Enter some men’s wear departments these days, and you could be forgiven for thinking Christmas has come early. Velvet jackets, the stuff of end-of-year-dinners and festive get-togethers, festoon the rails even before the inevitable racks of tinsel, cards and wrapping paper have appeared in stores.
The current crop of velvet jackets, however, has a rather more casual feel, more blazer in style rather than resembling something pulled from the black tie or evening wear section. Designers from Giorgio Armani to Dolce & Gabbana and Gucci have taken this luxurious, louche fabric and brought it squarely in to the daylight.
Frida Giannini, Gucci’s creative director, says: “Velvet has always been a signature material for Gucci; it brings a rich and effortless look to men’s tailoring.” The designer paired platinum grey, plum and deep russet brown two-button velvet blazers (£1,610) with black jeans, weekend bags and loafers on the autumn/winter runway. “This season I printed micro-patterns in luminous tones on to the velvet to give it a twist,” continues Giannini, “which means the jackets can move easily from day to evening. I think modern men now have the confidence to break traditions in the way they pair casual and formal.”
Case in point: her predecessor at Gucci, Tom Ford, a man at home in a glossy velvet jacket, whose current eponymous men’s wear campaign features actor Nicholas Hoult (who appeared in the film Ford directed, A Single Man) in a zingy midnight blue velvet blazer complete with jaunty playboy cravat, a pair of sultry shades, and a flock of psychotic ravens perched on his shoulders for effect. Available in eight colours, from emerald green to ruby red, ebony and aubergine, Ford’s blazers are cut from fine Italian velvet (the “daytime” version – yes, there is a “daytime” version – retails for a cool €2,370, the evening version for €2,290).
Gucci and Tom Ford are not alone in their velvet blazer adoration. Giorgio Armani offers a classic two-button style in black velvet with deep lapels (£1,400); Dolce & Gabbana, with its navy single-breasted blazer (£605, from Harvey Nichols); and Etro, courtesy of a neatly tailored jacket in deep purple velvet (£830) have also fallen for this style. Angelo Galasso, an Italian men’s wear designer with a store in London, has velvet shoes to match his silk-lined, piped-edged, five-pocket velvet jackets with working cuffs (£1,750).
British designers are no less enthusiastic, albeit in a slightly more low-key way, from Paul Smith London’s easy-cut jacket (£425) to Ede & Ravenscroft’s ready-to-wear smoking jackets in a variety of rich shades (£550). Savile Row is also softening to the smoking look. “We have at least one bespoke velvet jacket going through at the moment,” says Patrick Grant of Norton and Sons. “But velvet is a tough cloth to work with. Smoking jackets are one of those items in a man’s wardrobe that can be spectacular when well-cut and well-made, but can also be spectacularly bad if poorly cut.”
This hasn’t stopped the high street, including Banana Republic, COS, and Marks and Spencer, from attempting its own version of the casual velvet equation. As Andy Rogers, brand director at British high street chain Reiss, says: “Velvet is a strong men’s wear look for us this winter and the velvet blazer is a distinct move towards a more luxury approach to tailoring.”
Just consider the testimony of one London-based financial services director, who admits: “My girlfriend bought me a grey velvet jacket from COS to smarten me up. The first time I wore it I felt a little too overdressed, a bit too try-hard, but now I throw it on with a T-shirt and jeans and don’t give it a second thought. I’ve had a few compliments too, which can’t be bad.”