The Big Idea: Soft Power
Much has changed in the last 12 months. It’s a new decade and a whole new world. Even before Covid-19 obliterated “normal,” long-held conventions were collapsing faster than a tweetstorm. The very idea of masculinity has been rightly redrawn and recast, but there’s not yet a definition we can all agree on. From this uncertainty has come not a movement, exactly, but certainly a move toward something we’re calling “soft power.” It’s about gaining strength through vulnerability, bringing empathy to the fore, seeking to understand rather than impose. With the daily news dominated by sociopolitical Sturm und Drang, consideration has become commanding.
So what is style in this new world order? Strong-shouldered suits and immaculately shined oxfords, long the international uniform of success, don’t quite speak the right language today. It’s not that the power suit is dead—more that its current incarnation has evolved in tune with our notion of what strength is.
It’s a shift that designers presaged months ago. The best new menswear traffics in a similarly soft kind of power,
a more nuanced take on the trappings that have always given men an authoritative sense of style. They’re pieces that maintain the decorum of traditional tailoring but knock the starch out of it with fluid construction, downy textiles, soothing colors. When in doubt, Brunello Cucinelli (the epitome of soft power in many ways) is there for you. So too Hermès, Gabriela Hearst and newcomer Saman Amel.
After months in lockdown, we are all craving humanity, and how we present ourselves to the world has become especially meaningful. Consider Jason Momoa, the hulking he-man of Aquaman, who, at this year’s Golden Globes, strolled the red carpet in an emerald velvet Tom Ford dinner jacket teamed with an Art Deco–inspired Cartier brooch. Very much a soft-power MVP move.
There’s a new generation who is pushing at the boundaries of menswear, and while we aren’t advocating for pussy- bow blouses (but rock on, Harry Styles), what can we learn from their adventures? That now, more than ever, is the time to express yourself, whether that means a scarf in a daring silk rather than your usual cashmere, or a dramatically peaked lapel to imbue a classic blue blazer with a frisson of attitude. Above any sartorial flourish, though, it will be the little things—the weave of a sweater, the topstitching on a shirt, that human touch—that telegraph real style savvy. Quiet luxury, stealth wealth—whatever it is you call it, it has never been less cool to be the loudest guy in the room.