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Trouser suits are big news, on the catwalk and in real life, too. Bottega Veneta, Sonia Rykiel, Paul Smith, Lemaire and Louis Vuitton all sent matching blazers and trousers down the catwalk (whether or not they showed them together), grey marl enjoyed a moment at Derek Lam and Stella McCartney, while at Chanel, Kendall Jenner closed the show in a white bridal trouser suit.
But how to wear a trouser suit now? First off, out with sensationalist shoulder pads and in with sharp, neat silhouettes in softly structured fabrics. Whatever your style affiliation, finding a shape that flatters your body type is key. At Dior, Raf Simons played a neat trick by positioning the buttons on his single and double-breasted suits high on the solar plexus; the result was instantly slimming, elegantly elongating the body.
“Fit and quality are the two most important elements when considering a trouser suit,” says Paula Gerbase, the designer who founded the British fashion brand 1205 in 2010. Gerbase, who learned tailoring at Savile Row’s Hardy Amies, before moving to Kilgour, where she became head designer, now shows her own collection at London Fashion Week as well as servicing bespoke and off-the-peg orders. “Comfort would also come high on my personal requirements — you should be able to put it on in the morning and forget about it for the rest of the day.” She says classic high-waisted pleat-front trousers, tapered slightly towards the calf, are universally flattering, as is a notch lapel single-button blazer. Gerbase will select fabrics such as English wool, bouclé yarns and breathable technical textiles to suit a client’s lifestyle. “Fabrics are very much an individual choice and reflect the needs, wants and desires of the customer.”
Suits were once intended to act as a uniform. Now a host of designers is using them to stand out. Gucci’s Alessandro Michele styled giant wallpaper florals with pussy-bow blouses for AW15, while Miuccia Prada cut hers from spongy double jersey in acidic sherbet colours. Adam Lippes collaborated with florists Putnam & Putnam to develop a print depicting white ranunculus, pink garden roses and a purple-hued amaryllis, which he used across dresses, a parka and a silk-satin trouser suit. “While I showed the suit together, I imagined it would more likely be worn separately,” he says of his bold approach. “I was wrong. The suit has sold out across the board.” Bergdorf Goodman’s buying director Linda Fargo was spotted wearing the ensemble at New York Fashion Week.
On the catwalk, many designers split up suit pieces. Joseph Altuzarra showed his orange Prince of Wales check jacket and trousers in consecutive looks. But on the shop floor and e-tail sites, pieces that can be bought as separates appear side by side. Natalie Kingham, matchesfashion.com’s buying director, has noted a year-on-year rise in trouser suits sales. “While a trouser suit can feel a little intimidating to the uninitiated, for me it’s an easy and very wearable alternative to more traditional work and eveningwear. It can feel much more put together than a dress.”
The runway is one thing, but the City is the real backdrop for many who will already be wearing trouser suits daily and where an exuberant print may not sit so well. How else to update the look? Christine Lagarde adds simple earrings and a necklace to emphasise her femininity. French designer and model Ines de la Fressange adds two-inch heels. Amal Clooney sticks to monochrome patterns for her suits. For understated tailoring that still scintillates, Stella McCartney, MaxMara, Agnona and Alexander McQueen are your first stops. Grace Onyi and Zhenya Burlac are entrepreneurs working in male-dominated investment banking and technology. Co-founders of the lifestyle concierge app Charis, they favour smart, professional outfits for client-facing roles. “Our working environment is high-powered, demanding and results-driven,” says Burlac, chief executive. “Trouser suits are the most comfortable choice and allow versatility and creativity. A well-tailored suit is a confidence booster and gets you in a right mindset.”
Onyi, chief marketing officer, relies on Balmain, Céline and Saint Laurent for sharp tailoring, which she pairs with T-shirts from The Row and black Dior slingbacks, often mixing separates to create her own interpretation. “My corporate look is quite androgynous so it helps to add feminine touches such as red lipstick and single-sole stilettos. I keep jewellery to a minimum with a gold Cartier bracelet.” But can looking too on-trend in the office do you a disservice? Onyi says not. “I wear lots of bright colours. Your personality should stand out.”
In any one day, Ruth Chapman, co-chairman of matchesfashion.com, might attend a board meeting followed by lunch with a designer or PR. She needs her outfits to multitask accordingly. “The rules of dressing for business are much more relaxed these days,” she says. “It is more important to be comfortable in your outfit and consider your audience and whether this look will carry on for a later event.”
Trouser suits from Stella McCartney, Chloé, Derek Lam, Rosie Assoulin and Sonia Rykiel have caught her attention this season. “Many of these pantsuits need a heel to give the right silhouette,” she allows, “but the great thing about trouser shapes this season is that there are so many, and a cropped pant looks great with a flat shoe.” Raey, matchesfashion.com’s in-house line, has a suit in grey Donegal wool with trousers in three different styles to chose from, cleverly addressing a variety of body shapes.
Elsewhere, a more relaxed style of suiting is being adopted by creatives. With roots in “athleisure”, this tailoring has the zippiness of sportswear; crêpe jogging trousers and bomber-style suit jackets that zip or button look totally right teamed with Common Projects or Eytys logo-less sneakers. “Women are now looking for suiting but want it to have comfort and lightness at its core,” says Gerbase. “While once suiting was a visual projection of power, what I hope to provide to a modern woman is an internal confidence and freedom through its tactile fabrics, subtle construction and volumes cut with ease.” Her shawl blazer (£545) and wide-legged trousers (£615) are best sellers.
Happily, trouser suits work after hours, too. Catherine Deneuve said the tuxedo was both virile and feminine. Thom Browne’s severe black and white collection would have caught the attention of Marlene Dietrich who once wore Yves Saint Laurent’s “Le Smoking”. (Note: the Paris tuxedo brands to know are Pallas and new label Racil). Tilda Swinton wears Haider Ackermann’s liquid satin precision-cut suits on the red carpet, which accentuate her lithe form while keeping skin covered (a novelty these days). And earlier in the year, at the Golden Globes, the singer Lorde upstaged her near-naked peers when she arrived in a Narciso Rodriguez black tuxedo. She won hands down.
Photographs: RWireimage; TNYF/WENN.com; Xposurephotos.com; RB/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images; Reuters
Slideshow photographs: Matchesfashion.com; Net-a-porter.com