Far from being the domain of women, fashion-watching is increasingly perceived as cool for men. Natalie Smith talks to New Zealand males in the forefront of masculine style.
In 2005, Gert Jonkers and Jop Van Bennekom launched a magazine called Fantastic Man.
There is certainly nothing unusual about the launch of a magazine for men. There are plenty of well-known titles that cater - Playboy, GQ, FHM. But what Fantastic Man signalled was a watershed moment in fashion for men. It was okay, normal even, for men, straight men, to be interested in fashion. These were men who didn't work in the fashion industry. Men who had girlfriends and kids and beards and cars and read books and chopped wood and rode motorbikes and caught fish.
Rather than being caught in some sort of metrosexual trope, men were simply allowed - even encouraged - to take pride and interest in their appearance.
And so, fashion has become something that is no longer solely the domain of women or of exaggerated, campy looks such as Karl Lagerfeld and John Galliano's constant, costumey reinventions.
Fashion across the gender board has increasingly become part of the common vernacular and part of a hugely increased retail landscape.
With the rise of style blogs and online retailing, fashion is more accessible and quickly evolving, meaning New Zealand men are now far more open to owning a wardrobe of clothes to suit any occasion.
They buy investment pieces and they go shopping. They bandy about terms such as "brogues" and "vertical striped, pilgrim-collared shirt" and "good, basic pieces".
"I think there's been a shift towards more men being interested in menswear and the availability of it here in New Zealand has slowly grown, but it still has a long way to go," says Canvas fashion editor Dan Ahwa. "But the designers and retailers that specialise in menswear here have improved their offerings and are adapting to the changes.
"The world's a smaller place now and men are exposed to fashion in more accessible forms, thanks, in part, to credible fashion websites and blogs, e-commerce and targeted magazines," he says. "Now, it's no longer something taboo for them or a topic that they feel will make them emasculated."
Fashion PR maestro Murray Bevan agrees. "Knowing about sport is no longer the Kiwi man's 'hall pass' into cool. Rather, it's if you have a pair of skinny black jeans," he says. "There's definitely less of a lag time [in fashion]," says Bevan. "That means that almost all guys now know how to dress themselves much better than they did three or four years ago. Fashion has become, for both men and women, a barometer of social standing. But more than that, it's become a hobby and people spend a lot of time and money on it."
That means the old paradigm of the metrosexual or the well-dressed man (overly distressed denim, a "town shirt" and excessively pointy loafers) is dead.
Bevan believes that fashion, now, simply means dressing well for your size and shape. It means looking good, rather than following a trend, something that menswear is remarkably free of, perhaps given the technical constraints that exist - pants, suits, shirts, ties. But there isn't a lot of room to move - hemlines can't rise or fall, for instance. There is a lot more choice available for everyone, says Bevan. "I've even noticed it with my 14-year-old nephew, who has recently become picky about what he wears. He takes notice of kids at school, teachers and images online. When I was his age, all I wanted was a Bart Simpson T-shirt and white Pony high-tops."
That's not to say that all men are now impeccably dressed.
Menswear designer for Stolen Girlfriends Club, Marc Moore, is quick to point out certain trends that remain popular - and perhaps shouldn't.
"In New Zealand, we have just got over the Ed Hardy invasion. I saw a lot of guys wearing this stuff around, like actually out. A little piece of me died."
Men can also be averse to wearing bright and bold colour. Glenn Yungnickel recently worked alongside friends to create Anew Menswear, a collective whose pop-up store in Freemans Bay received much fashion media attention. Yungnickel works as both a design assistant to womenswear designer Sherie Muijs and as a lecturer at the Auckland University of Technology. For him, the fashion landscape in New Zealand hasn't developed to the level he would like - yet.
"Men are generally reluctant to experiment with clothing that identifies anything other than a masculine perception of themselves. I think menswear at the level of the market I am aiming at is underdeveloped in New Zealand, due to the casual culture and lifestyle New Zealand men lead."
Yungnickel's range is aimed at men who are style-astute but who may not be able to afford the top-end European labels.
"I think there is a shift away from the rules of masculine dress, so using colour blocking and brighter colours is a way of challenging these perceived rules. It's a way for men to express themselves."
"There is a transitional shift happen-ing towards a genderless future within menswear, offering a glimpse at a new direction for men's fashion. This is exciting because the design becomes about good design, not grouping it into menswear or womenswear," he adds.
"In terms of outlandish clothing, that's personal preference but I think the majority of New Zealand men still like their clothes to be practical," agrees Ahwa.
While skirts for men appeared in spring/summer collections on international catwalks for prominent designers such as Givenchy, Calvin Klein and Ann Demeulemeester, it doesn't look to be something that will be taken on in New Zealand just yet.
HOW I DRESS
Architecture is a discipline that doesn't stop at the studio door. It's a whole life, so how I work, design, eat, travel, live and clothe myself is really important to me. I have a real appreciation for craft in all its guises. Not just fabrication, but form, proportion and utility. I am acutely aware of the things I put on in the morning.
I really liked the idea of the rehabilitation of the suit, taking it away from being a tool of business, a burden. I am not interested in a life that's separated into work or not - I wear what I wear today on a Sunday morning. I own a handful of beautifully cut jackets that are the glue to my wardrobe. I own a dozen-or-so shirts, a coat, half-a-dozen ties, four bow ties and a range of shoes that run from fine Dior to robust Comme des Garcons, that I can wear on the building site. I think I must be the only man to mix red oxide concrete in a wheelbarrow in those shoes. I wear April 77 jeans because they can get hammered and I can't wear suit pants with the work I do.
As for my jewellery, the chain dog collar I wear on my wrist is a gift from my brother Hal, who bought it at the $2 store. I don't shop online, because I enjoy the process of shopping too much - the surroundings, the service or making a special discovery when I am travelling. It's a way to get under the skin of a city, shopping - like learning the intricacies of public transport, local food and architecture, boutiques in emerging suburbs.
Fashion PR maestro
I'm relatively conservative and I definitely don't latch on to trends. I'm not focused on fashion in the sense that it's the judging criteria of how people see me - I'd rather they judged me on my personality and character. The way I dress is simple, perhaps traditional. I don't like to stand out. Having said that, I like to wear good-quality basics.
I think guys are learning to accessorise, that there is merit in having say, a selection of shoes to choose from. I have a good shoe collection, shoes for every occasion.
My favourites at the moment? A pair of tan Vanishing Elephant brogues - for me they tick all the boxes. Brogues are a trend at the moment, the colour suits a formal suit or denim, they're comfortable and also an affordable price. I'm not a big online shopper and I don't save up for items.
I also own a good wardrobe of activewear, because I like to be comfortable at home and spend a lot of my weekends on the football field. Other favourite pieces include a tobacco brown suit I had made at Working Style. I like that it's conservative enough in cut and fit, while it's in a slightly unusual colour - well, it's not navy or black. It's single-breasted so I can wear the jacket with jeans and I don't know anyone else with a tobacco-coloured suit. I like to wear patterned socks - Happy Socks, Panarella - Country Road does a good sock. I do buy things on the spur of the moment, the best buy I have made has been a bedouin bag that I use every day, but I also pick up items like belts, ties and gloves without planning to. For larger investments, such as a suit or shoes, I definitely plan.
I spend five days each week in a uniform, so when I am not at work I try to dress up wherever possible. I think looking good is about being comfortable in what you wear and it's more about taking pride in your appearance and being presented well in public. I do shop often, but I seldom buy lots of items at once. I like to buy the best that I can within my budget, because I know that for the most part, the more you spend, the longer it will last and the better it will fit. The fit is very important for me. I often shop at Crane Brothers, as I find it hard to be satisfied with a generic item and Crane Brothers offer a tailoring service.
To be honest, I am more inspired by the way women put garments together, how they use colour. I try to reinterpret that in a way that looks okay on a man. I often shop more when I am on holiday - so when I was in the United States recently I purchased several pieces from a New York store called Baron Wells, which makes classic, tailored clothes. I really like a nautical, Americana look - chinos and fitted shirts.
Compared to my friends, I definitely have a larger wardrobe. I think my weakness is footwear, as there is only so far you can go as in men's fashion to express yourself. There are pants, T-shirts, shirts - and not much else. I think shoes, ties, wallets are where you can be creative. At least it's that way for a lot of men I know. I buy online, occasionally, but only if I can't get what I want in New Zealand.
Favourite pieces? A leather wallet by Max and Unicorn I bought recently in Brooklyn - it's a single piece of folded leather - and a shirt by Baron Wells, that's white, with a pilgrim collar and fine vertical stripes. The most expensive thing I have bought would have to be my Crane Brothers suits. I have two, a black suit, because every man needs a black suit, and a grey day suit.
Dan Ahwa's tips for stylish men
Black Box Boutique have stocked a good menswear label for some time now from Sydney, called Vanishing Elephant, and local label I Love Ugly have some good separates in their latest season's collection.
I like wearing brands I've grown up with as well as heritage brands such as Levi's, A.P.C, Barbour and Ralph Lauren. I also like sportswear references from designers like Raf Simons and Kim Jones and, locally, Dayne Johnston from Zambesi Man makes really good tailored jackets.By Natalie Smith