Going back to look forward? A return to another fashion time with greater ease and greater accessibility.
The Abboud brand is back with a vengeance. No longer the Buick LeSabre of the fashion world, a conservative “starter suit” for a man bridging department store with designer, Abboud is positioning itself as a new American luxury brand with a wide range of styles and pricepoints. They also have a new designer, Bernardo Rojo, born in Spain and with a great CV of past work ranging from DG to Prada to Michael Kors. I sat front-row at the FW13 runway presentation of the new “Red” Line at Pitti, and was consistently surprised by the looks shown.
First, a bit of context: I cut my fashion teeth in the late 1990’s with Helmut Lang, Jil Sander, and Miuccia Prada. These three defined the decade as the antithesis of Tom Ford’s highly charged, highly sexual glamor at Gucci with simple, quiet, minimal garments that pushed any number of envelopes (fabrics from sportswear imported for tailored clothing, use of luxe traditional materials like cashmere into sportswear, premium denim, luxury sport trainers, just to name a few).
It didn’t last, however; Helmut has left fashion forever, Jil has come and gone a few times while never quite striking the right balance, and Prada has decayed into a mass-market blitz splattering its triangle on everything from playing cards to Made-in-Vietnam sneakers. A few designers (especially Calvin Klein Collection and CoSTUME NATIONAL) have tried to keep the minimal dream alive, though increasing pricepoints and reduced distribution have made high quality, wearable, interesting minimalism a difficult find in the 2010’s.
Enter into this market Bernardo Rojo’s Abboud Red: a brand that channels these designers and those times, but with a forward-looking eye toward marketing and brand position.
What I like: I miss the late 1990’s. I miss that Helmut jeans were $150, and Jil shoes were $395. As such, seeing this collection, I felt like I was back in my prime, and learning that the pricepoints were intended to be mid-range and accessible (in the Hugo Boss range or less), I was quite pleased. I liked some of the outerwear, especially a laser-cut blazer, and the cut of the trousers (slim but not excessive, hints of synthetic sportswear fabrics with more traditional wools and cottons), and the subdued color pallete that ranged from dark burgundy to midnight blue to ivory.
What I don’t: The reason a simple Jil Sander sweater or Prada techno fabric pant was $1000 in 1998 was because the materials, fabrics, and construction were superlative. I still have some of these in my wardrobe going strong; both brands spend a great deal of time, R&D, and money on the fabrics. With some of the “fast fashion” collaborations, such as +J, the styles remained the same but with drastic reductions in the quality of the materials. For the first month or two of wear, one may not tell a difference; after a year of regular use, however, one could tell for certain. This is my worry about this Abboud line; at this pricepoint, I worry about wear. As well, even on the runway, some of the fabrics looked bizarre, with an awkward flow as the model walked in them. In short, true minimalism only works with superlative materials, and an “accessible” pricepoint doesn’t always do them justice.
My other concern is both the timing and the derivative styling: first, it it’s no longer 1999, meaning fashion has moved on to many other things. Second, I saw so many influences in the items that I don’t quite know where an original style will come out in them. I saw Calvin Klein Collection AW08 in a chunky neoprene sweater; I saw Jil Sander in all the lazer cut outerwear; I saw CoSTUME NATIONAL in virtually all of the waxed, sheen pants. Where in this crowded pool is room for Joseph Abboud?
Overall Assessment: I was recently told by an auto dealer that the 2013 models “weren’t my father’s Buick.” That was the vibe I received about Abboud from the press releases, the discussions with Abboud reps, and the overall push at the runway show. Whether or not the market needs another accessible luxury brand, or whether or not Abboud has the name recognition to position itself again in the top-tier of the market, has yet to be determined. That being said, the willingness to look back to a key period of fashion history while infusing it with some contemporary details interests me enough to give the brand another look.
The full collection isn't on the Abboud site yet, but a google search for FW13 Abboud will show the full collection. You might even find yours truly front-row center in a blue Castangia jacket and bright green socks.
More info on the brand and its design philosophy: