FOR centuries women have been trying to get inside a man’s head, but how does one get into his wardrobe? January saw Fall 2012 Men’s Fashion Week in Paris and Milan where top suiters and booters vyed for a place in the male wallet.
Big names such as Calvin Klein, Gucci, Prada and Burberry predicted what the boys will be wearing when the cold front returns, but what trends will endure and will men actually go for the standout looks?
Men are reputedly safe dressers – they don’t generally take sartorial risks. In a week dominated by classic suits and huge coats, one wonders if there is room for innovation in menswear or is men’s high fashion really just reinventing the wheel season after season.
High fashion trending and shows for the guys and the gals differ greatly. Where womenswear runways are awash with ideas, inspiration, art, innovative materials and technique; men's shows tend to be dominated by variations on tried-and-tested classics from season-to-season.
Where most menswear designers focus on wearable basics with an emphasis on fine tailoring, womenswear designers create a line that speaks for the brand as a whole with extravagant show-pieces among a smaller proportion of wearable clothing. A womenswear show needs to raise the profile of the brand, to sell not only apparel but high volume products: bags, shoes and cosmetics.
The root of the relative safeness of men’s high fashion may be found in the male attitude to fashion. To the majority of men, the function in fashion is key. Clothing must be comfortable, wearable and appropriate. Men tend to be more compartmentalised in their wardrobes - work, casual and dress are very distinct sections; both on the rail and in the mind.
Women prefer garments to cross occasion barriers, with men choosing clothes that do their intended job - testament to the cliché that women are multi-taskers. You would rarely find a man wearing a tuxedo suit jacket away from its pants. A woman would have both pieces working separately over a single day for a breakfast meeting, lunch with the ladies and dinner with her man.
Trend-wise Paris and Milan showed us put-together, sophisticated looks for the boys. Common themes included double-breasted tailoring (thank you, Charles and William), cable knits, leather accents and over-sized overcoats. Dominant tones were grey, black and camel with notes of oxblood, heavy blues and mustard.
There was much to be seen and felt in texture: leathers, tweeds, cable knit, metal accents and velvet lapels. There was a clear 1920’s sensibility to the tailoring, knitwear and colour stories and the constant presence of the fedora.
With a lot going on south of the male ankle, do trend casters see men going a bit Imelda Marcos on us? YSL showed thick-soled, metal panelled leather loafers; tan leather at Dries Van Noten; blue suede shoes at Giorgio Armani; and hot on the heels of Boardwalk Empire were two-tone brogues at Louis Vuitton, Moschino, Paul Smith and Prada.
With no sign of the ubiquitous messenger bag, fashion placed its confidence in a daring customer who would think nothing of carrying Lanvin’s metallic mini attaché case, forest green or red clutch bags at Valentino or the oversized leather holdall featured on almost every runway.
Riskier emerging trends included brick prints at Jean Paul Gaultier and Moschino, the re-emergence of orange, graphic Tetris prints, moody colour-blocked suits at Botega Veneta and Adam-Ant-meets-Russell-Brand at Balmain (the only customers for this are probably Adam and Russell themselves).
It is practically hammered on cave walls that you can’t change a man - as Sex and the City’s Samantha Jones says, ‘The only things you can work on are their hair and wardrobe, but even then, it's a constant battle’. In reality do we want men to dress trendier?
Public men who put themselves out there fashion-wise are seen as the exception rather than the rule. Russell Brand, Johnny Depp and even our own Paul Galvin each has a distinctive personal style that makes him stand out from the crowd.
The truth is that most men don’t want to stand out. Women achieve a sense of belonging from the approval of standing out from their peers, whereas a guy loves nothing more than wearing an identical jersey to 100,000 other men on a Saturday afternoon.
So if it isn’t broken, why fix it? What is sexier than a man, elegantly and confidently dressed in understated Emporio Armani? Menswear designers aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel, they just want to upgrade the tyre and affix a classic hub cap.
The vision for Fall 2012 is to add some murky colour and smarten up a bit. Maybe you can't change a man but one look at those colour-blocked Botega Veneta suits and it could happen.
Aisling tweets @ashinyoconnor