There’s a massive disconnection between what most menswear fashion designers think men want to wear and what men actually want to wear. In comparison to women, us men are really conservative when it comes to dressing up and designing clothing for us, is probably tricky. We go for the tried and tested options and we definitely don’t experiment with dressing up, rather opting for just dressing or even worse, dressing down.
Women’s catwalks are always filled with innovative silhouettes, updated colours, intriguing fabrics and fresh styles. Now, more than ever before, these catwalk fashions are also filtering down to the streets, partly due to the dissemination of street style images from outside fashion shows which act as an example. But also, women’s catwalks aren’t just about day, cocktail and evening dresses anymore as there is more variety being presented. It seems, that women are open to change, which is only reflected on the catwalks.
Menswear catwalks in contrast seem clownish and costumey. I have trouble relating with what I see in the shows to what I think most men want to wear. We want newness, but nothing too new. We want change, but we don’t want to change too much. The problem for designers therefore is, what do you offer for the conservative menswear market with such a limited vocabulary? Gucci’s s/s 2014 collection is a great example of this disconnection between catwalks and real walks. Out of 28 looks presented in the show, 7 outfits were fully smothered with floral patterns. It makes a statement on the catwalk but who really wears this stuff?
When it comes to womenswear, I think designers such as Stella McCartney, Donna Karan and Phoebe Philo are really successful in what they are doing because they seem to understand what women want from clothing. All three of them are the best ambassadors for their brands as each embody the income level, lifestyle and style of the women they are dressing. There are only few such cases in menswear. Patrick Grant and Dries van Noten perhaps. But someone who I think really gets it right is Stefano Pilati.
Pilati worked as the head designer at Yves Saint Laurent between 2004 – 2012 before being dismissed in favour of Hedi Slimane. During his time at Saint Laurent, Pilati created accomplished womenswear collections but was never on top of the international agenda when it came to desirability, trend or buzz. His menswear collections however went under the radar but were in actual fact his real forte, constantly innovative and always relevant, never ridiculous.
After his dismissal from Yves Saint Laurent, Italian family own luxury menswear manufacturer Ermenegildo Zenga soon hired Pilati – a pairing that seems too perfect both ways. Although Zenga, founded in 1910, has always mastered the exquisite cloth and perfect cut, it has never really captured the now with design. Pilati in turn has a vision for contemporary menswear from a design point of view. You only have to look at him to know that he understands style.
Pilati’s first collections for both the Ermenegildo Zenga signature and more casual Z Zenga line were presented as part of the s/s 2014 Milan menswear collection this June. Both collections carried the hallmarks of this symbiotic partnership: clothing craftsmanship and contemporary clothing. Look 1 from the more casual Z Zenga collection is a perfect example of this. Though at first, the navy single button double breasted blazer looks nothing but dressy in its appearance with its smoking jacket references, this illusion is destroyed with close examination. The smart use of dull, lightweight wool gives this jacket a more relaxed appearance, further helped by the contrast taffeta revers, which has a more matt sheen than it’s pure bread classic ancestor. The jacket has been matched with a mid-weight engineered stretch cotton top in deep navy, layered on top of dark jade bed-shirt in poplin stretch cotton. The trousers have a cheerful navy taffeta sheen further livening up the overall outfit, completed with strap leather sandal. All the elements quietly contradict, but come together to create harmony.
What Stefano Pilati understands about the psyche of men’s approach to dressing and taking that fashionably forward is that it is more about crafting smart cutting, offering new colours that don’t compete for attention. Likewise, a varied use of surface finish and texture. Menswear is about subtleties, subtleties that he combines in an eclectic manner so that everything seems nonchalance, an approach that requires a real eye and flair for style.
The whole Z Zenga collection is a journey through tonal variations of colour, texture and cut used in way that suggests evolution rather than an attempt at revolution1. The colour graduates whilst the silhouette adjusts from fitted to loose – but yet nothing swings from one to another in a radical way. He is not relying on easy tricks to try to push his designs forward, his mastering of subtleties takes much more skill than opting for the extremes. Pilati knows that menswear cannot be reinvented, he knows it’s not one or the other, but everything in between.