Ironically, just as ultra-American labels like Tommy Hilfiger, Abercrombie & Fitch, J. Crew and Banana Republic hit Europe, American men’s wear designers have taken one of their favourite tropes – the “preppy look,” a reduction of preparatory, as in school, and denoting a certain pampered upbringing – and spiked it with a hefty dose of Old World irony via bizarre fabric choices, offbeat colours and unexpected finishes. Blame it on Thom Browne, whose twisted prepster went mainstream(ish) when Brooks Brothers signed him up to design their Black Fleece line, which this season offered white silk lapel tuxes with black scout shorts. But from Wall Street to Madison Avenue preppie bow-ties replaced ties, and dickies were paired unexpectedly with plaid shirts, casual waistcoats and jeans.
Indeed, Tommy Hilfiger actually called his collection Pop Prep, which meant revamping classy casual suede jackets in camouflage prints, reinventing the loafer in an absurdist patchwork of leathers and serving up varsity jackets in Andy Warhol brights. “It’s a modern interpretation of prep,” said the designer, and he wasn’t the only one interested in the idea.
A humorous sense of privilege was evident at hipster label Simon Spurr, with clobber for a country estate given a curious twist. Blazers had laminate lapels, and trench coats leather sleeves.
At Billy Reid, linen three-piece suits looked like they had been slept in, especially as raggedy-haired models posed in front of old chandeliers and torn curtains (think quirky Wasp after the domestic help has been let go). New York’s new “young” star designer, Antonio Azzuolo, paired head boys’ private school suits with trousers cut like Indian dhotis, and an Edwardian cricketer’s piped blazer with leggings worn under a boiler suit cut as shorts. Even hip new tie label Fahlgren claimed its bestseller is a narrow club tie printed with ... miniature great white sharks.
Such was the twisted prep ubiquity that even brands that claimed other inspiration seemed to be taking part in the trend. Though Michael Bastian said his collection was based on James Dean, a mid-western farmboy-turned-icon of cool, his moss green suede loafers, window pane suits and horizontal rugby stripe tops felt instead like the kind of clothes the Kennedys would have worn in Hyannis Port. The season’s most talked about show, N.Hoolywood by Japanese designer and cinema buff Daisuke Obana, though nominally all about greaser rockers, opened with revamped New England college boy cardigans. And even the reigning king of preppie clothing, Ralph Lauren, though he kept it classical (if slim) in his Purple Label collection, roughed things up in his Polo range with fishermen’s boots, cargo trousers and baseball jerkins.
Of course, there were exceptions (in fashion there always are): Timo Weiland, whose Hawaiian shirts’ blotched abstract expressionist finishes were odes to Jean Michel Basquiat surfing in the islands; Patrik Ervell, who also went Hawaiian, though with hand-painted shirts with an abstract expressionist finish; and Michael Kors, who went on safari in tie-dyed hemp utility trousers and sarongs or faux moth-holed sweaters.
As for Robert Geller, he took a David Bowie tack, complete with David Live narrow double breasted jackets with slim sleeves over pleated trousers, all worn with Man Who Fell to Earth floppy fedoras – which might look just right with the revamped frugal Wasp grandfather timeless waistcoats that also appeared on German-born Geller’s catwalk. As we said: it’s ironic, really.