Often a good place to start a story is at the beginning, but to understand the Fall/Winter 2013 Menswear collections fully, we need to watch the prequel. This time last year, the Autumn 2012 collections placed overwhelming importance on the suit, vested in the formality of perfected wholeness. Fashion was in full.
Fast forward to Spring 2013, the rigid strength of modernity remains but the menswear landscape radically changes with London Collections Men’s inaugural season. Unconventional fabric innovation and gender-blurring infiltrates the men’s collections with the injection of new talent rising in London. A slick futurism is apparent, and the stage is set for 2013’s story to begin.
Through this season’s collections, a character emerges but ironically, they are set in the real world. The designers proposed malleable wardrobes, reinforcing the modernity of mixing it up. It’s how people actually dress, and the austere dictation of fashion in the previous two seasons melted away into a suggestion of a vibe, but there was still a sense of moving forward, challenging the characters to mix it up more.
While the marriage of sport and smart proved to be the most successful look for London, shown boldly at Topman and Jonathan Saunders, the city is still stereotypically known for its “avant garde” fashion—even if we’ve seen enough exaggerated-objects-covering-heads walk down the runway for it to still read as innovative or new.
J.W. Anderson’s Mathematics of Love proved he could polarize an audience, and send shockwaves throughout the industry. The collection made the loudest statement as quietly as possible. Undermining the traditions of menswear, Anderson fixated on camel wools and gray flannels to fashion a tube top and shot punctuated by a frill. Criticized for shocking-just-because, his message seemed to delve deeper into his already experimental customer’s brain.
The collection questioned masculinity, femininity, and the formality of heteronormative dress. The show’s soundtrack, Angel Haze’s Werkin’ Girls, made a point that, even though these may be viewed as ridiculous pieces of fancy to the hesitant eye, they were statements of aggressive feminine strength, not male weakness. A sort of Disney Prince steals the Princess’ clothes, via Puss In Boots proportions (keep that cat in mind, he’ll pop up later).
Further, the collection was savvy and smartly edited to appeal both to the fashion fan and the professional commercial eye, with desirable graphic sweaters and the cinched shapes or flapped skirt-trouser he’s cultivated as his iconic codes. Anderson moves from armor-like dresses into plush fuzzy coats. In the mathematics of fashion, this show adds up.
In Milan, that progression from strict to soft continued. Beginning with Calvin Klein Collection, fabric innovation and color subtlety let texture and futurism rise above. Italo Zucchelli’s embossed jackets felt militant in their strength, but athletic in their modernity. The quilted and zig-zagged volumes seemed so easy against a slick, slim trouser and classic gray sweatshirt. Looking to the future sometimes leads to a retro-perspective, but this collection is grounded in the now and tomorrow. Science-not-so-fiction.
While the previous collections more strictly adhered to an idea of cleanliness and slickness, they did have a more relaxed, experimental approach to what men’s high fashion could be, away from the formality of suiting. That growing relaxation is the key to understanding where the rest of menswear falls into place, and the major game-changers explore that.
In the story arc of fashion, Prada holds the position of climactic turning point. Often lauded as solidifying what has come before, or forcing the establishment into a new direction. The nonchalance of Miuccia Prada’s Fall/Winter 2013 offering focused on the perfecting of normality. Naturally, Mrs. Prada probably has a contradictory, thought provoking statement about the collection, but in reality the clothes were cute. Like, we want to see everyone wearing those clothes—seriously.
The collection looked like 1960s England via 1970s American urban life (it took place in the perfect penthouse, extremely modernist but comfy and goofy), in a way that referenced mid-2000s Prada geek chic which itself references the ubiquitous Prada 90s, which, you guessed it, played with the styles of the 60s and 70s. Prada running around itself and consistently moving forward, an irresistible exercise that comes makes the fashion mind wander but the easy clothes didn’t exhaust.
The jackets were intentionally boxy, cut forgivingly wider with a modern voluminous look and paired with trousers: some cropped loosely, some legging tight. Subtle neutrals popped with fire-engine red and blues from cerulean to turquoise. Collars were deliberately askew, the guys stomping with their clunky brogues through the penthouse set like they just sloppily pulled on their nubby sweaters, ruffled shirts, and alligator jackets.
In the argument against the increasingly fast pace of fashion, Raf Simons exemplifies the antithesis. Three collections presented in the span of one week, on completely different levels sounds like it would cause the cult-loved Belgian designer to crack under pressure but instead, he gracefully cleansed the fashion palette and put forth winning Pre-Fall and Haute Couture collections for Dior while shaking up his eponymous label, a pillar in the arena of men’s fashion.
If last season was something of a greatest hits, this was Simons’ reinvention, or more aptly, rebirth. Referencing his iconic Kinetic Youth 1999 collection, baggy pants and androgynous dress/coats ruled the silhouette. It was more about a fresh looseness. Simons played up his renowned sense of color with bold mixtures of canary yellow, cosmetic pink, cornflower blue, and deep spring green against grounding navys, blacks, and grays. Awkwardly, the collection looked uncannily in the same camp as Prada, with gingham prints and geeky intarsia sweaters depicting Puss in Boots and question marked heads. The 1970s Wonka colors and wonky collars also helped, but it’s difficult to call this a follower-effort when they are contemporaries (and former colleagues) in the influence they hold over menswear.
The relationship between the two collections seems to be more of a conversation and synergistic proposal to promote a nonchalant approach to fashion, and let the wardrobe become more of a relaxed mix. For the two main visionaries of the industry, is this what the future looks like? Throw away the neoprene and grab grandpa’s coat, get ready for this new (old?) vision of life on Mars.
With the conversation between Miuccia and Raf set on a focus on off-kilter classics in providing the narrative, Lanvin expanded on what was relevant out of the entire season and wrapped it up perfectly in their famous grosgrain bow. Melding that obsession with a real-life wardrobe with the influences of sci-fi, sport, and androgyny earlier in the season, Alber Elbaz and Lucas Ossendrijver showed consistency in vision while allowing for breadth of style. There is something for everyone: from the experimental oversized cocoon and belted coats (also glamorously shown by Rick Owens) and skintight trousers to the perfect perfecto, classic bomber, and baggy pant. The best iteration of the latter was paired with mixed-media sneakers, which also appeared at Raf Simons in collaboration with adidas. The collection focused mostly in black separates—a “choose your own adventure” of style—but progressed into a sublime palette of saffron, periwinkle, and cranberry. The basis of Lanvin’s message this season was wardrobe essentials, but the couture-referenced proportions and innovative approach to fabric took them to a place beyond basic.
Saint Laurent’s hype may have fizzled after the PR debacle of last season’s Ready To Wear collection for women, but there were still high expectations of Hedi Slimane, whose specialty was revolutionizing menswear. The collection was fine, and all of the elements felt right, but it was like watching a comedy routine after you’ve seen it once before. It becomes less exciting and decidedly unsurprising. The joke no longer lands, the rehearsed laugh no longer satisfies. This show wasn’t a joke, it was a serious proposal and in terms of blending together the perfect wardrobe out of dissonant pieces, this collection supported that mood. But, like the models on the runway, the collection turned back onto itself instead of aggressively pushing into new territory.
This season, the curtain falls on collections of of variety, of performances that provided avenues for many characters to express their inner workings, from the awkward youth to the restrained peacock. In its completion, the designers that suggested an idea or pushed a boundary rather than forced a look were the most successful in leading menswear to an exciting place. With its rising publicity and more importantly, rising market, this is an exciting time to create.
Fall/Winter 2013’s lasting impression is the importance of the assortment, but also of the future; to create newness from old clothes. One collar tip tucked neatly into the traditions of formality, and the other jutting out in artful spontaneity. In a world where everything seems to have been done before, that’s an important lesson to learn.