Menswear is in constant evolution. The end-consumer is dictating what they want, which tribe they choose to belong to, and the personality they want to project. This has made the menswear industry very competitive, and in response, men’s fashion houses have been obligated to change their game, to listen to their consumer and are appointing new designers who understand the new generation and, more particularly, who understand their subcultures and tribes. The main focus in today’s menswear industry is to appeal to the final consumer’s lifestyle. This challenge goes beyond offering a good product, it also needs to be a product that ‘speaks’ to men’s tribes and their individual personalities. So, let’s examine who these new players are, what they are offering and who they are speaking to, and how they are seismically changing the present and future of the global menswear industry.
Recent new appointments in the menswear fashion industry, such as Kim Jones at Dior Homme and Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton Men’s (both brands under the LVMH umbrella), indicate that the market has changed. Fashion houses are now taking risks because they have identified that they must go forward to remain relevant for the next generation and those to follow. What do these players have in common? Both represent a movement that had been growing the past year. Kim Jones formerly at Louis Vuitton men’s and who created a blockbuster collaboration with the hip brand Supreme is now creative director at heritage brand Dior Homme.
Virgil Abloh, from DJ, music producer, Fendi intern, Kanye West’s creative director, to artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s men’s wear collection since March 2018, Abloh is also chief executive officer of the Milan-based label Off-White, a fashion house that he founded in 2013.
Both of these visionaries believe in ‘bottom-up’ fashion that is, bringing the street to high fashion, as well as the flexibility offered by social-media influenced athleisure, with its emphasis on T-shirts, and its reflection of a D-jin and music culture. The concept of ‘bottom-up’ is not new, Yves Saint Laurent made it his montra in the 70s and Marc Jacobs turned to the streets for his Grunge Collection in the 80s. But those were womenswear collections. Both Kim and Abloh have a history in designing streetwear for men and have each collaborated with Nike.
Although Jones studied design at Central Saint Martin’s and Abloh cut his teeth designing for Kanye West, both admit that they have gotten to know ‘fashion’ along the way. Their current collections speak to a new lifestyle, to a subculture of a younger generation and they are implementing street casual styles into their high fashion collections. To be clear, they are not abolishing suits or formalwear, they are just giving it a streetwear twist.
For example, presenting in their show a monochromatic suit with a t-shirt, technical sneakers and unique details around zippers, or presenting high quality functional bags with chain details. They are unifying two worlds we would not have imagined could speak to each other in the past. Formal and casual, function and decoration, these are no longer distinct categories, but ones that merge with each other. At the same time, these designers manage to speak to a tribe who is looking to be more individual while seeking to be included.
This connects us to other players such as Alessandro Michele at Gucci and Hedi Slimane now at Celine. They address younger generations with a unique vision, one that is more eccentric with a retro vintage feel (Gucci), and another one, more focused on rock culture (the new Celine). Both address a very important trend of the moment: the androgynous phenomenon. The ungendered design is key for these designers. They created transversal collections and androgynous looks that dominate the conversation of their collections, influencing the menswear arena. This trend is not about men wearing skirts, it is about changing mindsets, showing that men have changed, both in, and the way they view fashion, and in how they exercise their masculinity. This is reflected in how they shop, and as a result designer brands are implementing these changes in their product strategy.
There has also been a change in formal menswear. New players such as Thom Browne, Musika Frère, or recognized designers such as Ozwald Boateng have brought new product strategies to this category. Ozwald Boateng has mixed traditional classic British tailoring with color and new cuts targeting elite consumers who have unique personalities and are not part of the status quo.
Thom Browne, with his wild creativity, his fantastic tailoring and commercial core product pieces, with a clear brand identity such as the tricolor web, has won a fan base among millennials who were looking for an alternative from traditional formalwear.
And then we get to Musika Frère, a brand that was born in social media, created by Aleks Musika and Davidson Petit- Frère. This brand has a “neoclassic tailoring” style, as the creators themselves call it, specializing in custom suits that often come in unusual colors, patterns and details. This brand’s style has drawn famous celebrities in the African American community.
So, what do all these brands have in common? Their product strategies have successfully attracted a specific tribe that still wants the elegance of a suit but in a unique and special way, something that truly represents them and their personalities and that makes them stand out.
As menswear evolves, brands in the industry have realized that the fundamental formula to attract new and younger consumers is to truly represent them. The key for fashion houses now is to adopt this bottom-up approach, understand their consumers, their tribe and subcultures, in order to cater to them in a genuine way. All of the above-mentioned brands have used different menswear strategies to be relevant to the market and its future generations. They have taken risks because they know that nowadays, men are freer and use fashion to show who they truly are.
To learn more about menswear design, be sure to check out the new menswear discipline on our University of Fashion website.