Less is more as menswear turns to a restrained look

PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 31 January, 2011, 12:00am

There are a lot of trends and exciting things in women's fashion that men never get to experience. There's boyfriend dressing, which looks sexy on women. But if you reverse the idea you'd be left with a parade of guys in drag. There's the genius of accessorising and how it can transform a dull outfit with the simple addition of a bib necklace, chandelier earrings, Philip Treacy hat or Manolos - ad infinitum. Ties and cufflinks don't have the same effect. The one thing I'm most envious of right now is women getting to wear Phoebe Philo's designs.

Philo is the designer of Celine who in one season brought back minimalism and changed the way women dressed almost instantly. Her effect on the fashion collective is apparent this season, as designers borrowed from Philo's game book of purist clothes devoid of ornamentation and embellishment. Such is her influence that minimalism has become the new catchphrase again.

This spring, minimalism has wormed its way into menswear too. It's evident at Dunhill, where clothes are kept modern, streamlined and very utilitarian, such as the stone coloured mac with contrast colour lining (HK$9,995) paired with wool trousers (1). It's in the restrained palette of colours used at Yves Saint Laurent and in the severe cut of its belted grey suit jacket (4, HK$21,030). At H&M, the black blazer (HK$799) that did away completely with lapels captures the trend. The elongated and narrow shapes at Neil Barrett (2) and Dior Homme (3) are stark and detailed and at the same time echo this resurgent trend.

But minimalism is at its best at Tim Hamilton, where the designer elongated jackets without adding volume and where the pants were sharp even when they had pleats. You can see Philo's influence in the sleeveless panelled blazers. It is minimalism with an edge.

The renaissance of this trend is not without cause. It came in the heels of one of the greatest economic recessions in modern history. And fashion, being reactionary to cultural, sociological and economic factors, addressed the issue with clothes that were cleaner in terms of colour, shape and ornamentation.

The focus became more about excellent design and high-quality fabrics instead of shock value and over-the-top decorations. To create visual and tactile interest in minimalist fashion is to use monochromatic textures instead of weighing down the garment with studs, grommets, prints, awkward pockets and techniques that mask poor design. Because minimalism is about the basics of fashion, clothes from this trend are most likely able to endure.

Collectors of the original designs of Helmut Lang and Jil Sander - the true proponents of minimalism in the early 90s - are testament to the enduring appeal of this trend. Calvin Klein pushed for minimalist designs in the same decade and was given the moniker America's Best Designer because of his simple, fuss-free aesthetic. This same design principle serves as the backbone of Calvin Klein's current designers Italo Zucchelli for the main collection and Kevin Carrigan for the secondary CK Calvin Klein line.

As with the current minimalist trend, that of the 90s was also a reaction to the times. It was a rejection of the ostentation and overdressing of the 80s. It was the shunning of Wall Street greed manifested sartorially through suits with hulking shoulders, neckties of enormous width and long and oversized coats. The fashion pendulum swung from extravagance to stark simplicity and reductionism.

Joining Klein, Sander and Lang were Martin Margiela and Ann Demeulemeester. Big name designers such as Miuccia Prada, Cerruti and Romeo Gigli also joined the bandwagon and produced clothes that were sleek and almost basic. The colours were grounded to white, ecru, black, charcoal, brown and beige. If they ever strayed it was limited to a single shot of verdant green or French blue. Fashion became about clothes that suggested strength and good taste through understatement, confidence derived from simple lines rather than adornment.

I could list many more merits of minimalism - full disclosure here - it is my all-time favourite fashion trend. Minimalism and the designs of Helmut Lang and Calvin Klein were really what piqued my interest in fashion, which eventually came to define a personal style. More importantly, it led to a fabulous career. All hail minimalism.

Shopping list:

Alfred Dunhill Prince's Building, Central, tel: 2524 3663

Dior Homme The Landmark, Central, tel: 2524 8277

H&M Queen's Road Central, tel: 2110 9546

Neil Barrett at The Swank, The Landmark, Central, tel: 2810 0769

Tim Hamilton at Lane Crawford, IFC Mall, Central, tel: 2118 3388

Yves Saint Laurent Alexandra House, Central, tel: 2868 0092