Menswear Fall 2011: The Confusing State of Trends

menswear Dior Homme Jil Sander Junya watanabe

Photos: Getty Images

(Left to right) Looks from Dior Homme, Jil Sander and Junya Watanabe

"Menswear is dead," WWD proclaimed.

"Long live menswear!" WWD enthused.

That's the contradictory message that buyers and editors would have us believe as menswear shows in Milan and Paris came to a conclusion over the weekend.

To create sense from the chaotic, overwhelming onslaught of imagery may seem like an unsolvable puzzle. Trying to decipher trends, the meanings behind the collections as a whole, and the ideologies behind objects, though, is the lifeline of the retail world.

With womenswear, designers are given more artistic liberties to explore and indulge in fantastical flights of fancy from season to season. Menswear tends to be more straightforward with its feet planted firmly on the ground, although sometimes you may find its head in the clouds.

To be sure, designers like Rick Owens and Comme des Garçons's Rei Kawakubo have built successful houses on eccentricity, but they are definitely the exception, not the rule.

And it's also not to say that the notions of menswear and womenswear don't overlap or influence each other. We can all appreciate Yves Saint Laurent turning the world on its ear when he presented le smoking, and there have been plenty of skirts shown on men in the past few seasons.

In other words, men's fashion and women's fashion don't live in separate bubbles, they're dialogues with one another, as they should be. With androgyny a regular trend on the womenswear circuit, seeing what the men are doing now may offer insight of what's to come for the ladies.

A myriad of concepts threaded themselves throughout the dozens of shows presented. For Winter 2011, there was an exceptional use of color and many interesting tweaks to the silhouette of the suit, a cornerstone in the menswear business.

"There is a freeing moment happening in menswear. It seems designers are ready to move on from somber, dark looks in favor of a sophisticated but eclectic character," says Michael Fisher of the trend-casting firm Stylesight.

It's true that many collections had a strong emphasis on painterly hues, from bold, electric tones at Jil Sander (echoing the critically praised women's Spring 2011 collection) and the vibrant outerwear shown at Christopher Bailey's Burberry show.

Another shift that made its presence known was that of man’s Waldenesque return to nature.

"I see a Nordic motif or 'alpine gentleman' look going on," says Saks Fifth Avenue vice president and menswear fashion director Eric Jennings.

This manifested itself in tweeds, oversize plaids, and Fair Isle patterns on display at Adam Kimmel, Junya Watanabe's thoughtful and handsome show, as a featured pattern in Raf Simons's knits, and it was even hinted at in Issey Miyake's show.

Proportional play was also a main feature of the Fall 2011 collections. Long, draping outerwear as seen at Lanvin and Dior Homme­­—a further exploration of concept that Kris Van Assche toyed with last season—was moodier and relaxed, contrasting the taut, sharp tailoring shown at Yves Saint Laurent, Hermès, and Jean Paul Gaultier's homage to the iconic James Bond.

There also seemed to be a renewed interest in nostalgic collegiate dressing, a longing for youth and virility. Moschino had a jaunty, sporty feel and Miharayasuhiro opened with youthful university uniforms.

Other movements that arose were references to '70s rock-star glam (Gucci, Versace, Prada), large-brim hats (Lanvin, Dior Homme), and strangely enough, both Dior Homme and Louis Vuitton found inspiration in the Amish community.

Another buzzed-about highlight was stylist Nicola Formichetti's début collection as creative director at Thierry Mugler. While the styling and concept was appropriately subversive and intense, critics generally felt the show lacked the power and wit associated with the label in its heyday.

Jennings makes the point that designers this season are responding to the modern man's life: "They seemed to have pressed the pause button to give men a chance to catch up. This is a good thing."