How to wear a suit now
What will happen to the suit now that working from an office is no longer a central part of our lives? Much has been said recently about the future of Savile Row, for example, and the place of traditional tailoring in a world occupied by sweatpants and lightning raids on the corner shop dressed in Birkenstocks and pyjama bottoms.
In Stockholm, though, where Atelier Saman Amel has just opened a new by-appointment store, you’re greeted by a vision of men’s tailoring that’s nothing if not future-proof. Co-founders Saman Amel and Dag Granath explain why their brand is in rude health at a time when demand for formal suiting has dropped off a cliff. Granath brings out a cream washed-silk blazer, cashmere crew neck and brushed-cotton chino combination, styled effortlessly on a mannequin. It’s a deft exercise in soft textures and relaxed dressing – and that’s precisely the point.
Atelier Saman Amel’s collections are a masterclass in how to wear suiting now: minimalistic and composed, with soft textures and a tonal colour palette in pride of place. “For the past couple of years, we’ve had lots of clients coming in from creative industries, more so than corporates,” he says. “They’re guys who just see something cool in the suit and wear it as a lifestyle choice. We have guys who work in tech or design coming to us all the time because they want something chic. We think tailoring has become much more inclusive and relevant in recent years.”
“We play on tones a lot,” says Thom Whiddett, one half of Thom Sweeney, a tailor with shops in London’s Mayfair and New York’s SoHo, famous for its red-carpet client list (loyal customers include Michael Fassbender and Ryan Gosling). “It feels suitably contemporary today. A lightweight jacket worn with a knitted T-shirt and separate trousers in warm greys or cognac tones is a very elegant way to dress. It also requires more thought than simply putting on a suit.”
As at Atelier Saman Amel, 2020 was a successful year for Thom Sweeney. “We’re seeing an all-time high in demand for our tailoring,” says Whiddett’s business partner, Luke Sweeney. “We prefer to work with lightweight constructions and soft textures in all our garments, which have really helped the suit to evolve for our clients. The fact that the suit’s place as a uniform is declining has only elevated its appeal.”
This shift can be seen throughout luxury men’s fashion. Alongside independents like Atelier Saman Amel and Thom Sweeney, international designers have been softening the suit’s form; removing its structure, playing with colour palettes and creating two-piece suits to style as separates. Brunello Cucinelli’s spring/summer collection is filled with the brand’s trademark easy, almost slouchy suits in informal pastel shades, which work just as well with washed jeans and T-shirts as they do with business shirts and ties.
Alessio Piastrelli, Carolina Cucinelli’s husband, who works on the brand’s men’s style team, explains: “This season, we’ve focused on lighter colours like sand, pale denim and khaki, and softened our silhouettes to give our suits a modern flavour. And yes, we think that separates can be even more elegant than suits today. They give men the chance to find a balance between different colours, fabrics and patterns.”
Ralph Lauren’s Purple Label s/s ’21 collection does much the same thing, with colourful linen suits broken up and styled with contrasting trousers. So too do the collections from Brioni, Z Zegna and Canali. “There’s been a progressive ‘luxurisation’ of casual clothes and sportswear in recent decades,” says CEO Stefano Canali. “Now tailoring is simply exchanging construction details, fabrics and silhouettes with casualwear. You can easily pair one of our deconstructed Kei jackets with drawstring woollen chinos, a jersey shirt and suede sneakers.”
Of course, there’s more than one way to interpret the new suit. London-based designer Charlie Casely-Hayford, whose brand is known for its directional tailoring, thinks the suit has a new fluidity. “I don’t distinguish between suits and separates any more,” he says. “The modern suit is able to negate this archaic definition; it can adapt to the wearer rather than define them.”
Louis Vuitton has captured this mood. Men’s artistic director Virgil Abloh debuted his s/s ’21 collection in Tokyo in September, playing on the idea of “imagining a different world” unspoilt by social conditioning. In contrast to those designers who’ve taken a relaxed approach to tailoring, Abloh’s creations are strikingly dynamic. Eye-catching cobalt-blue and sunburst-yellow fabrics feature heavily, cut into jackets and trousers with built-up shoulders, oversized silhouettes and proportions. It’s as though Abloh has channelled the “power suit” on his own terms.
It’s a similar story at Dior, where men’s artistic director Kim Jones’s tailoring capsule includes three new jacket and trouser styles that are relaxed enough to “accompany men in their daily lives”. The fabrications are traditional, yet the cuts take cues from more casual styles, including chore coats, and are designed to be mixed and matched.
Back in London, tailoring house Dobrik & Lawton couldn’t be further from Dior in terms of scale – it was set up by two twentysomething Savile Row tailors in early 2018 – but its approach to tailoring is very much the same. “We grew bored with making conservative navy and grey suits,” says Kimberley Lawton (she cut her teeth at Huntsman, while Joshua Dobrik trained under Edward Sexton). “Our house cut is designed to look dramatic and feel sexy. I want people to wear our clothes and feel like the most glamorous person in the room. Our clients are fed up with tracksuits; they’re ordering suits to make a statement.”
Certainly, with their sharp lines, flared trousers and asymmetric panelled jacket backs – made from as many as eight small pieces, sewn together by hand – Dobrik & Lawton’s suits feel radically different to the traditional two-piece. There’s also a touch of androgyny about their look. “Slowly but surely, guys are realising that a suit doesn’t have to conform to anything,” Dobrik explains. “That realisation is combining with general attitudes around what it means to be a man. There’s a less strict binary, and this allows men to flirt with slightly more effeminate lines that are really quite sexy.”
“Suiting is going through an evolution right now, as I’m sure it will again,” says Casely-Hayford. “For the first time, it can move between an establishment and anti-establishment statement. A classic garment doesn’t have to stand still.”