The summer suit just got a lot more seductive
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
Even in this world of informal flexible working, the suit still comes with plenty of cultural baggage. For much of the past 20 years it’s been seen as a straitjacket: something to dust off grudgingly for christenings and funerals, or else an off-the-shelf, Wernham Hogg-worthy uniform. In summer, the suit has been too often stuffy, heavy and uncomfortable. But it needn’t be. Men’s tailoring has been lightening up, in more ways than one.
“Five years ago when I joined Brioni, the summer suit was just a business suit in different fabrics and colours; the silhouette was formal and classic,” says Norbert Stumpfl, the house’s executive design director. “Over the years, the summer suit has become lighter in construction. The overall look is very elegant, but at the same time its lightness gives it modernity.”
Brioni silk shirt, €1,100. Bottega Veneta acetate Caravan sunglasses, £350. Versace golden-metal La Medusa earring, POA (sold as pair). Dolce & Gabbana gold-plated-metal and gemstone Rosario necklace, £295
Dior cotton and silk voile jacket with removable front scarf, £3,400, and matching trousers, £1,150. Bally silk shirt, £900. Jacquemus leather Les Mocassins Bricciola loafers, £615. Versace golden-metal La Medusa earrings, POA
Deconstructing a jacket that’s made from several layers of fabric, horsehair canvas and internal padding is no easy task. Many traditional tailors baulk at the idea of making lightweight suits because it’s so challenging to create an unstructured jacket with shape. At Brioni, Stumpfl and his team are breaking new ground.
The house’s SS23 collection features breezy suits with natural “shirt sleeve” shoulders, half-lined jackets, flowing pleated trousers and generous lapels. Highlights include a hot-pink cashmere, silk and linen double-breasted suit and a midnight-blue suit in pure silk seersucker with a seersucker shirt to match. “I love fabric research,” Stumpfl adds. “We look out for super-lightweight fabrics with a natural drape.”
Other labels are playing with featherweight fabrications too. Zegna creates minimal suits and separates in high-performing technical fabrics woven at the company’s own mill. Lapels and pockets are neat and unobtrusive, while waistlines are subtly dropped for a slouchy feel. In London, Paul Smith’s summer tailoring is casual and louche, with baggy jackets and full-cut trousers that lend a carefree attitude to a formal look.
“To me, summer tailoring is all about soft lines, natural shades and volume,” says model-turned-freelance creative director Richard Biedul. “An oversized silhouette feels really contemporary. I like jackets with a softer, extended shoulder and trousers with a wider leg or some flare.” Biedul, who is known for his well-cut wardrobe, is also a fan of wearing a double-breasted jacket with no shirt beneath during the warmer months. “Losing the shirt gives you a really clean V-section. It’s quite subversive but sophisticated. Showing a bit of skin in summer is about as racy as a man can get.”
Certainly, this new, breezier breed of suit can afford to flaunt a little sex appeal. Saint Laurent’s SS23 collection is filled with svelte, slim-waisted suits and blazers in luxurious grain de poudre wool, low-buttoned silk satin shirts and snug, ’70s-style trousers. “It’s all about what you wear beneath the jacket,” Biedul adds. “Loose shirts with long point or revere collars soften up the whole look.”
This enlightened attitude also extends to the way designers are playing with colour. This summer, suiting is all about sophisticated neutrals and delicately toned pastels. Canali’s tailoring, for example, is built around subtle shades of stone and taupe, with the occasional piece in dusty pink or soft green. “The palette of the Ligurian coastline plays the protagonist throughout the collection,” explains CEO Stefano Canali. “Those powdery pink, sand and sage hues are so characteristic of that part of the Italian coast. I find these shades very elegant in a relaxed way.”
Dior’s colour palette is similar, with suits in pink, sand and pistachio green (all colours inspired by Kim Jones’s beloved Charleston farmhouse, home of the Bloomsbury Set), while Alexander McQueen’s collection spotlights plush matte fabrics in white and lavender. And if you’re nervous about the idea of a pastel-coloured suit, don’t be. “The definition of masculinity, today, is far from univocal,” Canali says. “Showing some personality is the key.”
If the summer suit has a new creative impetus then does it even need to be a matching jacket and trouser? “This notion that there’s a set of rules around tailoring is so antiquated,” Biedul says. “Tailoring can be anything from a three-piece power suit to a coordinating shirt and trouser, as long as they’re beautifully made.” In this new, expressive landscape, even a tailored Gucci boiler suit can be a suit of sorts – especially if it’s cut in a dressy fabric.
“I’ve stopped using the word ‘suit’ and just talk in terms of ‘tailoring’ now,” adds Biedul. “A suit often has super-negative connotations. It’s something you force yourself to wear to work, it’s monotonous. But tailoring, worn your way, makes you feel better about yourself. It gives you the confidence to go out there and be you 2.0.” Whether you experiment with colour, cloth or the layers underneath, be sure to leave drab winter tailoring out in the cold this season.
Ralph Lauren Purple Label handmade wool barathea jacket, £3,930. Ferragamo stretch cady waistcoat, £1,085. Charvet silk pocket scarf, €80. Chanel metal and strass necklace, £1,185. Versace golden-metal La Medusa earring, POA (sold as pair)
Etro silk jacket, £1,600, and matching trousers, £495
Zegna vicuña cotton jacket, £2,569, and wool trousers, £950. Isa Boulder rayon polo shirt, €410. Brioni leather loafers, £870. Etnia Barcelona acetate Bertini sunglasses, £309. Versace golden-metal La Medusa earrings and golden-metal necklace, both POA
Model, Ottawa Kwami at Supa. Casting, Ben Grimes at Drive Represents. Hair, Adlena Dignam at Bryant. Photographer’s assistants, Mitchell O’Neil and Connor Wieczorek. Stylist’s assistant, Léa Sanchez. Production, Elsa Puangsudrac at Farago Projects