My Favourite Things: A Look Forward to Spring 2009

I have never been an advocate for fashion slavery. Fashion can be quirky and surprising, even delightful but it’s an expensive pursuit for one to follow religiously. It also has the disadvantage of lacking permanence; the essence of fashion is that reliance on the idea of perpetual transition, continual evolution.

However, while I have long been a supporter of ‘sartorial allotments’; building and cultivating a long lasting personal style, fashion cycles are pleasantly diverting.
I was rather pleasantly surprised by some of the offerings at the Spring 2009 collections. There was a good deal of the yawn-factor; muted tones on tones, an overkill of chic-bohemia but there were some particularly pleasant individual ensembles and some aesthetically charming pairings.

Burberry Prorsum: Linen & Polish

The appeal of linen, about which I have written at length, is evident here and accentuated by the glorious colour and polish of the footwear. The contrast in texture and the aesthetic cut of the trousers is particularly appealing but the marriage of the shoe and the trouser is the real magic; fresh but somehow remarkably traditional.

Linen trousers are hardly anything new but most chaps wear them very casually – even unironed. Secondly, they are often worn with careless and dreary examples of footwear; this combination shows how outstanding a casual summer trouser can look.

Bottega Veneta: Neckscarves

The neckscarf is an excellent accessory for spring and summer; a dab of colour, a little formality, whimsy and, importantly, balance for ensembles. Some might view it as a little too ‘dandy’ and affected, but these examples from Bottega Veneta show how a rather ordinary outfit can be lifted by a little colour and pattern around the neck. The retro check is particularly attractive.

The Double Breasted Jacket

This appears to be making a comeback and it’s certainly long overdue. A stylish double-breasted jacket has been missing from high fashion, and consequently the adaptive (even plagiarising) chains on the high street; hopefully this means more affordable versions will follow. Its elegance lifts pedestrian and even lacklustre pieces to a fine level of nattiness.

Gucci Blues

Frida Giannini is evidently not ashamed of exploitation. The Gucci name, so powerful and influential that shoppers queue from the early hours on discount days to ‘grab a piece of the action’ as one Selfridge’s shopper aptly put it as she scrambled past the velvet ropes outside the concession in the sales. And Giannini knows this. Consequently, the Gucci runways do have a fair amount of branded tack, relevant for the materialist-glutton in the scowling Ferrari. Ms Giannini often throws a lot of very average and forgettable sportswear onto the runways, but she clearly has talent. The beginning of the Spring 2009 collection seems encouraging; pale and interesting summer suits, wacky floral shoes and a good deal of blue (it seems I frequently forget what a marvellous colour it is).

A Fresher Take on Summer: Paul Stuart

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love a Ralph Lauren summer. The current run of ads featuring bright ties, bright trousers and pops of handkerchief colour were some of the most inspiring of the season. At one point they almost convinced me I would wear bright orange, big-print, flower-patterned tie more than once.

Particularly iconic was the pairing of a summer suit with a canary-yellow Ferrari outside an ivy-covered mansion. A more explicit call to aspirational fashion is hard to imagine.

But Ralph’s bright colours and contrasts can be a little extreme for some days of the year – particularly in England where days, no matter how sunny, rarely escape some cloud cover. A more muted, subtle summer wardrobe is called for.

I found what I was looking for at Paul Stuart in New York. Or, more precisely, in the store’s catalogue.

The cover features a man in white chinos, desert boots, a pale yellow jumper and mint green jacket. Finished off with a lilac handkerchief. It is a sophisticated, individual yet muted combination of colours that says summer just as strongly as the Ralph Lauren ads, but from an entirely different viewpoint. It melts rather than punches.

This model is propping up a picture of the Paul Stuart logo – man sitting on fence with book – in a similarly impressive colour combination. Olive chinos, checked tan jacket, pink-check shirt, orange tie and pale blue cap. Plus chestnut loafers and bright blue socks. I particularly like the socks.

By this point I’m sure you’d love to see the images I’m talking about – the catalogue is available here as a flip-through PDF. Very useful. If you can’t get there through this link, go to and click on Catalog.

Once you’ve got beyond the cover, I recommend going to page five, for the best way to pair summer checks with pink and yellow. Page 21 picks up the same subtle theme with blue and pink checks. And page 30 shows the full range of those socks from the cover. (Page 17 also demonstrates that fascinating effect I mentioned in my posting on window dressing – enhancing the appeal of shoes through rolled-up socks.)

There are some fairly hideous sweaters in there (page 9, page 27) but overall the catalogue achieves that rare thing – inspiring you to try different clothes and colours, while still successfully creating a brand image. Few brands do that well. I believe Ralph Lauren and Etro are two, and Paul Stuart is obviously another. Hackett often does well, but it’s range of casualwear means only a few pages feature jackets and suits. (If anyone knows any others I’d be glad to hear them.)

In fact, the most successful aspect of a recent shopping trip was picking up the autumn/winter 08 Etro catalogue. Few brands publish all their catwalk photos in a catalogue, for free, or have such inspiring catalogues as that produced by Paul Stuart. More should. Perhaps then we would identify something definite and particular with the brand behemoths that Armani, Ferragamo, Zegna etc have become.

Favourite Ensembles: S/S 2006 Missoni

Missoni is one of those brands that defies seriousness so strongly, that I cannot help but associate it with a casual Italian summer; a holiday in the Bay of Naples, Campari and orange, sweet scents and glorious flora. There is something about the stripes, the rage of colourful patterns and the chic flop of the material that induces me to associate Missoni with the warmer time of year.

Even in the depths of winter, shivering from exiting the shower, I am transported to carefree days in the shadow of the glory and greatness of Rome and to the rippling sparkle and azure of the Amalfi coast when I wrap the famous striped towels around my body. For to me, I do not feel that I have arrived on holiday, particularly Italy, until I begin to dress in the Missoni way; a mix and match of colours, a relaxed and slightly retro fit.

This is another of my favourite ensembles, from the spring 2006 Missoni collection. The really standout item, as with many Missoni ensembles, is the knitwear. The colour matching and cheerful striping avoids mere preppyness; the different widths and cornucopia of tones are signature Missoni. To some eyes it might seem excessively bright, but the magnificence of it is the somewhat hypnotic effect in the way it draws the eyes down from the broadness of stripe on the chest to the narrowness of the waist.

The orange belt is a clever addition; the trousers are uneventful and though checked, are too subtle to compete with the knitwear. Consequently, the belt draws some of the fruity colour down from the top half into the lower half. And though the lower half is indeed less colourful, it is well matched –  rather like a cocktail that unites something exotic with something plain; making the whole better than the sum of the parts.

The shoes are the one thing that did not initially appeal to me. I considered them a little moody in tone considering the punch of the rest but on further reflection, they finish off the outfit completely. White shoes, which I had considered more appropriate at first, might actually downgrade the outfit from being a healthy stab at retro to being like something from 1970s Monaco; a little cliché and ever so slightly trashy. The blue suede is far more subtle, if a little artisan or geek-chic.

The parts that really add lustre to this appealing outfit are the deep salmon pink shirt and the ever-so-skinny knitted scarf. The cuffs of the shirt are particularly appealing, folded up over the sleeve bottoms of the v-neck, reaffirming the delivery of this ensemble as something for the summer and I do like that only the top button of the shirt is undone; I have begun to find, in some outfits, that doing so retains the structure of a shirt better. The scarf, while most will doubtless consider it rather too decorative and absurdly lacking in function, actually lifts this outfit from being a delightful but practical v-neck, shirt and trouser combination into an outfit that could be excused at the most demanding of summer venue or occasion. It furthers perfectly the uniqueness that Missoni have rightly been credited for promoting.

Blue Jean Baby

In a fairly recent magazine article, a fashion journalist noted that the prevalence of stonewashed denim among Hollywood leading men amounted to an embarrassment for the very image-conscious film-making industry. Pictures of starry-wonders such as George Clooney pottering around in light blue and rather shabby jeans were items of evidence and though the question central to the piece was ‘What is wrong with our leading men?’, the real question I was tapping my fingers over was; ‘Whatever happened to those very blue jeans?’ You know the sort of thing I mean – solid blue colour, unwashed, with brightly contrasting turn-ups: the sort of thing worn in the 1950s and early 60s with penny loafers and baseball jackets. I remember Grace Kelly wearing a pair at the end of Rear Window; reclining gloriously whilst reading a fashion publication. Their strength of tone epitomised the artistic character of that era; Pop art reigned supreme and American culture was an appealing export. Colour representations were apt to be bright and simplistic – rather like a cartoon or a child’s drawing. Lichtenstein’s ’industrial paintings’, and Rosenquist’s billboard-influenced collaging come to mind when imagining this bluest of blue denim.

Though friends of mine contend that such denim must still be available somewhere (what isn’t in our aggressively productive world?), it is rather hard to find. Brands like Cheap Monday and Dr Denim manufacture brightly toned blue denim but it is nowhere near the texture or particular tone. In fact, when searching online for denim of any kind, jeans seem embarrassed of ’blueness.’ Though marketed as indigo, so many jeans avoid true blue dyes. They’re darker and more steely; many are practically dark grey. Recent denim trends have pointedly avoided blue – all tones of grey, black and even brown have replaced azure as the standard for jeans. And to me, this is a great shame. True-blue denim is irreplaceable; the only alternatives seem to be wearing a darker hue or returning to the dreaded Tom Selleck-esque light stone washes. Both are depressingly inappropriate for the outfits I have in mind which, in actual fact, centre around the pre-Preppy Americana and are thoroughly appropriate for the coming warmth; red gingham shirts, burgundy loafers and tortoiseshell Wayfarers: an homage to the mid-Twentieth century of ‘American cool’ – without, of course, the drop top Chevy and the slick backed hair.

Hong Kong Trend: Winter Cardigan

It isn’t very cold in Hong Kong, or at least not for long. Even in January the temperature ranges between 13 and 18 degrees Celsius (55 to 64 Fahrenheit). Right now, it’s a spring-like 20 degrees, and feels decidedly balmy to the Brit abroad.

But as far as the locals are concerned, it’s cold. When your summer regularly climbs above 30 degrees, accompanied by high humidity, 20 is cold.

The formal cardigan

The businessman in Hong Kong, young or old, typically resorts to a cardigan in this climate. The cardigan is dark, a blue or a black, occasionally a grey, is buttoned up and for the large part remains beneath the jacket. In this combination it looks smart, the rough wool of the cardigan contrasting nicely with the smooth worsted suit.

(A decent rule of thumb here as regards texture – a silk tie was traditionally smart as it contrasted with the heavy flannels worn by most men. As today’s suits tend to be worsted and ever-smoother, a woollen or knitted silk tie may achieve the same function.)

The cardigan has become such an object of fashion in the past few years that seeing men wear it as an everyday, smart item of clothing is a revelation. This cardigan is not brightly coloured, striped or ill-fitting. Unlike a fashion cardigan it is not too tight, as it is when worn by the punkish and presumably trendy. Nor is it loose and slouched, done up by one button if at all.

It is like a waistcoat, only a little more relaxed; a little less tailored, a little less formal. More apt, perhaps, for wearing with an odd jacket. And like a waistcoat, the cardigan in this ensemble is best when it is not fancy. Dark and buttoned, with the bottom button possibly undone, depending on the cut. Like the waistcoat it can also work well to keep a tie in order, though again this item should be conservative – what you add in number of pieces, take away in colour and pattern.

Until you are jacketless

The only disadvantage to a cardigan is that it inevitably looks scruffier when you take your jacket off. This is true of waistcoats to a certain extent – they are obviously designed to be worn with a jacket, avoiding the exposure of one’s shirtsleeves – but even more so of a cardigan, which can rumple and bunch more easily.

If you tend to take your jacket off as soon as you get into the office and rarely wear it again, I recommend you avoid a tie with such cardigans and opt for the slightly tighter fit to keep them close to the body.

The Hong Kong man, being a traditionalist, has none of these problems. And it’s bloody freezing – 20 degrees! So they wouldn’t want to go jacketless anyway.