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“L’État c’est moi!”. For Louis XIV of Bourbon, known by most as the Sun King, even fashion has to be taught and dictated. So, in the young court of Versailles, he establishes a rigid etiquette that enjoins men to wear specific items of clothing. His homme de qualité must be rich, fashionable, noble. Of course, his “absolutist” vision might appear at least bizarre but from this moment onwards fashion, as it’s conceived now, has to some extent begun to be interested in both the man and the garment being perhaps his symbol: the trousers. Today we are really far from those funny Rhingrave pants, presented by Rhein Graf and warmly welcomed by Louis. Fashion has passed through the centuries, changing and reinventing itself, always faithful to a primitive concept of elegance but let’s go easy…
Probably born as a garment for riding, the trousers appear in Persia a lot of centuries before Christ. Only in the seventeenth century, however, our item finds its modern connotation. Around the thirties, a company of Italian actors performs at the French court appearing on the stage in the Commedia dell’Arte clothes. Among them, is Pantalone dei Bisognosi who wears a jacket and a pair of popular origin trousers without ligatures below the knee and long to the calf. The Duke of Brunswick falls in love with them and has his own version sewed which is copied even by Cardinal Richelieu. The new item is renamed Pantalone (pants), in honor of the Italian mask.
Instead, the Eighteenth century is the era of big historical changes, also in fashion. France passes from monarchy to republic. The Storming of the Bastille in 1789 and the end of the ancient règime are crucial to the launch of a new model: the sans-culottes, the people who do not wear culottes and show long trousers not tied below the knee, turn their attire into a real political manifesto.
In the nineteenth century, the social class that won the revolution, the bourgeoisie, chooses them en masse along with rigorous clothing, with dull or even dark tones. The placket is on the side until ’43 when the English tailor Humann designs the opening the in the middle of the front.
At the beginning of the new century the masculine elegance, simple and aristocratic as well, looks at the English style and the Prince of Wales – future King Edward VII and King of dandies – is the judge. It’s him, for example, that inaugurates the trend of the lapel when visiting the stables in Ascot, and bends the hem of his pants in not to get muddy. At the same time, sport becomes popular activities: tennis, rowing, running, cycling, travelling as well, which even spread in the lower middle class, requiring clothes fit for situations in which the body can move freely. Trousers happen to be perfect for this purpose and then they are shortened to the knee where they are secured by a strap and a metal clasp. Known as Knickerbockers, they are usually matched with a Norfolk jacket (a double-breasted coat with a built-in belt).
During the uninhibited ‘20s, European society is overwhelmed by the exuberant American fads: the Charleston and the foxtrot are all the rage while jazz is in full swing. The men, more conservative, stay tied to the usual suit jacket, vest, shirt, and pants though they are made softer by the waist pieces enlarging them in a way that the orthodox consider excessive. From the American universities the Oxford bags come, flannel and tweed, worn with visibly padded shoulders sweaters and jackets.
Passing over few decades, the first real innovative plot twist comes when the young burst into the market with their tastes that influence the apparel industry.
In 1953 the film The Wild One starring Marlon Brando is released. Dressed with a black leather jacket and a sloping peaked cap, the actor wears blue jeans – the blue work pants that the American entrepreneur Levi Strauss has been successfully selling to workmen, farmers, and gold diggers since 1873. Flag of both youth movements and intellectual avant-garde, the boom in the ‘60s as a symbol of protest to be finally absorbed by the fashion world and turned into an object of cult.
Anyway, it is on the thirty years between the ‘20s and ‘50s, obviously of the twentieth century, that we want to focus more. Why? Well, because in 2022 men’s fashion falls back to wink at that glossy and together irreverent world, to that sophisticated, mysterious, never excessive elegance.
Dadaism, Futurism, and Cubism upset and extend the purely artistic boundaries. These are the years of the music and the war. The years of the spies and the unmentionable secrets. The years of what Ricciotto Canudo defines as la settima arte… Of that cinema, in short, that breaks into people’s lives to make them cry, laugh, dream, fall in love, and horrify. Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, and Humphrey Bogart dictate fashion. Precious and never boring suits, structured jackets, trench coats but especially soft and droopy pants often with pieces, high-waisted and closed by a belt.
Just to try to provide a description of the models presented during the latest F/W and SS Men’s Collections. From London to Milan, from Paris to New York the Dadaist-inspired trousers seem to be the genuine must-have for this season.
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