As Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson stood on the blue carpet at the London premier of Zoolander 2, it was hard to believe that they were celebrating the second coming of fashion’s ingenious and hilarious millennial movie.
There was not a hint of crazy, fancy clothes as Ben Stiller took up the challenge — a struggle with an eight-foot-long pole — to take the biggest selfie in the world. He and Owen Wilson wore office-worthy men’s suits, without even a touch of Derek Zoolander’s “Blue Steel” pose.
Before going into the cinema, following Penelope Cruz (all film-starred-up in a metallic gold Atelier Versace dress), I glanced at my emails: “Dear Suzy,” read a message from Burberry’s Christopher Bailey, who is the brand's designer and CEO. “I wanted to let you know personally that tomorrow we will be announcing significant changes to our shows going from four (two men’s and two women’s) to two — mixing men’s in with women’s.”
I had seen this coming – the deflation of overblown fashion and a major reality check — especially for menswear. Burberry is speedy to respond to the changes imposed by shrinking markets, fast fashion and online shopping, offering the opportunity for ustomers to buy directly from the shows.
Since last month’s Florence/Milan/Paris menswear shows, followed currently by New York, there have been designer regime changes at Berluti, Brioni and Ermenegildo Zegna.
I sat next to Gildo Zegna at last month’s Milan show, looking at designer Stefano Pilati’s “Sherlock Holmes” cloaks and sweaters embroidered with crystal stars. And while admiring the fine craftsmanship and bold design, I totally missed a trick.
As I congratulated Gildo and said how impressed I was with these elegant clothes, the executive gave me a wry smile and said, “Of course, none of this sells in the stores.”
Zegna has now announced that Pilati is out after three years, to be replaced as overall artistic director by Alessandro Sartori, who was a Zegna designer before joining Berluti - which he has now left in the latest of the designer merry-go-rounds.
Zegna is a menswear giant. But, while supposedly at the zenith of its global reach, glamour and power, the idea of men’s fashion overtaking womenswear is suddenly looking shaky. But was this Golden Boy era — quite literally, in the case of Burberry’s gilded trench, which kicked off glam for men – ever for real?
Menswear is different from women’s style. For all the flurry of excitement over a break-up of the concept that classics dominate the male wardrobe, I do not believe that was ever true.
Real men may eschew suits and wear more casual clothes than ever before. They may wear lilac cashmere sweaters (probably a gift from a girlfriend). But if they have to dress formally, they are unlikely to wear a mauve suit to the office.
This is nothing to do with being gay or straight. In my role as fashion editor, I know dozens, even hundreds, of well-dressed gay guys. They are mostly fashion-conscious and dynamic in the way they dress, but not fancy. Purple happens to be my favourite colour, followed by lavender and lilac. I do not have too much competition in the front row of the men’s shows.
The real truth about men and fashion is the explosion of sportswear. Generations of men who looked “casual” (read “sloppy”) at weekends have been followed by the “Sport Fabulous” male. From colourful mesh tops (which could even be violet) through stretch pants down to witty socks and crazy, geometrically patterned, sparkling sneakers, masculine casual clothes have never seemed so varied or dynamic.
Last week I was at Dolce & Gabbana’s Alta Sartoria show of bespoke menswear, which had a super-rich, super-glam audience. The show was big on suits contouring the body, a sprinkling of pattern inspired by neo-classical frescoes — and a large offering of elegant sportswear reflecting athletic pursuits such as tennis from a previous era.
With all the money in the world, many men would opt for a personally made and fitted suit — something produced to perfection by Zegna, by the cream of London’s Savile Row and other high-end international tailors.
I think men are fortunate in being able to have that choice to wear a personally fitted suit. Like many women, I would be happy to have the opportunity to embrace a precise, perfectly cut, made-to-measure outfit. I might even choose to make mine mauve. Or Zoolander Blue Steel. But as the more extravagant men’s looks fade, I still have my doubts that all male fashion will ever have a purple reign.