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They’re back! Top designers rescue flares from dustbin of fashion history

In the latest round of menswear shows for autumn/winter 2015, which took place in Milan and Paris last week, a new trouser shape was in evidence – or at least one we haven’t seen for a long while. Flares – the 1970s classic which had apparently been consigned to the dustbin of fashion history – are back.

Can it be true? For many who lived through the 1970s, that decade was far from glamorous. This was a time when Benny Hill was a staple of primetime television, Margaret Thatcher rose to power and Top of the Pops showcased the stage outfits of Sweet and Abba. With a wardrobe of flares, platforms and oversized collars, it’s often called the decade that taste forgot. But the signs on the catwalk are unmistakable.

The Paris shows, which finish this weekend, saw an uptake of the wider trouser. Raf Simons – a designer influenced by street culture – and Valentino, a brand more at home in European mansions, don’t usually have much in common, but both are behind the flares trend. Simons’s came tight on the leg, pooling in volume over round sneakers. Valentino’s were looser and worn with neat blouson jackets. St Laurent’s show, a hot ticket in Paris on Sunday night , is likely to get behind the trend. Its creative director, Hedi Slimane, is always partial to a rock ’n’ roll reference.

It was Gucci’s show in Milan on Monday that really hailed flares as the new shape. While its creative director, Alessandro Michele, was yet to be officially installed as Frida Giannini’s replacement (his appointment, a promotion from head of accessories, was announced on Wednesday), he oversaw the design team’s edgy collection of androgynous 70s-influenced separates. The first model sent out on the catwalk signalled a sea change. Long-haired and slim, he wore a red pussybow blouse, sandals and high-waisted flares.

JW Anderson fashion show, London Collections Men, January 2015.
Photograph: REX

British designers also excel at using popular culture references to bring about change. JW Anderson at London Collections: Men earlier this month had flares on every one of his models. Always a designer at the vanguard of the new, his were extreme – with a kick flare and a split at the ankle – and they felt radical. Anderson said the collection was a mishmash of ideas, “mixing the decades from the 1950s to the 80s but making the references very British”.

While the 30-year-old designer may not court the mainstream, high street brands have embraced flares, too. The Topman Design collection was an ode to the Bay City Rollers and came with sheepskin coats, embroidered patch badges and feathered haircuts. The flares here were less extreme – more of a gentle bootcut than a fitted cut – but light years away from the skinny jeans that most Topman customers are still buying in droves. Gordon Richardson, the brand’s creative director, admitted that it would take a while for the change to be noticed in real men’s wardrobes, but it would happen. “The shift to flares – or at least to trousers that aren’t skinny jeans – is already being seen on women,” he said, “and that’s where the shift always starts as men see their partners looking brilliant in new shapes.”

The 1970s has been bubbling as an influence on womenswear for a few seasons, and is at brands ranging from Louis Vuitton to Prada for spring. Flares have been mooted as an alternative to skinny jeans for women as part of this and, with celebrities including Jennifer Aniston, Jessie J and Lindsay Lohan wearing them, they are beginning to take hold.

Children playing on a home-made go-cart outside a corner shop in Manchester, 1977.
Photograph: John Bulmer/Getty Images

The 1970s may have seen the winter of discontent, but Tony Glenville, creative director at the London College of Fashion, says the fashion world is “looking at this period in a purely creative way, not the political context. Good designers take their research and put it to the back of their minds. It’s never about recreating something exactly.”

At Gucci, the flares and silky blouse combination – signalling a certain 1970s loucheness – had an edge with the casting. The clothes were worn by young slim models, most of whom were probably born in the 1990s, some of whom had tattoos showing through chiffon. This kind of indie alternative look is a far cry from the aesthetic championed on menswear catwalks in recent seasons, where brands such as Versace and Givenchy have pushed a clean, sportswear look on models with a muscular physique. This is the bohemian waif, a very 1970s motif.

As always, there is an early takeup of a trend on the front row. Flares, or wider trousers certainly, have been spotted on fashion editors during this latest round of shows. Garth Spencer, fashion director of 10 magazine, is a fan: “I have a bootcut vintage Dior Homme pair in Prince of Wales check and some Oxford bags that are flared all the way up.”

But even Spencer knows it will take time for the new shape to filter down to most men’s wardrobes. “Everyone is still in skinny jeans. It’s really hard to get them off,” he says, predicting it will be at least five years before the shift takes hold.

Damien Paul, head of menswear at matchesfashion.com, is watching with interest. He believes the subtler versions have more potential because “a silhouette that’s too extreme is going to be a challenge for any man”.

“It’s a shape that’s been pushed by more progressive designers, and we’ve certainly seen it being adopted by the style set in London,” said Paul. “I’m curious to see whether other men will respond to it.” He’s not the only one.

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