In March, when Morgan Stanley declared its bankers no longer had to wear suits and ties at the office, it seemed to be the death knell for the suit as a symbol of white-collar labor. Only 10 percent of British men wear one to work, according to The Independent. Instead, today's white-collar wardrobe includes polo collars, T-shirt collars and hoods.
And yet, any notion that the suit might be nearing extinction feels premature. At Dior Men's, Kim Jones is lavishing couture-level attention to his tailoring. Meanwhile Virgil Abloh, at both Louis Vuitton and Off-White, is all about big, boxy suit jackets — a look Balenciaga and Gucci have been pushing for a few seasons. UNDERCOVER’s surprise collab with Valentino equally presented sartorial dressing for the modern man. Even Supreme is getting into tailoring, dropping a plaid version in red, tan and black for its Spring/Summer 2019 season.
It's unexpected. The suit — shorthand for corporate drudgery and wardrobe conservatism — shouldn't jibe with today's anything-goes approach to what we wear. It's precisely why they're interesting again. For decades, a suit was something you had to wear; now, it's something you want to wear. For young people especially, tailoring has become disruptive. In a world where your boss wears jeans and sneakers, sporting a suit stands out.
It helps that today's suits are not those of your dad. Designers are reworking menswear's totem with an urge for disruption. The new breed of suiting draws as much from the street and sportswear as it does from the traditions of Savile Row — blending classic craftsmanship with modern style cues.
Next to the big houses, pushing the category, is a group of young, London-based designers. In the city that invented the suit, Savile Row is still full of moneyed, middle-aged men dressing as they always have. But on the other side of London, these six brands are breaking down the barometers surrounding classic tailoring and building an aesthetic for the next generation.
Matthew Miller's approach to tailoring is built on techniques he learned during his degree at the Royal College of Art, as well as on a project with Brioni's tailoring school in southern Italy, where apprentices as young as 14 learn the craft. "Anyone can put a logo on a T-shirt or a sweatshirt," he says. "But being able to tailor, you can't just learn [that] overnight."
Though Miller's suits can look classic from a distance, he's all about novel fabrics and design techniques drawn from sportswear, applying his classical training to practical style details that work on the streets. "Sportswear influences the suit more than people like to admit," he says. "The deconstruction of the shoulder, the more relaxed silhouette, the bagginess. It's almost like taking a hoodie, looking at how that's [constructed], then applying it to tailoring."
This season's signature is the Lang suit, a double-breasted tuxedo-style jacket, with external rings and a belt that doubles as a harness. It's wearer can sling it over their shoulder if it gets too warm. "It's about not being steeped in tradition," he says.
That said, Miller is influenced by Savile Row — its obsession with rules is the ideal thing to kick against. "Savile Row is top-heavy, uber-masculine. It's horrific," he says. "It's everything that's wrong with the world. But if you put these things together, the freedom of sportswear and the formulaic side of suiting, you get something new."
Daniel w. Fletcher
This year's Woolmark Prize-nominated designer launched his brand, in part, because there wasn't anyone making the kind of formalwear he wanted to wear. "It was all about streetwear," he says. "Young London brands were not doing suits but I think it’s really important. It's nice to have a balance in your wardrobe."
Fletcher's tailoring can seem fairly traditional, until you spot the unexpected details. His Spring/Summer 2019 collection was built around a worker drone heading home after a night out he couldn't remember. They arrived in suits with split trousers and exposed jacket linings. For Fall/Winter 2019, he found English textile mills that had been supplying tailors for decades, then twisted that heritage with side-buckling jackets and buttoned trouser hems that flapped open over boots.
The designer's suits have become more structured as he's honed his skills. His degree had tailoring at its core. It runs throughout his brand today. "We put our jackets out on models and our tutor went down the line and absolutely slated them. 'Where's the shoulder pad? Why doesn't this match?' It was telling us that you have to know this before you can do anything else."
Though his suits are styled as two-pieces, they're sold as separates, to encourage wardrobe creativity. "We sell a lot of the jackets by themselves, which surprised me," he says. "Then we get tagged on Instagram by people wearing them with a hoodie, or with sweatpants and trainers. I think it's great. People are wearing suits in their own, unique ways."
For his most recent collection, Alex Mullins showed jean-like suits that were desperate to be jeans. "It's a wool that looks like a denim, the yarn is dyed exactly how indigo denim is dyed," he says. "It feels like you're wearing a really elegant version of a denim suit. It dresses down, but you feel quite smart."
Mullins' designs are all about empowerment, taking the everyday then adding structure. "It reflects into our current climate where we all have to be feeling stronger," he says. His tailoring reimagines 1980s power suits as something for outside the office.
"It's not people in the workplace — it's from the fuccbois to the guy version of Phoebe Philo's Céline. Everyone wants to feel smarter because they want to feel like they've got their shit together."
For Spring/Summer 2019, that ethos translated to lightweight but pattern-heavy, double-breasted suits, with long jackets and voluminous pants much like Richard Gere's Armani reimagined by Jackson Pollock. "It's not about feeling mature, it's about an elevated taste level," Mullins explains.
For designers Emma Hedlund and Saif Bakir, it's not just the suit's aesthetic that makes it out-of-step with the modern world. The garment itself is also impractical. Frustrated at how the sleeves bunched up when they put their hands in their pockets, they added a split. "The sleeves then fall beautifully," says Bakir.
It's this combination of function and form that defines CMMN SWDN's tailoring. Before launching the brand, the husband-and-wife team set up Kanye West's Paris studio. At their own label, the collections are rich in irreverence and the clash of different codes. As such, their suits are designed not to replace streetwear, but to give it a new dimension. "It's combined..." says Bakir, before Hedlund finishes his thought "... you can easily see a suit jacket being worn with a track pant. Maybe a suit is looking different to how it used to be and you can be more experimental."
Both classically trained (Hedlund at Central St. Martin's, Bakir at London College of Fashion), the duo approaches tailoring with a sense of respect that also fuels their urge to take it in new directions. "It's one of the pillars of menswear, it's in its DNA," says Bakir. Hedlund agrees. "I think it's always interesting to keep the essence of a suit — the padding, the lapel, the tailoring aspect. [Next to that] we can allow ourselves to play around with the rest of it."
"JORDANLUCA is Italian heritage and London subculture," says Jordan Bowen, the British designer who co-founded JORDANLUCA with Italian Luca Marchetto. "The cornerstone of Italian fashion heritage is sharp, beautiful tailoring."
It's an approach embodied in the pair's "tracksuit suit", which is built in suit material at the front and uses nylon for its back and lapels. "It's a hybrid," says Bowen. "It underpinned everything we were trying to communicate about what we were about." In collections full of streetwear touches, like printed jersey and distressed denim, it feels like a bridge between two worlds that are increasingly overlapping.
For Fall/Winter 2019, tailoring came to the forefront in a collection built around Edwardian silhouettes. "We cinched in the waists with some of the coats and brought out the shoulders," says Bowen.
These are suit jackets that look as good with sweatpants as they do with the matching trousers. It's testament to the skill that goes into the brand's construction. "A suit is not like any other garment," notes Marchetto. "[In general] if you make a mistake at the top, you normally don't see it at the bottom. In a suit, half a centimetre on the neck is going to fuck up your sleeve. It's crazy."
Since Edward Crutchley's launched his namesake brand in 2015, tailoring has become increasingly important. "When I first started my label I'd never have imagined the role suits would come to have in my work," he says. "Now they're really the focus of how I structure the collection." This stylistic shift coincide with that of his mentor, Kim Jones — under whom he worked at Louis Vuitton and still works at Dior Men's.
Crutchley won this year's Woolmark Prize with a suit-heavy collection. Like many nascent labels, Crutchley initially designed garments that looked clever on the runway but didn't transition all that easily into real wardrobes.
Today he's struck a delicate balance between creativity and commerciality, which pivots around suits. "Since I started working at Dior Men's I've been more exposed to tailoring," he says. "That's made me want to see what I can do with it myself. As I’ve matured as a designer I don’t feel the need to make such brash statements. Suits allow you to explore ideas in a more subtle way."
For this season, that meant sleeveless, belted suit jackets that looked like something from a salaryman-cum-samurai's wardrobe, as well as more traditional two-pieces with swishy, tie-belted trousers. For next season his suits will be more classical, albeit with zip-edged trouser creases and jackets that elongate into overcoats.
"It's a pragmatic approach," he says. "People are more likely to buy a suit that is similar to what they know or already have, but is just a little bit different."