CHIC IS DEAD? LONG LIVE CHIC!
LONG LIVE CHIC!
They said it was outdated swept away by the streetwear tsunami and killed off by cool attitude. Yet being chic has never been so on trend.
A fuzzy concept, outdated for some, given up for dead by others, eaten alive by streetwear and cool attitude, what if chic were simply reinventing itself?
“What does chic mean today? It’s not even on the agenda! This is a far more obvious age. It’s all splashy logos and T–shirts that say, ‘hey! I’m a T–shirt’.” Jonathan Anderson is creative director for his own brand, JW Anderson, and for Loewe, the storied Spanish fashion house which he took under his wing a few seasons ago. Known for a futuristic, destructured take on men’s clothing that defies convention, the question clearly strikes a nerve even at the other end of the phone. A few hours later, fashion and jewellery designer Elie Top, former assistant to Yves Saint Laurent and Alber Elbaz, who has spent years cultivating a carefully curated blend of English dandy, Hollywood glamour and nonchalance, drives the nail home: “Chic, to my mind, is a subjective, slightly dated notion. It’s rooted in a concept of elegance that’s no longer relevant. It was about a way of living, of functioning. Now I rather feel chic has lost the battle to cool.” It’s a fact: slouchy bodies in slouchy streetwear have permeated runways for the past few seasons. Hip–hop is the new yardstick, Cardi B, Drake, Young Thug and Asap Rocky the new icons. Socks and slides are taking possession of the pavements even in the tony districts where ankle boots and polished brogues once ruled.
This war between ancient and modern appeared to have reached a tipping–point during the last Paris men’s fashion week. Kanye West’s former stylist, equally well–known for collaborations with Nike or Jimmy Choo as for his role as creative director at his Off–White brand, Virgil Abloh had just taken the reins at one of French luxury’s shiniest jewels, Louis Vuitton, previously under Kim Jones [ now with Dior Homme ]. And he pulled it off with a show that was filled with emotion and authenticity. Every outfit was testament to what has made Abloh’s style: modern, protean, masculine luxury. Yes, there was a definite streetwear influence in the sneakers and oversize logos, but it was architectural too —›
“Chic is very much tied in with the idea of sexuality. Not sex but seduction.” JONATHAN ANDERSON
[ Abloh trained as a civil engineer ] and quick to take up the challenges of its time. “When you wear Virgil Abloh, you’re acknowledging a need for multiculturalism, a Pop Art mentality that’s both high and low culture [ Abloh has worked with Murakami as well as Ikea ]. It’s about finding beauty in functionality,” says Alice Pfeiffer, a fashion journalist and specialist in gender issues. “In a world dominated by very, very young men who got where they are either by chance or because they have the right connections, a husband and father who is neither that young nor that good–looking, with no formal fashion training, has, thanks to his ability to read the system, enjoyed a meteoric rise to the top of one of the most inaccessible luxury houses. This is the absolute antithesis of Pierre Bourdieu’s analysis of luxury as part of a process of distinction.”
Could this be the definition of “new chic”? Fashion that captures the issues of the day, embodies them and problematises them onto the body à la Eddy de Pretto? Fashion whose folds and logos are a narrative for fluidity [ gender, sexuality ], belief in a sport that channels performance and “truth”, increasingly permeable boundaries [ between private and public, interior and exterior ]? A shifting labour market that is now more gig economy than job–for–life and, through this, a world more remote from the establishment, the 9–to–5 and uniformity?
The French have a word for style: le chic. Probably derived from German or the Alsatian dialect, it entered the dictionary in 1793, not long after the French Revolution, with the original meaning of faculty or ease, aptness and self–assurance; respectful of established order whilst slightly outside social convention. It soon became part of artistic parlance as a description of vigorous, rapid brushstrokes before making its way into the realms of elegance. Seventies’ London had its Sloane Rangers; Parisians aspired to bon chic bon genre. Since then, what constitutes chic, like style, has constantly evolved and taken on new meaning depending on the context, period and current definition of masculinity. Hence one of the reasons chic is being redefined is that our concept of what it means to be a man is no longer the same. Certain expectations have been felled, generating new freedom and encouraging greater sartorial fantasy. “There has been a radical change in the way men represent themselves, with greater freedom and less draconian rules,” explains Raffaello Napoleone, director of the bi–annual Pitti Uomo men’s fashion fair in Florence. “A man used to obey very specific rules according to the time of day, whether he was at the office, for the evening, etc. Clothes were a type of uniform that enabled him to fit in. Now, chic is more about individual expression. Men’s fashion has become more colourful and fun, while streetwear is offering new combinations.”
And so chic, like masculinity, can be many things. No longer shaped by a pre–ordained concept of manliness, it is seen as a more truthful expression of the self.
“Men’s fashion still works with the same vocabulary. What’s changed is that men are giving themselves permission. I still remember my mother buying my father’s clothes,” comments Olivier Saillard, a fashion historian, formerly at the head of Palais Galliera fashion museum in Paris and now creative director for Weston. “Now, men allow themselves to care about their appearance, their looks. It’s no longer seen as the sign of disputed sexuality. Having said that, stylish men aren’t fashionable, or at any rate you can’t tell that they are. Chic is about being just a little bit discreet. Wearing things that don’t shout out their value. It’s about being slightly more absent than what we see. To be chic, you cannot be completely of the times. You have to be of yesterday or tomorrow.”
Looking ahead is the key to Jonathan Anderson’s work as a designer. “I always ask myself what’s going to happen,” he explains. “That’s what chic is. There is a huge change taking place. I think chic today is intrinsically linked to that notion of authenticity and reality that we need to rediscover.”
Something a man in a suit cannot do, he believes. “It’s an archetype that crushes the personality of the man who wears it. It’s almost impossible to bring out the individual in a suit. Unless, of course, it happens to be Michael Fassbender wearing it: his physique blows everything apart!” An example that brings us nearer to Anderson’s concept of chic. “I’d say chic is very much tied in with the idea of sexuality. Not sex but seduction. The return to something real. For me, chic is men who invent new ways of showing their skin, their body. A duffle coat worn next to the skin, rediscovering what a T–shirt is, a pair of chinos … How the skin can reveal itself through clothes.” Which brings us neatly back to the German origins of chic, from the verb schicken meaning “to bring to life”.