Zegna, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Tom Ford are leading 2020 in a revival of the mens suit in classic cuts but those unlike your grandfather has ever seen.
As early as mid 2019, after years of dealing with Thom Browne lengths and proportions, the longer-length tailored jacket is finally stepping back onto the sartorial stage. By 2020, runways were already astride with the welcome return of classic tailoring but the rise of the coronavirus put a nip in the bud for the nascent revival of classic men’s tailoring. After a lengthy and casual work from home stint, is there a market for well dressed men?
Dressing well helps us feel powerful, and considering how out of control most of 2020 has been as we careen from medical crisis to an economic one, the suit is a highly visible, statement that come hell or high water, we’re going to ride through the torrential tragedy in style
Alessandro Sartori, Zegna’s artistic director since 2016, recently celebrated the menswear institution’s 110th anniversary with a “phygital” – a combination digital and physical – fashion show at the brand’s native home town of Trivero, a historic hub of Italy’s weaving industry; a place where Mr. Ermenegildo Zegna himself established the firm’s operations using imported English looms. Since then and over half a million trees later, the Zegna’s Trivero and the Oasi Zegna, nature reserve it encompasses has become a global menswear institution which defies even the likes of a global pandemic.
On the last day of Milan’s Digital Fashion Week, models traversed over 3 kilometres of “runway” which took livestream viewers through the forested Oasi Zegna, into the brand’s looming mills (sorry pun intended), through the brand’s archives and then onto the factory’s rooftops where Sartori’s big concept unveiled the “reconceptualisation” of the suit. It’s a big idea for sure – even till today, men’s suiting tilts a little more in the wheelhouse of Brook’s Brothers, recently demised, a little more serious, and a little more Wall Street, leaving very little of the rakishly insouciant and men who wish to express that Italian flair known as sprezzatura.
From Zegna’s TechMerino, a machine washable treated wool that allows you to launder suits or technical sneakers in the comforts of your own home and waterproof leather paper with the thickness and flexibility of card-paper, everything from tailored blazers to checked field jackets (made from recycled linen and nylon apparently under the #UseTheExisting label) expressed a direction of lighter fabrics, fresher colours, and a joie de vivre which runs counter to the dour and sour few months we’ve found ourselves in as we shelter in place against the storm of a deadly virus.
“Dress the message” is a powerful psychological phenomenon about how clothes and the way you groom yourself alters the perspectives and perceptions that people have of you. It’s why actors dress in white coats and we take them as doctors in infomercials and it’s why anyone in a high visibility vest and a hard-hat or a security uniform is waved past security with nary a second glance.
Dressing well helps us feel powerful, and considering how out of control most of 2020 has been as we careen from medical crisis to an economic one, the suit is a highly visible, statement that come hell or high water, we’re going to ride through the torrential tragedy in style; but it won’t be his grandfather’s suit. Instead, the power suit of 2020 will see some of mens’ tailoring traditions give way to more advanced materials – yes – there will still be hallowed occasions for super wools and natural materials but given the confluence of viral warfare and climate change induced heat waves, suiting will get friendly with technical attributes like those offered in Zegna’s TechMerino such anti-wrinkle, water resistance and antimicrobial properties; sometimes stretch – a concept often associated with cheaper fabrics but now ubiquitous thanks to Japanese activewear pioneer Uniqlo’s groundbreaking innovations will now see men’s suits, almost the last bastion of menswear endowed with performance features once associated with women’s athleisure.
Pop cultural phenoms like Kingsman and the return of (Not Your Grandfather’s) Double Breasted Suits
The contemporary silhouette is now oversized and boxy, mirroring streetwear trends (hence, this editor will urge caution), double-breasted referencing a classical era, in part heralded by the likes of Kingsman as it entered the cultural zeitgeist. And then Gucci’s Alessandro Michele got into the game; having starred in four campaigns for Gucci, and no one embodies Michele’s eclectic suiting aesthetic better than Harry Styles. If things were already bubbling in 2014 when Taron Egerton donned a double breasted suit as a Kingsman agent, Harry Styles in a Gucci double-breasted cream trouser suit with retro flares and a low-cut white vest, and rose shades at the 2019 Met Gala sent things to a boil.
Some guys may pair the suit with everything from upscale T-shirts to sneakers but it takes a real sartorial maven to go full Crockett and Stubbs ala Miami Vice with a ribbed wife beater and accompanying chest hair. Heck, the suit is a sartorial garment which isn’t just the purview of the slender and lanky like the One Direction member, even the ultra-muscular and the overbuilt have been honing in on suiting – Floyd Mayweather is a notable aficionado for Gucci’s latest threads as is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, the latter being a more tailored suit enthusiast.
Ilaria Urbinati, the woman behind The Rock’s sartorial street cred is a firm believer in what she calls “aggressive styling”. With a client list that also counts Ryan Reynolds, and Donald Glover, Urbinati has been putting Hollywood’s leading men in bright colours, vintage cuts, and unique materials, seeding fertile soil for a generation of men who skipped their father’s grey and charcoal office suit for something a little more sartorial and infinitely more versatile for a weekend out.
Indeed, since taking the reins of menswear at Louis Vuitton two years ago, Virgil Abloh’s have sent even a traditionalist institution like Louis Vuitton into streetwear riffs on classic luxury pieces. By studying the evolving anthropology of the suit, Louis Vuitton’s Artistic Director twists and turns traditional codes through a variety of techniques: shirts and ties are folded and wrapped around the body then pressed into a single shirt, ‘Broderie Anglaise’ is magnified and rendered in suiting material. Within Virgil Abloh’s ongoing exploration of the constraints of menswear, this collection sees tailoring and suiting depart from a corporate comfort zone to be re-appropriated and embraced. For Fall 2020, Abloh took Paris by metaphorical storm – disrupting the idea of an office staple into deconstructed affairs with colour gradients, ruffles, or even a powder blue cloud print with embossed monogram, it was a party outfit that you could wear in the day, if the suit represented sombre constraint, Louis Vuitton and frenemy Gucci were content to turn establishment rules on its head.
For fall 2020, Tom Ford went full pastel suit with a sheen, dialling the echoes of Miami Vice to 11 and channeling the sort of 80s vibe that even most of us who grew up in the 80s want nothing but to forget and turning a nightmarish hodgepodge of experimentation into a tight, appealing collection that somehow titillates and excites our contemporary grasp of aesthetics and proportions. The suit isn’t back, it never left, it just got updated and these brands are rocking it.