It’s been a strange old time for traditional tailoring. There was already a seismic slide towards casualisation - see the popularity of soft-power dressing as seen in Succession, with knits and tracksuits instead of Captain-of-Industry suits - and then the pandemic hit. The work-from-home edicts meant that formal attire was obsolete, and in its place easy, relaxed leisurewear. Drawstring trousers instead of double-breasted blazers. And according to that most storied of French luxury houses, Dior, that sentiment shows no sign of letting up.
The brand showed its latest men’s collection against a backdrop of rather down-at-heel surf shops and crashing waves, in Venice Beach, Los Angeles. Forget the polished ateliers of Paris; the backdrop was gritty rather than grandiose. And what it pointed to is just how comfortable men are - even the High Net Worth elite who buy ‘cruise’ collections designed for the migrating jetset - in easy, low key casualwear as opposed to princely suiting.
“Growing up, California felt like the promised land, a place of opportunity,” said British designer Kim Jones, creative director of Dior Men about the decision to stage a show in LA. And that innate sense of ease and fluidity informed the clothes, which he designed with Venice Beach native Eli Russell Linnetz of cult local fashion brand ERL, enlisting him as a guest designer. There’s always been a Franco-American alliance of sorts between the austere world of Dior and the glitz and high-kick razzmatazz of America. Christian Dior’s bountiful New Look in 1947 exploded in the States, at a time when post-war Europe found excessive use of fabric unpatriotic; in fact it was the editor of an American publication, Harper’s Bazaar, that coined the phrase.
Fast forward 75 years and a whole new look in men’s apparel has evolved thanks to Mr Jones, who’s pretty much the British fashion industry’s biggest export right now, straddling Dior Men and Fendi. The mood certainly catered to a certain beachy LA demographic, with newly-wed Brooklyn Beckham, Michael B Jordan and Christina Aguilera watching on - slouchy knitwear, breezy shorts, sandals and beanie hats.
This being Dior of course, there’s an extreme amount of artisanal wizardry afoot in even the most seemingly ‘everyday’ of items. A wave motif - the like you’d see on T-shirts in ramshackle surf shops the world over - was rendered in crystal and pearls, dotted over sweatshirts or cresting across shorts. Padded skaterboi trousers and sporty sweaters were dotted with embroidered grids of pattern, courtesy of the Dior atelier that had decamped to downtown LA for the occasion.
As for that man’s staple - the suit - it came in breezy, lightweight, gauzy fabric. Soft-structure jackets and trousers that pooled around the ankle suggested a more at-ease approach, a shrewd hybrid approach at a time when men’s suiting sales are in decline. Not a tie, nor a ‘proper’ shirt was to be seen; this was Venice Beach suiting as opposed to venture capitalist polish. “There’s a grittiness to this area that I find appealing, amidst the glitz of LA,” said Jones. “I like that sense of contrast.” Marrying refined couture techniques with the namaste stance of the West Coast underlines just that.
Four ways to get the leisure look right
1. Ditch the tie
The Dior show only featured a couple of ties - proof, if it was needed - that that formalwear essential is now merely optional. It’s not just the Californian influence; in France you’ll rarely even see them on news anchors. If you must wear a tie, choose it wisely; Dior’s were on the narrow side, immaculately coordinated with the shirt beneath.
2. Embrace the slouch factor
Knits and tailoring with just the right degree of slouch are an appealing prospect for a post-pandemic world. Drawstring waistbands too. But this look only works in moderation; go too far and you’ll look like you’ve just rolled out of bed - not the desired effect.
3. A nod to surf and skate culture
It was fitting that pro skater Tony Hawk was in attendance, as the collection was rich in references to Venice Beach’s relaxed surf and skate culture, from those wide, oversized trainers to beanie hats. Tread carefully though; anything more than a tongue-in-cheek nod could read as tragic.
4. Colour coordinate
It’s all too easy for this look to slide into scruffy territory, so it’s important to inject a little polish. At this show, the palette was largely limited to pastel greys, blues and lilacs. Restricting your colour scheme is a subtle way to look pulled-together.