Men’s – Detox Moment. Dries Van Noten AW21

There’s a pattern in case of Dries Van Noten. After a couple of seasons full of bold colours, prints and embellishments, there comes a detox time, a sort of palette-cleanser. Men’s autumn-winter 2021 line-up is one of those more quiet, sober collections. And, of course, it’s delightful. On a preview call the designer said that his riotously colored last-season outing, plus the establishment of an effective home working strategy for his pattern-cutters, created the context for this reassessment of archetypal garments through new structures and fabrication techniques. Van Noten added: “It was really nice to be able to work on construction, on shapes, on volumes, rather than really bold colors and wild prints. It was about going to the menswear wardrobe staples, and trying not to leave them because I wanted them to be recognizable, but to look at their function, and the way you feel about some things that you think you know but which maybe you don’t.” To change the feeling demanded changing the garments. Shirts were elongated into dresses, jacket skirts and hoody hems lengthened, pant waists raised, shorts widened. Van Noten said these alterations and others in the exterior of his garments were made hand-in-hand with upgrades under the bonnet, “so it’s a pity that we don’t have the possibility of being able to touch them.” As an example he said a lot of the jackets were made in the lightest possible wool, which was lightly padded to give the appearance of structure alongside the feel of looseness and release. Similarly, T-shirts were fashioned in two layers between which delicate bolstering was inserted to create a crisp appearance while feeling slouchy. There was some pattern here, but of a type in sync with the thesis of the whole. Motifs used traditionally for ties were adapted, distorted, and upgraded for a new life across the collection. Especially attractive was a riotous botanical on a slim-fitting souvenir-style jacket above some double-dyed denim jeans and a pair of the slouchy, puffy, elastic-backed moccasins that were elsewhere topped with gaiter-like leg warmers. One point of connection across the collection were the gleaming metal rings used to secure belts, knits, and bags. This was a collection built to look sharp but feel soft – a fruitful reexamination of the essence of “essentials.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Men’s – Rage. Rick Owens AW21

You can always expect emotions from Rick Owens. And this time, it’s rage. And sometimes, releasing rage is healing. Owens’s autumn-winter 2021 cast resembled a march of sexily sepulchral men stepping out to face their demons. Leather bodysuits – the latest chapter in his onesie narrative – sometimes enveloped, and sometimes hung half-worn as if flayed. Hooded habits came in recycled cashmere, waste plastic, or quilted material. You couldn’t make it out on the video, but the star on his newly Rick-ified Converse Chuck Taylors (this time the designer gives his man a rest from killer platform stompers) had been reworked into a pentagram. The oversized shoulders on slashed-arm overcoats and crop-top bomber jackets were meant to “mock male conservatism” in a collection Owens noted was an exploration of “male suppressed rage on every side of the moral divide.” In a preview, Owens confessed that he’d thought twice about facing rage in a collection presented just as four years of American carnage seemed to be over. “I thought this morning, does it feel a little tone deaf because now all of a sudden everything has shifted? Now that it’s all about optimism? But that dark element has not disappeared. And the fact that it came so close, this moral war, is horrifying.” Owens’s clothes are fundamentally playful provocations to conservatism and complacency. As well as a determination to remain uncomplacent about male aggression more broadly, Owens is sensitive to his own capacity for it. He said, “I’m always conscious of my own aggression. And the older that I get, I feel like I should have reached a level of serenity that I just haven’t; I get impatient, I get itchy, I snap at people sometimes. Aggression is something that I’m fascinated with because I’m constantly conscious of wrestling with it, personally. And I think that that’s true of every man.” Jackets with inbuilt gloves and masks were equipped for care of both the self and others through distance-dressing. And alongside satyr-appropriate thigh-highs and knowingly titillating bodysuits were garments designed for a broader constituency; examples included supple hooded shearlings, specially woven Japanese selvedge denim jeans, the Converse, and meandering olive cashmere knitwear. Owens said, “There’s a lot of regular-guy clothes in this collection, more than I have had in the past, maybe. I like that mix because it suggests more tolerance. I’m trying not to alienate or exclude.” This second show staged near Owens’s summer home on the Lido near Venice showcased a convincing interaction with the regular-guy world as passing locals watched the collection unfold. Showing here, said Owens, has become “like a private ritual” for him and his team because of that lack of a formal physical audience. The result was a film simultaneously intimate and grandiose. Owens observed, “I always kind of comfort myself that the world has always existed with darkness and light. And for some reason, there always seems to be enough goodness in humanity to just balance it out, and just to keep everything going. It’s close…but hope springs eternal.” By remaining sensitive to that human chiaroscuro through the creation of garments that subvert its darker shades, Owens contributes to the light.

“Live” collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Men’s – Sculptural Ease. Hed Mayner AW21

Hed Mayner is one of the most underrated menswear labels, which is just the perfect place for unconventional elegance (and tailoring!) fans. The dynamic between inside and outside – the need to isolate on one hand and what he sees on the streets of Paris and Tel Aviv (the city where the designer is based), on the other – led him to paring things down and meandering through the possibility of line or the language of fabric. “Tailoring can take you into a process where you obsess over the perfect jacket. What I’m trying to do is keep something askew,” the designer noted in a Zoom interview with Vogue. Comfort dressing in slouchy, cozy fabrics was already Mayner’s home turf. This season, he’s expanded that sensibility and reframed it with ample yet tailored silhouettes and more traditional materials, like fluid Italian wools and English tweeds. For the first time, he ventured into double-faced fabrics, for example in a military-inspired coat that, thanks to a simple slit in back, can also be worn as a cape (a quilted puffer reprised that idea too). He also went to town on proportion, stripping away lapels, elongating tops, dropping hems, and toying with asymmetry, bell sleeves, major shoulders, and trousers that sit high on the waist. Those might be tucked into a long, slouchy boot or quite simply cropped above the ankle, judo-style, and paired with a big-buckled shoe. The effect was often sculptural, and warm hues of ivory, rust, camel, butter and olive green added to the feeling of gentle ease. Mayner said that his clients tend to pick a total look, then break it down and make it their own. When autumn arrives, they’ll have a lot to play with.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Men’s – The Final Frontier. ERL AW21

Eli Russell Linnetz is the fresh, Californian blood in Paris. The multi-hyphenate visual artist, stage designer, photographer, and director, Linnetz began working on his own label, ERL, at the encouragement of Dover Street Market’s Adrian Joffe and Ronnie Cooke Newhouse. Now in its third full season, the collection has expanded: it includes ERL takes on everything from swimwear and long-johns (quickly becoming the “it” item of the men’s season – see Prada!) to tuxedos and silver puffer pants. Linnetz makes apparel for everyday life which is far from being basic. That seemingly infinite potential is what makes the things Linnetz does do all the more interesting. Titled “The Final Frontier,” his autumn-winter 2021 collection riffs on the Space Age, the psychedelic 1970s, showy 1980s culture, and a sort of timeless collegiate Americana that always permeates his work. The thread that marries such disparate items as a frat sweater and spiky ski bum hat is Linntez’s irreverent sense of humor. A sense of levity and surreal bit of nonsense is welcome in the at-times far too serious world of fashion. Linnetz’s intimate photography and cast of true Cali beach boys only help make the case for his clothing. Scantily hanging off the dudes’ bodies, the clothes telegraph the laissez faire lifestyle of the West Coast. Wide wale corduroy jeans have a constructed slouch, hoodies feature seaming that mimics wave patterns, and fluffy shearling is actually made from a new corn-fiber material to be more sustainable. The collection also includes a ski collaboration with Salomon, neoprene cowboy belts, and a full range of swimwear. There’s an element of costume, of dressing up, and of changing your clothing to change your life. It’s a sort of everyday escapism, finally available to menswear.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Men’s – Real and Fun. JW Anderson AW21

Jonathan Anderson working with Juergen Teller? That’s a match I’m living for. JW Anderson‘s autumn-winter 2021 collection for men (and pre-fall 2021 for women) has been photographed by Teller in London, in his distinct, easy, spontaneous manner. The process basically reflected what Anderson wanted to achieve this season with the garments. “I felt it was better to start the year with something lighter and less calculated,” he declared on a Zoom call with Vogue. “At the beginning of 2021 I wanted something that’s reality. A reality check.” Reality? Well, now that reality’s gone mad, the hilarious antics going on in Anderson’s new set of look-book-posters are a reasonable enough response to the zeitgeist. There’s Sophie Okonedo, who played Charlotte Wells, the mental hospital patient with multiple personality disorder in Ratched, acting up with a gourd, a pumpkin, and an armful of berries, and a trio of male models doing things with cabbage, cauliflower, and an assortment of house plants. To add to the silliness, the handwritten captions are all nonsensically mixed up. “It’s a lot to do with being straightforward, and that’s why I wanted to use Juergen,” Anderson opined. “He’s so good at showing a sharp reality without any fuss.” As usual with JW Anderson, eclectic matchings are the key. Follow the vegetables: ever so cute as crocheted radishes on a sweater, or embroidered on a hoodie; suggestive as great big prints of gourds and a random peach – yet also inspired by Anderson’s interest in 17th century Dutch still lifes, and the work of the British painter William Nicholson. An existential, speculative rabbit-hole, this one: “Why do we glorify something as simple as a lemon or a radish? Is it meditative?” he asks, rhetorically. “So we turned that idea into patterns and iconography. I like this idea of humor in clothing. Squashes on jeans. A peach in the middle of a sweater. Something that makes you grin. Because fashion is meant to make you think, or dream.” Then, the extreme trousering. Follow those upended isosceles triangular trouser legs, and you’re off down the warren leading to Dada and Surrealist costume, the Cabaret Voltaire and Bauhaus theater, if you please. Or perhaps to bump into the checkerboard patterns that the extraordinary gender non-conforming anti-fascist Surrealist Claude Cahoun photographed herself wearing. Those shape experiments are a bold “no, no” to stay-at-home sweats. “I spent so much time last year admiring people ‘doing’,” Anderson says. It’s reinvigorated his belief in craft, in making things himself, in the way he did when he started his brand at the age of 24. “Because I think the world is starting to change. I think this isn’t a time for shock – I think we want reality, honesty, to be stimulated in a way that isn’t sensationalized.

“Live” collage by Edward Kanarecki.