Last month, I should have spent four days looking at clothes in Milan. Uffa! It wasn’t to be. But as the Queen rightly pointed out, we shall be with our friends (unstructured tailoring and technical footwear) again.
In Milan, we would normally spend longer than we needed at the Brunello Cucinelli presentation, rendered inert by soft fabrics, a sun-dappled courtyard and a bacchanalian spread of cheeses, meats and indecorously ripe fruit. Grapes and hams and cakes and coffee – it’s like that feast scene from Hook, but with a whole Parmesan, so it’s better.
I digress. Mr Cucinelli himself is always on hand to give us a tour of the latest collection, which tends to be a subtle variation on the theme of Perugian stealth-wealth. The finest fabrics (cashmere, mainly) hand wafted into broken suits, wardrobe-supporting ‘basics’ and coats so alarmingly luxurious and well made you feel guilty for trying them on. And everything in a palette of burgundy, grey, navy and… beige. (Brunello’s new London flagship, set across two floors and featuring a café and a library, is an exercise in neutrally-hued design.)
It’s an unfortunate word, ‘beige’. It sounds dull… but in the context of good clothes, it conveys something else. Something fine and rarefied. What’s the deal with that? ‘Ivory’, ‘sand’, ‘camel’ etc.? Why they so faaaancy? Pantone’s colour of the year in 2006 was ‘Sand Dollar’, a sort of pinkish beige. It was chosen over ‘concern for the economy’ at the time, allegedly, and House Beautiful suggested it soothed the nerves and conjured images of sandy beaches. Like how being in the Hamptons must feel, which makes sense.
I’m seeing beige more and more recently. And not just in the marbled halls of traditional luxury – read: Tom Ford, Loro Piana etc, - but in more contemporary takes on moneyed dressing, too. Look at The Row, for example, which operates in a strict colourway of navy, grey, white and beige. When we saw the first men’s stuff back in January 2019, I was blown away by how rich everything felt. So simple but so unbelievably, tastefully flash.
The same goes at Arjé, a brand that espouses bohemian luxury of a Balearic variety. The brand is known best for its shearling coats, but there’s lots of linen, too. The shirts – cut long and loose – have a Sunset Ashram vibe, and anyone that feels they need a beige linen jumpsuit in their life, step this way. Arjé’s Instagram page is also a paean to the wielding of dusty shades of brown in various creative endeavours. Interior design, furniture design, architecture, baking and visual art, all feature, which leads nicely on to why beige is the new colour of luxury. It evokes humble artisanship, authenticity, simplicity and mindfulness; it evokes experience.
In 2018, an Expedia study found that 74% of Americans prioritized experience over material goods, while the Business of Fashion recently reported that by 2025, Millennials and Generation Z will make up 50% of the luxury consumer base. Perhaps brands such as Arjé are shrewdly creating rustic clothing for affluent young people that want their wardrobe to reflect their hands-on, free form lifestyles? It’s a theory supported by the success of Jacquemus’s bucolic chic, Fendi’s gardening-based S/S’20 runway show, Berluti’s new ceramic-inspired collection, or the new Dior, which features motifs by figurative finger painter Amoako Boafo. Clothes that imbue an essence of creation; the idea of time spent doing something other than looking at Instagram.
Perhaps I’m getting too bogged-down in the sociology of it all. Maybe it’s more a case of simple synaesthesia: high-end brands use beige because it speaks of something that purple and lime green do not. To us, beige means money. It is the colour of fine car interiors, the colour of five-star hotel lobbies, the colour of fois gras. And despite it being au courant right now, it seems to transcend fashion, too. It is a colour for those privileged few that are concerned only with moneyed ease and a life unbuffered by the changing winds of fashion. I, however, flap about in the gale like a fisherman’s wig, and beige is cool right now, so I’ll pile it on.
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