The Big Idea: Back to Basics
The events of the past 12 months have made us all reappraise our definition of “essential.” In the earliest days of lockdown, we were pressed to consider what we truly needed and what we could live without. Cocktail hour? Hard yes. Double-breasted suit? Not so much. In times of crisis, fashion often seems, understandably, inconsequential. But then again, getting dressed is essential. It may not have been the time for daring sartorial statements, but style is still fundamental.
Despite the shifts in how we shop and dress, the appeal of beautifully made classics is stronger than ever. Rather than answering with austerity, this year’s best menswear homed in on items that are as essential to one’s wardrobe as salt and flour to a well-stocked pantry. That’s not to say that getting back to basics has meant sacrificing indulgence or innovation; these are clothing staples elevated to their finest form.
Comfort took precedence across the style spectrum, and for many, that meant suiting up in sweats (when the occasion calls for it, we suggest Loro Piana’s leisurewear). But some makers took the anything-goes dress code as an opportunity to stray from the formality for which they’re known and embrace a more relaxed breed of refinement; see the swaddling luxury of Brioni’s washed-silk suits and Cleverley’s unlined suede loafers. It’s not stripping back the decadence so much as doubling down on it, with quality, style and comfort in equal measure. Call it the Marie Kondo 2.0 effect: endlessly wearable clothes designed to objectively spark joy.
Fashion typically thrives on novelty—what’s hot and what’s not—but this year exposed the flaws in that insatiable attitude. There were industry-wide calls to slow down and get back in sync with what shoppers really want: thoughtfully made, lust-worthy items to wear till death do they part. Yes, you heard the phrase “less but better” ad nauseam over the last 12 months, but some designers took it to heart, producing more sustainable and more desirable wares. Of course, this is a mantra to which some, such as Brunello Cucinelli and Hermès, have long subscribed. But others better known for catering to the zeitgeist, like Fear of God and Dior, also turned their attention to designs that endure.
Now that life is approaching something close to normalcy, the urge to get dressed again is palpable. Fashion’s vicissitudes may well return, but with an arsenal of exceptional basics in your wardrobe, you’ll re-emerge prepared to elegantly weather whatever the future holds.
For decades now, when many of the world’s most powerful men—be they heads of state or captains of industry—want to look their sharpest, they reach for Brioni. Its suits have been a staple in the international uniform of success ever since the brand first brought slick Italian tailoring to the global stage in the 1950s. But times change, and since Norbert Stumpfl took the reins as executive design director in 2018, so has Brioni.
Stumpfl has loosened things up, and this new mood reached its apogee as the emphasis shifted from boardroom propriety to WFH sophistication. Brioni’s suits still confer power but, rendered in washed silks, double-splittable wools and cashmeres, are now the lightest, softest tailoring the brand has produced in living memory (not to mention some of the most sumptuous). The materials’ ease is tempered with slightly roped shoulders and wider lapels for a look that’s strong but not stiff. As Stumpfl points out, the comfort of these suits allows for the ultimate sartorial power move: “You see the wearer more than the garment.”
Bags: Au Départ
Back at the dawn of travel’s first golden age—1847, to be exact—Parisian brand Au Départ opened up shop across from the recently completed Gare du Nord. The oldest of France’s big four of luxury trunk-makers, including Louis Vuitton, Goyard and Moynat, Au Départ was the pedigreed choice for the proto–jet set. But the brand shuttered in 1976 and was all but forgotten until 2019, when it awoke from its decades-long slumber.
Taking cues from archival Au Départ luggage, the new collection revives the brand’s geometric monogram in an assortment of streamlined bags. The standout is an elegant riff on old-world steamer bags, available in hardy coated canvas or buffed calfskin.
The brand has also brought back trunks equipped for storing everything from watches and wine to sub-woofers and Play Stations. These are merely the tip of the iceberg: Au Départ’s bespoke service will gladly create any baggage to suit the needs of today’s high-fliers.
Shoes: George Cleverley
George Cleverley is known for its bespoke oxfords—the epitome of British formality—but has recently broadened its casual ready-to-wear offering. This year, it put its elegantly shod foot firmly on the gas. The robust new range includes everything from unlined loafers in a proprietary grained suede to chukka boots with the brand’s signature chiseled toe, all Goodyear-welted and finished by hand. Smart enough to wear with a suit yet perfectly at ease with jeans, the designs are well-synced to today’s dress codes. These leaps in ready-to-wear haven’t meant a scaling back of Cleverley’s bespoke bread and butter, though. As one of the few foreign shoemakers able to service American clients over the past year (thanks to CEO George Glasgow Jr.’s dual citizenship), Cleverley has had a boom in custom commissions, keeping tradition alive while staying in step with the times.
Eveningwear: Ralph Lauren
Even in a year with no formal functions to speak of, Ralph Lauren has continued carrying the torch for eveningwear at its most debonair. For his spring collection, Lauren proposed that the most elegant black tie might actually be brown. His shawl-collared DBs and single-breasted dinner jackets cut with swaggering peaked lapels come in an earthy palette of tan silk shantung, chocolate linen and ivory tropical wool. But it’s Lauren’s forthcoming fall lineup that may best capture what dressing up looks like now. Ranging from lustrous velvet separates to classic tuxedo jackets paired with jeans—even an urban-cowboy ensemble with a whipstitched suede dinner jacket and silk-scarf-cum-bolo-tie—it’s an assortment that speaks to the fun of spiffing up. Adhering to the rules while playfully breaking them, it’s just the stuff for post-pandemic bashes and the roaring 2020s ahead.
Despite the business shirt’s recent hibernation, a brand that elevates shirtmaking to an exceptional level can still flourish in a pandemic. 100Hands, so named because some 50 people within the company work on one handmade shirt, is in some ways an unlikely success story, certainly if you still believe the best shirts can only be supplied by Jermyn Street or Milan. The company is run by Akshat and Varvara Jain, who met while working at an investment-banking firm. But Akshat comes from many generations of textile workers in India, and the pair began a quest to make the best shirts possible. While they and the company they founded are based in Amsterdam, their factory is in Amritsar, where 170 craftspeople hand-sew bespoke and ready-to-wear shirts, jackets and polos with extraordinary levels of finishing: It takes 34 hours to create one of its premium offerings.
Proudly made in India (with all workers well paid, with benefits) and dispatched to clients all over the world, 100Hands shirts have rightly gained a cult following for their level, and quality, of hand-stitching, as well as the range of fabrics and color washes available. Hand-sewing button-holes takes about 45 minutes each, while its best shirt hems are hand-rolled and -stitched. But it’s worth it: A 100Hands button-down worn under a traveler’s jacket (a safari/field jacket crossbreed with plenty of pockets) is the perfect smart-casual combination to ride out this summer in style.
The photo shoot took place aboard Moca, a 208-foot Benetti superyacht, with coordination from the FGI Yacht Group.
One would think that a year without international travel wouldn’t yield much excitement in the luggage department, but Globe-Trotter took it as an opportunity to develop its most significant innovation to date. Since its founding in 1897, the brand has been known for distinctive, hard-cased trunks that are one of the most stylish ways to ferry your precious cargo, but in the modern era, they haven’t been the most practical. Globe-Trotter’s new four-wheel trolley, however, offers utility and good looks in equal measure.
The classic riveted, leather-strapped design has been fortified with a quartet of wheels and an adjustable, reengineered handle for effortless gliding. The vulcanized fiberboard shell remains as impressively durable as ever. Available in carry-on or checked size, it’s an ideal companion for taking to the skies once again.
Coats have always played an important role as the most visible announcement of one’s style, but after so much time spent inside four walls, outerwear has renewed significance. This was top of mind for Véronique Nichanian, Hermès’s menswear artistic director, who thought long and hard about what makes a great coat—comfort, functionality, versatility—and created a range of pieces that tick all those boxes while being greater than the sum of their parts.
The silhouettes are as timeless as can be. It’s how Nichanian subtly played within such a classic framework, mashing up luxury and utility, that makes these toppers so desirable.
Three-quarter-length overcoats in hard-wearing cotton serge or downy double-faced wool are accented with generous, face-framing lapels and angled patch pockets—a jaunty design detail that also offers easy access, constructed with a saddle stitch typically used in Hermès’s equine wares. Roomy macs come in a proprietary water-repellent toile, printed with Prince of Wales checks and trimmed with the brand’s famed leather. Buttery lambskin is spliced with shearling and technical canvas for cheekily decadent riffs on Patagonia-style fleeces. Whatever the destination, Hermès’s outerwear assortment will get you there in top form.
Providing the superyacht backdrop is Benetti’s beautiful Moca, coordinated by FGI Yacht Group.
Leather Outerwear: Valstar
Every brand dreams of an icon, of one item to carry its name around the world. Italian outerwear purveyor Valstar has exactly that in its Valstarino, a buttoned blouson with a stand-up collar inspired by the A1 flight jacket issued to American fighter pilots between the wars. Since 1935 it has been a staple of well-dressed men from Rome to the Riviera—and further afield. Far from a one-note label, however, Valstar was originally, in 1911, a raincoat maker from Milan and has since become so entwined in Italian culture that it sponsored the national soccer team at the 1978 World Cup. Its secret is a combination of high quality and value: It uses exceptionally fine leathers (the suede is cashmere-soft) that rival the grandest names in fashion yet prices remain remarkably reasonable. A Valstarino will easily become a sporty go-to piece that can work in lieu of a sports coat in a smart-casual ensemble as well as over jeans and a T-shirt. Essential.
Mask: Turnbull & Asser
This year’s hottest accessory, without a doubt, was the face mask. Given that these newly essential appurtenances punctuate every outfit, it’s worth upgrading from the standard surgical blue polypropylene. Turnbull & Asser’s masks are crafted by the same skilled tailors that produce its royal-warranted shirts, using the same refined cotton poplins. In terms of practicality, the design comes equipped with tie closures, which afford adjustability, and removable cotton filters, developed by Italian textile powerhouse Albini to kill bacteria in just a few minutes. Moreover, the selection of ginghams, tattersalls and other classic shirting patterns makes masking up more like sporting a pocket square—an elegant finishing touch.
Response to the Pandemic: The Armoury TV
Cofounder of classic menswear store the Armoury, Mark Cho is the definition of peripatetic. In a normal year he splits his time between New York, London and Hong Kong, with regular detours to Italy and elsewhere to visit suppliers or trade fairs. But last year, all that came to a halt. In Hong Kong and missing the daily interaction with his customers, Cho began recording informal styling videos, hoping to talk to his 50,000-plus Instagram followers as if they had popped into the store. He was a natural, and the videos—informative, smart and beguiling—proved popular, whether a quick discussion of what he’s wearing and why, or more detailed master classes on how to pair a sports coat with jeans, the history of solaro cloth or incorporating black into a smart-casual outfit. The videos are mostly recorded in a single take, and the tone is informal, relaxed and genial, just like chatting to the team in one of the Armoury’s brick-and-mortar stores (in addition to Hong Kong, there are two in New York). For Cho, the videos allowed him to feel connected to his clients; for the viewer, they offer an education in how to style classic menswear in contemporary fashion. Win-win, then.
One-Stop Shop: Stòffa
Just as New York clothier Stòffa has grown in size over the seven years it’s been in business, so too has it grown in relevance. It was always interesting—the tightly edited collections of outerwear, shirts and trousers in subdued, elegant palettes were designed to offer a simple combination wardrobe with numerous possibilities—but in recent years founders Agyesh Madan and Nicholas Ragosta have continued to innovate. All items are available made to measure, which reduces waste. And they have introduced seasonal limited editions which can be responsibly made but offer something a little different: The spring capsule included a slouchy double-breasted shirt-jacket in soft peached cotton, which came about through conversations with an artist friend, for example, while a line of indigo-dyed threads was made in conjunction with 11.11, which uses craftspeople and indigenous techniques from across India. Stòffa’s style of dressing—casual but elegant—feels increasingly right for our times, as of course does its model of less is more. While you might not want an entire wardrobe from just one brand (where’s the fun in that?), you could certainly turn to Stòffa and its shades of taupe, brown, blue and gray to fill any gaps. Theirs is a level of consistency and style many brands aspire to but few achieve.
Pictured aboard Moca, the Benetti superyacht.
Brand Extension: Stefano Ricci Mansion
In the world of high luxury, simply being exceptional is not enough to stand out. So what can a brand offer the client who has everything? The answer is exclusivity. So it was that storied Florentine tailors and lifestyle outfitters Stefano Ricci quietly introduced a members’ club for the top tier of its top-tier clientele. Launched in Shanghai at its flagship mansion, the collective began as a way of offering exceptional service, in terms of food, wine and experiences, but it quickly caught on and is now offered, by invitation only, to the brand’s 250 best customers around the world. Membership is based on annual spend; those invited within receive numerous benefits, such as an exclusive tie (in a nod to why the company was founded by the titular paterfamilias), a bottle of the Stefano Ricci Champagne, complimentary tailoring experiences, dinners, access to unique products and events and, not least, an invitation to visit the Ricci HQ in Florence and the Antico Setificio Fiorentino, the historic mill established in 1786. Now owned by the Ricci family, it produces many of the best silk fabrics in the world. The exceptional just got a little better.
Sneaker: Air Dior
Minds were blown when Dior debuted a collaboration with Nike Air Jordan on its pre-fall 2020 runway. Combining the shoe that first set off the craze for kicks with one of Paris fashion’s toniest houses was catnip for sneakerheads and luxury collectors alike. Five million people signed up to nab them, so when the shoes finally dropped last summer, all 13,000 pairs sold out instantly. Now they’re going for upwards of $8,000 on the secondary market.
It was just the start of what has been a remarkable year for Air Jordans. While homebound fans binged The Last Dance, prices for a model featured in the docu-series nearly doubled. Last May, a pair of Jordan’s game-worn shoes fetched a record-breaking $560,000 at Sotheby’s, only to be bested by a pair of Air Jordans that scored $615,000 at Christie’s three months later. This year, an autographed pair was listed on eBay for $1 million (as of press time, they had not sold). Regardless of your taste in footwear, the past 12 months have proven that Air Jordan is a slam dunk of an investment.
Philanthrophy: Brunello Cucinelli
In menswear circles, Brunello Cucinelli is affectionately known as the industry’s resident philosopher. While the designer often peppers his presentations with references to Socrates and Marcus Aurelius, the pandemic inspired him to put those principles into altruistic action.
When lockdown-related closures left retailers with a surfeit of unsold inventory, most resorted to slashing prices in the hopes of breaking even. But Cucinelli looked beyond the bottom line and at the state of the world. He decided to give away the $35 million worth of goods he was sitting on. Launched last July, Brunello Cucinelli for Humanity is an initiative that distributes packages of new, in-season garments (along with handwritten notes from the designer) to organizations that serve people in need, beginning with local parishes and retirement facilities in Italy and expanding internationally this summer. As Cucinelli told WWD at the time, “This is a new kind of capitalism. There is a harmony between profit and giving back.”
The project also addresses fashion’s larger problem with waste. As luxury has tried to keep pace with fast fashion, brands have made more and more, producing at a rate that’s out of sync with shoppers. All of this has meant that the excesses wind up on clearance racks, if not in landfills. Cucinelli is presenting an alternative: Turn whatever doesn’t sell into a charitable gift. One man’s losses are Cucinelli’s currency for paying it forward.
Sweats: Loro Piana
Sweat suits may not have factored into many of our pre-pandemic wardrobes, but this year revealed the ensemble’s virtues. When the occasion calls for comfort, there are few options as dignified as Loro Piana’s lounge set. The same exacting quality that defines the brand’s sumptuous cashmere and vicuña goes into its version of cotton fleece, brushed to a softness that could easily be mistaken for Mongolia’s finest. Moreover, this suit is set apart by its cut: a single-button, spread-collared polo shirt and trim, drawstring-waisted trousers, free from the dreaded elasticated cuff.
Eyewear: The Reference Library
After successfully transforming Kirk Originals into an indie eyewear favorite, Gordon Ritchie worked with Mr Porter to launch a collection of his own. Poring through the many reference images he’d collected over the years, Ritchie was struck that no one was making the classic midcentury glasses he loved in a way that made them look authentic. So he decided to make his retro inspirations into a wearable reality.
The Reference Library launched last spring with a tightly edited range distilling several of the most timeless eyewear silhouettes to their truest form. Everything is made in England with a tailor’s eye for detail, including concealed pins for an especially clean look and proportions that ensure the frames sit perfectly on a variety of face shapes. This summer, the brand is upping the ante with a range of entirely handmade shades that, true to its purist ethos, feature authentic vintage acetates.
Slippers: John Lobb
As anyone who has conducted a Zoom meeting in bare feet can attest, a well-chosen slipper makes most any at-home outfit feel a good deal smarter. And when it comes to domestic footwear, it doesn’t get much smarter than John Lobb’s. Its Knighton mule is built on a form-fitting last and constructed with almost no stitching to have plenty of give. Cashmere-suede uppers, smooth calfskin lining and padded soles push them into deeply decadent territory. Even with such abject coziness, Lobb’s slippers don’t sacrifice finesse. Consider them the executive’s answer to Uggs.
Robe: The Merchant Fox x Budd
Given that Fox Brothers’ textiles have been a Savile Row favorite since the 19th century and bespoke shirtmaker Budd has been plying its craft for almost as long, when the two brands teamed up to create a dressing gown, they came at it with a studied eye for tailored sophistication. The resulting robe is made of the same super-fine merino-wool flannels, in glen plaids, windowpane checks and classic solid gray, that may already feature in some of your favorite suits. “Flannel works best when it is tailored into a soft-shouldered jacket,” says Douglas Cordeaux, Fox Brothers’ creative director, noting that’s precisely how these robes are constructed. And like custom suiting, the design can also be rendered in any other Fox textile and personalized with hand embroidery. As Cordeaux rightly observes, “The gown is the new work-at-home suit.” Lebowski’s loungewear this is not. $1,050
Designer: Fear of God’s Jerry Lorenzo
When Fear of God’s collaboration with Ermenegildo Zegna bowed early last March, it was celebrated as a sign of menswear’s return to elegance after years headlined by streetwear. Little did Jerry Lorenzo know that the look he’d put forth—combining luxury from both ends of the spectrum, like cashmere hoodies and camel topcoats—was a pitch-perfect wardrobe template for the year to come. The founder of the LA-based brand may have put his name on the map with T-shirts for Kanye, but this year he showed that there are sophisticated depths beneath the hype.
Much like Ralph Lauren, whom he cites as an inspiration, Lorenzo deals in quintessentially American classics. But unlike Lauren’s preppy–Western–Old Hollywood milieu, Lorenzo’s designs are rooted in his America. Fear of God’s SoCal stylings may skew casual, but Lorenzo considers the construction of a T-shirt as thoroughly as he does a Donegal tweed suit.
Fear of God’s spring collection was its most refined yet. In addition to the sportswear, jeans and sneakers that have won the brand a cult following (and, as of last year, earned Lorenzo a role heading up Adidas Basketball), there was a new focus on Italian-made knitwear and tailoring. From cavalry twill blazers and super 120’s wool trousers to selvedge-denim trucker jackets and Frenchy terry sweats, the brand is a source for thoughtfully crafted pieces that nail the relaxed yet polished mood of the moment.
Swimwear: Charvet x Thorsun
Swimwear and neckwear have a surprising amount in common—namely, both offer a rare opportunity for bold statements of color and print in a man’s wardrobe. That was the conversation that came up when Thorsun founder George Sotelo was on one of his shopping trips to Charvet. What began as musings on menswear became manifest in a new collaborative collection of swim trunks bearing patterns from Charvet’s vast archive of silk ties, pocket squares and other accessories.
The French haberdasher’s dandyish designs have been rendered in a quick-drying performance fabric and fashioned into trunks with seven-inch inseams. As with Charvet’s beloved shirts, every detail was considered, from particularly deep pockets to drawstrings tipped with copper knots that mimic the brand’s classic cuff links.
What better venue than Moca, the 208-foot Benetti superyacht?
Skin Care Regimen: La Prairie Pure Gold
In its quest to bottle a healthful glow, La Prairie looked to the one ingredient that has proven to keep its luster over centuries: gold. After breaking it down on an atomic level, the brand’s scientists found that the precious metal’s unique light-reflecting and -refracting properties could be harnessed in skin care. The Pure Gold collection, comprising a serum, moisturizer and eye cream, employs microscopic particles of real gold to impart sullen, Zoomed-out complexions with just-back-from-vacation radiance—and that’s just the immediate effect. Gold’s atomic structure carries other active ingredients that, over time, penetrate deeper into the dermis to help repair time-worn, nutrient-depleted skin and deliver a youthful bounce. The Radiance Concentrate serum provides the most bang for minimal effort, but to really reap the ingredient’s benefits, go for the full gold flush.
Fragrance: Amaffi Intrigant
Swiss perfume house Amaffi doesn’t cut corners, even those that are generally deemed prohibitively expensive. As a result, it produces only between 20 and 50 bottles of each of its scents annually. The brand’s stringent standards include only using natural ingredients, meaning each note that goes into a fragrance is the result of distilling down several tons of raw material. Every bottle averages a 20 percent concentration of pure perfume and is formulated without any water, all of which adds up to scents with exceptional depth and staying power. The standout is Intrigant, a masculine, vetiver-based fougère whose fresh, woody notes are balanced with the resinous warmth of oud oil. It may run you four figures, but it smells like a million bucks.
Hand Sanitizer: D.S. & Durga “Big Sur After Rain”
It’s not just for germaphobes anymore. Although disinfecting unguents are an essential carry now, there’s no reason to settle for harsh gels that leave you smelling like a freshly sterilized OR. This hand sanitizer from D.S. & Durga is formulated with 80 percent ethyl alcohol to kill germs, but is enriched with glycerin to leave hands soft and moisturized. It’s housed in a spray bottle that dispenses moderate spritzes rather than excessive globs, and best of all, its light, woody aroma, recalling the eucalyptus-laced scent of cruising down Highway 1, actually makes sanitizing an enjoyable ritual.
One to Watch: Aldo Maria Camillo
After more than a decade of working at Zegna, Valentino, Cerruti and Berluti, Aldo Maria Camillo got an unexpected phone call in 2018. It was Pitti Uomo, menswear’s most important trade show, with a proposition for the Paris-based designer: Would he present his own collection at Pitti’s next edition?
“At that moment, I didn’t have a collection. In fact, I didn’t have a brand,” Camillo recalls. What he did have was a vision and a Rolodex. Camillo cherry-picked a dream team of makers he’d worked with previously, and within six months his brand debuted. Coming at it with maturity, both professionally and personally, Camillo knew he wanted to make a wardrobe for real life rather than statements for the runway. “There is a man that is a bit lost today,” he says, referring to those who appreciate style but have been left behind as most brands court millennials and hype. “In a landscape where things are moving really fast, I can propose something that is wearable, masculine and—why not?—maybe even a bit sexy.” His range of rakishly cut suits, motorcycle jackets and peacoats left an impression on Caruso, the esteemed tailoring house that produced his suiting. A few months after his debut, he also took on the role of Caruso’s creative director.
Both collections champion timeless classics, but where Camillo’s own brand has an undercurrent of rocker rebellion, Caruso is rooted in “Italian tradition and respect for the rules.” Decorous as his work for Caruso is, he deftly toys with convention by mixing formal tailoring with casual separates. Whether it’s a double-breasted suit or chinos, everything is crafted with the same exacting quality. The aim, he says, is to provide a sartorial tool kit “in which every man can play for himself.”