When you think about Yves Saint Laurent, you probably think about a skinny black suit. It’s been the house signature since Anthony Vaccarello took over for Hedi Slimane in 2016; most Saint Laurented guys on the red carpet are dressed in the inky platonic ideal. But on Wednesday morning, the house debuted its spring 2021 men’s collection in a video, called “No Matter How Long the Night Is,” that showed models leaping and jumping—parkouring, really—across rooftops and bridges in Paris, China, and New York, bursting through glass windows and even, at one point, through the roof of the Grand Palais. With the rooftop acrobatics, Vaccarello posed a question to those who think YSL’s heritage is exclusively narrow tailoring: Can you parkour in a skinny suit?!
Who knows? These guys were wearing something else. One wore carrot-leg trousers with a gauzy sleeveless gilet blouse; another wore a robe coat with straight-leg black pants. There were feather jackets and some fancy knits that slung nicely on bony shoulders. There were suits, of course, but the fit was more relaxed—shrunken, as always, but with more range of motion in the shoulder and room in the leg. It was easier, looser, more liberated, and not just because most of the models had silky long hair.
It made me think about another candle snuffed out by the traumas of this year: What about the tailoring revolution that was supposed to be underway by now? Remember back in the beginning of this year, when it seemed like everything was getting extremely suit-y? We had Fear of God’s Jerry Lorenzo working with the sprezz godheads at Zegna, Hedi Slimane putting his rocker boys in double-breasted gabardine, Kim Jones making pristine Dior tailoring, and Virgil Abloh doing those shrunken little Carnaby Street suits in Louis Vuitton’s famous Damier check with streetwear legend Nigo. Even A-Cold-Wall’s Samuel Ross was sending out pitch-perfect two-button suits with zippy besom pockets! It seemed like the age of the status hoodie was over—Abloh had even said streetwear was “gonna die!”—and a new, more formal era in menswear had begun.
Then the pandemic put us all back in sweatpants. Now, reportedly, retailers are scrambling to respond to a customer demanding less suiting, and menswear designers are allegedly quietly moving back toward the sweatshirts and fancy track pants they purportedly abandoned. When the fashion history books look back on this year, will they muse on a thwarted parallel universe where guys are all going to coworking spaces in natty DBs?
But Vaccarello’s sylphic new collection accentuated how the tailoring revolution is far from thwarted, because it isn’t really about a new formalism. As I wrote in March, it seemed like these designers, Lorenzo in particular, were shaping a new strain of menswear that existed somewhere between the suit and streetwear, grabbing from the best of both. The whole tailoring-versus-streetwear debate was a fallacy—and if you look back at those collections, you’ll see that what many of those designers were doing was much more about a kind of ease, and experiments in fabric and fit, than about making more “adult” clothes. (Also, streetwear designers have made suits forever. Supreme makes a great one, for example.) The most recent Fear of God collection showed how true that was—it’s very vintage Armani, with its obsessive attention to the way clothes fit and feel, with coats as carefully considered as sweatpants. Men are not armoring themselves; they’re reaching for a sense of confidence, of ease in the world, of care in their self-presentation. Many of the guys I speak to who think about getting dressed as an existential journey have told me that lately they want to throw things on but look utterly thoughtful—and that goes for both a suit and a sweatsuit.