseph puts it, the power of today’s fluid tailoring lies in its quiet confidence: “It’s more felt than forced.”