Fashion rarely plays into the adage that you should be comfortable in your own skin. Fashion provides a new skin in which to live. Notable, then, are the recent looks of the Fall 2013 season. Designers took the idea of ‘skin’ to literal levels, using leather and other animal materials in new ways. Whether covering a tee shirt or accenting and accessorizing, skins made their way to the season’s center stage.
At Bottega Veneta, designer Tomas Maier played leather to an understated tune. Its use was obvious but neither self-important nor dominating. Leather appeared first on shirts and in a smart cardigan layered under a suit jacket. Those looks were appealing and suggestive of leather’s broad range. Striking a balance between bold and quiet, Maier also showed leather pants that were pleated and creased, just as a normal pair of wool suit slacks would be. They looked as comfortable as they were edgy. The Bottega Veneta show used leather in a smart way that denied its sometimes-kitschy connotations.
One collection took on these connotations with full confidence. At 3.1 Phillip Lim, the first model stepped onto the stage wearing leather biker pants and boots, accompanied by a long sleeve tee and a classic greaser coif. Lim’s approach was to play with the biker genre of leather in an unrelenting, exhaustive manner. Leather pants were a staple to this collection, paired with futuristic sweaters and strong jackets. What made this collection particularly convincing, however, was Lim’s imagination of leather’s possibilities. Leather became a tee shirt; most notably, leather was embossed to look like a twisted knit sweater. Lim’s vigorous exploration of leather’s potential made his collection a highlight among the menswear series.
Skin’s anchoring role was reprised at Valentino in the same week. This time, however, leather became a noticeable accent on smartly-tailored outwear. The collection’s first look was a Macintosh coat with a seamlessly added leather strip across the torso; the second, third, and fourth looks followed suit in their ease and minimalism. Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli’s fifth look of the night, however, was a bold fur coat, adding a new dimension to the season’s emphasis on skins. Fur continued to make cameos as the collection progressed, in luxurious scarves and exuberant collars. Despite its opulent materials, the collection was grounded in its strong tailoring and modern vision. Silhouettes were slimmed and the accessories—all in leather, by the way—looked practical.
The suggestion of skin was equally important to the season’s predilection for the primal materials. Calvin Klein’s Italo Zucchelli is known as menswear’s fabric futurist, with a penchant for technical innovations. Who better, then, to experiment with and represent skin in a devoutly modern way? Like his Italian counterparts at Valentino and Bottega Veneta, Zucchelli relied on precise tailoring. Unlike them, however, his outwear included mesh and nylon additions that suggested leather. When leather was used, it imbued a cyborg-like look. Pieces that featured the skin were cut tightly or took up major parts of the construction itself. Full blazer arms done in embossed black leather and sporty sweatshirts that seemed to cocoon the body served as examples.
Zucchelli’s collection revealed an interesting attribute of leather: despite its obvious organic quality, there is something unnatural about its use on humans. Perhaps its allure, then, is that it is foreign to the human body; it stimulates our desire for daring and exploration. Whether it’s the bad boy tendency of Phillip Lim’s greaser or the bold quietude of the Valentino client, each man on the Fall 2013 had a touch of this sensibility. Leather was its most clear manifestation.
Images courtesy of style.com.