Darrell Hartman Reports that the British are Coming. Still.
Before movie stars, Edward VII (of the Belle Époque) and Edward VIII (of the interwar years) dictated international men’s clothing trends. And for Parisians, British style had become de rigueur long before, in the era of Beau Brummell. You could argue that winning over French tastemakers in the early nineteenth century paved the way for British world domination as much as beating Napoléon at Waterloo. In any case, the rest of the world soon followed. Consider that the Japanese word for suit is sebiro, as in “Savile Row.”
Today, it’s not only from the top of the traditional English social ladder that menswear designers and attentive dressers take their cues. There are the country squires and bright young things, yes, but also the Fair Isle fishermen, intrepid foot soldiers, sixties’ rockers and kitted-out Highland clansmen. They’re all style icons now.
These British inspirations are currently receiving more homage than usual, including from Italians. Take all the chesterfields on the runway at Prada—proper but playful, with their colorful contrast collars, and the thick-soled brogues that echo the footwear of fifties’ Teddy Boys.
At Gucci this season (right), there’s British flavor in the outerwear—in military-inspired pieces that are reminiscent of upright cavalry officers in their wide-lapel greatcoats. There’s some regimental formality, with the full-on tails and silver-dollar-sized buttons, but the silhouette is fresh and loose.
Nor does the British influence end there: Frida Giannini is draping men in all manner of English fabrics this fall and rescaling the classic Prince of Wales check, and there’s a herringbone suit in nubby tweed—like at Tom Ford. Giannini is feeling her tweed this season, and, in the case of a micro-pinstriped tweed tuxedo, is taking this country fabric far from home, into eveningwear.
Few things say Britain—London, really—as succinctly as the perfect weather-resistant overcoat, whether it’s a dutiful trench designed along the lines of the Burberry or Mackintosh or something a bit more stylized and irreverent. That’s the case at Saint Laurent, which takes this top layer in a rock-and-roll direction, slimming it way down (naturally, this being a Hedi Slimane production) and pairing it with ankle-length scarves and drainpipe jeans, some of them shredded in the manner of Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious.
Anglomania has hit the home front, of course, with longstanding U.K. brands happier than ever to play up their provenance. A perfect embodiment of this happy swing of events is Paul Smith (above left), whose young-at-heart founder has become an ambassador of sorts for British style. His colors pop more than usual this fall; the shoes have painted soles. There’s a fuzzy, groovy sixties vibe here—and a houndstooth overcoat, in purple.
More serious in tone are the upscale-biker looks from Belstaff, which was reborn a year and a half ago with a return-to-roots mandate. The label of choice for death-defying British motorcyclists in the twenties and thirties, it has gone deluxe, with biker pants made of sumptuous leather, fur-lined gloves up the forearm and ribbed charcoal sweaters that some among us might hesitate to expose to the exhaust fumes of a Triumph. The iconic, waxed Trialmaster jacket is more of a centerpiece this season and presented in a variety of shades, lengths and volumes. The original moto-racing performance garment, belted and worn with high boots, is racy stuff.