“The first thing I wanted to do was to make the suit cool again. That’s my primary goal.”
That’s new Brioni creative director Justin O’Shea talking to Vogue Runway Monday after his first runway show at the helm of the legendary Italian label. O’Shea is trying to cast the suit in a light it hasn’t seen in almost half a decade. You have to go all the way back to the hashtagmenswear movement to find hordes of young men who were as invested in tailored suits as they are now in sneakers and hoodies.
And O’Shea is willing to go to Hillary Clinton-levels of youth pandering to take us back to that place. “But, it should be pimp!” he says of menswear. He also just unveiled an advertising campaign that utilizes metal band Metallica and adopted an archival Brioni font for the brand's new logo that fortuitously looks a lot like the one used on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo merch. O’Shea, to put it lightly, says a lot in his Vogue interview. “It's a Monster energy drink approach to clothing,” says Derek Guy, founder of the blog Die, Workwear! and an editor at Put This On. However, there’s one nugget that’s worth carrying out of the rubble: “The suit is a fashion item,” O’Shea says. “It is not only to go to work in or for the formality purposes.”
It’s important to note, because in the era of athleisure and Casual Fridays-turned-Casual Free for All, the suit has really lost its mainstream mojo. Like O’Shea says, we don’t much think about it as a fashion item; we don’t really think about it at all. “Suits are often just considered clothes at this point,” Guy says.
But that’s set up to change with the way hyped labels like Brioni, Balenciaga, and Gosha Rubchinskiy are bringing tailored looks back into the conversation. Brioni, for starters, is very suddenly back in the limelight. O’Shea picked up features in Vogue, The New York Times, and Business of Fashion, and even blogs like Hypebeast covered the Metallica campaign.
Suddenly, with O’Shea at the helm, people are interested in what he and his label are up to. And the creative director is aware of how powerful that is (even if he says that “a suit is a suit” and that he's more concerned with making the brand and logo cool). “He's drawing on things that are trendy at the moment,” Guy said. “He talks about dragons on bombers, gothic fonts, things that other brands are doing and he's following.”
O’Shea is not shy about his chase for more interested parties. “Do we want also to attract a new customer? Absolutely,” he tells The Times, adding that that he plans to double Brioni's revenue in the next three to five years. Nor is he shy about how he plans on getting there: “I know I need to sell a dream before I can sell clothes.” Getting young people back into suits does seem a bit like selling an impossible dream. To do it successfully, Guy says, "It has to be connected to a look. It can't just be, 'These people are doing suits.' It has to be connected to a look that people aspire to, that they like and is wearable."
Maybe no one right now is creating more aspirational looks than Vetements and Balenciaga designer Demna Gvasalia. He's an out-of-nowhere cult favorite who has young people in particular dropping major cash on his clothes. Gvasalia's distinct vision is also what made his debut men's show for Balenciaga more surprising. With all eyes on the event, Gvasalia dedicated a large chunk of the show to tailored looks—weird tailored looks in the spirit of the house’s architectural history. These looks did what Gvasalia does best: generated conversation.
The looks were so strange, so out there, so unkind to the male body that they became a talking point. “Will Guys Actually Wear Demna Gvasalia’s First Men’s Collection for Balenciaga?” Fashionista asked. It feels like once you’ve raised the question, the answer doesn’t really matter—something Fashionista also points out. “A lot of people were talking about it,” Guy notes. “A lot of people were talking about the return of tailored clothing. I have a hard time believing that a lot of it makes it to the streets, which in the end is what makes the real difference.”
If young people aren't quite following Demna from Vetements to Balenciaga, they are still following Gosha. Maybe no other brand has all the right pieces to convince a youngster to try a suit than he does. Gosha introduced that aspect to his line during his Pitti show in mid-June. “The standouts in Rubchinskiy’s Italian debut were, surprisingly, the tailored pieces, rounding out his guy’s closet, offering his loyal customers something new, and maybe even securing fresh blood,” Alexander Fury wrote in his review of the show for Vogue. Rubchinskiy’s offering is powerful because he makes a suit wearable enough that one of his skate-loving followers can easily pick one up off the rack. “Gosha has a look,” Guy says. “He has a very identifiable kind of look, and it's connected to things that people like.”
And while we'll never see a resurgence of #menswear in the same way—maybe not even some weird glued-together, never-the-same-after Humpty Dumpty version of it—at least we’re paying close attention to some of the things those guys liked again. And Brioni isn't even the only label to take the plunge of trying something new—classic Italian labels Zegna and Berluti also shook up their leadership in the first half of this year (although Zegna ultimately hired Berluti’s former creative director) and could do with some youthful injection of style, too.
The ultimate takeaway is this: labels and designers experimenting with suits seem tired of the idea that the suit is formal wear only. And if kids start putting on suits again, expect to see more where that came from.