Grandaddy cool – are you wearing a shawl-neck yet?
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One of my earliest style memories is, as a 12-year-old, being dragged into a shop with my grandfather, who was determined to find something that I considered to be the height of anti-fashion: a dark brown, chunky, shawl-collar cardigan. At the time, it was the least appealing garment he could have chosen for me to wear. Now, thanks to menswear’s long-running obsession with comfort and “stealth wealth”, big, luxurious knits are enjoying a renaissance.
“Chunky shawl-collar cardigans and big cable-knit sweaters are the two knitwear designs that are everywhere at the moment,” says stylist Benedict Browne. “They tap comfortably into an old-money aesthetic seen at Brunello Cucinelli and Tom Ford, or even at independent brands such as Thom Sweeney and Valstar.”
This season’s most sophisticated knitwear makes deft use of texture, including big rollnecks, polos or sweaters knitted from melange yarns. One of Brioni’s key pieces is a handsome crewneck with a dégradé effect, where the sweater’s colouring morphs subtly from mid-grey at its hem to off-white at the collar. Another standout includes a thick green rollneck in sumptuous cashmere and silk. Canali has taken a different but equally interesting approach, knitting rollnecks from curly bouclé yarn, while Luca Faloni’s chunky cashmere cardigans feature nifty patch pockets and buttons made from horn.
Not that the Italians deserve to garner all this winter’s knitwear glory. In Scotland, Begg x Co specialises in exceptional cashmere and lambswool sweaters, and is this season offering a hefty eight-ply yacht cardigan and slubby rollneck. The brand’s global commercial director, Oscar Macdonald, says that as well as opting for chunkier knits, men are now embracing colour: “Whether bold or nuanced, colour choice is out there, bringing joy and optimism to the season. Cashmere tends to be very safe and neutral in tone, but as a natural fibre it carries colour really well.”
Heavy knits are increasingly becoming the focal point of men’s looks – replacing blazers in the office or as an option for eveningwear. Swedish tailoring brand Atelier Saman Amel makes custom knitwear for clients, and has seen an upswing in orders of jumpers to wear beneath their suits and separates. “We’ve been experimenting with how to make something simple – such as a nice pair of trousers or a cashmere jumper – the focus of your outfit,” explains co-founder Dag Granath. “We’ve moved away from very fine, subtle pieces of knitwear that sit under jackets to heavy, more expressive pieces that stand alone with tailored trousers.”
Luxury designers are also inflating the proportions of their sweaters. Dior Men artistic director Kim Jones’s AW23 collection features generously sized cable knits that nod to a ’20s collegiate look, finished with split sleeves that add volume and a satisfying “swishiness” to the humble crewneck. Hermès’s menswear designer Véronique Nichanian sent patchwork-knitted rollnecks down the runway, while Gabriela Hearst has created giant cable-knits that stretch all the way up to the chin. Statement pieces such as these have their own appeal, Browne says. “Aside from the stealth-wealth look, you’ve got some seriously wild knits at the moment, particularly in The Elder Statesman’s collaboration with Zegna, which has a bold, technicolour aesthetic. If you want a bit of fun.”
In this vein, London-based knitwear brand Colhay’s makes a formidable shawl wrap coat that falls to the knee, with overlapping front panels, belt and whopping collar. A luxurious statement piece, each coat is knitted in Scotland from pure lambswool and weighs between 1.2 and 1.4 kilograms. “The shawl coat is intended to be worn as outerwear and it’s the chunkiest piece in our collection,” founder Ronnie Chiu explains. “It’s like a blanket but you feel dressed-up wearing it. It looks great with light-washed jeans, a denim shirt and a pair of Chelsea boots. It’s the perfect look for somebody to wear to lunch.”
Are cardigans really going as far as to replace coats and jackets? “I think the answer is yes,” says Browne. “I really like pairing a big, indulgent shawl-collar cardi with a neat merino rollneck beneath. Go tonal navy on navy, or cream on cream, and wear with formal trousers. Think of the cardigan as a blazer replacement, and keep it simple.”