Do women have a different approach to designing menswear than their male counterparts? An increasing number of women are choosing to specialise in menswear – and doing so very successfully. Perhaps they benefit from knowing what makes a man look good through the eyes of a woman; perhaps they can be more objective.
I went to meet three designers at the forefront of everything that is good and exciting about menswear at the moment, mainly to ask their advice on how I should be dressing. If nothing else, I’m self-interested. The three are producing wildly different collections, but covering some of the biggest trends right now: sportswear, functional workwear and pared-back simplicity.
Whistles Menswear has only just celebrated its first birthday, but has already established itself as a destination for high- quality classics; Lou Dalton is a mainstay of LC:M with her beautifully constructed, often worker-inspired collections, and Astrid Andersen is pushing streetwear forward with her innovative use of fabric and colour.
Rosamund Ward joined Whistles two years ago and set about creating its menswear division. When I pitched up she immediately recognised that my grey marl sweatshirt was from British menswear brand Albam. She worked there for almost five years and remembered getting the cuff detail made. No doubt those eagle eyes come in useful. She describes working at Albam as being a “complete education into the design and manufacturing of really quality clothing”.
Her collections for Whistles are all about the detail. “Our customers are everyday men looking for really simple pieces, done really, really well,” she says. “We make pieces that you want to become favourites. Everyday tees, perfect jeans and amazing knits. Garments that become faithfuls.”
She dressed me in some of those “perfect jeans”, a new collaboration with much-loved Japanese denim brand Edwin, teamed with a bang-on-trend shearling-collar deck jacket. Ward points out that in menswear you can take something like a classic overshirt and make it in suede to become something completely new. “But it’s not that far away from a wardrobe essential – it’s not like a three-legged monster or anything.”
Ward finds inspiration in what men are wearing on the tube on the way to work, checking out where their shoes are from, how their trousers fit…
And if there is one mistake that men should avoid? “Deep-V T-shirts.” You know who you are, and now you’ve been told.
If you’re unfamiliar with Astrid Andersen’s label, she makes sportswear-inspired luxury items like lace hoodies, oversized vests and, memorably, a carnation-pink floral velvet tracksuit for a Topman capsule collection last year. I was curious to see how she would dress me. I’m a confident man, but I know my limits.
When I arrived Astrid gave me a hoodie, and to my relief there was no lace in sight. While it might not be for me, she tells me that in the last collection the rose-pink lace hoodies (to be worn over a T-shirt) were among her bestsellers, behind easier pieces like the logo tees.
“Sportswear is no longer a trend,” said Andersen. “It’s here to stay.” There has, she says, been a generational shift, where success is no longer always associated with a suit. “I can see a guy in a tracksuit and know that he’s successful.” She dismisses the notion of “unisex” as outdated. “I don’t feel the need to put a label on whether a piece is for men or women.”
Andersen’s whole ethos is really refreshing and based around putting men in clothes that make her find them attractive. She thinks confidence and comfort are the same thing. “I cringe at the thought of a guy wearing something and you can tell it’s restricting him – it’s so unsexy. So don’t do that,” she advises. “Be comfortable.”
“My clothes are not for a shrinking violet, but they won’t scare the horses either,” says Lou Dalton. Her collections are intriguing without being too showy. She is obsessed with the construction of her garments and puts that down to a three-year apprenticeship she did from the age of 16, making mainly shooting attire – traditional sportswear and workwear – for Purdey Sons. For the first year all she did was work on pockets – getting the tension right between a piece of lining and some wool fabric. That education was worth it. “The only thing I can’t make is a pair of underpants and a pair of shoes,” she says.
Given her background it’s no shock that she often references workwear in her collections, although she was keen to point out that she’s “not here to rehack something that’s already been done. We want to create a classic of our own.” Her favourite pieces for AW15 are double layered to show off the exterior and interior of the garment so the construction is visible. “I was on a bit of a mission – you wanna see construction? I’ll give you construction!”
Lou’s one piece of advice for men is this: invest in a really good pair of shoes. On her way to work she goes through the City on the bus. “The number of blokes who are wearing all-right suits but the shoe… is just shocking! A way to a woman’s heart is through a good shoe.”