That mix of formality – what the Italians call sartorial – and casual wear is the essence of where fashion is at right now. Everything is displaced – ski sweaters twinkle with icicle patterns under a tuxedo, or a dinner jacket is fashioned from one of the hightech materials that were originally developed for extreme sports. To displace elegance, you first have to define what that much abused word really means. Like “luxury”, elegance has lost its cachet, and has become a vague suggestion of something snobby, classic and passe. Gloves are no longer elegant in themselves, just floppy, foppish bits of stitched leather. But they certainly looked spiffy when Christopher Bailey at Burberry took as a template the snow mittens worn by Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton; or when Raf Simons made leather gauntlets climbing to the upper arm integral to a tailored coat. This is about the savage within, not suave outward appearance.
The same principle applies to hats. Felt Homburgs still look stuffy and boring when worn by a man with a stolid suit creased at the crotch. But they came into their own when Stefano Pilati at Yves Saint Laurent tipped a felt hat above a granddad cardigan, or when the stove pipe hat, last seen in a Charles Dickens adaptation, suddenly pops up at Bottega Veneta and Comme des Garççons. I asked Kris Van Assche why he had made a project out of hats sculpted in shapes to hang in the Medici’s straw storage hall in Florence. The Belgian designer, watching people grab at the strings to lower the hats and try them on, replied: “the desire of elegance”. Ah! Desire. The idea of a Beau Brummel-like perfection is rather seductive after an era when designer “destroyed” clothes have become as much of a clichéé as Stefano Gabbana showing flesh through strategically placed holes in his jeans. Martin Margiela’s fashion peep show, where a headless torso (well, actually the head is hidden with only the body visible) wears one of those pieces that Martin has scrupulously reconstructed; like a waistcoat rebuilt from old school ties.