European designers are lightening up this season, as they play with laidback suiting, ice-cool greys and lots of linen. Here, we find out how to make it work for an Australian summer (footwear optional).

By JEN NURICK

LA FONTELINA MAY have been off the cards for a while, but the Mediterranean will be influencing our wardrobes for the next few months, according to Alireza Shakoori, the menswear curator at the luxury fashion boutique Harrolds. Based in Melbourne, Shakoori is taking his cue from holidaymakers in the Northern Hemisphere who enjoyed time in the sun while much of Australia was in lockdown. “That look is going to be quite strong this summer,” he predicts. The vibe? Think the relaxed poolside soirées captured by Slim Aaron sat the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc in Antibes, France, or a young Romy Schneider and Alain Delon sunbathing in “La Piscine” (1969). Or, closer to home, think long lunches and pre-dinner dips at Bondi Beach or Byron Bay. We have our own summer to dress for, after all. This season, the colour palette of menswear emerges from the ocean itself, in gradients that mimic the shifting shades of the sea. “You’re going to see a lot of men wearing white trousers with different tones of blue — navy or pale blue jackets — mainly in a blend of silk and linen,” Shakoori says, noting the importance of unlined clothing and breathable fabrics in Australian climes. These cool shades complement softer, subtle hues, introduced overseas for spring and summer to offset the seriousness of suiting. Shakoori points to pastel pink and low-key lilac, seen on the runways in Paris and Milan. “They’re also going to be making an appearance in menswear this summer,” he says. 

It’s all thanks to those at the helm of storied houses like Dior and Givenchy, where the wide-eyed incumbents Kim Jones and Matthew Williams have been whispering a quiet elegance into their designs of late. It was evident in Dior’s autumn 2021 collection, where Jones began with palette-cleansing black. He cast razor-sharp silhouettes in night-time hues to draw attention to the finer details, like belt buckles and brooches, in preparation for pops of colour that signalled a bright-but-refined optical treat. This approach was echoed in spring 2020, when he co-opted the maison’s signature pale grey — something he’s done in every one of his Dior collections— using the ice-cool shade as a primer for dialled-up flight jackets in strawberry sherbet and single-breasted suits in acid green. Grey for a summer’s day? Shakoori says that the unlikely shade, typically shunned in favour of happier hues, works as a blank canvas. It’s less intimidating than stark white and complementary to all skin tones. 

“Jones is trying to show that there are colours that help us see other colours better,” he explains, recalling the interplay of grey, orange and cobalt blue that the designer has made part of his vocabulary. “When you bring a neutral colour like light grey, it gives you the option of bringing other colours to the spectrum without having a very impactful clash,” Shakoori says. For him, the colour, fabric and print of a garment come secondary to what he views as the beating heart of menswear — tailoring — with the suit the pièce de résistance.

“The suit is a tailoring masterpiece. It immediately changes your posture; it pushes you to stand straight, to have your shoulders wide, chest out and stomach in,” he says. “It’s still a source of inspiration for a new generation of designers, like Jerry Lorenzo of Fear of God and Kim Jones of Christian Dior.”

Granted, these designers are OK with pairing suit pants with sneakers or slipping hoodies underneath blazers to create a different look and explore new combinations. “Sometimes they are changing the ratio of the lapel, they’re moving things around, sometimes using different elements, ”Shakoori says, “but at the same time, [the essence] is still the same.” For many, the pandemic shoved corporate wear to the back of the wardrobe, as tracksuits replaced trousers and ties (bar Zoom meetings). Shakoori admits sales slowed at the height of Covid-19 but says there has been an uptick since then, with men seeking out easy-to-wear separates that are clean-lined and elevated enough to wear to work, albeit in a more casual fashion. “We are getting more demand for blazers and sports jackets — things people can mix and match,” he says. “They can achieve a professional look with a sports jacket and they can also dress it down.”

It’s hardly a blow to business attire. Shakoori says this relaxed approach has restated the value of expert tailoring and craftsmanship— ironically, he believes the suit’s absence has helped preserve its integrity and sense of occasion. “Imagine a person who is buying a two-piece suit, commuting to work while he’s carrying his backpack,” Shakoori says. “The first thing that’s happening is the structure of the jacket is being destroyed. Then, when he’s sitting behind the desk wearing the jacket, he’s constantly putting pressure on it, rubbing the sleeves on the desk. The pants are being destroyed because of the way he’s sitting on the chair and, as a result, the overall look is not appealing.” Now, Shakoori believes, suits will be restored to their rightful place: “occasions, eventing, the boardroom and business deals.” If the suit is the sartorial masterpiece, signifying power, identity and individuality, Shakoori identifies Tom Ford, Luigi Lardini and Norbert Stumpfl at Brioni as its masters, praising Ford’s architectural approach to proportion and Stumpfl’s minimalism. Still, the question remains: how can we translate these visual tropes to the Australian seaside, where everyone is barefoot?

Start with a capsule summer wardrobe. Shakoori advises investing in the essentials: linen shirts, white trousers and a pair of loafers. Heal so suggests opting for lightweight suiting fabrics, like hopsack, and trousers that are less tapered, for better breathability. By pairing “flowy, drapey” silhouettes, like linen trousers, with sports jackets, Shakoori says you can achieve a polished yet pared-back look. “Wear shirts with an open neck and then you can roll up your pants, wear them with slides or a pair of espadrilles and go to the beachside,” he says. Or you could simply look to Shakoori’s wish list. “The first piece is a jacket from Brioni called the Tour Jacket,” he says, “then I will go for a look by Tom Ford, a brown velvet blazer with brown trousers, and the brown jersey shirt to complete the look.”