It’s nice to imagine that we’re all fully independent in our wardrobe choices. To think that whatever madness is being paraded up and down a Fashion Week runway at any given time has no bearing on our sartorial free will.
While it might be nice to think that, it’s not necessarily accurate. The truth is, whether we consciously follow them or not, high-fashion brands are the entities that surreptitiously dictate the contents of our wardrobes.
From what colours we stock up on each season, to how our jeans fit – haute-couture houses are the forces that drive the entire menswear ecosystem. They ensure things are moving forwards by testing boundaries and challenging norms. They keep the industry interesting, and they probably have a lot more influence on your own personal style than you think.
Here we take a look at who they are and how they’re helping to shape the way we dress.
What Defines a High-Fashion Brand?
First things first, though. Before we delve into the whos, wheres, whys and whats, it’s important to have an understanding of just what exactly constitutes a “high-fashion” brand.
In short, these are the labels at the upper end of both the pricing spectrum and the fashion food chain. Many of them have established their place on the sartorial landscape over the course of decades. Centuries, in some cases. Their founders are often household names and they are creatively helmed by an ever-changing succession of some of the greatest designers on the face of the earth.
These brands have wound up where they are today, almost exclusively, by offering consumers items that are new, exciting and luxurious. Whether that be a monogrammed trunk courtesy of Louis Vuitton or a pair of Gucci horsebit loafers. As a result, they’re the names at the cutting edge of fashion. These are labels that show season on season, year on year, at the world’s major fashion weeks – Paris, New York, London, Milan – and therefore aren’t so much keeping up with trends as flat-out inventing them.
The High-Fashion Brands Influencing Our Wardrobes
From the streetwear-courting couture of Balenciaga, to Chanel’s first major forays into menswear. These are the high-fashion brands that are changing the way we stock our wardrobes and the ways in which they’re doing it.
Setting The Trends
After the sleek sexiness brought to the table by Tom Ford during his 10-year stint at the Italian fashion house, it would be fair to say that Gucci lost its way somewhat after 2004. Thanks to a lot of genre-jumping and inconsistency, the label went into decline. It had gone from being one of the driving forces in fashion to borderline irrelevance in the space of just a few short years.
Today, however, the opposite is true. With the appointment of Alessandro Michele in 2014 as creative director, Gucci is back on top. So much so that it topped the Lyst Index in 2017 and 2019 as the most popular label in the world.
Largely to thank is Michele’s innate ability to tap into the zeitgeist and give people exactly what they want. Even if they didn’t know they wanted it. As a result, Gucci is the biggest trendsetter in the game. From satin bombers and Japanese embroidery to autumnal, 1970s-inspired colour palettes, Gucci is the label behind it all.
Shaping Modern Menswear
While Gucci may hold the title of Most Popular Brand, there’s no denying Paris-based, Spanish-born label Balenciaga is currently Most Influential. Georgian fashion renegade Demna Gvasalia’s house brand of “haute streetwear” has taken the world by storm, coaxing a generation of men into ditching their slim-fit denim and minimalist trainers for the polar opposite.
The brand’s most notable contribution to modern menswear comes in the shape of a shoe, and a rather large one at that. The Balenciaga Triple S may not be to everyone’s liking, but it would be unfair to claim it hasn’t turned the industry on its head. This chunky, behemoth of a trainer was the catalyst for the shift away from minimalism and toward maximalism. It paved the way for a new dawn in footwear fashion, ushering in an era where we’re as likely to see a pair of trail-running shoes on the front row of a fashion-week show as we are charging through mud and dirt in the backcountry.
Introducing Sustainability To High Fashion
There’s no word more important in fashion right now than “sustainability”. And while Stella McCartney may not be up there with the likes of Balenciaga and Gucci when it comes to total wardrobe domination, her eponymous label’s environmental and ethical commitment put the heavy hitters to shame.
We’re lucky enough to be living in a time where clothing companies are beginning to think about the impact their production methods can have. But the high-fashion brands are still a long way behind.
However, Stella McCartney’s strict environmental targets and refusal to use fur, leather or any other material not ethically sourced is piling on the pressure. We may soon be looking at a situation in which we’re able to shop high-end designer goods free of guilt, and when that day comes we’ll have Stella McCartney to thank.
Louis Vuitton has been at the forefront of the luxury luggage world since the 1800s, making it one of the oldest fashion houses in existence. Its monogrammed bags, trunks and cases are nothing short of iconic, and emblematic of luxury in such a way as to have become a status symbol for the many who buy them.
It’s hard to imagine, but there was a time when bags were just vessels for transporting things, as opposed to another means by which to make a style statement. So, next time you find yourself deliberating over which fashion-friendly leather backpack to buy, just remember – you wouldn’t be there if it hadn’t been for LV.
Old Meets New
With the exception of the odd PR disaster, Burberry (featured image, top) has an unrivalled reputation for putting England on the map when it comes to high fashion. Fittingly, its most recent output, under the guidance of Riccardo Tisci, serves as a visual metaphor for the city it calls home.
In London, old sits next to new in stark yet beautiful contrast – think St Paul’s with the Shard looming in the background. The same is true in Burberry’s collections. Iconic beige trench coats, originally designed to cloak officers in the war, sit alongside modern staples like hoodies and cross-body bags. It’s a way of dressing that is ever more present in the modern man’s sartorial repertoire and one of many ways in which Burberry has put its stamp on contemporary menswear.
The Next Big Thing In Menswear?
It’s not much of a leap to suggest that Parisian fashion house Chanel isn’t exactly known for being geared towards the male consumer. It is, at its core, a womenswear brand – one that is known the world over for its perfume, jewellery and handbags. The label has never shown a dedicated menswear collection. Meanwhile, persistent rumours of a men’s line with Hedi Slimane have since been shut down by the label itself.
Still, more and more trendsetting male celebrities and influencers are looking to the historic French house for rare, statement pieces and hard-to-find, vintage grails. Perhaps as a result, the label’s men’s ready-to-wear collections are expanding all the time. Just this year, Chanel announced its ever first capsule collection, made in collaboration with longtime fan-of-the-house Pharrell Williams.
Is this the first step in our wardrobes being completely revolutionised by a label that has long done the same for women? Only time will tell. But if it can match the quality of its critically acclaimed fragrance line – which has produced some of the best men’s scents of all time – then we’ll all benefit.