As might be expected from a former child star, Justin Bieber has had many a fashion transformation over the years. He’s done quiffed hair and a thick gold rapper’s chain. He’s posed looking buff in Calvin Klein pants. He’s experimented with a floppy fringe and a suit. But while some of his attempts to toughen up have been met with derision, the latest step in the Biebvolution is actually bang on the fashion money. There have been ripped jeans. There have been oversized hoodies, and oversized Nirvana T-shirts with the sleeves hacked off. Crucially, there has been a lot of layering – and a lot of raw edges.
Not everyone gets it (“Justin Bieber wears bizarre frayed denim top,” was the Mirror’s reaction to his Marques’Almeida moment at the Radio 1 Teen awards earlier this month) but the latest incarnation of Bieber ties into a mood that is sweeping through menswear – and may be arriving in your own wardrobe soon.
In short: scruffiness is hot. Glitzy is out. Deliberately undone and messy is in. Think a Wolfgang Tillmans portrait meets 1990s grunge with a tracksuit top and a pierced ear thrown in for good measure. You could dub it a hot mess for men, but the one thing you would never call it is hipster – manicured beards should be ditched for haphazard facial hair immediately.
Undoubtedly, Marques’Almeida, the label Bieber wore to the teen awards, has been integral to the rise in popularity of denim and of jeans that are hacked off and left raw. Basically, if it’s the kind of look that makes parents eyeroll and say: “You paid for that? Do want me to put proper hems on those?”, then it has legs. Elsewhere on the catwalk, for his spring/summer 2016 menswear show, Raf Simons sent out herringbone trousers that had been roughly cut off at the anklebone, sat above some Stan Smiths. His shrunken tank knits had a sort of moth-eaten, make-do-and-mend thing going on; up close, the holes in these knits are layered over a contrast fabric layer, and, actually, are far nicer than I’ve made them sound.
This new mood – a sort of anti-luxury luxury – is there in all the glossy style magazines, too, although glossy is definitely the wrong word. Bieber’s recent cover shoot for i-D magazine is a good reference point. It sees the pop star stripped back – bleached hair, a smattering of stubble, tattoos. Shot by Alasdair McLellan, one of the most in-demand photographers in fashion, these pictures have a typical masculine rawness. In a short video to accompany this shoot, you can even see acne on his forehead. Imagine. Meanwhile, Tillmans has shot typically lo-fi stories for the latest Arena Homme+ including one called How Fragile is This Man?, while the Russian designer and photographer Gosha Rubchinskiy has photographed ballet dancer Sergei Polunin for Man About Town. The latter sees the shaven-headed ballet dancer wearing retro sportswear with eye makeup and a couple of days worth of facial hair.
Haute scruff was also all over one of the most talked-about moments of the spring/summer 2016 season: the Vetements show, which was held in a Chinese restaurant variously described as “tacky” (Dazed Confused), “cheap and cheerful” (Vogue Runway) and “kitschy” (Business of Fashion) and featured clothes that were all deconstructed awkwardness and models who looked like they had just rolled out of bed. Many of them weren’t actually models: Rubchinskiy appeared, wearing a DHL T-shirt (yes, as in the parcel delivery service); even the show stylist, Lotta Volkova, took a turn on the catwalk, closing proceedings in thigh-high boots and a raw-edged denim miniskirt. The Vetements influence in fashion is only set to continue: after the show, one of Paris’s most historic fashion houses, Balenciaga, announced that its lead designer, Demna Gvasalia, was to become its new creative director.
Rubchinskiy is another of the buzziest names in menswear; since 2012 his label has been supported by Comme des Garçons. His clothes feel like a nerdy take on Soviet sportswear – think a shellsuit top or 1980s patterned jumper. Snazzy, but not.
In fact, if all else fails, the key to this look is a vintage-style tracksuit top. Gosha or AMI (next season) for men. Chloe (next season) or Bottega Veneta resort for women (see British Vogue’s December issue, in which several tracktops are featured as part of the “new downtown silhouette”). Basically, it’s all a bit Damon Albarn circa 1996. Why does this humble zip-up sum up this new anti-luxury luxury? Firstly, because it ticks the 1990s box – and the 1990s is becoming the decade du jour. Secondly, it’s the opposite of all the hi-tech athleisure that has been the headline news in menswear for the past few years. And lastly, it’s easy to chuck on, doesn’t look like you’ve made an effort but suggests that you know what’s going on. Which feels scruffy and modern indeed.