Think beige is boring? You’re wrong
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Over the past few years, much of menswear has been characterised by an almost defiant use of colour, pattern and ostentation. In the words of Elsa Schiaparelli: “In difficult times, fashion is always outrageous.” Now, though, men’s clothes are gently coming back to reality.
You can see this in the way that many brands are interpreting colour. A low-key, tonal approach has been in the ascendancy in recent seasons, with shades of charcoal, chocolate brown, taupe and tan moving from the fringes of the colour palette to centre stage at Lemaire, The Row, Dior and Saint Laurent.
“We’ve been exploring the rise of what we call ‘the modern neutrals’,” says Kate Franklin, a colour theorist and co-founder of futures research agency FranklinTill. “Long-term colour that’s trans-seasonal. These once classic colours are being used across multiple fashion categories, particularly in streetwear and sportswear.”
The idea of an off-white tracksuit or brown bomber jacket might seem strange, but brands such as Jacquemus and Cold Laundry have championed both. Fear Of God’s use of earthy tones is particularly impressive – founder Jerry Lorenzo has almost single-handedly ensured the eclipse of classic mid-grey jersey basics by hoodies and sweatpants rendered in a dusty shade of beige.
Brunello Cucinelli cotton knit T-shirt, £410
Brunello Cucinelli cotton cable knit cardigan, £1,150
Dressing in earthy colours works at both ends of the smart-to-casual spectrum, with “classic” menswear brands also indulging neutral tones. To Alessio Piastrelli, in the men’s style team at Brunello Cucinelli, a restrained palette conveys the “relaxed elegance” that’s long been the brand’s signature. “For SS23 the key word is ‘nonchalance’,” he says, of the current collection which is built around “light greys, beiges and English white”, for a mix of suiting and sportswear that feels luxurious yet easygoing.
To Dag Granath, one half of contemporary Swedish tailor Saman Amel, dressing in neutrals lends one a welcome sense of discretion. “A person who’s uninterested in clothes should see the way you dress and just feel it looks completely natural. It’s about looking composed as a whole, with no one thing shouting or seeking a compliment,” he says. The co-founder of fellow Swedish brand Rubato, Oliver Dannefalk, adds: “It’s a way to make a statement, without actually making a statement.”
Rubato cotton Officer’s chinos, £220
Loro Piana cashmere and silk Diveria polo shirt, £1,805
Where Saman Amel’s tailoring is minimalistic and unashamedly luxurious – all glossy cashmere jackets and indulgent, sharply cut suits – Rubato’s look is more casual. Both brands eschew strong colours and patterns in favour of fine textures and subtle shifts between jacket, top and trouser. “It’s a misconception that removing loud colours from your wardrobe limits your creativity,” Granath continues. “In reality, it’s easier to experiment when you have a tonal framework. You become more nuanced in your ways of seeing colour and texture.”
There’s another dimension to going tonal. “Beige has been the big neutral colour story of recent years, [driven by] a concern for investing in long-term pieces that will be in your wardrobe for years, not just seasons,” Franklin explains. “People are more concerned than ever about the impact of our purchasing decisions. Neutrals offer a perfect adaptive palette for responsible shoppers and brands.”
“For us, everything starts with presenting fabric in its purest form,” says Agyesh Madan, co-founder of the New York-based Stòffa. “Most un-dyed natural fibres range from beige to brown in colour, so it just makes sense to us to present a harmonious wardrobe rooted in that scheme.” This purist philosophy has led Stòffa to work with sustainable materials. “We’ve developed a fabric with the New Denim Project in Guatemala,” explains Madan’s partner, Nicholas Ragosta. “It has an un-dyed, upcycled cotton warp and uses indigenous brown cotton grown in Guatemala in the weft.” Stòffa is looking to champion more rare, under-utilised varieties in other fabrics too, including indigenous cotton fibres in pink and green.
Officine Générale’s founder and creative director, Pierre Mahéo, thinks colour should reflect the functionality of a garment. “The colours I wear have to serve a purpose – they should be restrained, comfortable and useful,” he says. This philosophy makes itself clear in the brand’s SS23 collection, in which chocolate cotton poplin suits rub shoulders with tobacco chore coats, beige macs and breezy trousers in soft white and sandy-beige. “We mix a lot of tailored pants with nylon bombers, with sweat jackets [hoodies] or denim jackets. Likewise, I enjoy breaking up suits; to bring a bit of tailoring into a casual silhouette.”
There’s an old cliché that says beige is a boring colour, but Mahéo is adamant it’s not. “Look at Marcello Mastroianni in his beige suit and try to tell me it’s boring. Beige is anything but – and it’s perfect in spring and summer. You can use it as a foundation to pastel colours, to light blue, light pink – or just wear a beige suit with a white T-shirt. It always looks beautiful.”
Franklin thinks neutrals are here to stay beyond this season. “Be prepared to hear the word ‘greige’ a lot.” This may not be the most exciting movement to happen in fashion in recent years, but it does speak to quiet sophistication. In any other context, describing someone as “beige” would be less than flattering. If I were to be identified by my neutral wardrobe now, though, I’d take it as quite the compliment.