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 www.paulstuart.com 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.