Autumn Winter 2012 menswear Milan, the highlights by Style.com
“There are at least two ways in which you can deal with what’s going on in the world. You can confront it right up close, or you can escape into a dream world in your gold bullion embroidered Dolce & Gabbana cape.”
Whilst Tim Blanks may have been referencing Dolce & Gabbana’s Baroque inspired, chandelier lined catwalk, he also articulated the dichotomous mix of climatic austerity and extreme luxury that categorised the Autumn Winter 2012 menswear shows in Paris and Milan.
The creative and corporate alike seemed acutely aware of the storm clouds lingering over the European economy. A conversation difficult to avoid when menswear presentations were immediately preceded by Standard & Poor’s decision to downgrade the sovereign credit ratings of both Italy and France. Yet the mood did not suffer any collateral pessimism, nor did brands seek to hide from the luxuries they are best known for.
“ A dichotomous mix of climatic austerity and extreme luxury categorised the Autumn Winter 2012 menswear shows in Paris and Milan ”
Instead houses championed the hyper luxurious. Gold filigree threads on Baroque-inspired evening suits at Dolce & Gabbana, golden studs and tuxedos encrusted with crystals at Versace, gold on gloves and leather bags at Burberry Prorsum. Even at Calvin Klein, widely known for its minimalist approach to luxury, blazers could be found in ostentatious alligator.
“Luxury! That’s it, pure luxury,” quipped menswear director Kim Jones, when The Guardian pressed him on his overall mood toward his AW12 collection for Louis Vuitton.
“We were looking at lots of Japanese references, so we were also looking at lots of Japanese fabric companies. We came across this mill that could only make twenty centimetres a day – all done by hand – and I just thought that was the ultimate luxury in terms of suiting,” Jones reiterated to Style.com.
(L – R) Gold filigree at Dolce & Gabbana, Alligator suiting at Calvin Klein and crystal tuxedos at Versace
The combination of the expensive and hedonistic, in a time of general frugality and preservation, seems almost nonsensical. Yet these collections – for both their timing and accents of flamboyance – make nothing other than perfect business sense. Whilst the greater economy suffers, luxury has prospered, and few segments are prospering as hard and fast as menswear.
Consultancy Bain & Co estimates the luxury menswear market to be worth 180 billion euros ($240 billion) and growing at about fourteen per cent a year, nearly double that of luxury womenswear at eight per cent (Reuters).
Jean-Marc Bellaiche, consultant at Boston Consulting Group, believes that the market has traditionally been underserved, suggesting that menswear “remains very underdeveloped compared to the woman’s market, so there is a lot of catching up to do.”
“ The luxury menswear market is worth €180 billion euros and growing at about 14% a year, nearly double that of luxury womenswear ”
Whether chief creatives are taking note of such predictions, or simply basking in the glow of 2011’S revenues, design seems to be making some space for the commercially risky. Bread-and-butter casual wear and suiting remained, but far more houses seemed more at ease experimenting with colour, embellishment and shape, than previous seasons.
Dries Van Noten expressed some commercial trepidation in launching his ‘psychedelic elegance’ collection. “It’s a risk. I’m fully aware, I’m actually quite nervous now,” he shared with Tim Blanks. “I just said ’let’s go for that, lets bring in colour, lets bring in fun’. I’m fully aware that it’s a risk to go that way, but I just wanted to do that.”
One could also muse that the importance of new geographies, particularly China and India, will begin to pave the way for more experimental and extravagant menswear. After all, these are not cultures that have been built on carbon black, achingly slim Hedi Slimane suits.
Some of the more experimental looks from Dries Van Noten’s ‘psychedelic elegance’ collection
Not that such suits won’t have a place in the east, particularly as the regions modernise. But hopefully there will also be space for lavish embroidery, colourful silks and less-tested-in-the-west silhouettes, incorporating elements regional traditional dress. Hermès have embraced the production of the Sari, why not menswear next?
The segment is also blooming at a particularly fertile time for luxury goods – current economic woes don’t yet seem to carry the social connotations that accompanied 2008’s GFC. In short, shopping hasn’t yet seemed to have gone out of fashion.
“Everyone stopped shopping in 2008 because there was a crisis of confidence; everyone’s financial portfolio was hit,” remarked the Business of Fashion’s Imran Ahmed to CNN. “And, even if you did have money and weren’t that affected by everything, it was seen as a bit crass to go out spending on luxury goods. Now that a certain amount of time has elapsed, I think that hesitation to shop has dissipated somewhat and the big spenders are out spending again.”
With expected double-digit growth in 2012, as well as an expanding range of products to better serve segments and regions, Menswear looks to be the luxury category to beat in the coming twelve months. And if recent collections are anything to go by, they will best positioned to satiate many different palettes.
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