For a long time, my thoughts on suede could be summed up as follows: it’s leather for squares. Leather is for rock guitarists, suede is for guitar teachers. This has always been suede’s image problem, pigeonholed as the approachable, strokable face of animal skin, while leather is the scary, growly side.
But that was before we reached Peak Leather Trouser, a high-water mark recorded sometime around the eighth series of Keeping Up With The Kardashians. Leather trousers started out subversive (think: Patti Smith at the Chelsea hotel), became edgy-glamorous (think: French Vogue editors channelling Patti Smith), then just glamorous (think: reality-soap stars channelling French Vogue), and finally wannabe glamorous (school-run mums channelling reality-soap stars.) It’s like a fashion game of Chinese whispers that starts with dangerous downtown decadence and ends in the suburbs, with leather trousers worn with frosted highlights, waterfall cardigans and eternity rings.
I digress, but that has put a different spin on suede. Now leather is overexposed, suede doesn’t look such a wallflower; it looks authentic and intriguing. And while retro trends should always be taken with a hefty pinch of salt – no one actually wants to look time warped, after all – the 70s influence is so pervasive this season that to ignore it might make you look more out of touch than going the whole hog would. The spring catwalks saw suede jackets at Chanel, suede button-through dresses at Gucci, suede trenchcoats at Burberry, suede wrap skirts at Max Mara. Suede is the fastest and easiest wardrobe update you can make this season.
There is plenty of great suede at middling and upper high street prices, but the really cheap stuff is to be avoided. I have two tips. First, look for sharp shapes, details that bring the edges into focus: patch pockets, pointed collars, wide belts. Second, offset that with soft, painterly colours: caramel suede with turquoise, navy suede with violet, chocolate suede with orange. Esoteric colour combinations work here, where they never would with leather. And in caramel and turquoise, nobody can accuse you of wearing boring old suede.
Styling: Melanie Wilkinson. Hair and makeup: Sharon Ive at Carol Hayes Management.
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