Chairman of London Fashion Week Men's and GQ’s Editor-in-Chief rounds up 2016 in menswear
The sociology of taste is now something of an industry, one lovingly kick-started in this country by Peter York, who both adopted and adapted Tom Wolfe’s meritocratic barometer. But there were others before Wolfe, many others who understood that the world was changing. In 1954, the culture critic Russell Lynes published The Tastemakers: The Shaping of American Popular Taste, a lengthy meditation on the nature of taste, which Lynes believed had supplanted class as the new social hierarchy. As it happened he was about a decade shy of the curve, but he could feel the rules beginning to bend.
Taste, Lynes argued, could be broken down into three very obvious categories: Highbrow, Middlebrow and Lowbrow, each with their own sub-sections. No Nobrow for him. Nor indeed Nubrow.
Quite naturally, his meditation included a fair amount on clothing. A supplementary chart in “The Tastemakers” includes the following sartorial hierarchy: Highbrow: Fuzzy Harris Tweed suit in town, same in country. Upper Middlebrow: Brooks Brothers suit and rep tie in town, tweed jacket and knit tie in country. Lower Middlebrow: Double-breasted suit and “splashy” tie in city, sport shirt and coloured trousers in country. Lowbrow: “Loafer” jacket and woven shoes in town, old army clothes in country.
What, hold on a minute! Did he just call the double-breasted suit middlebrow?! I can understand how the cartoon gangsters and the zoot suited pachucos and the war-time spivs soiled the pants-seat of the post-war door-to-door salesman, but over here, in Britain, where gentleman still stalked the streets? Mr Lynes obviously didn’t travel well.
However, there was a time when it was difficult for any man to wear a double-breasted suit, as it had been socially unacceptable by Yuppies in the Eighties. Designers would try and slip a few into their catwalk collections, but there was never a great take-up by either buyers or punters. Thankfully, the birth of the hipster not only encouraged more men to get funky with their face furniture, he also encouraged – and indeed was largely responsible for – the return on the double-breasted suit (or double-barreled, as I’ve always preferred to call it). Nowadays, if you walk around Mayfair or St. James’s I guarantee that you will see more double-breasted suits than their single-breasted cousins, which, frankly, makes for a far better dressed postcode. Plus, as DBs tend to use more fabric, they’re more expensive, and so make more money for the people producing them. A perfect storm, then. Or at the very least a perfect double-breasted storm.
The return of the double-breasted suit is just one of the major themes of the year in menswear, a year in which we have subtly changed the title of men’s fashion week from London Collections Men to London Fashion Week Men’s (which was what we wanted to call it originally, changing our minds at the last minute as we couldn’t honestly call three days a “week”); a year in which the menswear industry has gone from strength to strength commercially (the British menswear retail economy doesn’t appear to have suffered because of Brexit at all - yet); a year in which LFWM hosted more designers than ever before, including an increasing number from Asia; a year in which Vivienne Westwood returned to show her menswear in London; and a year in which there has been an extraordinary amount of (positive) disruption.
The world of fashion has changed, perhaps forever. What was once a secret world surrounded by actual and metaphorical velvet ropes, keeping the fashion cognoscenti safely away from grubby civilians, has exploded into a street party. For decades, the process involved in designers showing their creations to the press and buyers was a firmly established one, a process that was almost written in stone. And if not in stone, then at least on the cover of your favourite fashion magazine.
Firstly you have some designers making their clothes available to the consumer as soon as they have finished showing them. Secondly you have other designers who have decided – for reasons of creative cohesion, cost, or simply logistics – to show their men’s and women’s clothes together. Then you have other brands who are deliberately showing out of season, to gain even more press attention, in such contrary places as Palm Spring, Havana, Naples or Honolulu. On top of this you have designers who are changing fashion capitals for the purposes of publicity, whether that’s Coach deciding to show in London instead of New York, or Paul Smith forsaking Paris for London.
All of these things have happened for four reasons: to try and shorten the distance between a dress (or a pair of trousers) and the consumer, secondly to try and make some noise in a media landscape where you can’t see the woods for the trees. Thirdly because of the increasingly monstrous costs of putting on fashion shows, and fourthly due to a general perception in the industry that the world is changing, and the process as it is just can’t continue forever. This disruption has occurred in a climate that has been very helpful to the menswear economy, and as menswear continues to grow, and as London becomes not just a platform for homegrown designers but also a hub for menswear globally, so consumers and designers alike will undoubtedly benefit.
Oh, and who is this year’s Best Dressed Man? Well, let me tell you, it isn’t Donald Trump.
Dylan Jones is the Editor-in-Chief of GQ and the Chairman of London Fashion Week Men's