As any woman who has male friends that orbit the non-fashion world or who are generally rather disinterested by it will know, anything vaguely interesting or a little “conceptual” on the catwalk tends to seem like an entirely alien idea. So here’s a crazy – if not obvious but overlooked - question: do men actually want to wear the clothes they see on the catwalk and do they wear them?
Thom Browne Spring/Summer 2015 menswear show
I ask because while London and Milan (and now Paris as a month of menswear shows wrap up and we get onto the really fancy stuff: couture) were getting their style groove on, a male friend brought up exactly that point. To add some context, he’s intofashion but doesn’t work in it, which makes him an ideal case study.
"I just don’t think there’ll ever be a place in my wardrobe for a lot of the ultra-hyped designers – an oversized granny coat?” he questioned, adding that said item was obviously made in mind for girls - who we know do steal from the boys and have been doing so for some time. It’s the reason some of London’s brightest menswear stars have branched out into the womenswear category (JW Anderson the notable name here), why streetwear is more popular than ever and why column inches and internet space sees the menswear shows so often reported on through a womenswear-tinted lens. How many borrowing-from-the-boys round-ups have you seen over the last couple of seasons? Exactly. But then women generally – and especially those that work in fashion – do tend to have a higher threshold for directional fashion (not to stereotype but in my defense I draw upon the above example).
Y/Project Fall/Winter 2016 menswear show
“Women indeed dare more,” agrees Glenn Martens, the Belgian designer behind Y/Project, the Paris-based label that riffs on an urban unisex aesthetic. “The design process is therefore much more experimental and straightforward.” Launched originally as a menswear brand back in 2010, womenswear came later on - and while the collections for each category are created together, Martens notes their design process is completely different. “The base of menswear is extremely wearable. Even for the most basic T-shirt you need constant reflection to the man wearing it,” he points out.
Wearability is key. “If we wouldn’t wear it, we won’t buy it,” says co-founder of London’s The Goodhood Store, Kyle Stewart of his approach to buying. But that’s not to say that menswear can’t be adventurous. “I believe a successful menswear label needs to have incredible styling that talks to the DNA of clothing and carefully pushes the boundaries without paying complete disregard to the ethics of style and dressing,” Stewart adds. It’s about balance and moderation. But as he points out: “If we talk about a man that sees clothes on the catwalk we are not talking about a regular consumer.” So who are we talking about?
Henrik Vibskov Fall/Winter 2016 menswear show
Danish designer Henrik Vibskov, who showed his collection this past weekend in Paris and who is known for his colourful approach to clothes, identifies his customers in groups: “The more dedicated customer does order exactly the same as they see on the catwalk, others focus more on a single product and then we have customers who fall in love and just buy what they have just seen in the store.” It’s a different approach to buying depending on the customer. Which of course makes sense and the same can apply to womenswear too. We may fall for the extravagances of a hyper-theatrical Alexander McQueen gown but that doesn’t mean it’ll end up in our wardrobes. But that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t like it to. How much does this apply to guys?
“It’s a misconception that men aren’t interested in embracing fashion. All of our most successful menswear brands have a very strong fashion aesthetic and within those brands it’s the runway pieces that we typically sell first, regardless of price,” highlights Damien Paul, head of menswear at MATCHESFASHION.COM. “Men’s fashion has evolved – what we see at the shows no longer has to be intimidating or outlandish and equally we know that men are much more interested in dressing well and are much bolder when it comes to what they’ll buy.”
Liam Hodges Fall/Winter 2016 menswear collection
London-based designer Liam Hodges puts it another way: “I don’t think it’s necessarily a case of men (outside of fashion) being slower or non-embracing, I think it’s more a case of style, taste and sense of self.” Which is from where a lot of designers draw their inspiration: what they like, what they wear.
“I design clothes that I like for myself,” says New York designer Thom Browne, who is known for a more extrovert and dramatic take on tailoring. “I like to make people think and provoke them to see,” he reasons. He’ll add the more commercial pieces later but first and foremost it is about the concept.
Moncler Gamme Bleu, by Thom Browne Fall/Winter 2016 menswear show
Back to the aforementioned friend and it’s not that he couldn’t relate, far from it – the concepts at Maharishi and Belstaff received glowing A-star reviews. “I really bought into the catwalk narrative both these brands presented – I wanted to be the characters these guys created: the jungle-drop-out-hepcat or the aristocratic-arctic-motorcycle-explorer respectively. That’s what I want to wear.” But it did come back to what he would and could wear. The practicality element comes into play more than perhaps it would with womenswear.
“Buzz around a brand is far less important to me than wearability – we won’t offer anything to our customers unless it’s actually going to work for their needs,” adds Paul.
“We can make everything as crazy and weird as we want but if you don’t understand the world outside the four walls of the studio, people aren’t necessarily going to be interested in buying it,” so Hodges neatly sums up. The key? “There is a subtle relationship between designer brands and their customers where they challenge them but also introduce them to new things,” he says. Such, it would seem, as those jungle hepcats or aristocratic explorers. “I know I’d wear the hell out of them,” resolved my friend.
Walter Van Beirendonck Fall/Winter 2016 menswear show