At the menswear shows this June, there were plenty of reasons to celebrate: 2010 is the 40th year in business for both Kenzo and Roberto Cavalli, the 20th for Dolce & Gabbana's men's line, the 15th for Raf Simons (as well as his fifth as creative director at Jil Sander) and the fifth for Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy (though only his second designing menswear).
Given such a coincidence of anniversaries, you'd have been forgiven for anticipating a succession of jubilant runway shows, bursting with fiesta colours. But the oracles have spoken: it seems that spring 2011 is going to be a season of chic understatement.
A Skort History
One trend that must be mentioned – if only because it keeps popping up, regardless of the public’s sustained indifference – is the ‘skort’. A sassy little number beloved by early proponents Rei Kawakubo (see Comme des Garçons, winter 2008) and Thom Browne (where to begin?), the skort – a pair of shorts with a skirt-like front flap – came in several configurations this season. Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy did them in leopard spots, black and beige, with the option to choose from straight-up or button down varieties. Rising star Damir Doma found the missing link between skorts, wrap shorts and harem pants in his poetic, earthy collection and Raf Simons showed skorts (in white and pink), skirts (in pale-pink rubber) and, for those not quite brave enough to jump on this effeminate trend quite yet, some bum-skirting culottes.
Even devoted style addicts might find this trend difficult to swallow for hot summers, but it looks like they'll have to grin and wear it: leather was everywhere, from the S&M-tinged ensembles of Emporio Armani's Gaga-tastic show (which played out to the pop queen's "Alejandro" video) to the tasselled leather trousers and jackets at Versace and suede T-shirts at Hermès. The labels that managed to make this look work did it with a nod to youthful rebellion: Burberry Prorsum (the leader of the pack) paired leather biker trousers with intricately studded jackets, Frida Giannini at Gucci channelled the caramel leather jackets and suede-fronted tees of Seventies rockers, while Dries Van Noten trimmed his beautifully composed, mod-inspired silhouettes (which he rightly described as "a new elegance") with asymmetric leather patches and cardigans fastened to one side with long leather belts.
'Utility' is hardly a new concept for men's clothing. Having said that, several of the spring shows seemed more than usually focused on practical workwear. Miuccia Prada fielded hospital scrubs, voluminous builder shorts, and some incredible brogues (soled with sneaker treads and rope) to create a long, bulky silhouette. Tomas Maier at Bottega Veneta went for a military palette of brown, khaki and beige, with ankle-strapped trousers, rumpled suits, nylon parkas and cross-strapped, off-on-holiday sandals. Workwear addict Adam Kimmel, added a surprising twist to his seasonal "celebration of American culture", as he put it, with a collection inspired by Snoop Dogg (the presentation centring around a car equipped with bouncing hydraulics). But the most unexpected offering was from Lanvin – a brand better known for its dressy, crumpled suits and drawing-room chic. Models stormed onto the runway wearing treaded sports sandals with knit cycling shorts and zipped jackets. They looked not only ready for action, but tough and well travelled, with biker trousers raggedly deconstructed, corsair-like shirts hanging wide open, and necks dangling with chains.
Now don't get the wrong idea, there were some colours flying about at the – admittedly dark-hued – spring shows. Raf Simons seemed to have got high on highlighter pens in his fluorescent Jil Sander collection, while Prada, Etro, Kenzo, Hermès and (of course) Missoni also showed some bright colours. But these flashes of brilliance aside, a lot of the clothes on the runways were in black or white: a simple, Sunday-best palette that seemed crisp and focused. Nowhere was this more oddly ingenious than at Ann Demeulemeester's show, where, as if to emphasise the on-off contrast of monochrome, attendees were presented with a flashlight as they were seated. Demeulemeester then fielded 20 looks in top-to-toe white cotton (themselves neat new variations on the designer's favoured Napoleonic silhouette), followed by the same 20, but all in black, with details replicated in leather. Fellow deconstructivist Rei Kawakubo presented an almost entirely black-and-white collection for Comme des Garçons, in which the recurring theme was grinning skulls, obsessively emblazoned across uncomplicated tailored jackets and shorts. In a similar vein, far from trumpeting their own 20th anniversary year in menswear, Dolce & Gabbana began their this-is-where-we-came-from show with a series of all-white suits, and finished it with a group walkout of Sicilian gents in sharp black tuxedos and white shirts.
The Mighty Jungle
Beneath the simplicity of spring 2011, and its practical, travelling clothes, lay a yearning for more exotic environments. The most intuitive synthesis of this urge was at Louis Vuitton, where mens-wear designer Paul Helbers decorated his light ensembles with crocodile prints and oriental motifs. Backstage after the show, Marc Jacobs was quick to elaborate on how thrilled he was with it all: "I always think Paul's so strong in terms of putting together a collection, having influences and references, and being very imaginative without the clothes suffering for it." If this was a subtle nod to the call of the wild, Riccardo Tisci's Givenchy collection – inspired by Victorian circus freaks – was anything but, much to the delight of its gleeful audience. The collection of leopard-print suits, lace tees, bone necklaces and gas masks was described by the designer, at his emotional backstage reception, as "very personal – in a way that people are a little bit scared to do today in fashion". It was an example of Tisci's commitment to the cause of menswear and subverting its practices – an attitude that has made him, in the space of two years, one of Paris's star performers in menswear. If you're in the market for some new spots this season, though, there are more places to get them: Trussardi 1911, Bernhard Willhelm and Yves Saint Laurent also fielded leopard prints.
"I've become convinced that men don't want to suffer any more," said Kris Van Assche as well-wishers (including Karl Lagerfeld) clustered around him after the Dior Homme show. "It's really about 'less is more'." The Belgian designer's minimalist tendencies this spring, evident in Dior's sleeveless V-neck shirts, and shawl-like lengths of fabric on jackets and coats ("as if I took it away from the sewing machine"), were echoed across the runways of Paris and Milan. Rick Owens turned his usual bombast down a notch by launching his show with variations on a single-buttoned, lurch-shouldered coat.
Similarly, arch-experimentalists Maison Martin Margiela worked with a typically complicated premise (using the rectangle as a basis for all proportions and patterns) to produce a remarkable but straightforward collection, typified by its chic, lapel-less jackets, relaxed trousers and smooth wooden waistcoats (held together at the back with a single hand-stitch). Alexander McQueen's creative director, Sarah Burton, also simplified the house's trademarks: single-buttoned, double-breasted jackets and straight, loose trousers, with just a smattering of digital prints. It was a concise, wistful offering that paid tribute to the late designer without coming across as a brash rerun of past glories.