Tom Ford Influence

Every five to ten years, a designer comes along who completely changes the aesthetic and direction of men’s fashion. Be it Hedi Slimane at Dior single-handedly reviving 60’s rocker-chic and a wave of slim via the trickle-down effect or the creation of the modern suit by Giorgio Armani, they are integral in the forward movement of fashion.

The current most revolutionary designer in menswear is without question, Tom Ford. During his tenure at Gucci, it is well known and acknowledged that he transformed the brand into what it presently represents today. With his new eponymous label, he is influencing formalwear in a way that has not been seen since Calvin Klein revolutionized the modern suit with clean lines and chic simplicity.

Rather, Ford’s impact and talent has been in bringing back a masculine sophistication to the suit and in a larger sense, reinventing the man along the way. Whereas androgyny has been, and continues to be popular with many men’s designers (Prada sent out male models wearing tutu skirts and ‘manties’ during their most recent collection), Ford strongly reaffirms traditional male gender identity.

Ford seems to bring back a glamorous masculine ideal of the roaring 20’s where monopolistic tycoons enjoyed the vast pleasures of the newly industrial world. The clothes are manifestly meant to convey a boldness and power, be it from loud pinstripes to double-breasted, peak lapel suits; the image of an oligarch is omnipresent. And it likely takes an oligarch to afford a Tom Ford suit, where off-the-rack begins at $3,500 and custom-made at $5,000.

According to the man himself, “The Tom Ford menswear collection is a new world of menswear built on a vision of deeply personalized luxury. The collection offers the finest quality products, made in Italy by artisan craftsmen.”

Sex is clearly central both to Ford’s collections as well as the spirit of his brand. From the provocative, explicit ads for his new fragrance to the subtle undercurrent in all his clothes, sex is obviously the main inspiration.

What Tom Ford does best are timeless, classic looks with a bit of modern reinvention and rejuvenation. He is largely responsible for the return of the three-piece and double breasted suit. The line is altogether the antithesis of the casual, street wear movement; everything exudes elegance and refinement. Despite the designer’s own penchant of wearing unbuttoned shirts to reveal a tanned chest, the collection is less blatant in its approach.

The Tom Ford store on Madison Avenue in New York is a Mecca for men’s classic fashion and jet set sophistication, and is also currently the only place where the full line is available. It is definitely not a place to go unless you intent to seriously buy something because the staff is higher pressure than your boss before a deadline.

If You Own One Suit

Maybe you are about to graduate college and you need the one suit that will get you through all your job interviews or perhaps you just want to clear out your closet full of boxy, outdated suits, the solution for either case is a modern, versatile suit that will fulfill all your needs.

The current trend in suits has been towards a mélange of 90’s era minimalism and the modern-day obsession with slim.  This present infusion has reached the pinnacle of style in achieving a timelessness and wearability that means it will look as attractive in ten years as it does the day you buy it.

The two most versatile colors for suits are either gray or navy, with gray being the more fashionable choice.  A light-wool, gray suit is the best option because it’s like a blank canvas—anything can be paired with it, allowing more outfit variations with less investment.  Black is also permissible, though it is sometimes considered too ‘flashy’ for certain job interviews.

The trousers should fit snugly around your waist and should be tapered to your leg.  When buying an off the rack suit, it is imperative that you bring it to a good tailor to have it fixed for your body.  A flat front pant will make you look slimmer and is the most modern choice.  If you want a slim leg, which is currently in style, do not hesitate to be explicit in your desires.  Sometimes in more conservative establishments, a tailor may be apprehensive about bringing in the leg too much.  The break and cuff of your pants is highly personal and dependent on your tastes, but if you own only one suit, it’s best to leave the bottoms uncuffed with the trousers ending just above where the heel of the shoe begins.

The jacket, like the pants should outline your body without restricting movement.  The waist should be darted, meaning that it hugs and gives shape to your torso.  Opting for a two-button is a good way to subtly distinguish yourself among a sea of banal three-buttoned suits.  While peak lapels are currently fashionable, a safer bet is a traditional, but slim notched-lapel.

A reasonable range for a first suit is between $500 and $1,000, though it is not impossible to find something for less.  A smashing suit can potentially be a deciding factor of whether you get the job or the girl—or a job from the girl, so investing in a good one is key.

Style of, by and for the People

The fact that technology has revolutionized traditional media is nothing new, but the way in which it has transformed the fashion world has been comparatively under-acknowledged. No more than ten years ago, the only outlet men had to learn about fashion and trends was either their monthly GQ or Esquire. Online media has progressively challenged the monolithic print publications, which have themselves moved increasingly into online space.

Now that everything is constant and on-demand, trends have a much easier and faster way of diffusing. Whereas it might take a print publication a month to pick up on something, another month to fit it into the next issue, and finally the extra time it would take to catch on in the general public, the Internet has greatly shortened the time needed. What is on the Sartorialist one day can easily become popular in the span of a single month, if not sooner.

More specifically though, a new breed of online media may further revolutionize the world of fashion: the user-generated site. These sites, rather than being directed by a group of editors or industry-insiders, are intimately in touch with the realities and limitations of regular people. For example, while GQ might recommend a $5,000 suit, the number of people able to go and purchase a suit half that price is very small.

This facility to share information and opinions may have a powerful effect on style and fashion as a whole. On one hand, it makes fashion more accessible and available to those with a curiosity or interest in learning some of the fundamental ‘rules.’ On the other, doesn’t it seem a bit like a case of the blind leading the blind?

According to Yuli Ziv, editor-in chief and founder of the online user-generated magazine MyItThings, “Print magazines used to have the power to dictate fashion. The Web 2.0 revolution and social shopping movement have brought user-generated content into the ultra exclusive world of fashion and now are changing the rules. Today’s trends are controlled not only by selected editors and columnists; they are also driven by the wisdom of crowds.”

Social shopping sites of this nature are almost exclusively tailored to women, though it will be interesting to see whether there will be an analogous venue for men. Clearly, the interest is there. Look no further than the first page of either Style Forum or the forums to find threads of men sharing pictures of their shoes and recent purchases.

Because style is such a subject field, it would make sense that a ‘crowd’ would be just as effective as any style guru at judging what is ‘stylish.’ After all, we normally judge ‘good’ style as what is acknowledged to be attractive by a broad group. The only question yet to be seen is the collective taste of the masses.

Spring Trends

When you move to New York, your wardrobe slowly but surely morphs into gradations of black and gray. Something about the city and its business orientation dictates that everyone looks like they’ve just come back from a funeral. This spring, however, is all about bright colors.

At Mercedez-Benz fashion week in New York, designers showed their Fall 2008 collections and the message was unmistakable: color and lightness is back in style. As it always seems to go, women’s trends end up seeping into men’s fashion and the two are never truly far apart. In a similar vein, the fact that fashion is always two seasons ahead has at least a subconscious impact on what we end up wearing now. Though we are still technically in Fall/Winter 2007, the trends of Fall/Winter 2008 are already going to begin changing the paradigm of what we think is stylish and current.

One of my favorite looks for this spring that is both young and ironic is wearing a bright, almost neon anorak under a blazer with the sleeves pushed up. It is reminiscent of Prada spring/summer 2007, indicating that it might have taken until now to catch on.

Another great trend this spring is tech-fabric, light puffer vests over shirts or even contemporary sweaters. Vests in general are versatile items, perfect for the fifty to sixty degrees “in-between” weather, but this season really amps up the style with bold and bright monochromatic tones that add vivacity to a drab wardrobe.

Other ways of bringing back color into the wardrobe are as simple as going out and buying a few pairs of inexpensive oxford shirts. Uniqlo, as always, has stylish shirts that fit the bill without leaving you unable to pay yours at the end of the month. Also if you are in New York, the highly reputed shirt retailer Seize sur Vingt is having a sample sale this week with great markdowns. Like it or not, button-down colors are back in style and don’t even look bad when combined with other colorful elements. They provide a Hamptons-style preppyness that is always popular during the summer.

Also still trendy this spring is white jeans, which can go from sophisticated with a pair of black dress boots and shirt to beach casual with a pair of flip-flops and t-shirt.

If at last though you are absolutely beholden to the old black and gray, it appears that stripes are in for spring and so injecting a little irony into your outfit might just do you good.

Fall/Winter 2008 Milan and Paris Highlights

As the curtain for the men’s shows in Paris and Milan has fallen once again, there is left in its wake hundreds of outfits that compared against the backdrop of current fashion, will play a large role in the determination of new trends.  This year’s collections were in some cases an about-face on current trends and an elaboration in other instances.  Though only time can tell which fashions will make the transition from runway to everyday, there were clearly some standout pieces in a sea of seemingly endless fabric.

Designers hit the brakes on the ‘slim’ trend and reversed direction in creating a bigger, wider silhouette.  Baggy and flowing pants in the style of 30’s ‘zoot suits’ were present in nearly every show, even at Dior Homme, which would have been an anathema only a few years earlier under the reign of Hedi Slimane.  While these ‘Aladdin’ inspired pants will not likely achieve any popularity outside of the Euro-hipster and Face hunter demographic, it is an important indicator that the fashion world has tired of narrow cuts for the moment and it may also be a sign of the impending return of pleated pants to stylishness.

In more manageable proportions, flowing pants can actually be quite stylish, such as this pair from Emanuel Ungaro, though they are ultimately unlikely to gain wide acceptance. To wear roomier pants and not look like Jim Carry from “The Mask,” it is best to wear a modern, fitted jacket rather than something equally bulbous.  Because of their high fashion status, pants of this style are likely to draw raised-eyebrows in the street.

Interestingly, or party due to baggy pants’ dependence on them, tops did not follow the super-sizing trend, instead many were cropped and revamped in this manner.  Suit jackets were both shorter and more fitted than had been seen in previous years.  This was similarly the case with the classic tuxedo, which was transformed from its traditional form to a more avant-garde appearance.

One trend that I predict will be particularly successful was a certain ‘wild west’ look at Paul Smith, evoked by earthy colors and a distinctly classic cut.  A higher lapel will likely be increasingly desired after a seemingly long period of fashion hibernation.  While plaids were still ruefully popular with many designers, they seemed toned down to a degree, making them more palatable.  Such was the effect of this Rykiel Homme suit (top right), which flawlessly combined an edgy fabric with a rakishly modern cut to create a Rock ’n’ roll look.

Possibly my favorite look of the season was from Raf Simons.  This pairing of a turtleneck and trousers is so sophisticated and chic in its simplicity that it exudes a timelessness that I look for in dressing. The fit of the pants is perfect and they serve well to visually emphasize the difference between fashion and style.  While zoot pants may be fashionable today, they are the kind of dated tem that will have you asking yourself what you were thinking when looking back on it ten years into the future.