Traditional and tailored marks the style for the man about town this season. A dash of Sherlock Holmes combines with a touch of gothic darkness to bring Victorian England to 21st-century men's fashion. Tracy Nesdoly reports. The fashionable man this season is in a distinctly dark humour. Or perhaps in a proper mood. This autumn, the international man of mystery is not flaunting hi-tech but celebrating the low tech and the traditional. He is a man of exquisite taste, a gentleman's gentleman, old world impeccable. And mysterious - he looks like Sherlock Holmes, or dare we say it, Jack the Ripper. This season we are seeing one of the periodic returns to Victorian style.
Alexander McQueen, who apprenticed on Savile Row, showed a society of extraordinary gentlemen for autumn, wearing Homburg hats, capes and furs, good solid tweeds and wools in breathtakingly perfect suits, and carrying walking sticks. His man is grown-up, manly, impeccably tailored. Fashion industry journal Women's Wear Daily suggested there was an eerie sense of violence beneath the carefully constructed clothing at the McQueen fashion show for fall and winter 2009, noting that this "undercurrent of violence was heightened in evening clothes by slash pockets and red silk linings. One black coat appeared from a distance to be splattered with blood, but in fact was painted with red flowers." McQueen's inventive show harked back to the gaslit streets of the 19th century. He replaced the edge of "alternative" - rags, slogans, baggy jeans, whatever is the message now - with something much stronger, and more sinister.
"I wanted menswear to be more masculine," McQueen told the trade. While it looked as if he had taken his themes from Edgar Allan Poe or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, McQueen, no stranger to a dust-up himself, says he drew his inspiration from the boxing clubs of East London, and cast some real London boxers as models. These good bad boys performed with menacing intensity. Prada this season was in much the same sober mood, with sensible shoes, sturdy fabrics and double-breasted coats to stave off the chill of serious times.
It is a very English moment. Richard - he admits to no other name - sells vintage clothing and antiques in London markets, including Shoreditch and Portobello, which has long been a source for female fashionistas such as Kate Moss and her soul sister Sienna Miller. If McQueen and Prada are making references to Victorian gentlemen, Richard is a latter-day Oliver Twist, flawless and fascinating in his well-considered "rags". He says the glamorous fashion folk who buy from him have been keen on frock coats of late. "The Japanese really go for those," he says, and the Japanese are no slouches when it comes to fashion. Examine his vintage relics and then go to Dover Street Market and you will see where Junya Watanabe is coming from.
While we are in Shoreditch, take a look at A Child of the Jago - a shop at 10 Old Eastern Street. The name refers to a dark Victorian novel of the same name, about street urchins in London. The collection is the brainchild of Joe Corre, who was a creator of Agent Provocateur and is the son of Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren. In Child you will find perfecly tailored yet extremely cool suits, hats, and antiques canes and walking sticks.
"We are seeing a lot of what you might call mainstream customers," says Sichi, the company's art director. Yes, that's his name and no last. What is it with these folks? "There is a conscious move away from what was considered 'street fashion'," says Sichi. "The pioneers of street fashion are now much more mature. They are looking at history, heritage, a consideration of craftsmanship. We know they can find great quality on Savile Row, we offer that quality in a way that is accessible to people." That means classic shapes and tailoring; hats. A Child of the Jago could hardly keep the straw bowler in stock over the summer, and a company standard is what Sichi calls a "short top hat" and a stovepipe. "No one comes in the store without trying on hats."
These cool dudes are now, for spring, moving into a more casual look. Sichi says the new hot item in the shop is what he calls a "workwear jacket", inspired by 1930s French labourers' clothing, a kind of shirt-cum-cardigan/coat that seems casual but is far more dressed up. Richard, the market guy, says the same. "Work wear, labourers' clothes, that's what I have now, and that is what the Japanese and others are really interested in." What does it mean for those of us who have to buy things in stores, not stalls? He can only say, "I believe things start in the markets and then move to the shops." On his stall, these "labourer's clothes" are works of art, very nearly couture. They have been mended, stitched, darned, remade and worn-in to the point each pair of trousers or each shirt is a work of particular art.
As edgy as they seem now, these harbingers of style may very well be on the cusp of mainstream. If Guy Ritchie, ex of that nice girl Madonna, has the pull he did in the past with Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, his latest film is absolutely on-trend. Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes film, due in cinemas in December, is a glamorous, gorgeous depiction of, among other things luscious Victorian gothic fashion. Sometimes movies really mean their costume - Annie Hall and Breakfast At Tiffany's spring to mind. This film, judged thus far by its trailers, is so beautiful that if is successful, every guy on the street now in khakis and a T-shirt will soon be in tweed and a double-breasted something.