In the past few years, the notion of menswear and what it encompasses has expanded greatly. There has been the rise of glamour, the return of suiting, the further breaking down of staid gender boundaries. This season, designers have thrown a new ingredient into the mix: There is something lighter in the air; an emphasis on boyishness rather than manliness. The results are collections threaded through with playfulness and whimsy, often bordering on the childlike and the naïve—nothing too precious or serious here.
Leading the charge of this new movement is Jonathan Anderson in his work for LOEWE and JW Anderson. The former’s lockdown-era collections were visual feasts—layers piled upon layers; silhouettes puffed, twisted and elongated. But when he returned to the runway for fall/winter 2022, there was a new lightness in his approach—not just because he stripped away the layers and volumes to keep things close to the body, but also due to his more light-hearted state of mind. The clothes are essentially familiar wardrobe staples—t-shirts and shorts, jumpers and jeans, knits and bodysuits. A closer look, however, reveals that not all are what they seem.
Those t-shirts and shorts come with askew hoop hems. A few of the tees bear the likenesses of the models wearing them—some printed upside down, creating a surreal mirror effect; others rendered underside, revealed only when the models flipped the pieces onto their heads. The jumpers come with giant heart-shaped panels or little cutouts over the nipples in the same shape. Hearts are also cut into beanies to frame the face. Elsewhere, there are cut-offs fashioned from denim jackets like some new kind of miniskirt, bags transformed into shoes, and belts that spell out “smile” and “hello”.
At his eponymous label, Anderson took an even zanier route. Models carried lifelike pigeons as clutches, as well as plush, knitted soft toys. The main garment on which he riffed is the polo shirt—here turned into dresses and onesies, or spangled all over with sequins. There are also tops constructed from rainbow-hued rubber bands and sweaters sporting squishy, multicoloured tubes.
Francesco Risso of Marni is another designer who has soared to new heights in the face of pandemic-induced restrictions. Throughout his tenure, he has always respected the eclectic spirit of the brand established by Consuelo Castiglioni, but in the past few seasons, he has also managed to insert more of himself into the label. This comes through clearest in the art-school, DIY quality he has injected into his recent output—a homespun kind of rawness that evokes child’s play; of old favourites dug out from the back of the closet.
A similar sense of youthful naïveté also permeates the work of one of menswear’s brightest rising stars, Eli Russell Linnetz. His brand, ERL, is rooted in a kind of boyishness that is worlds apart from how other designers are interpreting youthfulness right now. His is not the polished, hyper-stylised kind imagined by the likes of Hedi Slimane, but one that actually draws from and reflects his Venice Beach, California, community of surfers and skaters. Like Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein before him, Linnetz’s take on Americana is equal parts fantasy and reality—and all the more alluring for it.
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There is a reason why play seems to be the default mode for some of the most visionary designers today. After two years of uncertainties, of questioning the system, it is only natural for these brilliant minds to be driven to experimentation and rediscovery—and what could facilitate those more than childlike curiosity? Perhaps Anderson put it best in his conversation with Tim Blanks for Business of Fashion: “You’re kind of just making it up as you go and then through that, you find things. It’s not about the review or ‘Do people like it?’ It’s just about putting stuff out there and enjoying it. We’re willing to fall back in love with the idea of fashion through going back to a primitive way of putting things together.” And from what we see, a retreat to the past could well work wonders for the future.