I had a moment last summer when, for the first time, I actually wanted to try on a suit jacket. I cannot recall a time in my life when I have actively chosen to wear a suit. As in, I woke up and felt inspired to wear one as opposed to having to wear one because I was going to an event that demanded it. And yet there I was, in the brand-spanking-new Balenciaga showroom in Paris, practically throwing myself into one still hot off the catwalk. This particular jacket, cut deliberately narrow through the shoulders and in the body, was curiously appealing. Despite its snug proportions, it didn’t feel tight. It felt, well, really rather good.
Suits are still seen by many men as the ultimate wardrobe linchpin. From rush hour in the City to the House of Commons, the image of a man in a suit has hardly faded. When the recent British GQ top 50 best-dressed men poll was published online, it featured 29 variations on the suit or tailored jacket.
On the international catwalks, the suit’s strength of presence has wavered. But during the spring/summer 2017 collections, suits appeared at some of the buzzier shows, giving weight to the idea of the two-piece as a fashion-forward proposition. Alessandro Michele at Gucci continued down his romantic path with kicky head-to-toe floral and embroidered suits. Meanwhile, Demna Gvasalia at Balenciaga, in his first men’s show for the house, packed suiting punch with two extreme silhouettes: shrunken and oversized. The latter naturally garnered comparisons to the work of Martin Margiela and Stop Making Sense-era Talking Heads’ David Byrne. Grace Wales Bonner, a designer fast establishing herself as the menswear name to watch, put couture tailoring at the heart of her first solo catwalk collection in London.
During a recent interview with Stella McCartney about her debut men’s collection, which launches this season, the designer, who trained on Savile Row, confessed she still felt emotional about the place. “I have such admiration for the craft of Savile Row, I think it’s like architecture; for me it’s the bones, the foundation of menswear.” McCartney trained under Edward Sexton, who has long created bespoke suits for everyone from McCartney’s father Paul to Mick Jagger and Mark Ronson. He is currently working with Harry Styles ahead of the launch of his debut solo album. “It’s not just the suit, it’s the cut that makes it,” says Sexton, a twinkle in his eye, when I visit his showroom. “The way it expresses itself and what it does for you mentally when you put it on.” Side note: flared trousers are being requested again at Sexton HQ.
Sexton makes me put on one of his beautifully crafted jackets – ageless, timeless, a great investment and designed to save you time in the morning. “See, it makes you stand up straight,” he says, quietly triumphant. But, like that Balenciaga suit jacket, I find it’s less about the effect it has on my body and more about the mental weirdness of wearing something so alien.
Later, I go to an evening wedding and wear the only suit I own, a slim, dark-grey check Tiger of Sweden two-piece, with a black shirt, no tie. For the first half an hour, especially in a grubby Uber, I feel utterly unlike myself. Borderline ridiculous, in fact. Eventually, I relax. Imagine.
I’m not going to tell you how to wear a suit this season. But if your interest is piqued, I’d suggest finding at least three men who you think look good in one and study how they’ve made it work. Mine, in no particular order: Lucian Freud – always looked comfortably rumpled. Nick Cave photographed by Anton Corbijn in 1993 – looks heroic, effortless, and extremely tall. And Leonardo DiCaprio wearing a Prada suit in Romeo + Juliet. Despite his then small frame and the jacket’s boxy cut, he looks nothing short of convincingly brilliant.
The suit’s versatility – Sexton is particularly adamant on this point – is one of its calling cards. You can literally have one made that is quietly inoffensive but chic, or opt for something wild and slightly off key. “I do know when I put a jacket on I feel fucking different,” Sexton chuckles, as I’m leaving. He’s got a point. Comfort is all very good, but sometimes feeling different in clothes is a great reminder of their ability to transform you; to make you feel something gloriously new. And I would never have thought it would be a suit that could do that.
This article appears in the spring/summer 2017 edition of The Fashion, the Guardian and the Observer’s biannual fashion supplement
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