Colourful characters

Bold colour-blocking by Jil Sander and Kenzo

The sun is shining and the sky is blue as you step out in your shocking pink short-sleeved shirt and vivid green trousers by Jil Sander, a bright orange Gant sweater over your shoulders and vivid blue Fins shoes on your feet.

“Yeah, right,” you might say. “Tell me another.” Traditionally men have embraced colour in only the most discreet, veiled manner: against the background of a navy blue or dark grey suit, a flash of colour might appear in the form of a tie, a pair of socks or the lining of a jacket. Big, bold tints have been limited to polo shirts – and even then they tend to be faded by wearing and washing (or some similar pre-created effect).

Well, not this summer. This summer, risk has moved from the financial world to the fashion world courtesy of “colour-blocking” for men. Play it safe with your investments but take a chance on your wardrobe.

“Recent seasons have seen a trend towards austerity in the luxury market because of the economic crisis,” says Elisabetta Canali, communications director at Canali, which is offering mustard yellow trousers and a baby blue suit. “It seems that it was only a matter of time before brands began to experiment more freely with colour and break away from this.”

Charles Tyrwhitt, known for its serious office wear and classic casual clothes, has brought out chinos in shocking pink and bright red. “We’re also experiencing strong sales of our red and yellow chinos, royal blue loafers, bright pink socks and our blazers in bright colours,” says Nick Reed, the company’s head of buying. Similarly, Hackett has bright poppy shorts; Gant bright orange pullovers, rugby shirts in lime green, and pink jeans; and Kenzo safari jackets and suits in a brilliant pinky red, fluorescent green and cobalt blue.

“Men have always been quite good at incorporating splashes of colour into an outfit but colour-blocking takes the concept to an extreme,” says Julia Rebaudo, blogger at website Style Compare. “Colour-blocking in 2011 is about teaming up garments in bright solid blocks of colour ... That means no patterns or prints and minimal detailing.”

And, adds Tony Glenville, creative director at the London College of Fashion: “Men don’t have to worry about changing their lip colour or eye shadow because of shifting to a new colour, so actually they can be more daring. I think, especially for summer 2011, the City-style sharp tailored short offers a great colour option, as does the coloured shoe: flip-flop, espadrille or loafer.”

This season, alongside its signature brightly coloured moccasins, Fins has collaborated with London-based bespoke shoemaker T&F Slack to produce a collection of more formal leather footwear in bright colours with a contrasting rubber sole.

And when even Gieves & Hawkes, the epitome of understated Savile Row elegance, is injecting bolder colours into its ready-to-wear collection, a trend has clearly reached a tipping point. “David Hockney provides inspiration for our summer 2011 basics,” says Gieves brand director Will Forrester, referring to a palette of swimming pool blue, sea green, pop yellow and vibrant red.

Colourful clothes are associated with high status and “early adopters”, says Dr Colin Gill, a psychologist who has studied colour in clothing. During the 1960s, colour schemes were bright. “Then,” says Gill, “the 1970s was a time of great turbulence and so browns were more fashionable; by the 1980s you had blues and silvers, and then, in the recession of the early 1990s, black was very popular.”

Let’s hope there’s more to the trend for bright colours than meets the eye.


Charles Tyrwhitt,

Rainbow warriors

Daniel Jermy, 22, senior associate at recruitment consultants Wilton & Bain

How comfortable do you feel in bright colours?

Extremely. I own a reversible bright pink and purple jacket from Uniqlo.

Which items would you experiment with?

Shoes and jeans. I have previously purchased them in green, red, salmon pink.

How bright would you go in the office?

I think one can only get away with wearing bright socks or ties.

James Taylor, 30, senior manager at Accenture

How comfortable do you feel in bright colours?

I’ve always worn bright colours.

Which items would you experiment with?

I like bright chinos but they are only really wearable in summer.

How bright would you go in the office?

It’s easiest to exaggerate colours that are considered normal, so brighter pinks, blues and shirts with stripes.

John Alexander, 34, director at GE Capital

How comfortable do you feel in bright colours?

I try to experiment, but with prints, not whole blocks.

How bright would you go in the office?

It’s not really appropriate to go too bright. I would say a slightly brighter blue or pink for a shirt.

Interviews by Hardeep Chohan

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