The secrets of the most stylish men
Fashion insider Jeremy Langmead tells Lisa Armstrong the rules are changing fast. Chinos are fine, but not hoodies...
The very first item purchased on Mr Porter, the upmarket online men's retail companion to the equally upmarket Net-A-Porter, was a navy cashmere jumper. That was five years ago. Men - and Mr Porter - have made considerable fashion strides since then. Where there were "only" 70 brands originally, now there are 400 and four distinct tribes of shopper have been identified.
There's Mr Conservative (works for a bank, loves Belutti suits and Richard James shirts), Mr Creative (an architect or advertising copy writer, wears Acne) Mr Fashion (a slave to Saint Laurent) and then there is Mrs Porter, who buys for her husband because he is incapable of knowing what size he takes and has never knowingly expressed an opinion on either Acne or Saint Laurent. It is because of Mrs Porter that sales at UK-based website Mr Porter rocket by 30pc each Christmas.
Navy cashmere remains a staple - men are not fools. What's interesting though, is that along with the cashmere and the chinos [more of which anon] "Gucci menswear is flying out," says London-based Jeremy Langmead, brand and content director. "It's not just loafers. It's pattern, embroidery … when I walk through the city on a Friday night I'm always amazed by how much colour men are wearing."
And bracelets - those leather plaited ones they pretend they were given by their children. They add "edge" to suits, apparently.
Langmead used to be all about a suit. Journalists are not, to put it mildly, natural exemplars of elegance and refinement. But in his former life as a Fleet Street fashion editor, Langmead was famous for his beautiful tailoring. He still keeps a couple in his office in case of formal evening events after work - and newspaper portraits. On normal days, however he's in a sweatshirt, cords and trainers. Tom Ford, but still. He's had to get with the programme: luxury sweatery is where it's at. Or is it? "I went to supper in a pizza restaurant a group of young actor friends recently and there was I in my sweatshirt while they were all in suits … young friends. That makes me sound ancient, doesn't it?"
For the record, he's an eternally youthful 50, albeit one who now leads a comfortable life in the country with his partner and dog. Could it be that keeping up with the latest menswear nuances is now as demanding as staying in front of women's fashion? Yes - the hipster's uniform of tweed jacket, bow tie and hyperactive facial topiary has morphed into a more rugged lumber jack shirt, frayed jeans … and hyperactive facial topiary. And no. Classic investments in menswear still outsell one-season wonders.
Men, it seems, ask far more questions before they buy. "This sounds sexist but women tend to be more emotional and trend-lead," says Langmead. "If you say to a fashionable woman, 'this is Celine, it's the bag of the season', your job, as a retailer, is almost done. But that won't do it for men. Not even the Hoxton hipster. You can say something's a huge hit this season. But you can't say it's a must-have."
Nor can Mr Porter's editoral team mention layering in their copy. "My rule of thumb is, would you talk about layering to your friends in the pub?"
If it doesn't pass the pub test, it doesn't pass Mr Porter's portal. This, I suspect, is what makes it such a credible, relaxing read (besides the online editorial, there is Mr Porter, a bi-monthly gazette). There's none of the frenetic drumbeat that drives so much fashion writing directed at women. Instead, there is lots of 'information'. Five ways to wear this. Three things to see at the Venice Biennale. Two ways to "take your tacos to the next level".
There's an underlying assumption, grounded in truth, that men get more value for money when they shop. Perhaps that's because many men don't actually like shopping.
"They certainly don't like shops," muses Langmead. "Our research shows they hate the small changing rooms, feel pressurized by the sales assistants lurking outside, loathe running the gamut of the perfume spritzers in the beauty hall and don't want to have to make instant decisions."
Shopping online means they can read, digest, walk away, take a sneaky look in the mirror ("men are much vainer than women, but hide it, and they have very fragile egos") before returning to key in their credit card's vital statistics. "Men like value. They have to know that they are going to gets lots of wear out of something."
Mr Porter works because Langmead, for all that glossy magazine background, is permanently curious about the rules of style himself. "My generation's fathers didn't pass them on. Men were pretty stylish and groomed in the 50s and 60s, but in the 90s, it all went to pot. Shellsuits…"
And chinos, I add. Langmead demurs. There is nothing wrong with chinos, he informs me, provided they are by Incotex, which are a very good fit and cut and not entirely by chance, available on Mr Porter. Hoodies on middle-aged men are more contentious. Especially hoodies with suits, both of which Langmead has worn. "But we probably need to define what middle aged is," he reasons. "It keeps changing. We agree on 50, although I think we may shortly regret it.
Langmead's own solution to ageing is a certain vague blurriness when it comes to dates. That and the closet manis and pedis. He is not alone in being secretive. "You won't believe how many quite conservative looking men have them now. We have to look better for longer. Our face is our fortune," he laughs.
Do I detect just a soupçon of ruefulness?