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.
Suits: Brunello Cucinelli
Brunello Cucinelli may outfit captains of industry—Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg are just two of the many high-powered Cucinellisti—but it’s not because he designs with the C-suite set in mind. For decades, Cucinelli has preached the gospel of casual luxury: deconstructed blazers and triple-ply cashmere not typically considered boardroom fare. It’s just that now the world has caught up to him. Cucinelli’s signature look—form-fitting jackets with softly defined shoulders and roomy, tapered trousers, mixed or matched—is the new power suit.
Reflecting on the state of tailoring today, Cucinelli says: “The suit is no longer seen as a uniform, but a way to be well-dressed. It has taken on a versatile role within the wardrobe.” Such versatility is central to his offering for fall. It’s the balance between formality and insouciance running through it all—from three-piece ensembles to broken suits of double-breasted jackets and cargo pants—that makes Cucinelli’s tailoring so right for right now. These are pieces that leave room for interpretation, that work equally well with a shirt and tie as they do with jeans and sneakers. Of course, this has always been his approach: “I have always thought that, especially for men, it’s the details that make the difference. I see the suit not as a garment in itself but always as part of a story, a complete personality.”
The days when all a man needed to carry were a handful of files, a newspaper and some mints are long gone. Modern life calls for an everyday bag that can accommodate a laptop, chargers, headphones, gym gear—oh, and can you pick up a few things at the grocery store on your way home? Hermès’s Nouveau Cabas 50 is roomy enough to handle all of the above and then some. The soft-sided, unstructured form is ideally suited to the latest relaxed tailoring, underscored by the bag’s fuss-free drawstring closure. Unadorned save for a few graphic seams, it’s a stunningly simple ode to the brand’s exquisite leather.
Designer Denim: Stefano Ricci
Stefano Ricci may have originally been known for shirts and ties, but its evolution into a fully fledged lifestyle brand—as competent dealing in luxury lounge suits, fragrances and yacht interiors as in the business wear that made its name—means that everything the label touches needs to surpass a standard of excellence. So it is with something as simple as a pair of jeans. In Ricci’s rarefied world, denim, typically a stiff, unyielding fabric that only softens over time, is as comforting and sumptuous as your cashmere jacket. One of Ricci’s new lines of jeans is almost preposterously pillowy. The secret is in the deeply indulgent blend of materials used: cotton, modal (a sustainable, silky fabric made from tree pulp), silk (which offers strength, breathability and, obviously, comfort), cashmere and elastane (which allows for stretch). While maintaining denim’s irrefutable swagger style-wise, this might just be the most pampering pair of pants you’ll find this year.
Footwear: Edward Green
Edward Green’s shoes are among the finest made in Northampton, the home of England’s most esteemed shoemakers for more than 150 years. Founded in 1890, Green prides itself both on its superb last-making (the last defines the shape of a shoe, to ensure it’s comfortable to wear) and on the quality of its leathers, sourced from top European tanneries.
The Dover is one of Green’s signatures, a timeless Derby shoe designed with a split-toe seam and raised apron, both painstakingly stitched by hand using a traditional technique: boar’s-bristle stitching, where sharp whiskers are used as a natural needle to penetrate the leather where a machined metal needle would be too intrusive. Only a handful of craftsmen keep this skill alive today. This pair in hardy “London Grain” leather lends the Dover a rugged look, suited to tailored pants and jeans alike.
Artisanal Denim: Bryceland’s & Co.
The denim shirt is the new white shirt, a perennial wear-with-anything staple. And few are better made or better-looking than the Sawtooth Westerner from Tokyo-based emporium Bryceland’s & Co. Cofounders Ethan Newton and Kenji Cheung are hard-core denim-heads, and it shows: Their iteration features an authentic midcentury cut (copied from a vintage piece) in robust Japanese Sanforized denim, which softens and fades beautifully with age. This is one you’ll be turning to for 20 years.
One to Watch: Saman Amel
Like most overnight sensations, Swedish custom tailor Saman Amel has been hard at it for years. What originally started as a school project in 2010 by the eponymous Amel grew into a business a few years later when childhood friend Dag Granath joined up. Originally sewing ties and shirts themselves (“it was more like a hobby than a business,” says Granath), the pair changed tack in 2015 and have since built a brand with a very clear direction and aesthetic: soft, fluid tailoring in luxurious fabrics with a sophistication and elegance that belie their relative youth (Amel is 26, Granath, above left, 27).
This past year Saman Amel has leaped forward, not just because it now visits New York for trunk shows as well as London (there’s an atelier in Stockholm, too) but because of who the brand is attracting. “The last 12 months or so have been game changing. First, because the menswear scene has begun to move away from streetwear, so we are relevant to more than just fans of classic tailoring,” says Granath. “Second, because more men are open to a new way of shopping. The ‘buy less, buy better’ mantra is real, and guys are prepared to wait to have clothes made exactly how they want.”
A defining characteristic of the modern iteration of Saman Amel is its use of cream, taupe, beige, brown, camel and gray: not a palette most men are likely greeted by when they open their wardrobes, yet one that’s surprisingly easy to wear. Recently the pair have been experimenting with made-to-measure denim, while next will be some technical outerwear as well as a third ready-to-wear collection for Mr Porter.
The value that drives the business forward, says Granath, is taste. The prevailing wisdom is that anyone can buy fashion but good taste is innate. He disagrees: “You can learn and develop taste as a means for expression, just as you do with a language. When you find and settle on the sort of tonality you like, you can play around a lot.” And Granath is confident the next 12 months will continue along the same trajectory. “We’ve always taken a long- term view,” he says. “Men want to go back to tailoring because it makes them feel good about themselves. Recent events aren’t going to change that.”
Online Store: No Man Walks Alone
Back in 2013, Wall Street financier Greg Lellouche realized there wasn’t a digital shop where he could buy the sort of brands that connoisseurs of both tailoring and casual wear sought out. All he could find were the same luxury labels available at department stores.
“Being part of the menswear communities online, I could see what some of the smaller makers were doing, but there was nowhere you could find hand-sewn shirts, seven-fold ties or Casentino overcoats.” No Man Walks Alone, the store he created, fills that gap. With exceptional taste, it stocks stylish small to midsize brands from around the world, many independent, some exclusive, while the service all the way through the user journey is spot on. Because Lellouche and his team work from a small NYC showroom and office, where the stock is kept, you can always get in touch to discuss an item you’re considering, and they’ll grab it from the shelves themselves, take additional photos or answer questions on fit and fashion. An essential bookmark for the stylish man.
You likely know Santoni for its rather snazzy loafers, but it’s the brand’s sneakers that are the height of studied nonchalance. Each pair is made with the same exacting quality that defines Santoni’s traditional shoes—even the lightweight EVA foam soles are produced in-house. The Clean Icon model, pictured here, distills Santoni’s cordwaining virtuosity into the platonic ideal of a trainer: unstructured, velvety stretch suede with a streamlined silhouette and elegant almond toe. If you’ve ever questioned how to pair a suit with sneakers and still look polished, these are the answer.
Evening Wear: Ralph Lauren
This year marks the 25th anniversary of Ralph Lauren’s Purple Label, Lauren’s vision for what the well-heeled gentleman should be wearing when at his best. “I’ve always believed in the art of fine tailoring. . . . Purple Label to me is . . . a way of living inspired by timeless quality,” says the designer by way of introduction to this fall’s collection. A lot of the highlights are double-breasted: Whether offered as a cocktail jacket in black velvet or an equally noir DB shawl collar, worn with matching black turtleneck and velvet slippers, this year’s silhouette digs into the archives and references Mr. Lauren’s personal preference for strong shoulders, suppression at the waist and a squarer, shorter cut to the jacket with a lower button stance, which emphasizes the line of the leg. If it’s true that all men look good in black tie (and it largely is), then make sure you stand out just a little. Mr. Lauren would certainly approve.
Brick-And-Mortar Store: The Armoury
Since its founding in 2010, this neo-haberdashery has proven that traditional menswear—sans fashion-y gimmicks—can be covetable and even cool. Cofounders Mark Cho and Alan See are fastidious curators, traveling the world to cherry-pick artisans and personally test-driving every piece before it hits the sales floor. Their locations in Hong Kong and New York stock an international roster of names familiar and new: Think ties and scarves from the English firm Drake’s, shoes from Tokyo-based shoemaker Yohei Fukuda, leather goods from Frank Clegg in Massachusetts and scads of Italian sartorial cultivars, from Caruso sweaters to Bresciani socks.
Their newest outpost, the Armoury Westbury, on a prime block of New York’s Upper East Side, takes the ethos to a new level. The two-story space features a tea shop (of course, there’s always whiskey on hand, too) and a dedicated area for niche brands to set up shop-in-shop residencies. Opened in March and shuttered weeks later thanks to the pandemic, the Westbury location hasn’t yet hosted one of the retailer’s famous trunk shows, where Ring Jacket, Pommella Napoli and other tailors take custom commissions. But it joins in Cho and See’s mission to champion talented, small-batch artisans—and to teach guys that the world of menswear is bigger than they might assume.
Eyewear: Jacques Marie Mage
You may be able to judge a man by his watch and shoes, but his shades often make the first impression. Jacques Marie Mage’s glasses are precisely the impression one wants to make: quietly distinguished and exceptionally well put-together. The main collection is produced in a limited-edition run by an 80-year-old Japanese manufacturer, which uses both the latest technologies and old-world techniques. These are glasses built like a Rolls-Royce: The meticulous process includes some 300 steps, such as hand-carving the frames from 10 mm thick blocks of acetate for a uniquely sculptural quality, and takes an average of 18 months per pair.
There are plenty of brands that claim to offer luxury sports gear, but few really married brawn and beauty until Sease. Founded by Franco and Giacomo Loro Piana, scions of the textile dynasty, Sease applies the brothers’ sartorial finesse to performance wear, like pin-striped wool-cashmere hoodies and cotton seersucker track jackets. Dapper as the materials are, the focus is on technical performance, exemplified by their take on Solaro, a textile typically seen in summer suiting, woven with wool and plant-based nylon for an innovative waterproof, windproof fabric that looks sharp whether you’re hitting the slopes or the bar.
Neckties: Tie Your Tie
In a world where ties have become a rarity, when you do have the chance to wear one, it had better be beautifully made. Little-known maker Tie Your Tie is a favorite among menswear aficionados. Based in Florence, the company is best known for its ties made from vintage-style silks and wools and a traditional seven-fold construction, which builds up the tie’s body using multiple layers of fabric rather than the synthetic interlining commonly found in mass-production versions. Stitched by hand, every tie is distinguished by the subtle hallmarks of exceptional craftsmanship—and good taste.
Sustainability: Gabriela Hearst
Simply consuming less is the most sustainable practice of all. It’s a view that’s tricky for a fashion brand to reconcile, but one that’s central to Gabriela Hearst. She aims not only to craft clothes in the most responsible way possible but to design them to last a lifetime.
Textile production is notorious for its high rates of water use and pollution, which is one of the reasons Hearst prioritizes dead-stock and recycled fabrics, often reworking leftover materials from one collection into designs for a new one. That in itself is unique, but she has pledged to exclusively use existing materials by the year 2022.
Still, her many current sustainable practices, from holding the industry’s first carbon-neutral fashion show to tapping a women’s co-op in her native Uruguay to knit sweaters by hand and aid rural women in reaching financial independence, are remarkable. Most remarkable of all, though, is that Hearst’s conscientious MO yields clothes with an innate, enduring desirability.
Coats: Ring Jacket
It’s no secret that much of the male wardrobe gets its design cues, whether overtly or obliquely, from military wear. This overcoat is a case in point to the former. Designed by Japanese outfitters Ring Jacket—known in the #menswear world for the high-quality tailoring of its ready-to-wear jackets and suits—this dispatch rider’s coat is inspired by the robust outerwear worn by motorcycle messengers for the British army during WW II. Driving along often bombed-out terrain where larger vehicles could not pass, and usually in filthy weather, these bikers had reason to thank their utilitarian, protective coating. Owners of the RJCO-18 will no doubt feel likewise.
With raglan sleeves for comfort and a high neck fastening for warmth, this refined replica is made from a 100 percent melton-wool cloth known as “British Warm,” woven at Abraham Moon mill in Yorkshire. The distinctive slanted chest pocket, angled so its contents could be accessed with one hand, is true to the original, as is the taupe colorway. But its cut and comfort level are all modern, while the belt allows for stylistic self- expression: Use it to cinch the waist or tie it behind your back. The resulting swagger? Model’s own.
Humanitarian: Bernard Arnault
Back in January—those early days when coronavirus seemed a contained issue—Bernard Arnault, the chairman and CEO of LVMH, had his company donate $2.2 million to China’s relief efforts. Arnault recognized early on that the coronavirus’s ramifications would be felt round the world.
LVMH, the biggest of the luxury conglomerates, is poised to take a significant hit from the pandemic; according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Arnault has lost more money than any other individual during this period (at press time, his personal net worth had dropped by more than $30 billion this year). Yet Arnault has shown remarkable grace over the last several months: Instead of fighting to get businesses back up and running, he has fought to stop the spread. Within days of Covid-19 being declared a pandemic, he put LVMH’s muscle into aiding the French government and hospitals with their response: pivoting perfume and cosmetics factories to produce hand sanitizer, tapping suppliers in China to purchase 40 million masks and 261 ventilators, repurposing clothing workshops to make medical gowns and nonsurgical masks. And that’s just the efforts in his native France.
Arnault has proven that the agility and foresight that made him a titan of business also make him a titan of altruism.
Cuff Links: Louisa Guinness Gallery
“Some people would like a Picasso on their wall. Others prefer to wear one,” says Louisa Guinness, whose London gallery is a mecca for artist-designed jewels by the likes of Calder and Lalanne. It’s also a trove for discerning gents: Guinness commissions cuff links from the numerous contemporary artists she represents, offering an array of one-of-a-kind and limited-edition works in miniature. Peter Blake’s playful watercolors are set beneath a micro watch crystal and framed in 18-karat gold. Anish Kapoor’s mesmerizing mirrored forms are scaled down and rendered in precious metal (a process that took three years to perfect). Flashing your art collection on your cuff is the sign of a true connoisseur.
Chore Coat: Isaia
Originally a humble workwear staple for French laborers, the chore coat has ascended to the pantheon of menswear greats. Defined by a boxy silhouette, a shirt collar, button closure and patch pockets, it has become the stylish man’s alternative to traditional sport coats.
The chore coat’s beauty is its versatility: Trade it for a suit jacket and you’ve got business-casual nailed, or wear it atop a tee and chinos for off-duty polish. The options abound, from Massimo Alba’s fine-wale corduroy numbers to Drake’s iterations in utilitarian canvas and denim. The favorite, though, are Isaia’s deeply luxurious jackets in vegetable-tanned full-grain suede, left unlined for that signature Neapolitan breeziness.
Shirts: Wil Whiting
There are few craftspeople as obsessed with their chosen métier as Wil Whiting. A former management consultant, he caught the bug when his own quest for the truly perfect shirt left him empty-handed. In the four years since, Whiting has elevated what it means to have a shirt made by hand: He is one of the few who offer clients multiple fittings, like those customary for a bespoke suit, and presents three levels of make, including entirely hand-stitched. Referencing the historic epicenter of Britain’s best shirtmakers, he says: “I look at Jermyn Street, and think ‘How do I take that to the next level?’ ”
He also goes to great lengths to ensure that his clients’ collars and cuffs, the areas most often requiring the highest level of customization, are exactly what they have in mind, making each piece with different techniques and interlinings to ensure a truly couture level of design. Whiting has an equally keen eye for modern styling and specializes in over-shirts and “shackets” as well as denim. Nothing is off-limits: From short-sleeve camp-collar numbers to stiff-collar pleated dress shirts, Whiting is in a league of his own.
Grooming Multi-Tasker: Orveda, the Healing Sap
Orveda’s Healing Sap, a fatigue-fighting multitasker, proves that vegan and eco-conscious botanicals are more than just marketing shtick—they can deliver powerful results. Part serum, part toner, this cocktail of 10 active ingredients, including a marine enzyme, a natural probiotic and two hyaluronic acids, visibly boosts the luminosity of lackluster, jet-lagged skin. It also speeds up regeneration, healing superficial blemishes, nicks and razor burn far more effectively than any of the denser post-shave products sitting on your shelf. That it manages to achieve all of the above with 98% ingredients of natural origin is a princely bonus.
Moisturizer: Augustinus Bader, the Cream
It was while concocting a gel that could heal second-degree burns without skin grafts or surgery that Professor Augustinus Bader’s cult product, the Cream, was born. After 25 years of studying stem cells, he realized the same technology could be repurposed for less debilitating dermatological concerns, such as aging. Both variants of his over-the-counter debut (the original cream and a “rich” formula suited to those with dry or mature skin) contain TFC8 (Trigger Factor Complex 8), a compound that jump-starts stem cells into behaving as they did in your youth. This leads to faded dark spots, softer lines and a renewed bounce. If you don’t have the time or patience for convoluted, multi-step anti-aging routines, then this single unguent is your one-way ticket to better skin.
If you’re discerning about what you wear, why wouldn’t you be just as judicious about what’s underneath it? Men’s undergarment options have typically been underwhelming and indistinguishable, except for ostentatious branding around the waistband. Swedish brand CDLP is upping the ante with a range of refreshingly minimalist shorts made from Lyocell, a natural, sustainable material that combines the softness and breathability of quality cotton with the lightness and durability of tech fabrics. Subtly sexy and incredibly comfortable, these make underwear a highlight of getting dressed.
Scarves: Johnstons of Elgin
Johnstons of Elgin’s superfine cashmere is the real deal. This time-honored Scottish manufacturer is 223 years old, but its contemporary designs and state-of-the-art weaving technology lend themselves to knitwear, clothing and accessories that are simply next-level. Their oversize cashmere scarves, whether plain or plaid, or laced with vicuña, should be your go-to this fall: They’re butter-soft, truly luxurious and seriously warm.
The time-honored navy blazer can go one of two ways: stuffy or sophisticated. Parisian tailor Husbands makes blazers that sit squarely in the second camp, with a traditional full-canvas construction for a bespoke feel, and a sharp, ‘70s influenced cut. This double-breasted number with brass buttons is the house signature, with a trim silhouette and exaggerated peak lapels. Take a leaf from founder, Nicolas Gabard, and pop the collar for a tailored look with attitude.
Belts: Il Micio
Florence has been prized for its leather goods for centuries, and today, Japanese craftsman, Hidetaka Fukaya, is keeping that tradition alive. He’s best known for his bespoke shoes—exquisite as they are, they shouldn’t get all the attention. His handmade belts are just as thoughtfully crafted, combining precious leathers like alligator and crocodile with unique vintage buckles and hardware, sourced lovingly by Fukaya over time.