Men's Fashion: Don't label me

Miu Miu, Yves Saint Laurent, Kostas Murkudis, Martin Margiela and 6876. Each of these labels are distinctly different, but they all have one thing in common - put them on and you'll look fabulous. Honest. Styling by Sophia Neophitou. Photographs by Kent Baker

The male population of Great Britain can be divided into four sartorial groups: traditional man, brand man, fashion man, and don't care man. We all know traditional man. He wears a suit and tie to work, and changes into chino slacks and a relaxed polo T-shirt or lightly patterned jumper at the weekend. And very lovely he looks too, whether his clothes are from Marks and Spencer, Savile Row or Racing Green.

Then there's brand man. He wears copious amounts of real and faked sportswear and designer labels - Dolce and Gabbana, Adidas, Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, Hugo Boss, Ralph Lauren, Versace, Nike - and don't we know it; it is writ large on his jeans, jumpers and T-shirts. Don't care man, well, we needn't trouble ourselves with him. Until recently, fashion man was, like brand man, more interested in the name on his label than the four F's; fit, form, function and fashionability.

But fashion man, well, he's changed lately. He's no longer concerned with having the label-of-the-moment for the sake of it. He loves Gucci, Prada, Jil Sander and Helmut Lang. Been there done that. He's got the shoes, the bag, the three-button black suit (or he wishes). Otherwise he has a lookalike item. Now he wants something more individual. Something that conveys status, but in a fashionably low-key (not minimal) way; something recognisable, but only to those in-the-know.

This is where the new labels come in. Of the five shown here, 6876, designed by Kenneth MacKenzie, is the longest established in terms of its fashion identity. It launched in 1995, and in a quiet way it has set the blueprint for fashion man: subtle, beautifully made fashionable clothes with little in the way of branding, but lots of recognisable styling and identity.

MacKenzie has spent so much time on the details, such as hidden pockets on jackets, complex seaming on shirts, and darts on shirts, jackets and hoods, that they have become status symbols in their own right. Fans of his clothes revel in the small changes he makes seasonally. "I've just bought a pair of 6876 trousers," says Richard Martin, a marketing director, "and he's really pared down for his new collection. What I like are the little things. On the back pocket of the trousers I just bought, for example, he always has a traditional pocket flap, but just underneath that there is a tiny button loop which identifies them as 6876."

Fashion man began his development in the early Nineties. His key mainstream influences have been the boom in the men's magazine market, and a massive increase in places to buy fabulous clothes. "Men have become so much more open to fashion through magazines," says Adrian Clark, the fashion director of Attitude. "But it's not just the clothes featured in the shoots - advertising pushes style messages which are being taken on board subliminally by people on the street. Guys are not going out of their way to know, say, the Gucci look for spring, but they still recognise it when they see it. It's a subconscious education."

Kostas Murkudis, an acclaimed womenswear designer based in Germany, has been doing menswear for three seasons. His pieces are straightforward in the sporty/modern vein from the outside, but get to know them and they are full of surprises.

Murkudis works around the idea of "self-styling". "I love it. You can remove hems and collars from shirts, and button-on or button-off the arms of jackets, some of which are reversible. Hems can also be left hanging if you want. It's about finding your own individuality," he says. Murkudis also loves hiding pockets in unusual but useful places. Inside jackets and waistcoats are pockets the size of a credit card, or a hidden pocket made to the specifications of a passport.

A good barometer of what's really going on in fashion is to find out which labels are being stocked at influential stores. Kostas Murkudis is available from Browns and Liberty. Martin Margiela's Groupe 10 line, Miu Miu and Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche all made their debut at Harvey Nichols this month, and 6876 is available there for the second time.

"When we are looking at collections the most important element is the identity of the label," says Claudine Davies, a contemporary menswear buyer for Harvey Nichols. "It must have a trademark to set it apart, that's what people are looking for, not branding. Men have really moved away from that." Adrian Clark agrees. "Men don't need Carhartt or a polo horse any more. It's a bit like what women went through in the 1980s - clothes to let people know `I'm wearing a label'. Fashion for men now has gone beyond the logo."

Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche isn't shouting its wares, but other people are certainly singing its praises. In the last two years the label, 30 years old this month, has been transformed from a somewhat fusty gentleman's brand to the menswear label-of-the-moment. This is thanks to the talent of its French designer Hedi Slimane, who has taken the original brief implemented by Yves Saint Laurent back in 1969 - "I will leave others to make boring suits for boring people and boring occasions" - and ran with it.

Earlier this month, Slimane produced the most sublime collection of the Paris men's show season for YSL. Fashion pundits were bowled over, some were even speechless as they queued up after the show to congratulate the designer. It's easy to see why. This is chic menswear that is not only timeless, it is contemporary, wearable and perfectly made in luxury fabrics. A few detractors may think its appeal is strictly to the gay market, but those in the know - the buyers - disagree. "This will sell across the board because as well as everything else, it has an easy fit," says Davies.

Slimane has taken the best from the original YSL menswear label - which Saint Laurent designed with himself and his friends Bryan Ferry, Mick Jagger, Rudolph Nureyev and Andy Warhol in mind - and reinvented it for today with his own twist. Orange leather jackets, orange cashmere knits (orange is a signature YSL colour), slim shirts (to be worn open, revealing a bit of chest), and Le Smoking tuxedos with wide, satin-striped legs are key pieces for spring, as well as luxurious sportswear in cashmere, and an innovation called the Tuxedo Beach Bikini [actually swim briefs]. "It is satin with a tuxedo stripe. You know, for a pool party, you can wear a tuxedo, and when it comes off there is a matching bikini," says Hedi Slimane.

Harvey Nichols picked up on the label's reinvention and after three collections by Slimane it put in its order. The Le Smoking tuxedos are, says Claudine Davies, "the trademark pieces - you know immediately they are YSL." The use of bright colours is also important. As Slimane himself says, "Black is a very YSL colour, I like to see a bit of colour only, as punctuation, you know, black, black, then a flash of something bright, which mustn't be feminine, or butch, but maybe just a bit off."

In total contrast, but just as subtly recognisable, is the Martin Margiela "Groupe 10" line. Margiela's womenswear has been a cult buy for 10 years, and men were able to buy his clothes from spring 1996 to autumn 1998 because part of those collections featured unisex pieces. This changed last year when the mysterious designer - few people know what he looks like and he doesn't give interviews - decided the time was right for a dedicated menswear line.

Margiela is the original no-logo designer. Nowhere do any of his clothes feature the word Margiela; instead he sews a white label into the back of his clothes with four white stitches that show through to the outside of the garment. These four stitches are his trademark.

The Groupe 10 line is small, only 25 different pieces. It is based on the contents of what he feels is the average man's wardrobe. "There are no suits or shirts," says Patrick Scallon, the designer's spokesman, "just tailored and leather jackets, sweatshirts, jeans, trousers, jumpers and T-shirts." Most of the garments look deliberately worn; tailored jackets, flannel trousers and jumpers are washed and a bit battered to make them like "familiar" wardrobe essentials.

Linings are especially important: there are pleats in the back yoke of jackets to aid movement; glazed-cotton shell linings in the main body of a jacket that do not create friction with either wool or cotton, arms lined with a shiny slippery satin which allows the arm to swoosh comfortably in.

Most interesting are Margiela's reworked pieces (in that he is customising existing clothing). On the famous white label are a series of numbers from 0-23. Men's garments are identified by a circle around the 10 of the label. The reworked pieces, which are essentially unique, have a circle around the 0 and the 10.

Jeans and denim jackets are the most important of these reworked pieces - Margiela's subversive (and rather cheap) way of doing his own jeans line. The idea is simple: go to a warehouse full of old jeans, pick out intact worn- in pairs with good fade, and rework them.

Margiela bleaches in a crease, removes back pockets, and any other hint at who originally manufactured them, such as rivets and labels, and sews in his label. Easy. Also strange are his jeans painted with black rubberised paint. "Martin couldn't afford leather jeans when he was at college, so he did this," says Scallon, who points out that these painted jeans are now just as pricey to buy as black leather jeans.

Margiela is definitely the insider's choice. But it is also the sort of label a man would buy into without any prior knowledge of the designer, such is the ease of including them in a working wardrobe. The same could be said for the new Miu Miu line from the house of Prada.

Miu Miu for men is a less expensive, more accessible and fun version of Prada for men (unlike its female counterpart, which has gone beyond the "younger, cheaper line from Prada"). Fabrics are sporty, such as a minute woven pattern the design team calls microdisegni, and all the pieces, mainly utility sportswear and casual tailoring, will update and revive any flagging wardrobe for spring.

The most important items for Miu Miu are of course the accessories. Body- friendly bags and shoes are, after all, the cheapest way to buy into a label, however subtly.

The last word has to go to Adrian Clark. "Men's fashion until now has become too homogenised, like fragments of the same thing ... a black three-button suit is much the same whoever it is by. Now it's time for individuality to come back. It's time for men to go out of their way to find new labels that will change their wardrobe".

Left Nylon zip-front anorak, pounds 145, by Kostas Murkudis, from Liberty, 214-220 Regent Street, London W1, enquiries 0171-734 1234; Library, 268 Brompton Road, London SW3, enquiries 0171-589 6569; Browns, 23 South Molton Street, London W1, enquiries 0171-491 7833 Right Hooded anorak, pounds 195, silk trousers, pounds 200, all by 6876, from Duffer of St George, 22 Shorts Gardens, London WC2; Harvey Nichols, 109-125 Knightsbridge, London SW1; Aspecto, Bridge Street, Manchester. Enquiries 0181-960 4864

Left Tunic top, pounds 250, trousers, pounds 275, both by Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, 33 Sloane Street, London SW1, enquiries 0171-235 5839 and Harvey Nichols, as before Right Denim waistcoat, pounds 110, denim jeans, pounds 120, by Martin Margiela, available from Liberty, and Browns and Harvey Nichols, as before

Shirt, pounds 105, trousers, pounds 115, both by Miu Miu, from Harvey Nichols, as before, and Browns, as before

Stylist's assistant Holly Wood

Grooming Mira using Aveda at Public

Model Del at Ugly

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