If one trend abounded in men's fashion at the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival, it was this: it's all about the mankles.
Man ankles, in all their forms (hairy, smooth, tanned, pale, a slight sliver of skin between trouser and shoe versus a continent of flesh that encompassed ankle and calf) hit the catwalk running, pun intended.
They were everywhere, in virtually every designer-for-men's collection, even when you didn't expect them (even when the model was wearing boots! Even among the audience members!). Gentlemen, heed the following: throw your socks away, and roll up your pants.
The unfinished touch
To the uninitiated, it's a rather unfinished touch, and one at odds with the overall theme of Friday night's GQ Australia Menswear Runway show, which VAMFF CEO Graeme Lewsey described as "a million dollar gentleman's club … it was really sleek, really polished, sharp and on trend."
Certainly, there was a James Bond-esque vibe to the six-designer show - if Bond was shaken, stirred and styled by a street blogger who had access to a trust fund.
Calling Colonel Mustard
Arthur Galan AG – after hitting tough times – relaunched a menswear collection with a Colonel Mustard in the drawing room with a smoking jacket feel. There were rich burgundy or black velvet double-breasted jackets, red shirts and shiny buttons, all paired with narrow, fitted pants.
Elsewhere in the parade, you could find similar plush fabrics and peacock-preening looks: a shiny silver jacket, a diamond-printed black velvet jacket (both Jack London) and for designer Dom Bagnato, an overall look he describes as "South Italian migrant elegance, with inspired shades of camel, plum and pewter, [mixed with] teal blue."
(Luxe looks appeared elsewhere at VAMFF: in the Myer parade, Kris Smith wore a red wine-coloured velvet jacket by Politix, and which David Niven type could bypass Ted Baker's deluxe black and gold paisley jacket at the Chadstone A/W show? Perhaps those who can't afford the $2299 pricetag.)
If sophisticated menswear now incorporates an urban edge, then casual dressing has also upped its game. Aquila demonstrated how to do the latter well: combine dark, narrow, fitted pants with a pale turtleneck and a dark check bomber jacket for two parts retro and one part cool.
New designer on the block, TY-LR, garnered high praise from the show's front row brigade: stylist Tre Dallas (who is so keenly aware of what it takes to look on-point that his smartphone is framed by mini lightbulbs for Kardashian-perfect selfies) said it was reminiscent of "what Saba used to do 20 years ago – beautiful tailoring that's comfortable and relaxed, but with a modern twist". Instagrammer Chris B.A. (Burt-Allan) calls the brand "an emerging front-runner in Australian men's fashion … the designs are fresh without being trendy, and elegant without being stuffy." He points to their new shapes on items - double-breasted biker and suede jackets, or shirts with longer arms and boxier fit – but cites one runway favourite: "There was one outfit I loved. White sneakers, white pants and a white t-shirt, and a light grey Harrington jacket over the top. Very fresh."
Slick and urban
At the GQ show, Calibre opted for a "slick, urban look," says head designer Ty Henschke, whose runway pieces were a study in monochrome black and whites. "I also love one colour head to toe, like navy." M.J. Bale was one designer proving that a longer jacket is in – less trench, more lab coat, only in entirely better colours.
Apart from the GQ show, the VAMFF female-heavy landscape was occasionally dotted with other menswear inspiration. At the Jean Paul Gaultier for Target show, it was leather jackets, Gaultier's signature white and navy stripe and a cartoon-y print emblazoned in his preferred red and blue hues onto a bomber jacket, shorts, tops and tees. The look? Graffiti artist goes to the beach in style. (Leather jackets were likewise seen in other collections, including those of Arthur Galan AG, TY-LR and Jack London, who also did leather pants.)
At the David Jones opening runway show, it was clear that Justin Bieber has had an impact on men's fashion, with an abundance of hoodies and sweatpants, as well as bomber jackets paired with shirts and more fitted, shorter length (or cuffs rolled up) pants.
Unlike the palette of neutrals they displayed at GQ, David Jones' Calibre models looked like they'd come straight from a Slim Aarons party at Palm Beach, with salmon-coloured pants and shirts mixed up with denim or sharp shades of mid and dark blue.
One thing was clear from that parade: it's no longer only the women who dress up for the shows. Sitting in one row was a group of men who took the term "cut from the same cloth" to the next level, dressed identically in monochrome black from head to toe, with matching pomaded hairstyles and the obligatory no socks with shoes.
Even at the GQ parade, VAMFF's Lewsey had almost as much praise for the audience as for the designers. "You only had to walk around and go 'wow, what an amazingly stylish crowd' – and these are the people watching the show." Of course, the people behind the labels deserved his kudos, too. "I spoke to Dom Bagnato who said we should be so super-proud of Australian menswear right now. I think it was accessible, immediate, affordable and really high fashion."