A giant leap for menswear

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The spring 2013 men's collections are stronger and more focused than ever, says Adam Welch

Last spring's menswear (i.e. the stuff that's all 30 per cent off in stores now) was a bit of an aesthetic free-for-all.

At the time everyone thought "a-ha, what fun!" but naturally, all this kind of messy, mish-mashed postmodernism seems terribly passé now. So, at the spring 2013 menswear shows in London, Paris and Milan, which finally wrapped up this month, designers seemed to be looking for a way out of such glorious excess and into collections that were punchy and focused. Spring 2013 seems like it could be a season of strong new directions.

Nautical

There were references to many sports, from fencing at Dries Van Noten (a sublime collection that deconstructed camouflage across a range of suits, denim jackets and quilted breastplates) to athletics at Prada and cycling at Trussardi and Issey Miyake. But one of the most chewed-over influences this season were nautical pursuits. Louis Vuitton led the way with a wonderfully detailed collection from Kim Jones, themed loosely on the sea. With its range of stunning outerwear options (including a floating, ankle-length parka and a leather, lifejacket-like gilet) it looked great on the runway, with laser-cut pockets on a yellow fishing mac and stingray buttons on a seersucker suit. At Dior Homme, sharply tailored suits in navy and grey were joined by Bretonesque jumpers with textured, rope-like knit stripes, and it became clear that the point here was a very subtle reworking of a nautical uniform.

Statement T-Shirt

For spring 2013, designers took steps to recreate the loved and loathed T-shirt. And none did this with more gusto than Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana.

The Dolce & Gabbana catwalk was, from a showman's point of view, triumphant, featuring more than 70 streetcast models from Sicily and soundtracked by a live Italian village band.

But the adorable folksy, gawky clothes also stood up to scrutiny, and in particular the drop-shouldered, T-shirt-like cotton tops, printed with stripes, newspaper clippings and colourful maps, and with wide, uncuffed sleeves reaching to the elbow, for full, ill-fitting rustic charm.

At Givenchy, Riccardo Tisci continued to push printed T-shirts and sweatshirts, but this spring rendered these pieces in unusual, non-stretch fabrics such as sheeny satin and sheer gauze.

And across many runways there were further experiments with fabric, whether it was in Margaret Howell's oversized linen T-shirts and Astrid Andersen's wear-if-you-dare lace numbers in London, or the stiff knitted tees at Jil Sander, which held their shape to nicely increase the sharpness of the silhouette.

Supercharged Pastels

The vogue for loud flashes of colour in menswear has been a long time in development, and, unusually, even managed to hit the mainstream over the past years. But there was a new set of tones in play, sickly but muted, and hovering between pastel and neon. Kind of like the shades you might see in a gelateria. In Milan, at the Z Zegna show, minimalist artist Dan Flavin (he of the coloured tube-lighting) inspired wonderful, almost over-exposed shades of mint green, coral and melon-like pale orange, and at Gucci, too, where creative director Frida Giannini proposed a series of loud, one-colour suits in supercharged pastel shades. Meanwhile in Paris, Hermès showed macs and track tops in a sickly lemon yellow and Raf Simons fielded bomber jackets in three different lengths and lollipop shades of pale pink, orange and vibrant cherry, while Yohji Yamamoto combined primary colours.

Sports Minimal

At the Prada show, many were waiting for a new cornucopia of zany prints to come sailing down the catwalk, given the brand's interest in that direction recently. But all Miuccia Prada seemed to care about this season was a simple silhouette constructed from a polo-shirt shape and a striped, slightly flared trouser.

What was the punchline? That all these simple, retro, sports-inspired pieces (including v-necks, oversized tees and wide-collared, bib-front shirts) were rendered in unusual, unsporty fabrics such as wool gabardine, double faced bonded cotton and light cashmere. It was a return to the kind of thinking that made Prada the must-have brand of the mid-90s, when high fashion first began to exploit the idiom of popular leisure and sportswear, referencing its utilitarian nature to create a new kind of simplicity.

This fresh, reductive approach was echoed at Lou Dalton and Emporio Armani, where soft tailoring was mixed with tech fabric jackets, sporty striped sweaters and drawstring gym shorts, and at Lanvin, where Lucas Ossendrijver enhanced his typically ingenious sport references with a subtly monochrome colour palette.

Tailored Bermuda Shorts

Jil Sander showed her first efforts since returning to the label to replace the much-loved Raf Simons last year. And she gave us shorts. In a collection that was graciously aware of what Jil Sander has become in the past five years, she used pleated, high-waisted Bermuda shorts to lend a slouch to long, wide-shouldered silhouettes, undercutting the severity of pieces such as a crisp yellow mac or stiff knit T-shirt with a luxurious movement of fabric below the waist. The breezy tailored short had been prefigured in London by designers such as James Long (who did them in print with heavy pleats) and Shaun Samson (whose had more of a basketball-inspired swagger), and continued to be a relevant piece across Milan and Paris, including Kenzo, where wide shorts made for a gawky, tourist-on-safari chic, and Versace, where suits came sleeveless with pleated, matching shorts.

Camouflage

Camouflage was a micro-trend in the spring 2013 collections, but, when people did it, they really went for it – in particular Dries Van Noten, who built a whole collection around this inherently masculine print. With elegant understatement, Van Noten showed a range of canvas camo suits, reversible jackets and paneled denim jackets and shirts, subverting the usual colour scheme to create beautiful variations in orange, brown, sand, red and blue.

On the Comme Des Garçons catwalk there was a no less striking approach to camouflage, in a series of suits that were paired with coat-length grey track tops. And then there were shows such as Ermenegildo Zegna and Kenzo, that, although not too tied to camouflage in the traditional sense, played with prints of tropical foliage, for a similarly lush and densely geometric effect.

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