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Formal suits take on brave new colours

It's time to think beyond navy and grey

(From left) Models at the Paul Smith Menswear Fall/Winter 2018-2019 show as part of the Paris Fashion Week; and Zayn Malik in a blush Richard James suit at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards. Photo: Getty Images
(From left) Models at the Paul Smith Menswear Fall/Winter 2018-2019 show as part of the Paris Fashion Week; and Zayn Malik in a blush Richard James suit at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards. Photo: Getty Images

There was a time when casual clothing was relegated to a single day of the work week—Friday—and suits dominated the rest. Today’s millennials have given rise to the laid-back swagger of streetwear paired with the workout clothes-as-everyday attire trend of athleisure, which means you’re as likely to see gym shorts at the office as the gym. Meanwhile, start-up culture has turned the hoodie into the new formal wear.

Which raises the question: Who needs a suit?

Much handwringing has been done over the death of your tried-and-true tailored two-piece, but don’t prepare the eulogy quite yet. Just look to the spring collection of British designer Paul Smith, which was filled with traditional suiting in colours ranging from saturated and rich to vibrant to squint-inducing. There was royal violet, traffic-cone orange, and neon yellow—often layered over exuberant floral printed shirts for added oomph.

Smith knows he’s going against the current. “I’m very aware people are dressing in an increasingly casual way, and the influence of sportswear is finding its way on to the catwalk and into fashion," Smith says. “But tailoring really is at the heart of Paul Smith." He slyly adds: “I wear a suit every single day."

Smith says that his spring collection—now trickling into stores—was meant to convey a “sense of escapism and optimism", serving as a “respite from all the madness going on in the world at the moment". The core of the collection is a two-piece suit in the relaxed silhouettes that are currently favoured. “For most days and most purposes, a more classic navy suit is probably most suitable, but for the right occasion, a more adventurous option might be worth considering," the designer says.

A Supreme Suit in emerald green. Photo: Getty Images

In addition to Paul Smith, such brands as Prada, Gucci, Tom Ford, Calvin Klein, and Boglioli (to mention just a few) showed suits in a rainbow’s array of colours, from eggplant purple to electric blue to baby pink (!). GQ magazine has given its approval to rapper Tyler, the Creator, wearing a green suit and David Beckham stepping out in a chocolate-brown two-piece. In an interesting twist, the skate and streetwear brand Supreme, which may traffic in hoodies and tees but is valued at $1 billion (around Rs6,510 crore), recently debuted its first suit. In addition to coming in sombre black, it will also come in Pepto-Bismol pink and emerald green. Expect to see it on the backs of cool kids later this year.

Most telling, of course, is that retailers are also on board, hoping to inject excitement into their suiting business. “What was interesting to see was how the suit was evolving: We saw roomier tailoring at Lemaire and Marni, whilst names better known for a sportier, youthful aesthetic—such as GmbH and Martine Rose—showed oversized, boxy blazers, which felt modern," says Damien Paul, head of menswear at the British retailer Matches Fashion. “All this adds to the re-emergence of the suit as a fashion item, rather than office attire."

Should you have a closet stuffed with navy, grey, and black suits, perhaps it’s time to start inching yourself out of your sartorial box and into uncharted waters. It’s not nearly as scary or difficult as it may seem.

“To be honest, it really comes down to how the guy is going to wear it," explains Paul. “Does he work in a creative industry but needs something for client meetings? Or does he want something lighter in stone or khaki for a summer wedding? If the thought of a suit outside of grey or navy sounds scary, then I’d suggest a neutral palette: Beige, khaki, olive, and even a bolder royal blue can all work for most men. I’d also suggest keeping to a neat silhouette."

Summer happens to be the ideal time to try this trend out, which is why the market is flooded with great options now. “I think the most unusual thing a man can do currently is wear a suit off-duty, which makes it a brilliantly relevant item to subvert," Paul continues. “We are experiencing a re-ignited interest in the fashion suit, whether that be slim or oversized. Styling tailoring with a hoodie or jeans is the perfect bridge."

When all is said and done, the colourful suit might just be the item that helps bring together the world of laid-back sportswear and more formal fashion gestures. After all, Smith has built a storied career on it, one that got him knighted. “In my opinion, style isn’t about dressing in a particular way. It’s about a state of mind and having confidence in the way you look. I’m a very down-to-earth and optimistic person, and so bright colour and vivid print has always been central to the clothes I design," he says. “I know that most people gravitate towards the more classic colours and less statement-making prints, but it’s important that colour and print are part of the collection, as some people choose to express themselves with brightly coloured or printed clothes." Bloomberg

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