Men’s fashion can delight. It can inspire. The person who loses that childish thrill in dressing up has lost something precious indeed. But fashion can also be ridiculous, pretentious and downright daft.
Just look at the catwalks. OK, we understand that much of what’s produced for the catwalks is geared to generate press coverage, but lately an ever increasing percentage of ‘designer’ menswear making it into the shops seems of questionable taste.
Of course, the major fashion press will rarely ever say so. This is fashion’s dirty little secret. Do you think GQ would keep getting double page luxury ads if they dared criticise a collection?
But really, who on earth wears some of this stuff? In truth, hardly anyone wears it. The luxe/premium fashion industry is increasingly an exercise not in wearability, but rather, in brand building.
Of course, describing a garment as ‘wearable’ is, perversely, to somehow damn with faint praise.
Is Men’s Fashion Design Art?
Designers who play with the very meaning of clothes, by mixing messages, subverting references, distorting proportions and pushing creativity to the limit – a Rei Kawakubo or a Hussein Chalayan, for example – may well lay claim to artistry.
On the other hand, some might argue that fashion design is merely craft, but whatever it is, shouldn’t clothing designs be subject to the same critique that any other art form faces? Theatre, cinema, music – name your discipline and your product is subject to close and hard expert analysis.
We Are Unlikely to Read Real Press Criticism
But fashion gets a free pass: such is the dependence of much of the press on fashion advertising – it’s that brand building again – that to be outspokenly critical of a company that helps keep your publication afloat is to risk suicide.
A production, an exhibition, a show – all can routinely be described as anywhere between disappointing to terrible. When was the last time you read that a new collection was a disaster?
At the very best, it’s just not mentioned at all. If they are an advertiser, you can bet the editorial is advertising by any other name.
And fashion advertisers pull advertising not just if they feel their product has been insulted. They scream even louder if they feel it hasn’t been sufficiently lauded.
A handful of newspapers and bloggers are game to speak out. But rarely, if ever, does a fashion magazine offer an honest assessment – even though this is precisely the forum where a reader might hope to see just that.
Try searching for ‘worst men’s fashion collections.’ You won’t find much.
Of course, there are always plenty of thoughts about menswear trends that never should have been; suits with shorts, layered polo shirts, shutter shades, pointy shoes, velour tracksuits, sleeveless hoodies, etc., but rarely are names named.
This is the way the industry works and perhaps there is little point griping about it – at least as long as everyone knows this is the way the industry works and can apply their own filters.
But even if a high fashion collection has no pretensions to art at all, it surely has intentions to good design. The clue, after all, is in the job title: fashion designer.
Most Men Are Not That Adventurous
Certainly too, men and women are very different in what they want from clothing. This is something high fashion often forgets.
Men are interested, as far as they’re interested at all – and let’s not forget that most men are not – by clothing’s heritage, make, details, perhaps its collectibility.
Garments that are expressions of an adventurous exploration of personal identity, as opposed to just expressions of good taste, tend not to be that popular.
This is not to say all they want is the safe and conservative. They may end up doing so, but few men actually want to dress like their dad and they will happily wear designer product.
However, aside from, say, the likes of Armani, Prada, Hermes and Paul Smith – to cite just four companies that have a simple, distinctive but approachable aesthetic and tirelessly stick with it – so many catwalk moments seem obviously dead in the water, creatively and commercially.
When Men’s Fashion Gets Silly
Putting zips across the thighs of a suit – as Stella McCartney has done of late – perhaps references punk, maybe flight suits, maybe some or other fetish. But it’s neither original nor what most men would ever wear.
Most would, bluntly put, feel like a dick if they did. Dior’s knee-length biker jacket. Alexander McQueen’s sleeveless greatcoat. Raf Simons’ super over-sized mac. Versace’s nut-hugging leggings. Tommy Hilfiger’s floral short-sleeved leisure suit. And so on.
This is not to pick on these particular men’s fashion designers. They are far from being alone. But is any of this moving menswear on, even in small steps?
Or is it product for product’s sake? Re-imagining, rather than genuine reinvention? More immediately, when do you ever see anyone wearing any of this stuff? Almost never. And straight never if you live outside of London or other major cities.
In designers’ defence – and many of the worst offenders are clearly talented – the pressure to create multiple new collections each season is immense thus resulting in the silly excess.
In the meantime, all we can do is hope. Perhaps more menswear designers will somehow find a way to create clothes that are both exciting and wearable – that’s at the same time!
Sadly, it is incredibly difficult in a culture awash with clothing. Do not be surprised if you continue to see a fair amount of product that is the stuff of ridicule. ML