Classic men's style is back. The media has understood this well enough, if we consider the ever-increasing number of features on the subject that are published daily. Yet, despite the ever-growing media attention, the phenomenon itself is still quite hard to notice…
Take a walk in the street and look around -- it is still very rare to see a well-dressed man (by our standards anyway) in your immediate field of vision. These said streets are still largely flooded by street-casual-sports-whatever-wear, all generations included.
Of course, every once in a while – and more frequently since a few years, you'll spot the occasional tastefully coordinated handkerchief in its barchetta pocket, or the madder silk tie properly knotted with the de rigueur drop. You might also be pleasantly surprised by an elusive Neapolitan shoulder, a furtive peak lapel, or by a subtle patina on a pair of good-year constructed shoes.
Yet this movement, though discreet, is very real. Most surprising, is that it is spearheaded by a crowd of relatively young men (less than 40) or even kids (less than 25), who have drawn from many sources – including PG – to acquire the education and inspiration needed to uphold their newfound values, the very values and education that their fathers failed to transmit to them, as they were too busy rejecting their own fathers' codes as a reaction against the « classic style » in the 60’s.
It is also interesting to note that when these young men talk about elegance, they tend to refer to their grandfathers, and not to their father. The smart (and seemingly immortal) trio Astaire-Cooper-Grant is also back with full force, as the heralds of the sartorial renaissance. This is symptomatic of the generation leap that has occurred; it sheds a whole new light on the subject, literally rejuvenating the grandfather figure, who has become once again a well-meaning source of inspiration to the younger generation.
The spectacular renewal in interest for all things well-made is arguably the truly defining aspect of the men's style comeback. There is an undeniable thirst for education. Knowledge of the craftsman's gestures, methods, history and tradition are as sought after as the goods themselves. People hunger for education on how to dress, but also for knowledge on etiquette and interpersonal skills.
This begs the question. Did we finally cave in to the giant marketing hammer of big luxury groups, boasting the merits of their very (too?) expensive luxury goods, under the pretext that they were crafted by nice artisans doing nice gestures ?
Or did we, as the new generation of classic men's style aficionados, force the luxury industry to adapt to our new standards ?
The chicken or the egg ?
The answer, if there even is such a thing, would be very complex, especially when you add another element to the equation, namely the « Mad Men / Boardwalk Empire » storm, and the « Gatsby » hurricane, even though Luhrmann's version is far from being universally lauded, as many saw it as a most vulgar display of opulence...
Way back, when well-dressed men appearing on TV, would be the frequent subject of discussion amongst the ladies. Nowadays, and this is completely new, men too enjoy dissecting the outfits (and haircut) of Don Draper & Co in heated conversations.
As for our friends in the marketing department, tradition and values (a word as complex and all-encompassing as it is empty) are the new magic words. Today, every company in our sector, whatever the size, needs a HE-RI-TAGE, TRA-DI-TION, and, oh bliss : VALUES !
So everyone scurries to scour their closets and drawers in order to produce some supposed evidence to proclaim a date of establishment (as old as possible), often juggling precariously with obscure uncles who vaguely were in the general vicinity of the trade for about two weeks back in 1860. And thus, the House's Story is born.
After all, who is going to check if Great-Great-Great-Great Uncle John. J. Johnson really was the founder of your glorious dynasty of artisans ? Well, he worked part-time in a leather factory in his youth and that counts right ? And who is going to check if this or that House really was founded in 1650 ? No one, that's who. To be perfectly honest, if the products are up to par and decently priced, we couldn't care less about Uncle John story, but that's another subject.
So who is the target of those dust-covered slogans, dripping with traditions and know-how ?
And who are those men seeking the style and quality that commercials tend to put indiscriminately in the same basket ?
Who are the new elegant men, the modern gentlemen ?
Who are those tie-knotting junkies, those good-year maniacs, those spalla di camicia fanatics ? How can we classify a population so complex and so varied, and put it into neat little marketing segments that you, marketing friends, cherish and trust like the Bible ?
Do you think it is really possible for Brummel to stand next to Cary Grant and for Jean Cocteau to stand next to Gianni Agnelli ? Are you serious ?
So here is a small taxonomy made on the fly, to the kind attention of all the marketing departments around the world. We'll never let you run out of archetypes ! Hang in there !
You could call them neo-dandies. Moustache-sporting, pince-nez-wearing, brilliantine-loving, stiff-collared gentlemen, walking in style with animal head sticks at their side. This is marketing's current false-good-idea, with certain brands overusing these complicated moustache patterns in their ads. They are often associated – wrongly I might add – with the men's style movement revival.
Why ? Well, these loveably retrograde eccentrics, anachronistic by choice and misanthropic by posture have always existed. But, since classical men's style is on the rise again, the media enjoys putting these harmless exhibitionists and their habits and attires from another time, under their spotlights.
As an absolute counter-example of Brummell's « discreet elegance », these gentlemen live in the early times of the 20th century, and wish to stay there – heartily and passionately considering themselves the heirs of the idle aristocrats and the ballroom dandies of the twenties.
The Nostalgics’ refreshing critique of modernity is eminently likeable, but does not have much to do with the vision of elegance that we like to defend in these columns, although we can sometimes agree with parts of their « I've seen the future, and I’m not going » mantra…
Led by the astonishing Gustav Temple, editor of « The Chap », the anti-modernity publication advocating a revolution by the tweed, this second category of bizarre individual doped on tobacco pipe and heavy fabrics, is on the rise in the English-speaking world.
The humorous action and this spectacular bunch inspired by Peter Cook, the Monty Pythons, Dadaism, and the Situationnists, notably against the presence of Abercrombie & Fitch on Savile Row (Give Three Piece a Chance!) make for an extremely interesting source of inspiration. Their manifesto pleads for the return of a form of « popular dandyism, » made of fine alcohol, great tweeds and good manners. This movement gave birth to a horde of gentlemen who would proudly die defending Borsalino hats and chalk-stripped double-breasted suits.
As one of the main sources of inspiration for millions of gentlemen, this magical trio has never been praised as much as it has been in the past few years.
Online, or in books, everyone seems to be singing the praises (most of the time well-deserved) of Astaire's erudite elegance, of Grant's simplicity, and of Cooper's disarming nonchalance. It's probably thanks to the newfound love for the trio, that lapels grew in size again (finally!), that trousers moved closer up towards the natural waist (with or without suspenders) and that the double-breasted vest made a vigorous comeback.
The Astaire-Cooper-Grant trio has created a surge in the huge stylistic wave, upon which many Houses are surfing with complete legitimacy, from Savile Row (and other Houses in the UK), to American Houses. This wave is probably one of the biggest marketing opportunities for the next decade or so.
Denying the important impact that American TV shows like Mad Men or Boardwalk Empire has had on men's style would be a great mistake. Don Draper and friends had – and indeed still have – a definite influence on prospective customers, as well as on stylists of ready-to-wear houses of every size.
Millions of men take inspiration from the early 60's style suits à la Mad Men : tightly fitted sharp suits embellished with perfectly folded pocket squares and razor-sharp haircuts. Others try their luck in the more complex field of the 20's gangster suit, with Boardwalk Empire's festival of tab collars.
All these super productions are a nice source of inspiration and are relatively timeless, which is something advertisers understand well enough.
Gathering together in the realm of a few founding forums, such as the well-known Style Forum, these purveyors of Sartorial Dogmas made of « do's » and « dont's » - the majority of which are from the seminal « Dressing the Man » by Allan Flusser – are as essential as they can be provoking, and as captivating as they can be irksome.
Some spend their free time on blogs or Tumblr, tirelessly dissecting and judging the orthodoxy of one another's attire on a daily basis, all the while engaging in all-out wars on choice of makers and fabrics and cuts.
Herein lies a community of passionate people, sometimes a bit extremist and slightly conceited, that can prove to be very partisan and categorical whenever the time comes to celebrate or disintegrate a House. Still, this group of Ayatollahs remain a true force behind the revolution that we like to write about on PG, and is a formidable source of education for the English-speaking gentleman, who knows how to find his way through the thousands of discussion threads and the plethora of Tumblr pictures out there...
Above : http://dirnelli.tumblr.com
The Pitti Uomo, the semi-annual reunion for the insiders of the trade, has become since a few years the theatre (this is not a metaphor) for flamboyant passagiata, carefully orchestrated by a few big names of the international blogosphere, who use this event as a stage to make a name for themselves and for the houses they represent.
An all-Italian exercise, in which transalpine exuberance reigns, though sometimes excessively so, but always with that fantastic freedom of tone and seductive flair, without which, the world of men's style wouldn't be as interesting as it is today. Forza Italia.
A perfect place for Social Networking, maybe for a few more years... before the catwalk becomes a parody of itself...
Of course, we could have added to the list the fans of the new « casual-chic » movement, or the Bespoke addict whose ranks never cease to grow and many more.
To put it bluntly and at the risk of disappointing my marketing friends, the men making up the new generation of style aficionados are way too diverse to be dumbed down to a few categories.
Besides, their taste are more and more asserted and refined, and their education in terms of personal style keeps growing, whatever the age or means.
Classical men's style now relates to men of all generation, which is a completely new fact.
This messy situation certainly represents a very puzzling scenario for the communication teams of the trade, especially in an age where men are more educated than ever and thus are more concerned by the quality of the product rather than the name of the brand.
But, we can only rejoice in this sartorial coming of age, for we are the witness and the actors in a movement whose messages are probably much more urgent and perhaps even more profound than the very, and rather superficial, subject of dressing well.