Welcome To The Radical New Age Of Tailoring

14 March 2020
Fashion, Louis Vuitton, Virgil Abloh, Ermenegildo Zegna, Fear Of God, Collaboration, Tailor
Two new collaborations—Zegna with Fear of God, and Louis Vuitton with Nigo—suggest that streetwear and suiting can coexist

Late last year, Virgil Abloh gave the kind of controversial quote that confirmed menswear's centrality, a place where a designer's opinion can really cause a ruckus. Streetwear, he told Dazed, “is definitely gonna die.” To some, this felt like a sacred violation—the god of streetwear putting an end date on his religion—and created a panic among his followers. After teaching the world that graphic hoodies could be luxury items, Abloh seemed to spell a return to the suit and the tie, the puzzling bureaucracy of trousers and jacket and briefcase. Not Gen Z, but Gen Zzzzzzzzz.

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But two new collections crystallize the sense that something else is at work—not a pure shift into tailoring, but a new language, articulating something totally novel in the longstanding space between streetwear and suiting. The first: Zegna artistic director Alessandro Sartori’s collaboration with Fear of God designer Jerry Lorenzo. And the second: a very tailored capsule from Abloh himself, made for Louis Vuitton, where he is artistic director, with A Bathing Ape founder (and legend) Nigo. It’s called LV² because, as Abloh told Vogue of his and Nigo’s relationship to European runway fashion, “We were from outside having an opinion and just styling it. Now we’re inside designing it and styling it.” That’s right: two (three when you count Nigo) of the defining voices in streetwear are making suits—ish.

Ermenegildo Zegna x Fear of God (Image: Courtesy of Zegna)

Lorenzo and Sartori’s collaboration debuted in Paris last week—a 25-look collection of confidently in-between garments with a sterling sense of polish. The Donegal tweed suit is collarless, for example. The work shirt fits like an oversized short-sleeve blazer, so you can put it over anything for pretty much instantaneous finish. (Will a rack of these one day hang behind the maî·tre d' podium at schmancy restaurants? Here’s hoping!) There are sweatsuits that you’d have to look twice at before you noticed they weren’t typical Wednesday morning meeting attire. Perhaps the coolest pieces are the anoraks—blousy half-zips that have the gravitas of something beyond a sweatshirt but none of that “Mr. Manager” energy that some guys get with a blazer, no matter how slick the fit. Mostly, and most importantly, everything in the collection looks so easy. When runway shows are so styled to the nines, and grail culture is so dominant, it often feels like you’re supposed to give yourself over to a whole look, from bucket hat to sneaker. But I immediately thought about how I would wear this Zegna stuff, and it’s really pretty refreshing to imagine how clothes could improve your life, rather than how you could change your life to have some clothes.

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LV is also comes from a place of tailored ease. Abloh said, “The mood of the collection started off with our appreciation for the U.K. dandy and the mod era, Savile Row tailoring.” But for Abloh and Nigo, there’s a throughline between those inspirations and their streetwear credentials—it’s an effort to “not put streetwear in a box. That’s the epiphany within the collaboration.” The storied Damier Check, Vuitton’s less-splashy-but-still-famous print for those “in the know,” is employed in wool suiting and in denim—a clever kind of parallel that shows how these fabrics really are on the same playing field for a lot of guys staring at their closets in the morning. And there are two very mod suiting silhouettes—one with a cropped boxy jacket, and the other with a waistcoat and a wool hooded jacket—that are equally a young guy’s take on traditional shapes and a traditional guy’s way to shake things up. There’s none of that finger wagging old-school stuff about how suits look better at the end of the day.

Louis Vuitton's NIGO x Virgil Abloh LV Collaboration (Image: Courtesy of Louis Vuitton)

Louis Vuitton's NIGO x Virgil Abloh LV Collaboration (Image: Courtesy of Louis Vuitton)

Louis Vuitton's NIGO x Virgil Abloh LV Collaboration (Image:Courtesy of Louis Vuitton)

So what does it all mean? For a long time, fashion was dominated by endless conversations about “elevating” certain clothes, but now that everyone wears sweatsuits, designers are creating shapes and even garments anew. Abloh took a beat in his Monday interview with Vogue to say that his words about streetwear were taken out of context: “Partially what I meant [when I said] that ‘it will die’ is that new things like tailoring from guys like Nigo and me will be born from the regeneration of it.’”

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And so here we are tailored clothes born from regeneration of streetwear. It might seem like a gimmick—the hoodie guys doing the old Savile Row bit. And, sure, fashion often moves like a pendulum, so it’s only natural that a decade of thoughtfully designed hoodies, track pants, and sneakers would bring us back to tailored clothes. (For our own Will Welch’s take on this phenomenon, you can listen to this recent episode of the GQ Style podcast Corporate Lunch.) But fashion moves forward even when it seems to be looking over its shoulder, and men are only getting more expressive with their clothing, not less—a shift toward suiting doesn’t merely mean reaching back into dad’s wardrobe. Think of it less as a conservative move than a way to answer new questions about getting dressed. It’s about a desire for a new kind of decorum that’s personal rather than institutional.

Louis Vuitton's NIGO x Virgil Abloh LV Collaboration (Image: Courtesy of Louis Vuitton)

Ermenegildo Zegna x Fear of God (Image: Courtesy of Zegna)

Ermenegildo Zegna x Fear of God (Image: Courtesy of Zegna)

“New language” is actually the phrase that Lorenzo used to describe his collection with Sartori. “I think between what’s happening culturally in fashion and what’s happening in tailoring, there’s a huge disconnect,” Lorenzo told Vogue. “I think my customer and I see tailoring as intimidating, so how do we make tailoring less intimidating? How do we make suiting and tailoring feel like a hoodie and a pair of sweatpants, something that you can slide into easily and something that fits comfortably with you and something that allows you to be appropriate for all occasions?”

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As nearly every ’90s photograph of a celebrity wearing one of those drapey, soft-shoulder silk-wool Armani suits with sneakers shows, tailored clothes really can be as easy to wear as a sweatsuit or a hoodie. And what these two collections also suggest is that designers are thinking less about how to juice young customers up to buy into an image, and more about men’s inner wardrobe quandaries. “The overarching vision is father to son,” Abloh told Vogue of his Vuitton mandate. “So, having a portion of more mature pieces with youthful pieces.”

Ermenegildo Zegna x Fear of God (Image: Courtesy of Zegna)

Sartori may have put it best. “A very important change in the market is the totally different approach to styling and wearing clothes,” he said. “Each one of us is styling differently. We open our wardrobe, and even with the same pieces, we apply a different style and wear them in a different way. Because we are freer.”

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Perhaps most revolutionary in this new age of tailored clothes is the seemingly unshakeable reality that the suit and its relatives have, for over a century, stood for conservatism, for authority, for a desire to assimilate—often begrudgingly, at least for younger generations of men. If streetwear dies, it will be in service of answering a pretty enormous question: could the suit, after 100 years of barely changing, at last come to stand not for power but for personal pleasure and dignity?

Louis Vuitton's NIGO x Virgil Abloh LV Collaboration (Image: Courtesy of Louis Vuitton)

Via GQ