The past 18 months have given us time to think about what we actually like to wear, with comfort increasingly trumping aesthetic concerns (hello, Crocs). Yet as many of us return to offices, restaurants and bars, we’re faced with a conundrum. What do we want to project: sophistication or cool? Insouciance or irony?
Now is an ideal time for a sartorial reset. And instead of looking to airbrushed models, celebrities and professional influencers for inspiration, it’s worth turning to the people behind the clothes: the fashion designers themselves. Designers famously wear all-black — but for those who don’t adhere to this cliché, their personal style can be compelling.
Designers understand the power of clothes — the feelings they evoke, the signals they send — better than anyone. They dress with purpose. And, compared to the slickly styled campaigns starring their creations, their own outfits are accessible. “Shows or collections are more total looks — but I don’t wear total looks,” says Turkish designer Umit Benan. “Me, it’s more real.”
Samuel Ross is a master of dressing with intent. He lays out his clothes each night, thinking about “what will be appropriate for the mood and requirements of the next day”. He believes clothes can put you in the right frame of mind to accomplish tasks and, whether channelling the high-octane vibe of his own brand or something more laid-back, he commits fully to each look.
The 30-year-old London-based designer has three distinct styles. At home, he enjoys a meditative medley of linen grandad-collar shirts and pleated, wide-cut Issey Miyake trousers in greys and creams. At work, he dons A-Cold-Wall and Veilance jackets and trousers in technical nylons. Often these futuristic ensembles are all-black or all-white, but on days when he’s gunning for a creative breakthrough, he will wear high-vis orange to “encourage atypical thinking”. And for workouts, he sports Lycra tights and windproof Nike running shells.
He’s become even more purposeful about what he wears since the beginning of 2020. The period inspired a “style renaissance”: he purged his wardrobe, waving goodbye to items that didn’t feel relevant or functional — such as straight-fit trousers — and embracing pieces that “signalled” something, such as tailored tapered trousers (“efficacy”) and wide-cut slacks (“relaxed and non-confrontational”).
He offers a masterclass in how to wear vests — one of the trickier items in the male wardrobe. His oversized white tank tops, which reveal his inked biceps and which he tucks into slim trousers in a flattering play on proportions, nod to the “super working-class town” in Northamptonshire where he grew up. Meanwhile his jewellery, such as emerald and rainbow-hued-diamond rings from Suzanne Kalan, references his black British Caribbean roots (“jewellery is so prominent in Caribbean culture”, he says).
Ross is figuring out how to retain some of the streetwear codes he has grown up with while dressing more maturely. “It’s interesting looking at how a man can remain eclectic and stylish as he ages,” he says. He and Jerry Lorenzo, founder of LA-based brand Fear of God, often discuss “what style looks like for a father who’s come from streetwear but is also now engaging with [more traditional] menswear”.
Editor of L’Etiquette magazine, vintage dealer and creative director FOR De Fursac
A dedicated student of fashion history, Gauthier Borsarello’s outfits are brimming with personality. Most feature vintage finds, whether a 1990s Barbour Spey jacket, a delicate 1970s Cartier Tank Louis watch, or Champion shorts with a Mickey Mouse insignia. “I love things that have a very long life,” he says. He makes you want to wear things with a story behind them too — no bad thing in an era of increased awareness about the need to treasure clothes.
He’s an eclectic dresser, so you’re never quite sure what style he will be channelling. “One day I want to be a banker, then a cowboy, then a mod,” says the affable 32-year-old Parisian. “I don’t think it’s easy to synthesise my style.” He avoids jeans but embraces checked blazers, cardigans, JM Weston tassel loafers and playful touches, pinning ornate brooches on suede Birkenstock clogs.
His personal style is significantly more eccentric than that of most of his Parisian peers. According to Borsarello, Parisians generally “choose a style that’s good for us and wear it all the time”. The typical men’s uniform is dark jeans, a white shirt, a grey tweed blazer and black boots.
He thinks this simple dressing can be traced back to the French Revolution — “when we cut off the king’s head, it became bad to spend money on things that are not practical” — and, because outfits are low key, “you have to express yourself in your attitude and the way you talk and move”. Well-made items are worn forever, there’s nothing wrong with a frayed hem or scuffed shoe, and nonchalance (à la Serge Gainsbourg) is the best accessory.
A former classical musician, Borsarello enjoys black-tie garb and is saddened by the fact that, even pre-pandemic, we had stopped dressing up. “When I go to concerts, nobody wears a tie, nobody gets dressed. It’s ‘cool’ to go like this, but I don’t think it is. I think it’s cool to have a specific silhouette for every occasion.”
He will include smoking jackets and pointy boots in De Fursac’s upcoming collections to encourage men to sharpen up. “It’s clothing that says: ‘I wasn’t wearing this today, I’m wearing this now because I’m going to see you,’” he says. “I think it’s polite to dress to be seen by someone.”
Founder, Umit Benan and B+
A fun, freewheeling energy crackles through Umit Benan’s ensembles. He also knows how to dress sexily, a rare feat for men.
In summer, when a moustache curls above his lip, his look is old-school Havana: white linen suits and slicked-back hair. For the rest of the year, he flips into “grunge” mode with a full beard — big scarves, black jeans, layers upon layers of shirts, and arms loaded with clashing gold and silver bangles.
The hirsute 40-year-old thinks clothes should complement your natural features. “My beard is rough so I never wear shiny, nice-looking stuff (when I have it) because the clothes would stick out so much,” he says. “In wintertime when you have fabrics like Shetland wool, they blend with the texture of the beard. But [in summer] when you don’t have a beard and you wear precise pieces, everything looks sharp,” he says.
He always wears ski-like socks (“I feel so weak wearing thin socks”) and, except for espadrilles in peak summer, heavy boots. He has “bigger legs”, so needs shoes that will maintain the “chunky” silhouette. “I love moccasins but I don’t wear them because they have a gentle shape but I don’t have gentle legs,” he says. “Everyone needs to know their body shape, and what [clothes] they can handle physically.”
Benan grew up in Istanbul, worked in Manhattan for three years, and now lives in Milan, and all these influences are apparent in his ensembles. “You’ll find me wearing something from New York, like a hoodie, an Italian sartorial element like a cashmere coat, and Turkish pyjamas or kaftans.” He’ll throw a camel coat over a kaleidoscope of shirts paired with tomato-red silk PJ pants. “It’s wrong, but . . . there’s no rule, I just mix it,” he says.
He says you “should never know what brand someone is wearing”, so he dislikes logos, and although there are 2,000 items in his closet — all his own designs save for Calvin Klein underwear — he will wear one look for three weeks straight before switching. That’s partly because he likes to “really use” his clothes. He’s not bothered if an expensive coat trails on the ground, and he hates ironing, so his shirts are creased.
“At weddings I wear a bow tie and a sharp tuxedo, but the boots are completely destroyed, you can see my socks showing through,” he says. “It’s 90 per cent perfect and 10 per cent imperfect, but really imperfect — that makes it more real.”
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